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Tough Traveling – Princesses

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is PRINCESSES

PRINCESSES come in two main kinds:

1. Wimps.

2 Spirited and wilful. Spirited Princesses often disguise themselves as boys and invariably marry commoners of sterling worth.

Of course the second option is a lot more interesting, though it turns out once again this week was harder than I though. Turns out I could have named about a million queens, but not that many Princesses. Oh well.

Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1)Princess CimoreneDealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede –Curretnly my favorite Princess by a long shot because she does everything she can to improve her station. Unhappy with being ‘just a princess’ she first tries small acts of rebellion. You know, things like learning Latin, basic sword play, cooking, and other dangerous things for a princess to know. But thwarted time and again she breaks out the big gun.

She runs away to the dragons. Everyone knows dragons like to steal princesses so a brave knight can rescue them right? Well Cimorene has to figure out how to keep those pesky knights away. And she meets other, more stereotypical princesses while being ‘held’ as well. So this is a story just FULL of princesses of all different types. Snotty, practical, and bad ass all in one story.

TerezThe First Law by Joe Abercrombie – I bring up this princess not because she is a shining example of agency, awesomeness, or great story telling. Her life in fact sucks; she is forced into marriage with her lover held hostage. Her story line has been criticized from all corners, and probably derserves a lot of the criticism.

I include her though because I foresee some pretty cool things in Half a World happening because Abercrombie is an author who not only reads his critics, but actually seems to pay attention to it. Terez had little agency and was used as a plot device; but we know ahead of time that Half a World will feature a female protagonist/co-protagonist. Perhaps a certain slighted queen who was forced into an arranged marriage only to have everything fall down on her? Oh, all I can do is hope.

Razor's Edge (Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion, #1)Leia Star Wars – Ok she was pretty cool in the movies. But everyone’s favorite sci-fi princess really stepped it up in the expanded universe.   She because a mama bear who saw the whole galaxy as her cub. Plus she slowly worked on her Jedi powers to become not just a politician and tactician, but occasionally a damn fine fighter to have on your side.

One of the endearing things about the EU is the way Han and Leia take turns rescuing each other, over and over. Want a great example of awesome Leia that doesn’t require huge amounts of backstory? Read Martha Well’s recent Star Wars release. And watch Han Solo squirm.


Various – A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin – I honestly don’t know who to pick here! Do I go with Dany? Daughter of a the disposed king of Westeros and eventual war cheafton. Her story arc has gone on and on though, kind of getting tired of it. INVADE ALREADY. But still, DRAGONS. She has Dragons.

On the other side there is Margaery Tyrell. Who now that I think of it jumps strait to Queen and is never a princess. That leave Arianne Martell. Who was cool but I need to reread both AFFC and ADWD so my memory isn’t real clear on. So let’s go with Dany here.

Yes, Dany is the choice.

Join us next week as we take a look at QUEST OBJECTS

QUEST OBJECTS can be various, but are quite strictly defined by the Rules. They are:

1. Material Objects. Cups, jewels, orbs, rings, scepters, stones, and swords.

2. Places. Hidden Kingdomes, islands, old ruined cities, stones, temples, valleys and fountains.

3. Persons. Apprentices, hardship, princes.

4. Knowledge. Usually for birthright or magic or both.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at anytime, and please check out my fellow travelers!

YA Review: ‘Ruin and Rising’ by Leigh Bardugo

You know my friends; I really had high hopes for this series. Shadow and Bone wasn’t Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)perfect, but as a first book it was one of the better YA books I had read in a while. I look back and should have seen through it, some smoke and mirrors must have been in use. Why? Because at its core it was about a young orphan who learns she has magical powers, goes to school to learn how to use it, and becomes the HERO OF DESTINY.

But I liked it. At this early junction Alina was intriguing enough, Mal wasn’t too stereotypical in his role as eventual love interest, and The Darkling was actually a pretty damn cool character despite his silly name. More importantly Bardugo had built a world I wanted to know about.   A class of magic users with fairly strict segregation, a faux Russia set up, and THE FOLD. Oh, if I have to be honest, this was a series in which the world grabbed me more than the characters. Still, after reading book 1, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be moving on. And as a little time passed I somehow built this start to a series as being a bit better than it really was.

Then book two came. Siege and Storm took middle book syndrome up to eleven. Long pointless passages dealing with travelling? Yep.   An almost exact repeat of the main quest from the first book? Of course, because everything important in fantasy should be scattered all over the world. And damn it if we are going to have a love triangle in book one then OF COURSE we should upgrade it to a love quadrilateral in book two. Mal was going to be a love interest, that was a no brainer. And SPOILER ALERT, so was The Darkling. So really is one more sexy man going to break this story? Of course not, the more the merrier, all courting Alina for different reasons.

