How Historical Fiction Became a Source of Comfort These Last Few Weeks

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Gentleman Jack (HBO)

Happy Wednesday everyone! I hope you’re all doing well and keeping relatively sane! I kind of pulled a disappearing act again, but March was uh…yeah. I had to go through some adjustments.

The past couple of weeks has been interesting. I’m forgetting what day it is, I’ve been crying non stop to The Weeknd’s new album, I’m in danger of overwatering my succulents, and I’ve been binging on….historical fiction.

Huh.

I mean, I love historical fiction and I always have, but it’s become this weird fixation since the quarantine began. Weird because contemporary romance is usually my go-to comfort genre; they’re the books I reach for when I’m stressed and need an immediate escape. So why historical fiction? Why now?

My tentative answer? Because I know how those stories end.

Well, okay, not entirely. I may not know how each and every storyline ends, or how a writer will re-interpret something that’s already written in stone. Historical fiction is still fiction, even ones that are based heavily on true events, and there’s at least some degree of surprise and unpredictability to them.

But I know the general picture of the world that serves as an endnote to these stories. And I know the world which will follow that ending. I’m living in it right now.

And that’s become an emotional anchor of sorts. A reassuring embrace of certainty when tomorrows come with looping anxieties and new fears pitching tent above old ones. Not so much in the way of “Look how terrible things were back then and see how rosy this looks in comparison,” but rather in the sense of recognizing that there were hurdles people faced in every era, in every corners of the world, and then looking at today and saying, “Despite everything, we’re still here.”

So I’m taking it day by day, moment to moment, but also keeping the past close in hand because they serve as reminders of hope and resilience. And “past” doesn’t have to mean 100-200 years ago. I can rewind 10 hours and remember that this morning I woke up, got out of bed, and pulled myself through the rest of the day.

So yes, I’m on a bit of a historical fic binge. I caught up on the last two seasons of Outlander, reread a few Mary Renault books, and rewatched The Handmaiden.

I’m also a couple of episodes into Gentleman Jack and Harlots and enjoying both. The former has been called the Lesbian Downton Abbey, if you’re into that (I’m very much into that). The latter is an 18th century drama set in a London brothel. So kind of like Game of Thrones–the sex and intrigue part, at least–but actually written and produced by women, and told from the perspective of the sex workers (also something I’m super into).

 

To Watch: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

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Okay, how many souls do I have to steal and sell to be able to watch this movie? I’m asking for a friend. Quite literally.

The film was released in North America on February, and I was chomping at the bits to run to the nearest theater. I’d heard things about it for months. Exquisite pining, unapologetic sapphic beauty, gazes that say everything words can’t. I was ready to throw myself onto my imaginary fainting couch and sob into a handkerchief. But I had also promised a friend we would watch it together in March when they’re in town. Fast forward a few weeks: the news of the virus became loud and worrying, so we waffled back and forth about the schedule and the possible risks, and then bam, the theaters closed, cities went into lockdown, and the decision was pretty much made for us. 

So no romantic movie and dinner, sadly. But good news! The film will be made released  exclusively for streaming on March 28th! Sweet, sweet joy! And it’s on…on Hulu. Which isn’t available in Canada. Oh.

I mean, I guess it’s fitting that I’ve been gazing longingly at a movie that’s centered around looking. (It’s coming out in VOD form sometime this month, though, and I’m super excited)

 

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Have you been reaching for any specific genres lately?  Have you watched Portrait of the Lady on Fire? And if so, should I have an embroidered hankerchief ready to sob in??

Top Ten Tuesday: Traits I Like in Characters (Sorted by Character Class/Type)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by  The Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is “Traits I Like in Characters,” but I decided to get a little more specific, because honestly, there are a LOT of traits that I like in characters.

And a couple of years ago I realized that there are specific trait + character class combinations that I like more than others. And traits that I usually find annoying in one class I love in another. For example–thieves (rogues) and sarcasm? Been there done that. But sarcasm in, say…a medic type of character? Much more interesting.

So these are some of my favourite traits for specific character classes/types.

