Review: Dragon Age Tevinter Nights – Burn, Thedas, Burn

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Title: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights
Author(s):
Patrick Weekes, Sylvia Fektekuty, John Epler, Lukas Kristjanson, Brianne Battye, Caitlin Sullivan Kelly, Courtney Woods, Ryan Cormier, Arone LaBray

Publisher: Tor Books
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Game-to-Novel
Subject(s): Gods, LGBTQ+

Release Date:
March 10th, 2020
Page Count: 496 (paperback)

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

The Dragon Age games are dark, heroic, epic fantasy role playing games that have won legions of devoted fans. The first game went triple platinum (over three millions units sold) worldwide, and the second game was released in March of 2011 to solid reviews. This sixth book in the series is an anthology put together by the game’s writing staff and specifically follows the fates of various characters and events from the previous three games and the newly announced fourth game.

 

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So you thought your patience meter was pretty high with regards to DA4’s release? Thought “Yeah, sure, I can wait another few years for it”? Well, you can kiss that serenity goodbye, my friends, because that bar’s going to be bottomed out by the time you finish this.

Tevinter Nights just displaced The Last Flight as my favourite Dragon Age novel. Not so much in terms of prose and character work, but in terms of the breadth of content –walking you through the northern regions of Thedas, throwing you hints and speculation fodder, teasing you with storylines that will most definitely reappear in the next game (I’ll eat my stuffed nug if they don’t), and just re-immersing you and setting up the stage for everything that’s to come–Tevinter Nights is fantastic and a must-read for all fans of the series.

And here’s what the stage looks like: the Qunari invasion is well underway; Tevinter is being eaten up bit by bit even as the Magisters and the Venatori scheme from within; Nevarra is standing on a fracture line that cuts between the Mortalitasi and the royal family; Antiva is being forced to rely on the Crows as their main defense against the Qunari; and a bald overpowered heartbreaker idiot thinks he knows what’s best for the world and will stop at seemingly nothing to achieve it. And that’s just what’s on the surface and on this side of the Veil.

Things aren’t looking too great right now–and as this is THEDAS we’re talking about, that’s saying something.

A few general criticisms, though. Some of these stories are obviously a lead-in to side quests or the main quest in DA4, so their conclusions aren’t super satisfying; they serve more as teasers (though they’re pretty good teasers). Also, a lot of them follow the same plot formula: “x is killing y” or “x wants to kill y”, followed by “z has to step in to find out who and why.” It gets a bit repetitive, especially if you’re reading the book all in one go. And as with all anthologies, you’re going to get a mix of stories that you like and stories that just don’t work.

 

My favourites in order:

“The Wigmaker” by Courtney Woods
“The Horror of Hormok” by John Epler
“Eight Little Talons” by Courtney Woods
“Half Up Front” by John Epler
“The Dread Wolf Take You” by Patrick Weekes

(Courtney Woods and John Epler are really the MVPs of this anthology. Their stories are stuffed with interesting lore, they nail the balance of teaser and substance, and character-wise, they’re just more solidly crafted than the others)

As far as anthologies go, this was one of the best I’ve read in recent memory. And my furious obsession with the series has no bearing on that assessment. None whatsoever!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play Inquisition for the 50th time.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

 

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Review: The Unspoken Name – A Saga of Badass Lesbian Orc and Wonder Bread Boy

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Title: The Unspoken Name
Author:
A.K. Larkwood
Publisher:
Tor Books

Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Portal Fantasy
Subject(s): Gods, Coming-of-Age, LGBTQ+ (main and secondary)

Release Date:
Feb 11th, 2020
Page Count: 464 (hardback)

Rating: 6.0/10

 

 

 

 

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

 

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Turns out I have a few things to say about this book, so to keep everything organized we’re doing sections today. Huzzah!

 

❤️❤️❤️

Unconventional But Likeable Protagonist

Csorwe is a female orc and also a fighter who’s pretty laid back–almost humble–about being a well-oiled sword swinging machine. That makes her a bit of a unicorn in a genre that lauds its “badass” female human characters. She’s skilled and pragmatic and levelheaded, which is a super underrated character trait, and just plain readable. And the contrast between her calm and Tal’s anxiety-ridden disorder is a joy to behold.

 

  Fun and Genuine Character Interactions

The dialogue is pitch-perfect and arguably the shining point of the whole thing. From scenes of vulnerability to wry sarcasm to fuck-it anarchy (mostly on Tal’s part), they do much to convey the characters’ personalities and their relationships. Csorwe and Tal’s dynamic is pure schoolyard antagonism and entertaining as hell to see played out. Though I’m hoping the sequel adds a few more layers to them because the 24/7 sniping (and nothing else) is going to get old pretty quick.

The slow-burn romance between Csorwe and Shuthmili is also one of the highest points of the story. I mean, Shuthmili is a great character to begin with–her surface coldness a product of a life that’s always been about fearing and being feared for her powers–and her journey of learning to see choices beyond ones that have been spoonfed to her is a nice parallel to Csorwe’s own journey of independence (and I would say better written than Csorwe’s).

The two together are cute and sweet and make me smile–what more can you ask for?

 

Cool Worldbuilding Setup

Dying worlds and broken gods and airships. It’s like the book knows me. Oh, and any author who includes a sentient and intelligent serpent race in their story has my eternal love.