But I was still excited. Just let me get past the video game quest and let Alina get over at least ONE of the damn suitors and let’s get to the payoff shall we?

Shouldn’t have bothered. Ruin and Rising is the most disappointing series ender I have read since, I don’t know, ever? I just…wow.

It starts of bad, with Alina stuck in confines that I just don’t buy. I don’t believe she could be held in a gilded cage so easily. So when the escape comes there is no excitement. Because it was inevitable and there to act as a minor side quest.  All it brought was relief and a hope that the once intriguing and now boring character holding and using Alina won’t be seen again.

It gets worse. Book two had its share of travel, book three took it further. Travel through caves, over mountains, just keep travelling. If someone reads this after me feel free to tell me what happens in the middle third of the book; I am pretty sure I dozed off for the entire run.

I am finding myself unimpressed. And I was kind of bored. And I have realized that while I have not read a lot of books with love triangles in them I REALLY hate love triangles (quadrilaterals, whatever). But at least this book is building for some heartbreak, a dark ending to go with the books dark premise. It may have dissolved into a video game with lots of travel and a few large quest items to retrieve, but there is still some hope here, right?

Perhaps this is the most discouraging thing about the end of the series, and this may constituted a minor spoiler. Or a major one. You know what? Just consider everything beyond this point to be a POSSIBLE SPOILER. But Siege and Storm decided to have cake and eat it too. An early tragedy takes a fairly major character and has some interesting future implications. A late realization will make for a heartbreaking final choice in this battle. Alina may still get to be a hero, she may save the land and even be able to destroy the monsters that inhabit it, but she won’t be able to get through it unscathed.

Or maybe she will, because she is a sun summoner and all it takes is magic light to make everything better. La de da, candy and rainbows for everyone, complete with a sickly melancholy epilog that puts Rowling’s disappointing ending to shame in its message of ‘everything is just all right.’ Except Alina is still going to mope a bit in it, because ya know, why change now that you have everything?

I really had high hopes for this series. But I honestly can’t recommend it past the first book.

2 Stars


Tough Traveling – Practice/Combat Rings

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

The topic this week is PRACTICE/COMBAT RINGS

PRACTICE RING OR COMBAT RING is a sanded circle used for sparring and WEAPONS practice… It can be found attached to any school of weaponry, outside mercenaries’ winter quarters, and quite often on the outskirts of aggressive towns.

Again I find myself giving a harder task than I thought. Sometimes I pick a topic and think ‘oh, I already have two without thinking about it, this will be easy.’ Sometimes I am right, other times those two are the only friggen ones that come to mind. Anyway.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets– A dueling arena right in the middle of the school, let by none other than the hero of everything, Gilderoy Lockhart. Designed to teach the students how to defend themselves a bit better due to the Chamber of Secrets being opened it instead taught them how to defend themselves against other people who adhered to the rules of dueling.

Watch out for giant snakes, for they can cut a duel short very quickly

Blood Song – Anthony Ryan – How do you know if your new super powered soldiers are ready for the big time? You grab a handful of hardened criminals, throw them into a ring, and have your super teens kill them all or fail. Oh, and it should happen in public so everyone can cheer and jeer.

You know I enjoyed this book, but the further I get from it the more I wonder just what kind of magic Ryan cast on me to make me not catch how silly some of this stuff was.

Red Rising –Pierce Brown – The whole damn book was one long run in a combat/training ring, teaching the elites of the world how to be as cut throat as possible while spoiled overseers watch. Very Battle Royal or Hunger Games in style, but I included this instead of those because in Red Rising all the ‘Golds’ are there by their own volition.

Divergent – Veronica Roth – I know that somewhere in this horrible book the Dauntless did some practice throws within a ring. So I am counting it. And going back to trying to forget the book.

Throne of Glass – Sarah J Mass – Last minute addition, almost forgot about this one. Calaena has one change to gain her freedom, win the competition that will tie her to her biggest enemy for three years. And while the competition has many different aspects it all comes down to time in the combat ring with the King and nobles looking on.

Lords and Ladies – Terry Pratchett – A makeshift combat ring is set up in the middle of Lancre, and the most unique duel in the world takes place. The wager? Just a simple staring contest. Oh, but staring each other down would be too easy. Look up my friends, and keep looking. Something tells me that ball of fire isn’t going to be the first to blink.

Join us next week as take a look at PRINCESSES

PRINCESSES come in two main kinds:

1. Wimps.

2 Spirited and wilful. Spirited Princesses often disguise themselves as boys and invariably marry commoners of sterling worth.

There, that oughta make up for the tough week we just went through. There is no shortage of Princesses in fantasy, think I will just pick a few favorites.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at anytime, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Fantasy Review: ‘The Mirror Empire’ by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire‘What one woman believes is evil, another thinks is for the greater good of her country.’