 


🔪 Rogues 🔪

 

Pirate Captains (or any leader figures, really):

1. Courteousness

I have a **thing** with people–er, characters–who have power and status and aren’t good, per se, but are sticklers about manners and respecting personal boundaries.

Just because you rob innocents out in the sea and commit a murder or two or a dozen every now and then, doesn’t mean you have to be rude about it.

 

2. Casual, Confident Confidence

This is actually a trait I’m meh about in assassins and thieves. But give me a feathered hat, a parrot, and a show of authority and POOF, magic happens, I guess.

These characters are capable and dangerous–cross them and they’ll run you through with a knife without a hitch in their moral compass–and everyone knows it, including themselves. But the confidence isn’t a forced act they have to put on. It’s like a second skin for them, and they know exactly when to dial it down and when to blast it in full-force. That awareness and control is a sexy, sexy thing.

 

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Favourite Example(s):

– Isabela (aka my video game wife) from Dragon Age 2

 

Assassins:

1. Kindness and Empathy

Because I’m a contrarian. And I fall hard for kindness in any type of character.

But genuine kindness in someone whose job is anything but kind–someone who deals out cold, calculated death on a regular basis–is something that’s especially attractive and fascinating to me. The fact that they’re able to retain their humanity when there’s so much blood on their hands is nothing short of incredible.

 

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Favourite Example(s):

FitzChivalry (Realm of the Elderings series by Robin Hobb)
Girton (The Blood of Assassins series by R.J. Barker)

 

2. Spiritual

Nothing hotter than an assassin who debates religious philosophy with you and says a nice prayer for your passing after they stick a knife between your ribs, eh?

(I’m 100% serious here)

 

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Favourite Example(s):

Thane Krios (Mass Effect 2 & 3)

 


🔮 Magic Users 🔮

 

Witches and Wizards:

1. Sarcastic

This is how I always want my sarcasm. Served with a big bowl of fireballs.

See, being a spellcaster is hard life, folks. You’re the easiest target in battle. You’re more often than not shoved into the role of a sidekick (when you’re not being burned at the stake, that is). And who gets most of the credit and glory at the end of the day? Yeah. The guy with the pointy stick.

So a wizardy or witchy type of character with a sarcastic, I’ve-had-enough-of-this-shit attitude is…cathartic? Satisfying? Something along those lines.

 

2. Brassy with Low Tolerance for Idiots

See above? I especially love female witches/wizards who are like this, because we can never have enough loud, outspoken women in fiction.

 

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Favourite example(s):

– Joan Clayton (Penny Dreadful)

 

Seers/Prophets:

3. Childlike Wonder

I look at seerhood in most stories as more of a curse than a gift. And as with assassins, I think it’d be incredibly difficult to retain your humanity (or sanity) in this particular line of work. So, to me, a seer who possesses a kind of bright-eyed innocence, even with the weight of millions and millions of lives bearing down on them, is someone to be treasured.

 

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Favourite example(s):

Quinn (The Tarot Sequence series by K.D. Edwards)

 


⚔️ Warrior/Fighter ⚔️

1. Shy/Introverted

This isn’t a character I come across all too often, and I’d love to see that remedied. Because people who enjoy charging into the thick of a fight, blades and guns drawn, don’t necessarily have to be extroverts. They may be anxious about socializing and quiet in a crowded room, which is perfectly fine and should be more normalized, in my opinion.

 


🤷 Normal People 🤷

 

Public Servants:

1. Unwavering Moral Conviction

Listen, I love vigilantes and anti-heroes as much as the next person. Characters who “break bad” because they believe society is rigged, and flirting with the dark side is the only way to achieve justice in the long run. They make for fantastic stories.

But I love the flip side of it even more: public servants who stay within the limits of the law because they believe, with every ounce of their being, that you can’t right wrongs with more wrongs. These characters never waver in their convictions, even when those around them–people they love and trust–are choosing to discard the law and societal order for personal gain. Or if they do waver, if they end up going through moments of crisis, they come out on the other side even stronger.