 

 


💔💔💔

Picturing this World in My Head is Like Walking to the Grocery Store Without My Contacts On

You can have an interesting broad scheme for your worldbuilding but drop the ball on the details. And that’s the case here.

This is a story that hops through different worlds, but if you ask me to sketch out what each of them looks or feels like, I’d shrug at you from across a blank page. At best I’d call the settings minimalist–and nothing wrong with that, no one needs a two-page description of the texture of a tavern wall–but mostly they’re a frustrating landscape of vague shapes and smells. It’s like squinting though a mist while a tour guide yammers at your ear about how wonderful the place looks and how rich the culture is–all well and good except you can’t see any of it.

The snake world near the beginning is pretty interesting, but that’s the only one that left a solid impression. The rest are an absolute blur, to the point where I felt disoriented. I’m assuming this was a stylistic decision on the author’s part, but it makes the story resemble too much of an elongated dream sequence. And with an epic portal fantasy, it just feels like a lost opportunity.

 

Sethennai the Wonder Bread Boy

Speaking of blurs! Let’s talk about Belthandros Sethennai. Oh, Sethennai. Sethennai the poster boy for not living up to a badass name.

You know when your friend tells you about their celebrity crush and the person in question turns out to be a bland white dude whose appeal is completely lost on you, and you can’t even differentiate him from the previous bland white dude they were crushing on, so you’re just sitting there thinking, “This is the greatest mystery of my life”? Well, that’s Sethennai. Minus the white bit.

The book tries to make me believe that most everything in its narrative orbits this man. He’s the “kindly” mentor/savior figure who rescues Csorwe. His quest for the reliquary is what propels the storyline forward. Women swoon over him. His mentees fall over themselves to try to please him. It’s devotion at its finest, and all I want to know is WHY. Just why. What makes him so special? From Csorwe’s point of view, I kind of understand; he pulled her out from a horrific fate and I imagine a life debt makes for some thick rose-tinted glasses. But what about everyone else?

The characters tell you that he’s charming and suave and convincing. Whether or not he actually is any of those things is very much the greatest fucking mystery of my life, because at the end of the day, I don’t know who Sethennai is. He’s clear paint smeared atop a clear canvas and just about as exciting and remarkable.

And his weak characterization affects other major aspects of the story, like his quest for the Reliquary. In order for me to have cared about this plotline at least one of the following had to be true:

(1) I’m interested in the premise of the quest itself
(2) I think Sethennai is an interesting person
(3) I care that Csorwe cares about Sethennai

And…yeah. None of those were happening.

 

Lackluster Character Development

This also leads back to good ol’ Belthandros! (He’s out here just ruining everyone’s day, isn’t he?) The other reason why Sethennai had to be a solid character is that both Tal and Csorwe’s storylines lead back to him. So the fact that he isn’t makes Csorwe’s journey of self-discovery, and kicking herself out of the nest, so to speak, less impactful than it should have been. And Tal’s journey is even more underwhelming. If I have zero impressions–good or otherwise–about the man they’ve had this complicated and mostly-one-sided relationship with, then I can’t be expected to feel much for a series of character developments that directly depend on the guy being at least somewhat complex.

Also, there’s a big gap in Csorwe’s development from Csorwe the Chosen Bride and Csorwe Thereafter. From 14 years of living in a convent and being slated for death to being told you’re now a free agent with a future, and the transition between the two is basically non-existent. No exploration of how she’s had to adjust, or how her world views have changed, just a “Okay, I was living in Point A, now I’m living in Point B. The end.”

 


Okay, I know, that seems like a lot of ranting. But I did mostly like the book! On the surface it’s an enjoyable story with great potential, and it’s got a set of main characters (minus He Who I Shall No Longer Name) that interest me enough to keep going. But things start fraying when you try to delve deeper, and I just wish it ended up being more than what it turned out to be.

 

(Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review)

 

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News & Review: The Hanged Man (Tarot Sequence 2) – I Got Blurbed On a Book Cover

So um. A thing happened several months ago.

Well, okay, a bunch of things happened. And they’re all interconnected and relevant to THE thing I want to talk about, so let’s just go through them in chronological order. Imagine the countdown from Hamilton‘s “Ten Duel Commandments.”

 

☀️ Number one! ☀️

I got to read one of my top two most anticipated books of the year–AKA K.D. Edwards’ The Hanged Man (yes, The Hanged Man that I’ve been blathering about on Twitter and doing promo for)–and I wrote a review for it on Goodreads.

 

☀️ Number two! ☀️

My brain tried to coerce me. “Listen. I know have your hands full with a day job and volunteer work and art studies and a blog and, like, social obligations–whatever those are–but don’t you think doing a release promo for this book would be fun? And sexy?”

And friends, I’m a sucker. I fell for it.

 

☀️ Number three! ☀️

I was asked if I wanted to be featured on the book as a blurb, and once I gathered my jaw off the floor, I immediately said yes. Elation was closely followed by “Oh shit, I only spent 20 minutes writing that review.” But my thought was that it was going to be inside the book, within the first few pages, and squashed between a handful of blurbs from other bloggers. So no biggie if it’s not super polished, right?

 

☀️ Number four! ☀️

I got an email with the final proof of the cover.

…….Eh? Cover??

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Scott Reintgen! T. Frohock! And… *squints* this other person?

Ahem. Yes! Hi! Hello!