Nothing about this quote should stand out on its own, a fairly typical sentiment that tries to seem profound but really says nothing at all. A quote very much like it has a good chance of being found in most books with a defined protagonist. So why would it be pulled from a book to start a review? As always it is all about context; in this case two men having a very general conversation. See it?

‘What one woman believes is evil, another thinks is for the greater good of her country.’

There it is, such a simple change from the societal norm. A hundred times a reader will see a quote like this, and ninety nine times years of convention have set the default gendered pronoun. But there is nothing lazily done in The Mirror Empire. If women hold a dominating place in a world it would follow that the language should reflect that. Little details matter, and Hurley stuck to them.

The Mirror Empire will make your head hurt in a very good way. A nasty little puzzle that takes days to solve, the world slowly comes together to give the reader a fuller picture. Layers upon layers are there to dig through. And when you think it is sorted out expect to have your mental map redrawn again. Entire alternative dimensions have to be taken into account here. Typically when people speak of steep learning curves in fantasy it is because a lot of names are thrown their way. The steep curve in this book tosses in cultural conventions that require a completely different thought process with each character that is followed. Fear not though, at times the characters are fighting this learning curve right along with the reader.

It isn’t just gender getting a giant convention mix-up, though it is often in the mix. A few fellow cis male readers will no doubt squirm at times while reading the plight of the abused husband. Three genders appear to be the minimum within the various societies; at time up to five are present. Race is a spark for conflict as well, confused by the different roles each have within their own world. Even cultural taboo’s that are seemingly universal are taken to task, though I will leave a few surprises on that front for other eager readers. Something that made me laugh though, in this world where almost anything can happen, being called a sheep fucker is still an insult. So go ahead and use that if you need an anchor into this reality while reading.

Mental gymnastics aside there is a wonderful fantasy story here; a mix of old familiar tropes and unexpected turns. A world with carnivorous, mobile flora doesn’t change the political ambitions of the people living in it.  Rulers rise, war is waged, magic is felt. The rising of a dark moon is giving way to magic more powerful (or perhaps easier to use) than the magic provided by waning moons. Eventually the various characters roles began to come together to provide a complete picture. From the young girl seemingly raised by her enemies to the war hardened general sent out to commit atrocities by her queen, no one’s role is apparent from the start but all clear up as the layers are unraveled.

At its best this novel is as good as anything I have read this year. Expect to hear ambitious a lot; I couldn’t imagine the mental and physical mapping it would take to hold all these pieces together but hold together they do. This book deals with gendered expectations on every page yet could be read for the story alone; different conventions and expectations are ingrained into the societies portrayed so naturally that they shouldn’t even raise a brow. The world is alive, the world is unique, and the world is actually built rather than borrowed.

At its worst, and be clear The Mirror Empire is still very good even at its worse, it starts to bog down in its world. Taken at face value everything works out fine. But much like time travel there are certain lines of questioning that can kill the plausibility of alternative dimensions. Accepting the facts as laid down is something a reader can either do or not; for me I started questioning the ‘why’ of certain situations and had to step away from the book to get back into a state of mind that allowed me to stick the story as presented.

I would expect people mostly have an idea of what to expect going in. Hurley’s world is brutal and dark. Even characters that nominally can be considered protagonist do very nasty, yet very human things to stay alive and reach their means. Physical action is present but sparse; the whole book is a slow build to a quasi-conclusion that leaves as many questions unanswered as not. Well worth a read, and probably well worth the hype train that is slowly building around it.

4 Stars

Review copy received free from publisher.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Thousand Names’ by Django Wexler

The Thousand Names (The Shadow Campaigns, #1)“You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia”

Well hell, the puppet government you have been supporting has suddenly run into a large invasion of religious fanatics causing its leader and your troops to be chased all the way back to the coast. What is there to do? Obviously the answer is to drink until the ship shows to take you home. Ranker Winter Ihernglass spends as much of her time along as she can, her bully of a commander is bad enough without suspecting that she hid her gender to enlist. And Captain Marcus d’Ivoire quickly finds that his new commanding officer doesn’t plan on relieving his force; rather he designs to march them right back to the heart of the rebellion.

What follows is pure military campaigning goodness. Real military fantasy, of course simplified to a point, complete with some tactical maneuvering of a Napoleonic vibe. Muzzle loaded muskets, calvary complete with swords; even howitzers make their appearance (forcing me to look up the etymology of the word). This quickly paced book runs us through the formations as the tactically brilliant Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich works his overwhelmed force on its way to the goal; nominally in order to restore their puppet prince back on his throne.

“We fired out guns but the British kept a coming, wasn’t as many as there was a while ago.”

Well over the first half of the book deals with Winter and Marcus as they do their best to hold on and keep up with this abrupt change of assignment. Winter was the star of the book. Army life beats what she had back in the empire, and a remote outpost is the perfect place to keep her identity hidden. But an unintentional promotion proves to be the right move; quick thinking while terrified is still quick thinking and proves to be something she is good at.