I may not always agree with them, but I find these characters admirable regardless.

 

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Psycho-Pass

Favourite Example(s):

Akane Tsunemori (Psycho-Pass)
Mulagesh (The City of Blades by Robert Bennett Jackson)

 

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Sooooo, if there are any cocky pirate captains and good-hearted assassins reading this…*cough* My DMs are open

What in the Worldbuilding: Sports in Sci-Fi and Fantasy (Where are they?)

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I’m so, so excited to unveil What in the Worldbuilding, a new blog post series where I’m going to be discussing all things worldbuilding in stories. Because I love stories and I love worldbuilding and I love rambling about them even more.

For the first couple of posts, I’ll be talking about some elements of worldbuilding that, in my opinion, don’t get enough screen/pagetime in SFF media (and see where my brain takes things from there).

And we’re starting with sports. Because this is something that’s always been a mystery to me: how is that these elaborate SFF worlds come with their own ecology and political landscape and four fictional languages with five dialects each, but so rarely feature their own sporting events?

 

Okay, First of all: Sports? Who Cares?

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*Slowly raises hand*

A quick “you didn’t ask for my life story but here it is anyway.” My parents are massive tennis fans and they introduced me into the sport very early, with my dad coaching in the early stages. Same thing with swimming (well, minus the coaching. My dad didn’t fare well in water and I actually ended up teaching him once I got my lifeguard license, which was a nice little pay-it-forward moment). There’s a meditative, cerebral quality to both that’s belied by their physical intensity and that lends to a deep attraction for me.

So I grew up tangled in this hopeless relationship with the two–fueled in part by the fact that I was good at them, but mostly by the fact that I just loved the hell out of them–and they’re as much a part of my identity as books. And crazy enough, I like seeing my real-life passions and experiences represented in media.

But passion isn’t required for one to understand the worldwide significance of sports. And to talk about what sports can bring to a SFF world, I think we need to look at their significance in our world.

 

Sports and Cultural History

Sports can tell us a lot about a culture and its history. Asian martial arts, for example, are rooted in eastern religion and philosophy. I won’t be talking about dancing in this WITW post (that’s for a later one), but it is widely considered to be a sport, and many of the modern forms we see today have their foundations in historical, traditional dances.

Everyone and their grandmother knows Canada bleeds hockey. But curling is just as strong of a national symbol here. Brought into the country by Scottish immigrants, it spread westward as the Canadian Pacific Railway extended its reach and more and more small towns began appearing on the map. So, for us, curling represents long winter months and fledgling communities coming together in solidarity and friendly competition.

The nuances are endless and the inclusion of them in a SFF world can make it so much richer.

 

Sports and Nationalism

Sports is one of the major drivers of national identity and what often unites entire countries together. The Olympics, for example, have become homegrounds for national pride and displays of physical prowess that somehow translates to the overall excellence of a nation. And if we look at the measures that some countries would take, and have taken, in order to stamp and seal their supremacy in these events, it becomes impossible to think of sports as mere forms of entertainment. Authoritarian regimes make use of sports to propagate their ideology in a more palatable way. And even with a democratic country like South Korea there’s an intense nationalistic fervor when it comes to sports, which I often found ugly (because it’s led to mass harassment of athletes) and at odds with the general image of the country .

So many politically-driven stories out there where juggernaut nations vie for power, and so few of them utilize sports as a form of diplomacy and a show of nationalistic strength. That seems strange to me. Whether we like it or not, sports will always be intertwined with politics–its reflection and extension–and I desperately want to see writers use that more.

 


Putting the political implications aside, here’s an undeniable truth:

 

Made-up Sports are Cool

And they become especially cool when they involve magic and future technologies and pieces of a fictional culture. I love brainstorming all the different sports that could exist in a world with a specific magic system (how, for example, Allomancy from Mistborn might translate to a competitive setting), and how they would evolve as the magic evolves.

Also, I’m attracted to the idea that punchy, flashy, dangerous forms of power can be used for more than mass weapons of war. That they can be transformed into something equally physical, but in a more positive and fun setting.