Imposter Syndrome, meet the pointy end of my sword. (Named “This is so beyond what I was expecting that my brain didn’t even have a chance to freak out”)

The Tarot Sequence series has been a source of incredible opportunities and friendships, and the fact that my first blurb opportunity was for this book says something loud and precious. And I’ll be holding onto it for a while.

Also, did you know publishers allowed swearing on their full-release covers?? Because I didn’t, and this was a VERY cool way of finding out.

 


 

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Author: K.D. Edwards
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, LitRPG (lite)
Subject(s)/Theme(s): LGBTQ+ (everyone), Found Family
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: December 17th, 2019
Page Count: 386 (paperback)

Rating: 10/10*

(*There’s a lot of bias with this rating. Like, a LOT. It’s a beautifully muddied water of personal relationships and life events…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

CW: talk and implications of sexual abuse, rape, and pedophilia

 

Hey, K.D? Sequel Syndrome just called. It wants you to send some pillows and blankets to the titanium coffin you just buried it in.

Clearly The Hanged Man is the product of a mortal man making deals with a high demon, because it has no business–none whatsoever–being this damn good. Disgusting, paradoxical levels of good.

I mean, we’ve seen New Atlantis before, we know these characters, so the honeymoon glow should have worn off at least a little, because that’s how sequels tend to go. The world shouldn’t feel just as heartpounding and unexpected as the first time I read The Last Sun–like the jolt of a first kiss experienced over and over again. There is ZERO logic to that.

And yet. And yet.

This book takes everything you loved about The Last Sun and takes it up a level. And another. And another. And then just when you think, “Well, that has to be the peak,” it smiles and takes you up into another building stacked on top of this one. Because the last 1/3 of the book? Fucking brace yourselves. It is an unending, head-spinning series of revelations and backs against the wall and consequent choices–choices that left me yelling and shaking with adrenaline–and Atlantean magic pushed beyond limits to mesmerizing results. It’s characters navigating their vulnerabilities and fears with one another, and I lost track of the number of times I cried.

Brand said, fiercely, in a breaking voice. “You’re my boy. You can do anything. Anything.”


Things get darker (more so than I’d expected). Stakes are much higher. The banter and the jokes are even better. And the worldbuilding is off the charts. We also get to see Rune and Brand interacting with small children, to hilarious and surprisingly good results, and that’s something I can’t get enough of.

Oh, and for those who felt that TLS was a bit of a white sausage fest (and I say that with affection)–rest assured! Several new major characters make their appearance in this book, many of them female and/or POC, and they’re all written with exquisite care.

This beautiful messy family just got a lot bigger and I cannot wait for everyone to experience it.

 

☀️ My Review of The Last Sun (Tarot Sequence 1)


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Fantasy Books & Games for Mental Health Awareness Month (Why I Need More Mental Health Rep in Adult Fantasy)

 

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May is Wyrd & Wonder and mental health awareness month, so it only makes sense to celebrate the 31st by smooshing them together into one post.

I meant to write this on Wednesday for Top 5 Wednesday, but I’ve been zonked out on allergy meds all week (one day the pharmaceuticals will develop a formula that doesn’t hit me like a freight train) and going to sleep at 6 and waking up at 3 AM.

So apologies in advance if I sound scattered and tired (however tired sounds like in a blog post).

But before we get started, I want to address something.

Hey, mainstream adult fantasy–epic fantasy, if we’re being particular–can we sit down and have a quick chat? It’ll only take a sec.

This is a topic that’s been a growing source of frustration for me in the last handful of years, and I’m going to bring it up again in another post soonish (hopefully) so I’ll keep it short and blunt today: why don’t more of your characters deal with mental health issues? 

Why aren’t your Chosen Ones having panic attacks and breakdowns? Why isn’t your merry band of misfits dealing with the mental fallout from battles and murders and facing monstrosities and just the general “holy fuck” factor that comes with trying to save the world? It seems to be an unspoken rule that therapists can’t exist in fantasy worlds, so how are these people getting out of bed every morning holding determination in one hand and eagerness in the other?

Why is trauma a temporary roadblock that you can gently remove and set aside so that the heroes can go on with doing hero things?

I’m sorry if I seem frustrated and/or bitter but I’m tired and mental health is a topic that means everything to me, and when paired with fantasy, the resulting story can be powerful and validating. And while that isn’t to say I don’t love seeing mental health reps in contemporary and horror and thriller and scifi–because I do, I love it a lot–fantasy can explore mental health from angles that other genres can’t.

And I just–I don’t understand why that isn’t taken advantage of more often.

Writing multi-volume fantasy epics has never really been an aspiration for me when I was younger. I adore reading them, sure, but my projects always leaned more towards…Guillermo del Toro crossed with Markus Zusak.

I wouldn’t have guessed that the one thing that’ll push me into drafting an epic fantasy would be the lack of depressed protagonists in these stories.

Because at the end of the day, you try to create the things you want to see more of in the world and hope that by doing so you’ll help foster an ecosystem where more such creations can take root and grow and maybe become the norm.

So yeah…good chat, adult fantasy! Same time next week? 😀

 

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

The Light Between Worlds

Rep: PTSD, Depression

The Light Between Worlds is the portal fantasy I always wanted and finally got–a spiritual continuation of Narnia and every portal fantasy that has ever ended with the protagonists returning to the real world. The author doesn’t hold back on showing the ugliness of depression and the mental toll it takes on the people who have to watch you go through it.

