Archive for the Fantasy Category

Red Unicorn

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Young adult with tags on February 20, 2014 by Cara Marie

Just reread Tanith Lee’s Red Unicorn, which is the third and last of her books about the sorceress’s daughter Tanaquil, and for some reason the only one that I reread.

At the end of the second book, Tanaquil and her beloved mutually agreed to break up, because Tanaquil’s sister also loved him, and really, needed him more than Tanaquil did, so it was for the best.

Tanaquil then returns home to her mother, miserable because of the break-up, because of having put herself in a situation where she has nothing to distract her from the break-up, and because her mother and even her familiar are finding themselves in love.

That’s the first segment of the book. In the second segment, Tanaquil finds herself in another world, curiously disjointed from her own, where there is a Tanakil, who also has a sister, and who is also in love … Read more »

Overthinking TV pilot blurbs

Posted in Comics, Crime, Fantasy, TV with tags on February 1, 2014 by Cara Marie

iZombie, from Warner Bros TV and Rob Thomas Prods, is a supernatural crime procedural that centers on a med student-turned-zombie who takes a job in the coroner’s office to gain access to the brains she must reluctantly eat to maintain her humanity, but with each brain she consumes, she inherits the corpse’s memories. With the help of her medical examiner boss and a police detective, she solves homicide cases in order to quiet the disturbing voices in her head.
– Deadline

I’m not sure what to make of this. Asides from the zombie-who-has-to-solve-crimes aspect, it doesn’t seem like it has that much in common with the comic. If I were going to write that kind of summary for the comic, it would go more like this …

iZombie, the comic, is a supernatural apocalyptic adventure story that centres on an art student-turned-zombie who takes a job as a gravedigger to gain access to the brains she must reluctantly eat to maintain her humanity, but with each brain she consumes, she inherits the corpse’s memories. With the help of her ghost friend and werewolf friend, she deals with the deads’ unfinished business – and on the way discovers that the end of the world is nigh, and she may be the only one who can stop it.

The fact that the impending apocalypse isn’t mentioned in the TV summary makes me think that they’ve scrapped that element. Sure, in the earliest issues of iZombie, it’s not obvious that’s where things are going, and it does seem as if the series might just be episodic – but it’s not. It gets apocalyptic fast, and it’s always been going there.

Based simply on the summary, it sounds to me like they’re not adapting the comic at all, only using it as inspiration. Like they just needed a quirky new premise for the procedural they were going to make anyway. Which is a huge disappointment to me, because I love the comic series, and the route it takes.

Area-X – 3/5 of the way through

Posted in Fantasy, Games, Science fiction with tags on October 9, 2013 by Cara Marie

Area-X is a game that I have greatly enjoyed from a story perspective – and I love the characters and the art – but which I find frustrating from a game perspective.

I would describe Area-X as a visual novel with adventure game elements. For the most part, you are reading, and making some decisions about what to say or do. Occasionally there are puzzles. There are five basic routes, but only two of these are available to you at the beginning.

It’s the closing-off of the other three routes that I found frustrating.

One of the things I enjoy most about visual novels and similar games is making choices and seeing how they pan out. But I found it difficult to judge in Area-X which choices would lead me to which ending. This is something I don’t mind the first time I play a game, or at all, if I don’t feel like I’m getting dead-ended. But in order to open up the other routes, you have to not only complete the first two routes but get all four endings.

At which point, you stop playing the game naturalistically, and start meta-gaming it.

For two of the three routes I’ve played, the choices I needed to make for the good ending weren’t always obvious, but they all seemed like they were choices I could reasonably make. For the third route, I can’t imagine that I would ever play the game naturalistically and get the good ending. Which I could accept as an artistic choice – except that I had to get that ending to open up the next two routes.

And the way the story plays out, those second two routes aren’t just ‘nice to haves’. I can see why the creator chose to close off those routes to begin with – although I’m not convinced it was necessary – but I don’t think the implementation worked. It highlighted the arbitrary nature of some of the decision points, and honestly, I don’t think you should need hints to feel like you’re able to explore a game in its entirety.

As it is, I feel like I was shoe-horned into consuming the story in a certain way – a way that made it feel less like a game, and more like an interlinking series of novellas. And I wanted the game. I wanted to explore the choices – but instead, I had to do as the author wanted.