So let’s take a look at some examples of SFF sports in media. Starting with the most famous of them all…

 

Quidditch

My thoughts on J.K. Rowling most days is an intersection of “Oh god, what now” and “Please just stop,” but there’s no denying Harry Potter has become an indelible foundation for modern pop culture and a well of inspiration for many, many writers. Since its inception, magical schools have become a staple of fantasy.

So what surprises me is that the series hasn’t also ushered in a wave of magical sports in fantasy. I mean, Quidditch is such an important part of the HP world. As a bastardization of soccer–sorry, “football”–and other real world sports, it offers familiarity alongside high octane speed and the thrill of microviolence, with an unexpected sweetness to the idea of players protecting teammates from homicidal balls (aka bludgers). It’s brilliantly constructed.

And fans love it so much they turned it into an actual international sport.

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Credit: Scott Audette/Reuters

(Fun fact: I joined my university’s Quidditch club during undergrad and played for a couple of sessions before deciding that running around and inadvertently crashing into people with a stick between my legs was bound to send me to the hospital at some point.)

So why don’t we see more Quidditches in fictional worlds? If there’s room for intricate magic systems and made-up history that goes back thousands of years, surely there’s room for more inventive forms of sports that go beyond gladiatorial combat and racing.

Speaking of which….

 

Racing — Lots and Lots of Racing

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Left to right: Death Rally (Tales from the Borderlands); Chocobo racing (Final Fantasy); Podracing (Star Wars)

Racing is probably the most common one you’ll find in these stories. And with a simple format that allows for such a wide breadth of customization, it’s not hard to see why. Swap a horse with a giant yellow bird, or a car with a small flying vehicle, and you have yourself a made-up sport that’s unique enough to engage and entertain but doesn’t require a lot of meticulous ground-up writing.

Alex White’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is a somewhat recent sci-fi book that features racing. Via race cars, specifically, which might seem pretty mundane if you don’t count the fact that they require magic to operate.

 

The Gentleman Bastards

I’m going to be talking more about The Gentleman Bastards in future WITW posts because Lynch does a lot of small yet effective things with his worldbuilding that add an incredible amount of depth to the series.

And The Lies of Lock Lamora is the one example I can think of that features sports with regional and class distinction.

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Let’s take the Teeth Show, a gladiatorial sport unique to Camorr in which female fighters, and only female fighters, go head-to-head with leaping sharks. It’s a grisly, gaudy show of acrobatics and power, and while it’s enjoyed by the poor and rich and everyone in between, there’s a distinct middle to upper class flavour to it–aristocrats and merchants watching from their boats, sipping wine and conducting business while the fight plays out in the background. The luxury of partaking in violence without actually partaking in violence.

Then there’s Handball, which is a team sport played by the lower classes of southern Therin. There’s nothing showy or magical about handball (it’s pretty similar to our world’s version), and we never actually see any of the characters playing it, but what I love about it is that it comes with its own little history of origin and an allegory that may or may not be true but still serves as a valuable lesson for the audience (i.e. when it comes to revenge, either have a long memory or don’t procrastinate). That’s what makes it unique to this world.

The teeth show and handball serve three purposes: they add layers to the worldbuilding, they entertain the readers, and, perhaps most importantly, they tie in with the story that is being told, making it richer and more dynamic.

 


So why do sports get overlooked?

Let’s put on our speculation hats, shall we?

Possibility 1: SFF writers aren’t sports fans.

I’ll scribble in a big fat “REJECTED” for this one. The idea that geeks and sports don’t mesh is an outdated one, and I know for a fact that there are writers who are also sports fans. That being said, I’ve yet to meet another SFF nerd who also plays and watches tennis. But statistically speaking they have to be out there somewhere (and I will find you).

 

Possibility 2: SFF writers enjoy sports, but not enough to be comfortable and interested in writing about them.

…Maybe? At least, I’m sure it applies to some writers.