One of the hardest and most rewarding books I’ve ever read.

 

 

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

The Art of Starving

Rep: Eating disorder

This book is important for several reasons:

1) It talks about eating disorders and body image from the perspective of a teenage boy, which is super rare in fiction.

2) It made me acknowledge things about myself that I never really wanted to acknowledge. You can read about the details in the review here, if you want. It’s a post I’m glad I’d written because the process was…cathartic, in a clobbered-with-a-sledgehammer sort of way. But occasionally I think back on it and get the urge to trash it because, holy hell, it’s so awfully personal. (Some good news, though: I’m 6 pounds up from last year. That doesn’t sound like much but considering where I started from, I’ll take it).

Also, I’ve seen complaints that Miller’s narrative romanticizes the act of starving. But I can’t imagine anyone who’s ever had an eating disorder to read this and be like, “Yeah, this is the handbook for getting skinny.” I think readers can recognize the mental gymnastics we go through to convince ourselves into self-harming (which starving ultimately is) and Miller makes it crystal clear that Matt’s actions aren’t ideal.

 

Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb

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Rep: Depression, PTSD, and more

If you want a prime example of how mental health can and should be addressed in high/epic fantasy, look no further. Depression, PTSD, self-esteem issues, suicide ideation–Hobb tackles all with absolute mastery (and I’m shocked and disappointed that the series didn’t spawn more high/epic fantasy books with similar themes). The series also has the best depiction of chronic loneliness I’ve come across in fiction. The kind that has no rhyme or reason and shadows you for years and years and years, waiting for moments when you’re most vulnerable. That’s a very hard thing get across in any story, and the fact that she does it in a fantasy one (across nine volumes) is remarkable.

 

The Hollow Folk series by Gregory Ashe

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Rep: Depression

I er, think I’ve actually run out of words to describe these books.

If you’ve read any of my dissertations reviews, you know how much the series means to me. Gregory Ashe draws on his own experiences with depression and slips them into his main character and the result is painful but so, so spot-on.

 

Arcadia Project Trilogy by Mishell Baker

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Rep: Bipolar Disorder and more

Ninety percent of the characters in this series is a mess and that’s what makes them so great.

Arcadia Project is an ownvoices urban fantasy, and the author does a wonderful job of explaining BPD through her MC while also crafting a unique and entertaining story about faes and Hollywood and the messiness of relationships.

 

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace

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Rep: Depression (I think)

I just realized I’ve never talked about this book before on the blog which is crazy because it’s one of my favourite YA books released in the last two years. Memory Trees is all about female relationships–mothers and daughters, sisters, best friends, girlfriends–and the story puts a spotlight the MC’s mother and her mental illness and the events surrounding her hospitalization, which I thought was explored really well.

And okay, calling it a fantasy book is kind of an eyebrow-raising move because for most of it the only fantasy is in the way that Wallace approaches the story–as a dreamy inter-generational fable. The rest of it is a mix of contemporary, mystery, and historical fiction. But I swear, the magical stuff does rear its head at the end; you just have to squint to catch it.

 

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

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Rep: The entirety of DSM-5

I’m uh, actually not too sure if this belongs here?

On one hand, I’m not kidding with the DSM-5 thing. Fletcher’s series has the most comprehensive exploration of mental illnesses–from kleptomania to schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder–I’ve ever seen in speculative fiction.

But I don’t know if I would call them representations, per se. In the Manifest Delusions world, your delusions give you power–so the more ill you are, the greater your control over reality. It’s similar to The Art of Starving in that sense, except this doesn’t address those issues from a positive, “This is how you can heal” perspective.

 

Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire

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Rep: PTSD and more

I’m two books behind on the series, but Wayward Children is another portal fantasy story that deals with the trauma of being sent back to the real world, and just the general hardships that come with…well, living, and being different.

 

Last Bus to Everland by Sophie Cameron

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Rep: Agoraphobia, Anxiety, and more

Oh look, another portal fantasy! Says something about the subgenre, doesn’t it?

What I really loved about this story is that it features a father who is dealing with severe mental health issues (agoraphobia) and that’s not something I often find in fiction; it’s usually the mother figures who are depressed and ill and on medication. And Sophie Cameron talks about his illness in a really empathetic light, which is even rarer, so massive kudos to her for that.

 

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Now for the video games!

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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Rep: Psychosis, Depression

Hellblade is many things.

It’s the most candid look at psychosis (with auditory and visual hallucinations) I’ve seen in any fictional media.

It’s an example of how to go about representing mental disorders you don’t have personal experience with–doing thorough research and consulting mental health professionals and people who do have experiences with them.

It’s the story of a woman who makes her descent into Hel (literally and figuratively) at a time in her life when darkness is all that is seemingly left.

It’s one of my favourite games of all time, and it’s the one game that made me cry from beginning to end. (I cried so, so much)

I can’t begin tell you how grateful I am that Hellblade exists and that I had the opportunity to experience it. Senua’s story is one I’ll carry around for the rest of my life and I 100% would have gotten this quote tattooed if it’d been a bit shorter:

Never forget what it is like to see the world as a child, Senua: where every autumn leaf is a work of art; every rolling cloud, a moving picture; every day a new story. We too emerge from this magic, like a wave from the ocean, only to return back to the sea. Do not mourn the waves, the leaves and the clouds. Because even in darkness the wonder and beauty of the world never leaves. It’s always there, just waiting to be seen again.