Marcus is perhaps a more typical fantasy character; stuck right between the people who know what is actually going on and the grunts on the field. Loyal to a fault, he finds himself caught in the whirlwind that is Janus. Always questioning, always proven wrong, one would think he would start to trust the judgment of his commander. Despite being a reluctant leader he does his duty well. In fact it was a nice habit of the book, only a few people were obviously over their head in the army. While the undertrained army figured it out fairly quickly it wasn’t with individual performance but rather from being useful cogs in the machine.

Uh oh, it’s magic!

Lots of guns, very little of the fantastical so far. But this isn’t alternative military history, it is military fantasy and in the third act the magic comes to life. Discussing it without spoilers is tough to do, so I will refrain from any specifics. To be honest it was a good thing I was hooked to the book by this part because I was less than enamored by the specific workings of the magical system. What I did like about the magic however was the way the arts were presented between cultures. At first glance it is the providence of the ‘savages’ that the mighty white men look to subdue at best, take for themselves at worse. But gradually we learn more and more about just how hypocritical the Vordanai Empire is when it comes to such things.

Strong first book of the series, I can see why the sequel was so highly anticipated by so many. Better late than never, right? I loved the military aspects, liked the magical system a little less. A bit transparent at times, most of the big reveals were pretty easy to spot. But even as we sorted out which characters were sitting on each side I felt each was a distinct person; no lazy prop pieces in site, always a plus.

4 Stars

Tough Traveling- Pirates

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

The topic this week is PIRATES

PIRATES range the seas in force, though most of them operate individually…The sole qualifications are that they must be rough and ruthless, which a penchant for dressing gaudily.

First things first, timing on this is working out in a funny way despite not planning it this way. Oh Magic Hour has been focused on pirates all week. I have purposely not read her blog all week to avoid it influencing my list. So, sorry Emily, I will go back and read them once this is published.

Anyway, on to my list.

Zamira DrakashaRed Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch – You don’t need me to tell you about Zamira and her crew. Because the author wrote a kick ass little piece that discusses them better than any of them. No doubt most fans of the series have read this but just in case there are some who have not, I give you Scott Lynch

If there’s one thing fantasy is just crawling with these days it’s widowed black middle-aged pirate moms.

SteelJillSteel by Carrie Vaughn – This was possible the most obvious choice of the week as Steel is a portal fantasy dealing with actual Mediterranean pirates. Jill is a tourney fencer who finds a small piece of sword on the beach while on vacation. BOOM! Time travel.

Jill finds herself doing all the most glamorous duties aboard the pirate queen’s ship. (I wonder, are all female pirates referred to as pirate queens? Just curious). Exciting things such as scrubbing the decks. A lot. Taking apart some of the ship and scrubbing that too. Oh and since this is a YA fantasy, making goo goo eyes at a young pirate boy and eventual using swords for real in her attempt to get back home.

ShadikshirramHalf a King by Joe Abercrombie – Ok, technically a merchant, and maybe a slaver, but Shadikshirram is a nasty captain of a ship in the Circle Sea. She is not opposed to violence to achieve her means, puts the boot to those who she feels have wronged her, and drinks obsessively.The Princess Bride

I don’t care what name we go with, sure sounds like a pirate to me. Especially when she goes on her little vengeance trip. Oh, the urge to reread everything Abercombie has wrote is so high.

Dread Pirate Roberts The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern (William Goldman) – Every single person in the world is familiar with Roberts, right? If not from the book, then at the very least from movie? It is ok if you wish to admit that you are not, but at the very lest it gets a person taken off the Christmas card list.

So go ahead, tell me your favorite quote from either the book or the movie. I would say there is no wrong answer, but really I judging each and every one of you by your choice.

Wallpaper air pirates by apmaddog-d3awjq1These GuysTailspin– I am a few years removed from this show so the memories are few. To be honest I was going to include something from either Star Wars or the Kitty Jay series in this list’s final spot. But come ON, talking animals in airplanes! And some of them are wicked pirates.

According to this wiki, the leader is Don Karnage; his sidekicks are Mad Dog (who is a dog, get it?) and Dumptruck. And that is all I know.

For those unfamiliar with the basics of the show, AKA the best half hour of TV when I was in the forth grade, it was the cast of Disney’s Jungle Book completely personified in a steampunk setting (long before steampunk was a thing).

Join us next week as we look at PRACTICE/COMBAT RINGS

PRACTICE RING OR COMBAT RING is a sanded circle used for sparring and WEAPONS practice… It can be found attached to any school of weaponry, outside mercenaries’ winter quarters, and quite often on the outskirts of aggressive towns.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at anytime, and please check out my fellow travelers!