 

Possibility 3: Sports isn’t something people consciously associate with SFF stories

When we see “sci-fi and fantasy,” we immediately think space battles and gods and dragons and political intrigue and quests to save the world. Maybe sports just don’t cross people’s minds. And maybe people feel, especially with linear stories, there just isn’t room to showcase an activity that’s meant to be for recreation and competition. Not when there are life-or-death events brewing around every corner.

 

Possibility 4: Lack of a solid foundation for sports in SFF stories

I don’t know, maybe if Tolkien and Lewis and all those other classic SFF authors had included made-up sports in their stories, we’d see more of them today.

 

Possibility 5: A combination of multiple factors (including the ones above)

Probably a lazy answer but also probably the best of the bunch.

The thing is, I’m really not sure what deters writers from including sports in their worlds. It’s not like I can snap my fingers and pin the problem on societal hangups or prejudices. Sports is…sports. Innocuous (for the most part), exciting, and popular in the real world but not so much in fictional ones, evidently.

And I don’t know about you, but I would really like to see that changed.

 

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What are your thoughts on all this? Also, sneak me your sport-centric SFF recommendations!

Monday Chatter: Why You Should Watch Elite (Oh and Uh, Books)

So last week I was searching for reference photos of leather jackets and came across an article that talked about how a Netflix show called Elite was a queer sleeper hit. So I was like, “Sure. Why not” and put the jacket-searching on hold to binge through the entire season. And now I’m utterly obsessed.

So here’s a tiny impromptu review!

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The show is a thriller/highschool soap opera set in a prestigious private school in Spain. Think of it as Pretty Little Liars and Riverdale but with a lot more sex. Now, I’ve watched neither of those shows so I have no idea if the comparisons are valid, but the internet says so and therefore it must be true.

Elite starts out, as these things all do, with a dead body. Or rather, it ends with a dead body and the rest of the show is a very long flashback showing us how that dead body came to be. There’s scheming, lying, blackmailing, clandestine hookups, exploration of kink and the harms of parental expectations, and tropey characters turning into something more real and complex.

It’s also very, very, somewhat sneakily, diverse. There are Muslim characters, gay and bi characters (one with lesbian mothers), and narratives–both romantic and otherwise–that fully explore their diversities. It’s great stuff.

 

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It’s not award-winning TV by any stretch, but it’s fun and sexy and addictive and unexpectedly heartfelt. So go watch it! I need more people to rant about it with.

Now onto books!

 

Last Week – Books

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The Binding by Bridget Collins:
This was a weird one. I liked it, but I’m also frustrated with it because it could have been so much more. I’d call it a historical version of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind minus the punchy narrative.

 

This Week – Books

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Jade War by Fonda Lee & Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg:
It’s take two for both of these!

 

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Westside by W.M. Akers:
A fantasy mystery set in the roaring 20’s starring a young female detective. I’m still not sure what to expect with this one because the synopsis is a handful, but I’m pretty excited.

 

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What adventures have you been on in this past week? And what are your plans for this week?

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 – Independent Ladies

“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: independent ladies!

Favorite leading ladies who aren’t distracted from getting shit done by their love interest (they can still have a romance subplot – this is going to be subjective based on what you think would be ~too much~)

Yup, this is a day late! But it’s been a bit of a busy week, and my brain insisted on complicating the prompt by asking questions like:

“What’s the difference between ‘independent female characters’ and ‘strong female characters’ and ‘well-written female characters’?”

And “If a female character is involved in a romantic subplot and still gets shit done, isn’t that also a testament to how supportive the love interest is?”

Anywho, on to the show! (I tried to go for a variety of genres/subgenres for this one)

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Vanessa Ives | Penny Dreadful

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“I am nothing. I am no more than a blade of grass. But I am. You think you know evil? Here it stands.”

AKA my favourite female character in all media (despite the “ending” they gave her). You see, Vanessa Ives doesn’t walk around seeking romantic subplots. The romantic subplots seek her out, begging for a crumb of attention, because she’s a planet of her own goddamn making and her law of gravity is the only one worth obeying. For 3 seasons she does her own thing–a mesmeric combination of fearlessness and vulnerability, of kindness and unbridled anger–and the would-be suitors trail behind her with flowers, crying, “Please notice me!”