 

Night in the Woods

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Rep: Depression, disassociation

(Or as like to call it, Millenials: The Game)

I think there are three different lenses with which you can look at Night in the Woods:

1) A mystery/horror/fantasy story with cute (and queer) anthropomorphic animal characters getting caught up in strange happenings around town, all the while trying to navigate the murky waters of friendship, family, and romance.

2) A very pointed commentary on the state of capitalism suffocating small towns and older generations who would sacrifice their youth to maintain status quo and save their town from a broken economy that they helped dismantle in the first place.

3) A stark yet empathetic exploration of depression and existential crises from the PoV of young adults in their early 20’s.

…Or all three at the same time. That works too!

 

The Missing: J. J Macfield and the Field of Dreams

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Here’s a crazy rundown of the first 15-ish minutes of this game:

You’re a college girl named J.J. and you and your best friend/maybe-girlfriend Emily are camping out on an island having a great time. But things black out and the next thing you know Emily has disappeared and you’re running through the island desperately searching for her. Then you get struck by lightning and die, but a moose doctor comes and resurrects you, so all’s good. Then you start getting text messages from the stuffed toy you’ve been carrying around (the stuffed toy that got destroyed in the lightning–so presumably it’s sending you messages from whatever afterlife toys get sent to). Meanwhile, Emily is still nowhere to be found.

…I’ll give you a second to soak that in.

Would it then surprise you to know that it offers one of most beautiful explorations of identity and self-acceptance I’ve come across in gaming?

The Missing is made by SWERY (aka Hidetaka Suehiro), and his games tend to be on the…trippy side. Bizarre and peppered with pop-culture references and off-beat humour, you love them or hate them.

I’m firmly in the former category. They’re not technical marvels, the controls can be wonky, the story dives into the nonsensical, but they’re never boring and there’s something incredibly endearing about them. (It helps that he’s an absolute sweetheart on social media)

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Yes, that is SWERY. Yes, he is amazing.

Well, this jumps over “endearing” into “empowering” and “validating.”

The problem I have with media that explores mental health and LGBTQ+ issues is that they sometimes explore the pain side and kind of leave it at that. No closure. What stories like The Missing offer is that end piece–the sorely-needed ray of hope that yes, you can find peace and healing and come out on the other side stronger.

While I can’t personally speak for one of the representations that SWERY dives into (spoiler: transgender rep), other players can vouch that yes, he gets it right.

Please. Go play it. Or watch a playthrough/walkthrough of it.

 

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Top 5 Wednedsay – BFFs in Fantasy (plus musings about intimacy, societal expectations, and friendships in western vs eastern media)

The prompt for this week is actually BFFs in SFF, but since this is Wyrd and Wonder month, I figured I’d just stick to fantasy. Also, a special shout-out to Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen who totally would have made the list, but things were turning into a bit of a sausage fest so I ended up replacing them with a female duo.

This post is brought to you by Wyrd and Wonder, a month of fantasy-loving for fantasy lovers by fantasy lovers.

Join us, friends. There’s plenty of love to go around.

(This sounds like I’m advertising a cult and I’m okay with that)

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Fitz & Fool & Nighteyes – Realm of the Elderlings:

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“I set no limits on that love.”

There are many reasons why RotE is my favourite series of all time, but Fitz/Fool/Nighteyes stands at the top of the list. I. Just. I don’t know how to explain how much this OT3 means to me without coming across like a crazy person. They have been the subject of too many poems scribbled out in the fury of 2 AM writing sessions. When the series ended, I had to sit my friend down to blubber about them for an entire afternoon because they were haunting my waking hours and it felt like my heart was imploding. It sometimes scares me how deeply I feel about these characters, because hell, they’re fictional. But then I think, “So what?”

And here’s an unpopular opinion for the RotE fandom: I’m perfectly fine with Fitz and Fool’s relationship being a platonic one, because their relationship is as romantic as you can get without actually being romantic and we need more examples of those in mainstream media (more on that later). Also, I don’t believe your soulmate has to be someone you’re romantically involved with. I just think it’s someone–anyone–who gets you right down to your marrow, and spending two days with them is equivalent to two lifetimes’ worth of connections. We’d all be very fortunate to experience that once in our life, and Fitz has had two of them. One with a wolf, the other with a prophet.

I’ve never come across a group of characters who throws so much of themselves into loving each other as these three, and I don’t think I ever will.

 

Agniezska and Kasia – Uprooted

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I don’t think I realized how desperate I was to see good female friendships in adult fantasy until Uprooted came along. The romance with the Dragon wasn’t the highlight of the book for me (male love interest who’s broody for the sake of being broody  = been there, done that); it was Niezska and Kasia’s relationship that captured my heart. Their friendship is built on a foundation of mutual love and support, but also acknowledgement of some of the more negative feelings (jealousy in particular) that stand between them.

 

Felicity and Johanna – The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

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I enjoyed Lady’s Guide far more than I did Gentleman’s Guide and I can thank Felicity and Johanna for that. What I love about their relationship is that it’s not all smiles and matching friendship bracelets. There’s several suitcases worth of resentment and misunderstandings that they need to sort out before they get anywhere, and I love that. I love seeing girls with vastly different personalities learn from each other, admit when they’re wrong, and come out of the whole kerfuffle with a more open mind.