Age inappropriateness and fantasy

Posted in Fantasy, Middle fiction, Young adult with tags , on July 15, 2013 by Cara Marie

So while at Au Contraire this weekend (the local SF con), I made the mistake of going to a panel on introducing your kids to sci-fi and fantasy. And okay, I don’t have children, but I do have a young niece and nephew. I’m an ex-children’s bookshop employee. And as I have no interest in Lovecraft, this was my only other panel choice.

It hadn’t occurred to me that the panel was going to go down the path of ‘all the YA these days is so disgusting’. The impetus being a woman asking for recommendations in the 9–12 age group (not YA, by the way. Also, while middle fiction might not get the press YA does, it’s hardly a languishing genre).

Someone mentioned Tamora Pierce, and the woman responded, oh, but she’d heard they had a lot of sex in them. And call her old-fashioned, but she didn’t want her 11-year-old reading books with sex in them.

Which I didn’t respond to, because I don’t argue with parents like that. But I had two thoughts:

  1. that is not an accurate description of Tamora Pierce’s books
  2. your 11-year-old is not going to be traumatised by reading a book that mentions sex.

Yes, some of Tamora Pierce’s books feature sex. Most of them do not. (There are certainly no 13-year-olds having sex, which this woman seemed to think there were.) And when the characters do have sex, it’s off-screen. You might get the character thinking about whether or not they want to have sex; you don’t get the actual sex.

The fact there’s sex going on may go entirely over your child’s head. But if it doesn’t, so what? They read about girls who consider whether or not having sex is right for them, girls who make sure to practice safe sex if they do, girls who are able to have open discussions with their mothers or mother-figures about sex.

My god, how awful.

Also, you know, I was reading Tamora Pierce when I was 11, and I’m kind of insulted by the idea that that was inappropriate. (I will concede that the Terry Goodkind I read at that age may have been inappropriate.)

The conversation went on to mention Ted Dawe’s Into the River, a book that recently caused a scandal by winning the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards (where ‘children’ includes teenagers, by the way). I haven’t read it, but apparently it features a ‘disgusting’ sex scene. From what my former boss has said, that’s kind of the point. Also the target audience is teenagers 15+. It’s hardly being thrust into the hands of innocent babes.

That was a digression, anyway. But the net effect was me feeling increasingly uncomfortable, and wondering just how rude it would be to walk out (it was a small room, and I wasn’t at the end of a row).

Then someone said that Grimms’ fairy stories originated as dirty jokes told by farmers. ‘And they decided it would be a good idea to write these down for children!’

Which apparently crossed a line for me, because I left then. (What, ‘and then the witch him into a bird!’, hur hur, snicker snicker? Had this woman even read a fairy story before?)

It’s a wonder I even survived to adulthood, reading all the filth that I read.

The Royal Trap

Posted in Fantasy, Games with tags on April 21, 2013 by Cara Marie

The Royal Trap is by Hanako Games, the same company that made Long Live the Queen. However, unlike Long Live the Queen, it is not at all stressful! It’s strictly a visual novel, for one thing. No mini-games and little risk of dying.

In The Royal Trap, you’re Prince Oscar’s companion, accompanying him on a trip to the ‘debut’ of one Princess Cassidy; Oscar is one of three princes hoping to marry Cassidy. (Inheritance runs through the female line, so men have to show off and put themselves on display: I really like the world-building in this game, the gender roles that don’t match ours.)

For his sake, and for her to be successful at her job, Madeleine needs Oscar to come off well. But over the course of the game, Madeleine becomes increasingly aware that once Oscar is married, she’s out of a job. That no matter how much affection Madeleine feels for Oscar, their relationship has an end date. And Madeleine needs to make a place for herself afterward.

To up the awkwardness further, Oscar has just given her a letter proclaiming his love for her (in a fairly undramatic, ‘it cannot be’ way.)

So that’s the set-up. The drama starts when Oscar gets hit over the head … and Cassidy gets kidnapped!

The mystery of who’s responsible is revealed halfway through; but when you return to the royal family, you end up with the blame. So the second mystery is why are you taking the fall, and what are they covering up.