Vanessa has forever redefined the idea of a strong female character and I will live and die on her altar ’till the end of my days.

 

Anne de Vernase | The Soul Mirror (Collegia Magica 2)

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Anne is given what has to be the worst hand of cards that could be dealt to a female protagonist in fantasy: her father has been accused of treason and kidnapping and is now on the run; her younger brother has been thrown in prison; her mother has succumbed to insanity; and now she’s received news that her younger sister has died in an “accident.” Oh, and on top of it all, she’s about to lose her family estate.

Yet she remains on her feet, head held high. With logic, empathy, and sheer determination at her disposal, she carves out a place at the royal court, uncovers a dark conspiracy, and saves the world. Brava, Damoselle. Brava.

 

Julie (“Queenie”) | Code Name Verity

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“I am a coward”

It’s kind of impossible to explain why she’s such an incredible character and why she belongs on this list without going into spoilers, so this is gonna be vague.

Julie is a WW2 British spy who gets captured by the Germans and is forced to write up a comprehensive confession detailing everything to do with the British war effort. Gorgeous, clever, and sophisticated, she’s always had the attention of boys. But it’s her best friend Maddie who’s had her heart. And it’s Maddie that she keeps in mind as she’s tortured and interrogated to a breaking point.

Julie’s choice isn’t an easy one, but it’s one she stands by…and there’s a lot to be said for that.

And “Kiss me, Hardy” remains three of the most devastating words I’ve ever read.

 

Flavia de Luce|Flavia de Luce Series

“I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death.”

Flavia de Luce–chemist extraordinaire, amateur sleuth, and precocious tween–has no time for your romance nonsense. Not when there are delicious murders to be solved and chemical experiments to conduct. I mean, she’s also 11 for most of the series (because the author seems to want to keep her as a preteen for the rest of her life) so romance isn’t really on the menu for her right now, but still. She has little patience for the foolishness of adults and since no adult in her life can seem to rub two brain cells together to solve a murder, it’s up to her to figure things out. Again.

 

Felicity Montague | Montague Siblings Series

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You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men.”

Felicity is one of the best female characters I’ve come across in the past couple of years and I absolutely adore the development she goes through in Lady’s Guide. This is a girl who knows she can go toe-to-toe with the men when it comes to medicine and science, and she will do what it takes to prove that–to herself and to others.

Top 5 Wednesday – Ideal Hypothetical Mash-ups

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This weeks theme is: Ideal Mash-Ups.

I was debating whether or not to participate in this one because I usually dislike blurbs that go, “Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games!” or “The love child of Game of Thrones and Twilight!” because I think they’re easy ways of saying something without really saying anything.

Then I started randomly mashing stories together in my head and ended up getting attached to a lot of the combinations. And now I’ve made myself sad because I would REALLY love to read some of these and it kills me that they don’t exist (yet). Or maybe they do. Yell at me in the comments if you know any books that are similar to the following (a few of these might seem ridiculous, but bear with me here):

1. Brooklyn 99 meets The Lord of the Rings

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This popped into my head out of nowhere and now I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s not even a hypothetical mashup, really. I just want a comical fantasy series featuring the law enforcement of Shire and their cleanup of the various shenanigans the local Hobbits get into. Oh, and clever and insightful social commentary about Middle Earth culture would be nice too.

2. Band of Brothers meets Wind in the Willows

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So basically a panoramic drama featuring two armies of animals at war, with heartpounding action and tearjerking character interactions. We’re long due for a new Redwall-esque series and reading The Builders by Daniel Polansky only fueled my appetite for gritty stories about anthropomorphic animals.

3. Sailor Moon meets Dark Souls 

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Don’t look at me like that. Yes, this is a mashup of two complete opposites. Sailor Moon is a bright, cheerful story about magical school girls and romance and friendship defeating all evils. And Dark Souls is, uh…not that. The land you traverse in the game is desolate and unforgiving; the enemies you face range from eerie yet captivating to HOLY SHIT GET ME OUTTA HERE; the allies you meet are lost between apathy and disorientation.