 

Rune and Brand – The Tarot Sequence

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I rambled on about intimacy and the rigid preconceptions of romance versus friendship in my review for this a year ago, and I’m going to ramble about it again now, because this is something I feel very, very strongly about.

It so often feels to me that society draws a line in the sand when it comes to relationships and gives us a list of acceptable behaviours for each respective side–one for friendship, one for a romantic/sexual relationship. So two friends can kiss each other on the cheek, but kissing on the mouth is, like, a sexual territory, so watch out for that! And et cetera.

At best it’s annoying (in my experience, super invasive questions from family and acquaintances). At worst it contributes to toxic behaviours and insecurities about intimacy and affection, along with a horde of other mental health issues.

So I think it’s incredibly important for fictional media to portray the kinds of relationships that blur this line. Relationships that can’t be shoved into boxes and stuck with a big, fat label. This means friendships with the kind of emotional depth and physical intimacy that you find with romantic pairings.

And that’s exactly the kind of relationship that Rune and Brand has. Romantic without the romance. Intimacy without the sex. Snark without the underlying cruelty. Their friendship is by far the best one I’ve found since finishing Realm of the Elderlings, and if you read what I wrote above, you know I don’t say that lightly.

 

Frodo and Sam – The Lord of the Rings

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No explanations needed, really. They’re Frodo and Sam. They’re the OG ride or die male duo. Their love and loyalty to one another kept the world from descending into darkness, and if that’s not friendship goals, I don’t know what is.

 

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EXTRAS (Anime) | Western vs. Eastern?

So, I wanted to talk about these two anime series as a bonus because their friendship storylines are off-the-walls phenomenal and I couldn’t not include them. And then I got a bit sidetracked thinking about friendships in western versus eastern SFF media.

I always enjoy comparing North American and East Asian narrative works (Korean and Japanese, primarily) because I grew up on the latter and then partially migrated to the former, and while I adore both, there are some things that one offers that the other often doesn’t. And while the reasons for some of them are obvious, like the lack of non-fetishized LGBTQ+ and mental health rep in East Asia, others aren’t (for me, anyway). And that includes intense, no holds barred, I’ll-walk-into-the-depths-of-hell-for-you types of friendships–which I always found that Japanese and Korean media does a better job of than NA.

…And I’m not quite sure why.

I have some vague hypotheses but it’s something I need more than a few nights to think about. It’ll be a future post, maybe. And if you have any ideas, leave them in the comments! I love love love discussing these things.

For now, onto the anime!

 

Gon and Killua – Hunter x Hunter

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Killua (left); Gon (right)

These two kids slay me. Watching Killua become best friends with Gon and go from an assassin-in-training with the social skills of a cactus to a kind-hearted, sensitive boy is honestly the best thing about this series.

And there’s this one scene where Killua breaks down into sobs in front of another character (in the middle of a friggin battle) and talks about how helpless he feels because his best friend is suffering and he doesn’t know how to fix that. It’s beautiful, heartwrenching, and startlingly vulnerable, and I would give my left arm to see more scenes like that in western fantasy.

 

Madoka and Homura – Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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Back in 2011, Madoka Magica grabbed the magical girl genre by the throat and shook it into something we’ve never seen before. There have been many copycats since then but none with the same kind of presence as the original, and that largely has to do with these two characters. There’s a reason why I own six figurines of them.

Get yourself a friend who would travel back through a timeline again and again to save you from a terrible fate, only to watch the same tragedy played out in increasingly worse ways, and then swallow that pain and do it all over again because she believes you’re worth sacrificing everything for.

I would, no question, die for Madoka and Homura. And then reset the timeline and do it again.

 

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Soooo this was meant for this to be a short and sweet post because I was on a mini break for the past week and a half and I wanted to write something that was easy.  I don’t know how it devolved into a rant about three different topics. 😂

Well, onto you! Who are you some of your favourite fantasy (or scifi) BFFs?

Top 5 Wednesday – Characters That Embody the Hufflepuff House

Happy Wednesday! I know I said I’d be back to a semi-normal schedule last week, but I’ve been suffering from a case of “Oh god, my reviews and posts are flaming piles of garbage” and “WHAT ARE WORDS????” which has had the added benefit of wreaking havoc on my reading pace.

Fun, fun times.

But more on that in my wrap up post! Because today’s a Wednesday which means it’s time for another rendition of Top 5 Wednesday! Or as I like to call it, “Top 5 Characters/Books/Things That I Can Actually Remember That Day Day.”

Today’s topic is: Characters that Embody Your Hogwarts House

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So Pottermore says that Hufflepuffs value hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play.” And that sounds kind of vague. And bland. And…side-kick-y. Which is probably why I’d spent most of my childhood and teenagehood hating on the Hufflepuff House.

But I think, for me, the crux of Hufflepuffs is their value of deep emotional connections (humans and nature both) through love and passion and caring. So that’s the definition that I’ve based this list on.

Also, I’m pretty sure this is the first Harry Potter/Sorting House related post I’ve done (an absolute sacrilege, I’m sure, considering I mostly do fantasy-related posts), so allow me to take the time to rant about the sheer messed-upness of shoving pre-adolescent kids into groups based around personality and telling them “This is where you’re going to be for the next seven years of your life.” Because I’m pretty sure the Sorting Hat isn’t prophetic, so it can’t possibly predict the trajectory of someone’s character development from childhood to adulthood.