I’ve got two of the endings thus far. The first was with Callum, Cassidy’s ignored brother. Callum is kind of callous and violent, but he cares about Cassidy. And I liked his relationship with Madeleine because he seemed to bring out her ruthlessness and pragmatism. And also it meant you got a happy lovey-dovey ending, where Madeleine has a place of her own and a hot husband. (Although I got the ‘normal’ ending, not the ‘good’ one, I think because I broke Oscar’s heart, ha ha ha.) And it feels like you’re more involved with Cassidy and their story.

The other ending I’ve got so far is with Nazagi, one of the other princes come to court Madeleine. I think the Callum ending felt more natural, but I really liked the Nazagi ending anyway. He marries Cassidy, but because Cassidy can’t have children, he ends up proposing that you be his mistress! And having their heirs! You don’t get to know Cassidy so well in this version of the game, but you do end up being her advisor, and this whole ending is basically rife with fic possibility!

At some point I’ll be playing this game again to experience the other endings – especially because they take you on such alternate routes through the second half of the game. I’m sure one of them will explain what’s going on with the assassination attempts!

Long Live the Queen! … eventually

Posted in Fantasy, Games with tags , on March 12, 2013 by Cara Marie

Finally, I have bet Long Live the Queen! You play the game as Princess Elodie, whose mother has just died. This means Elodie has had to leave school to come home and learn to reign before her coronation next year. She has to learn quickly, because this game has almost as many deaths as Limbo.

I think I’ll wait a while before trying another run-through, because staying alive is exhausting. It’s a fun game though, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other routes I can take. And making sure that printing press gets built! It’s quite frustrating when people come to you wanting money for awesome things and Elodie doesn’t know enough to realise those things are awesome. Dammit, Elodie. Or dammit, Elodie’s father for not giving her any actual advisors. Or poison-testers for that matter.

My Elodie ended up being quite warlike – I wasn’t nice enough to my nobles, I guess, to stop them rebelling. But putting down insurrections is quite satisfying. And I suppose I did prevent war with another nation. By forcing one of my nobles into marriage (no wonder the nobles hated me). I was forming alliances! And that’s what you get for sneaking troops into their country! Unwanted marriage!

And then said noble’s brother played the same trick on me. And not to prevent war: to get revenge for me marrying off his sister! And while I can see the political benefits … Elodie is going to be queen, after all … that really strikes me as the worst revenge ever.

It was kind of delightful – this is from the epilogue: ‘Attendees said that the ceremony was lovely, but the bride and the groom kept glaring at each other while taking their vows.’

Worst revenge ever :D

That’s basically all I’ve been doing these last two weeks – well, not just playing Long Live the Queen! but playing other games from Hanako as well. Life-sims are good stress relief.  (Also, I tried being a ‘proper’ gamer and playing a first-person stealth game but it made me feel ill. Life-sims and visual novels never made anyone throw up, I bet.) I’ll probably post about the others later. First I have to frame a response to Magical Diary that isn’t just  ‘fuck you, Damien’ …

End-of-year book meme

Posted in Books, Crime, Fantasy, Science fiction, Young adult with tags , , , , , , on January 3, 2013 by Cara Marie

How many books read in 2012?

76 books. This includes novellas, so they were not all very long books. It doesn’t include comic books.

Fiction/non-fiction ratio?

I read eight non-fiction books … that’s one for every 8.5 fiction books.

In other genre distinctions, 60% of the books I read were sci-fi/fantasy (not including JD Robb, as they’re primarily crime and the SF element is usually just the setting). I read four adult fiction books that weren’t SFF or crime stories! Which is … the same number I read every year.

Male/female authors?

I read 18 books by male authors (including half-marks for cowritten books or anthologies) and 58 by female authors.

I always find it weird when people challenge themselves to read more books by female authors, because my bias is so far the other way! Clearly it is my inner misandry showing through.

Favourite book read?

Michelle Sagara wins this year, because I would be hard-pressed to choose between her YA standalone novel, Silence, and the eighth book in ‘The Chronicles of Elantra’, Cast in Peril.

Silence is a book that, when described, sounds like your typical paranormal YA, complete with antagonistic love interest. But it’s not typical at all.