With anime, I guess the closest is Madoka Magica. But I want this story to be told in a secondary fantasy world. I want a group of girls who are chosen, by prophecy or fate or whatever, to wield great magical powers and protect the world from monsters, both within and without. I want the grimdark alongside the themes of hope and friendship.

4. Mass Effect meets Ocean’s Eleven

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I am dying for a fun scifi story about a heist set across a series of planets and galaxy not like our own. And if it also explores interesting, complex relationships between the heisters? Even better.

(Someone actually made a parody mashup poster of ME and Ocean’s Eleven, and it’s fantastic: https://pen-gwyn.deviantart.com/art/ME2-Shepard-s-Eleven-Poster-168557919)

5. America’s Got Talent meets Mad Max

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An apocalyptic wasteland society that has an annual talent show of sorts in which the winner is awarded some mysterious, but highly coveted, prize. So a little like the Hunger Games, but with less murder and more interpretive dancing and magic tricks performed with your radioactive pet mongoose.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some hobbit fanfic.

 

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Jokesters

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is: favourite jokesters, pranksters, and funny characters.

This was a hard one. I had trouble remembering any comic-relief/jokey characters in books, let alone ones that I actually liked. The funny ones rarely stick in my mind compared to the broody, serious ones, unless their humour is some sort of well-crafted veneer hiding a mournful or sociopathic interior (which probably says a lot about me). So this is going to be a mishmash of books, film/tv, and comics.

1) Locke Lamora – The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch

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I mean, every one of the Gentleman Bastards can fit into this category–you’d have a hard time eking out a living in a decrepit crime-den like Camorr without some sense of humour–but Scott Lynch saves some of his funniest lines and scenes for the star of the show.

 

 


“Know something? I’d lay even odds that between the people following us and the people hunting us, we’ve become this city’s principle means of employment. Tal Verrar’s entire economy is now based on
fucking with us.”

 

 

2) Jalan Kendeth (The Red Queen’s War trilogy by Mark Lawrence)

The Prince of Fools
Jalan is who I imagine most of us would (realistically) be if we were thrown into a fantasy world full of monsters and magic–a big resounding “NOPE” and “Fuck this.” He’s the most unlikely hero, a self-professed “coward” who rarely taking things seriously. He’s also hilarious and one of the most entertaining narrators I’ve come across.

 


“Every fortune-teller I ever met was a faker. First thing you should do to a soothsayer is poke them in the eye and say, ‘Didn’t see that coming, did you?”

 

3) Sette Frummagem – Unsounded webcomic

Sette is the protagonist of Unsounded, an epic fantasy webcomic created by Ashley Cope. As the daughter of a crime lord, she’s already well versed in the art of lies, tricks, and thievery, and her antics drive her companion, Duane, absolutely insane. Cheeky, mouthy, and utterly hilarious, she’s become one of my all-time favourite female characters.

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Comic by Ashley Cope

 

4) Jonathan Carnahan – The Mummy films

Okay, so pretty much everyone in the first two movies is hilarious, even the bad guys, but Evie’s bumbling brother Jonathan takes the cake. Primarily because of this scene:

 

5) Jim Halpert – The Office (U.S)

And, of course, the King of Pranks himself. Jim Halpert effectively has two job titles: Paper Salesman and Perpetual Nagging Thorn on Dwight Shrute’s Side. The pranks he pulls on his deskmate make for some of the best parts of The Office, and I could watch compilation videos of them all day.

Jim Halpert Dwight
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And there you have it! Feel free to tell me some of your favourites!

 

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Sci-Fi & Fantasy in Other Media

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme, currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s theme: favourite Sci-fi & Fantasy in other media.

I consume a lot of SFF media (especially video games and anime) and I wrung my brain out trying to pare the list down to five.

So here are the lucky winners:

 1. Dragon Age Series (Video Game)

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Let’s start with my favourite video game series of all time.

Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise is not perfect by any means. There are many other games with tighter narratives and more dynamic gameplay. But there are two things that Dragon Age does better than any other game (including the Mass Effect series): character relationships and continuous worldbuilding. The combination of the fact that you can meet, befriend, and pursue relationships (romantic or otherwise) with these interesting, complex characters, and the sheer vastness of the history of Thedas–the knowledge that there is so much more of this world to uncover–makes for a series that is wholly consuming. I’ve probably sunk over 2000 hours into the three games and their DLCs, and every single one of them have been an absolute joy.

2. Hunter x Hunter (Anime)

Hunter x Hunter - Chimera Ant ArcAn adaptation of the manga created by Togashi Yoshihiro, Hunter x Hunter is, in my opinion, the best shounen manga/anime out there. Its cute, colourful artstyle belies a story that is extraordinarily complex and meditative of Eastern religions (most prominently Buddhism), while subverting classic shounen and hero’s journey tropes. The development of its character across 148 episodes is some of the best I’ve seen in any media, and the budding love and friendship between its two young protagonists brought me to tears more times than I could count. Its Chimera Ant arc, which spans around 70 episodes, is a masterpiece of storytelling and character building that everyone, regardless of whether or not you’re an anime fan, needs to experience.

3. The Witcher 3 (Video Game)

Geralt and YenThe Witcher 3 is the third and final entry in the game series adapted from/inspired by Andrzej Sapkowski’s highly successful Polish fantasy book series. It stars Geralt of Rivia–a “witcher” trained and mutated (via potions) from a young age for the sole purpose of fighting monsters that plague the world–and his ward/adopted daughter Ciri (not the woman pictured above).

There are many things that make TW3 a brilliant RPG. A fantastic cast of characters; a world that feels organic and populated (its cities actually feel like medieval cities–bustling and noisy and grimy); choices you make that actually lead to major, often unforetold, consequences. Most importantly, though? It’s got some of the best quests I’ve ever encountered in a game. You can star as the leading man in a play. You can help a troll pursue its dream of becoming a painter. You and your friends can get wasted and spend the night squeezing into dresses and making prank calls. These stories–small and large–range from funny to sweet to heartbreaking, and many of them have been forever etched into my brain.

Also, you can have sexytimes with your girlfriend on a stuffed unicorn. Enough said.

4. Pan’s Labyrinth (Film)

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Pan’s Labyrinth
is the film that introduced me to Guillermo del Toro and I think it remains, even with the release of The Shape of Water, his masterpiece. It’s everything that makes del Toro’s work so great combined and distilled into two hours of perfection.
A fairy tale unlike any other, Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark, dark story of childhood innocence and selflessness and courage pitted against the worst of human evil.

Beautiful, horrific, and heartwrenching–it became a major inspiration to me during my teenage years.

5. Lost (TV Show)

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Bu-But the last season
–I know.

We still don’t know what the island–I know.

Character assassinations–Shhhh

I know.

I’m not blind to the many faults of Lost. But, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t really care.

Beacuase Lost was years and years of my teenagehood. It was summers of rewatch-marathons. It was sitting down with my family every week concocting theories and staying up until 4 AM biting on nails. It was watching these broken characters find themselves and grow from stereotypes into more. No show before or after–Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones–has gripped me to a frenzy like Lost had. And you can’t wipe those memories away. In this case, the journey does triumph over destination.

I used to feel guilty whenever I had to defend the show to people violently proclaiming it as the worst in the history of television.

Well, fuck that.

Love what you love. And in the words of the McElroy brothers, don’t yuck someone’s yum.

~*~*~

And there you have it. Feel free to tell me some of your favourite SFF works and if any of the entries on my list correspond with yours! We can geek out together.

The Almost-But-Not-Quite: Alice Isn’t Dead (podcast), The Adventure Zone (podcast), Persona 5 (Video Game), The Last of Us (Video Game), Divinity: Original Sin 2 (Video Game), Magical Girl Madoka Magica (Anime), Cowboy Bebop (Anime), Penny Dreadful (TV Show), The Lord of the Rings (Film)