And I’m also pretty sure there’s an echo chamber thing going on. If a Gryffindor kid does remain a Gryffindor kid for the rest of their childhood, is it because they embody Gryffindor traits to their core, or is it because everything around them is telling them that this is who they are–they’re so brave and daring and wow, look at Harry Potter always being so brave and daring, don’t they want to be just like Harry Potter?–that they end up molding themselves according to that image?

I would love to see someone in the HP world do an extensive psychological study comparing the development of Hogwarts kids verses the development of kids from other magic schools. And then make an exposé documentary out of it–part of a series called “The Sinister Goings-On at Hogwarts.” Episode 139.

But I digress.

On with the show!

 

FitzChivalry Farseer – Realm of the Elderlings

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No character, absolutely no character, in any other book goes through the amount of shit that Fitz goes through in the course of this series. Every horrible, tragic thing you can imagine happening to a person? You can bet he experienced them. Got T-shirts and all.

And yet.

Yet somehow, he never loses his ability to love and care and to just feel with every inch of his being. And while that leaves him vulnerable to so much pain, it also leaves him open to many, many incredible and beautiful connections. Connections that have shaped him–that he has allowed to shape him. And while he can never direct it towards himself, the love he has for others in his life can overflow thousands of oceans.

It’s literally impossible for me to write about him without crying and I’ll always be okay with that.

(Fun fact: adding Fitz to the list was what made me go, “Okay, fine, online quizzes. You’re right. I’m a Hufflepuff.” Because he’s pretty much me in character form.)

 

Auri – The Kingkiller Chronicles

Auri is one of the most beautiful, broken, egoless characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. While there’s still so much we don’t know about her, I think we know the most important bits. That she’s a kind and gentle soul who keeps her loved ones close (though there are very few of those in her life). And that she cares and comforts Kvothe in the rare moments when he’s unguarded.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Auri’s novella) is through and through a Hufflepuff book.

 

Samwise Gamgee – The Lord of the Rings

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Way back when, my friend said to me after binge-watching the movies for the first time, “Sam did all the work!” While that’s completely uncharitable to Frodo because being the ringbearer is a different kind of burden–an insidious, mostly invisible one–Sam is a force of love and hope and loyalty that stood toe-to-toe with evil and won. For that he deserves at least half the credit.

It’s getting late (why I’m writing this at 3 AM I cannot tell you), so I’ll just leave you with Frodo’s own words: “Frodo wouldn’t have gotten far without Sam.”

 

Gon Freecss – Hunter x Hunter

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I make no secret my love for HxH and this guy right here is what makes this masterpiece work. “You are light” is what another character says of Gon at one point, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. While Gon gains some super neat powers later on in the series, his greatest power is and always was his unwavering optimism and loyalty and the belief that good will prevail in the end. This kid will believe in you until you begin to believe in yourself and that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

And we see how that’s so cruelly turned against him in the Chimera Ant arc, demonstrating how your strongest traits can easily become your greatest weakness.

 

Jesse Pinkman – Breaking Bad

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Oh, Jesse. We first meet him as the drug dealer/meth cooker/comic relief punk that Walter White “enlists” to help make money for his family. Little did I know that he would become the heart and conscience of the series. Because Jesse cares. A lot. Too much, you could say, considering the line of work he’s in. For his friends. For the girls he dates. For the random people he meets out in the world. For, perhaps to his detriment, Walter White.

Jesse Pinkman is a character stuck in the wrong story and all I wanted was to pluck him out of this hellhole and into a sweet romantic road trip comedy.

 

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And that’s it! These are obviously not set in stone (except for Fitz. He’s 1000% a Hufflepuff and you can fight me on that), so holler at me below if you disagree/agree with any of my choices and we can have a good ol’ debate! 😀

Top 5 Wednesday – Books at the Top of My TBR

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic.

This week’s topic is: Top of Your TBR.

And…that’s it. No fancy rewording for this one; it’s what it says on the tin. (Though I did limit the list to books that are already published) See, mom, I can simplify things!

 

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

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What’s an alternative phrase for “performance anxiety” to describe how you’re anxious about the performance of the other party because it’s been 10 long years of waiting–and you know it’s going to be good because they know exactly how to push your buttons, but what if it isn’t good?–so you keep putting it off and making half-hearted excuses like “Sorry, can’t today. I’m washing my hair” and “The stars aren’t aligned tonight. Not a good time”?

…Asking for a friend.

Right. Come February it’s gonna be you and me, Bridge of Clay. Show me what you got.

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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I’ve been announcing to myself every year since 2011 that I’m going to read this for sure. Why break a seven-year tradition?

So, ahem. *taps mic* This year. For sure.

 

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

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I’ve been hearing so many incredible things about The Winter of the Witch from several bloggers whose opinions I wholly trust, so I figure now is the best time to continue with the series. It hasn’t been all that wintry here thanks to El Niño but at least I can live vicariously through Arden’s vivid descriptions.

 

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

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I mean, firstly, it’s a Sanderson book (and I hear it’s great which is utterly unsurprising). Secondly, I have a feeling this might be a good sampler on what the third era Mistborn books might be like. Thirdly, it’s an overdue ARC and I really need to start chopping away at those.

 

Tower of Living and Dying (Empires of Dust 2) by Anna Smith Spark

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Another one that I absolutely wanted to get to in 2018 but couldn’t.