I really loved that the teenaged characters in it were so sensible and kind to one another. That no-one made stupid decisions to generate tension. There’s a lot of YA that goes the other way, and it always annoys me, because that’s not what my experience of being a teenager was like. I don’t mean to say that there’s no conflict between the characters – but it’s not showy, and it rings true.

This isn’t a complete summary of why I liked the book; just one of the things that made it for me.

Cast in Peril I wrote about at the time, in contrast to one of the books covered in the next question. I went through a period of avoiding series fiction; this book serves as an example of how well fantasy series can work. How you can really dig into the world-building, and discover new things. How a book can be the opposite of standalone and still be completely satisfying.

The part of me that still wants to avoid series fiction is freaking out a little – how on earth did I end up reading an 8+ book series? There weren’t that many when I started!

Cast in Peril was also the book that made me realise me and this e-books thing was going to work out, and that I didn’t need everything I loved in hardcopy.

Least favourite?

Not sure whether to go with Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken (as discussed in ‘Where (not) to end a book‘) or Tanith Lee’s Piratica III: The Family Sea. The former I probably enjoyed more for the first two-thirds, so it was a greater disappointment when I turned out to hate it. But I might say Piratica III anyway – I think I’m quite glad I didn’t read it when it first came out, when I was more invested in the characters, because I would have been hugely disappointed. (skip) I think I can see what Tanith Lee was trying to do, having Art’s marriage fail, and her ending up alone and free. But I didn’t feel that freedom in the end – it just felt bleak to me.

Oldest book read?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Also the first book I read last year. I was quite bewildered afterwards – not about the stories, but about the Sherlock interpretation of Holmes being kind of an asshole. (I’ve never actually watched Sherlock; this is just the impression I’ve received.) Book!Holmes is not an asshole at all! He might not be that interested in people, but he’s still considerate to them.

Also, I was proud of myself because there were a couple of mysteries I figured out before they were revealed. I like to pretend that’s an achievement.


The Silvered, by Tanya Huff. Came out in November and I read it in December. I wrote a not-very-deep review at the time.

Longest book title?

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, by Nancy Kress. Long title, short book. This is such a pointless question I feel like I have to talk about the book, now. The three parts of the title refer to the three POVs the book switches between. ‘The fall’ refers to an apocalypse. I enjoyed this quite a bit at the start, but I think overall the pay-off wasn’t there. It had the sort of conclusion that could work for me in a short story, but doesn’t work for me in a longer work.

Shortest title?

Silence or Mastiff. I’ve talked about Silence already, so … Mastiff was the third and final book in Tamora Pierce’s Provost’s Dog series. It was also the least memorable of the three. Enough so that I don’t know if I really have anything to say about it. The first book was my favourite, because it was the one that was most a ‘school story’, with a supporting cast I really enjoyed. And that doesn’t really get carried through into the later books. Which make sense re: the ‘school story’ aspect, but I miss Rosto and Kora and Aniki. (You will note I remember their names, but not the names of the supporting cast in Mastiff.)

I guess Pierce was more interested in the crime novel aspect for this series, but that’s not what I read her for, and it was at the expense of the elements I really love.

How many re-reads?

Only three, which seems low. But then, I guess this is the first year I’ve had a full-time job the whole time, so I’m more inclined to read new things.

Most books read by one author this year?

I read ten JD Robb books – I guess I used these as my comfort fiction, rather than re-reading things. Her ‘In Death’ books are basically a procedural in book form. Except the main couple got together in the first couple of books so there’s no ridiculous ‘will they, won’t they?’ (This shouldn’t necessarily be a procedural trope, but it seems to be.) Also, they’re set in the future! My favourite mysteries are probably the ones that have the most to do with technology – although I think Witness in Death has been my favourite overall, and that one does not, so.

They’re standalone books, and I’ve read them completely out of order. They do benefit from being read chronologically, because of the way the characters and relationships develop over the long-term. On the other hand, there’s more than forty of them. So I think picking the ones with the most interesting-sounding mysteries is probably the best route to reading them.

Any in translation?

Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake was the only translated book I read this year.

And how many of this year’s books were from the library?

About six. For which I accrued some ridiculous fines, so I’m avoiding the library at the moment.

The Hobbit: needed less wizards

Posted in Fantasy, Movies with tags , , on December 22, 2012 by Cara Marie

So last night we came out of The Hobbit and my mother declared that she didn’t know what all the critical reviewers were on about. And did they just not get fantasy?