A few tidbits on these books (because I never actually talked about them on this blog):

Despite my local bookstore’s propensity to stick this series in the YA display (because women can’t possibly write grimdark fantasy for adults, amirite?) it’s very much an adult grimdark and probably best I’ve read in the past couple of years, for several notable reasons.

One, it’s sexy, which I never thought I’d say about a grimdark story. Yet it doesn’t weaponize sex to fuel the grimdark aspect (a common complaint I have with these books)–so there’s no rape or attempted rape to be found here.

Two, several of its main characters happen to be queer which is definitely something I don’t see in this subgenre (the traditionally published ones, anyway).

Three, Spark’s prose is the kind that I want to roll around in for days–a gorgeous interplay of poetry, sensuality, and bloody violence.

And if you’re now wondering, “Hell, why is it taking you so long to get to it, then?” don’t worry, I’m right there with you.

 

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What are some books that are at the top of your TBR right now?

Top 5 WedTuesday – Disappointing Books of 2018 That I Still Appreciate

“Kathy. I think it’s time for an intervention.”

“Uh, I have no idea what you’re talking about. As usual.”

“‘Top 5 WedTuesday‘? Published one day before the next Top 5 Wednesday?”

“Oh, get off my back. You make it sound like I do this every other week. This is literally the first–”

“And speaking of skirting deadlines, you still haven’t put up this month’s Discworld announcement post yet. Or your Best Books of 2018. Or your Best Indie Games of 2018. Or the reviews for books you read two months ago.”

“Listen, I’m running on a sleep schedule of my own devising right now. You know the Aussie Open started last week and you know their night matches go past 3 AM. What am I supposed to do, not watch them because I have blog-running responsibilities now?”

“Here’s a novel idea: you could do your blogging and watch the Open at the same time. I know, crazy!”

“Yeaaah, about that…”

*Looks over to the TV screen which shows tennis. Then at the the desktop screen which shows more tennis. Then at the tablet screen which shows, you guessed it, tennis.*

“…”

“Maybe a rich oil prince will get me another screen for my birthday. :)”

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So while the other half of my brain is having a breakdown, I’d like to clarify that yes, this was supposed to go live last week, but due to reasons that uh, may or may not have to do with tennis-induced sleep deprivation, it’s going live now! Because this is a topic that I actually really wanted to tackle.

The original prompt was “Disappointing Books of 2018” but I put a bit of a spin on it. These are books that didn’t quite live up to the expectations I set for them, but ones that I still appreciate for x, y, z reasons.

(And I’m hoping to get all (er, most) of those overdue posts up before the end of this month. Knock on wood!)

 

Temper by Nicky Drayden

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I loved Nicky Drayden’s debut Prey of Gods–a rollicking scifi-fantasy mashup featuring angry gods, drugs, and dik-diks (which belong alongside narwhals and quokkas in the “I can’t believe this isn’t a made-up animal” category). I could never really get a good foothold on Temper, unfortunately; I couldn’t connect with the main character and the rampant worldbuilding that I fell in love with in PoG I felt overwhelmed by this time around.

What I appreciate: I freaking adore Nicky’s imagination and her willingness to take the genre to batshit crazy places. Temper is even more weird and unconventional than Prey of Gods (which is saying a lot) and even though I couldn’t get into it, I still love the fact that it exists.

 

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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This is one of those overdue reviews that I still have to finish. The TL;DR version is that I wanted to love this book so, so hard but it ended up being rather…underwhelming. The worldbuilding felt underdeveloped and Lei is one of those very reactive, blank slate protagonists that I’m not the biggest fan of. And the emperor, while a terrible person, kind of just starts and ends at “He’s a terrible person.”

What I appreciate: The heart and foundation behind this book is everything–an unapologetically Asian setting (the food descriptions are to die for), and love and friendship between two girls prevailing in the face of brutality.

 

Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor 2) by Mark Lawrence

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An unpopular opinion: I thought Grey Sister was a step down from Red Sister, mostly due to character reasons. I felt that Nona’s development had stagnated and secondary characters that I adored in the first book took a backseat in this one.  [Full review]

What I appreciate: I love Mark’s writing style and his ability to move from poignancy to snappy action with fluid ease. Also, this is one of the most female-centric adult fantasy I’ve read in recent years–women loving women, women befriending women, women betraying women. Books like this are the reason I created a Goodreads shelf called “Boom goes the Bechdel test.”

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I think this is one of those stories I would have enjoyed more as a TV show. I mean, I watched a quite a few scifi anime that deal with similar themes of alien evolution and ended up liking them all, but apparently if you stick it in book-form my brain just laughs and says “Nope.” (Maybe it’s flashbacks to all the evolution textbooks/articles I had to read in undergrad–by far not my favourite biology topic). It didn’t help that I wasn’t much invested in the human half of the story.

What I appreciate: This is probably the best example (textbook, if you will) of evolutionary scifi that I’ve ever read and my scientist heart will root for the success of any SFF book that explores biology to this degree. It’s also pretty dang cool that the author shares a name with one of my favourite composers.

 

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

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Okay, overall I wouldn’t really call this one “disappointing,” but considering the sheer amount of potential it showed in the first half, the second half proved to be a bit of a letdown in terms of character development and pacing (and now I’d give it a slightly lower score than what I originally gave). [Full review]

What I appreciate: Polyamory. In YA. Plus creepy forests and pagan rituals. Enough said.