… queue me being extremely critical. Read more »

The Silvered – Tanya Huff

Posted in Books, Fantasy with tags , on December 9, 2012 by Cara Marie

So I got to read The Silvered in the end, which is Tanya Huff’s latest book. This is a return to secondary world fantasy. I choose to believe, based off very little evidence, that this is the world that Crystal created at the end of The Last Wizard. My reasoning for this is that:

  • the religion of Aydori, where two of our protagonists are from, involves a Lady and Lord
  • it mentions Lady’s Groves, and I can see Crystal going in the footsteps of her own creator
  • I can see Crystal wanting to create werewolves, after what happens in The Last Wizard.

All that, of course, has pretty much nothing to do with this book!

The main plot of The Silvered starts with the kidnap of five mages, who are part of the aristocracy of Aydori, by an invading empire. Not for any political control, but because of a prophecy (of course). But the prophecy implies there are six mages whom the empire needs to control: the sixth mage being Mirian Maylin, banker’s daughter.

I love Mirian a lot. Witnessing the kidnap of the other mages, Mirian immediately focuses on what needs to be done. She’s the person who steps up. She’s very practical, and I love how that plays into the way she thinks about her magic.

The novel is structured around Mirian’s rescue attempt – which is made more difficult by the fact that soldiers of the empire are trying to capture her as well, and that her sole help is Pack – and the emperor has declared the Pack to be abominations.

I suppose you could call this an ‘evil empire’, but it’s not, in the traditional fantasy sense. (Although the emperor is certainly a piece of work). An aspect of The Silvered I really enjoyed was how it dealt with people who are ‘just following orders’, and the ways in which we define people as not-people.

The worldbuilding was really done too – the attention paid to class (the importance of shoes!); the relationship of the Pack to others in Aydori; the development of technology in the empire and the still-novel nature of it.

It was an extremely satisfying book. Also, not a series! Although I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing more in this world.

Reboot and folklore

Posted in Fantasy, Movies, Science fiction, TV with tags , , , on November 3, 2012 by Cara Marie

So L and I were discussing Reboot and he drew a comparison between Simba in The Lion King and Enzo. Both are caught in the conflict between two father figures, one good, one bad. The bad one seeks to displace the good one, and encourages the son to act out their youthful rebelliousness … in the hope that things will end badly.

And things do go badly, for a while. The bad father displaces the good father. The son is cast out into the wilderness. When eventually the son returns, the bad father is deposed (with more or less effort).

Except after Enzo comes back and Megabyte is defeated, he’s still messed up. There’s no ‘circle of life’ to reassure him; there is no re-emplacement of the status quo. He is literally scarred by his experiences.

(On the other hand, it could have been worse: he could have been Hamlet.)

I’m trying to think of fairy tales that follow this same pattern, but I’m not coming up with any – at least, not with men. The stories aren’t dissimilar to those where the good mother is replaced by the wicked stepmother (or the mother herself turns bad). We don’t see the early part of the story: the stepmother tends to want the daughter out quick-smart. But we do see the exile, once our heroine grows old enough to threaten the stepmother.

But, when the heroine takes her rightful place, it is not as her mother’s successor. Her stepmother’s wickedness may be revealed, but it is not her place the heroine takes. Our heroine becomes a queen in another realm. (Some versions of this kind of story forget about the stepmother in the second half, and the heroine’s mother-in-law becomes the villainess: in this case, the heroine is displacing her.)

Which I guess says something about gender roles in patrilineal societies where daughters marry out.

That’s something interesting about Snow White and the Huntsman, actually: Snow White is the heir who must reclaim her kingdom to set things right, rather than the cast-out princess who will reclaim her status in another realm. Snow White and the Huntsman may not have been the most coherent of movies, but it was certainly refreshing.

I don’t have any real conclusion to this, so I will just leave you with the observation that in Reboot Megabyte doesn’t marry Dot after getting rid of Bob. He waits until Bob is back in Mainframe. Then he uses Dot’s uncertainties about the way Bob has changed in his exile, and disguises himself as original!Bob … with the result that Dot almost marries him instead.

… that will never not be funny to me.