Nov 292013
 

Had a conversation with a friend recently about some of the things that I’ve been watching recently. He quoted/paraphrased me to his blog. So I decided provide a more detailed write up of my thoughts, and have cross posted them below:

1- Arrow does a better job with its series episodes that Marvel SHIELD. I happen to love Whedon, but SHIELD comes across as the step child of the Marvel universe, whereas Arrow (based on DC’s Green Arrow comic series) has reimagined the hero and yet paid homage to the rest of the DC universe. There series is chock full of references to things you would recognize from other DC movie franchises (Batman, Flash) as well as references to things that come only from the Comics. SHIELD has done the same, but lacks the same chemistry between its main characters (which is unfortunate, because Whedon is known for excellence in casting.)

2. Cloud Atlas (http://amzn.to/1j1BPus) was fantastic. Although the first 20 minutes is very confusing, and it takes great concentration to unravel the mystery of the series, by the conclusion you a pattern emerges and the final scenes are emotionally impactful. I was tenuously interested when it was in the theatre, but opted to skip. While it’s not the kind of movie that suffers greatly from that decision (and is still an excellent watch at home or via online streaming), I think it was worth the price of theatre admission.

3. Ender’s Game, on the other hand, greatly abbreviates the plot. While it is essentially true to the essence of the novel, the novel is quite literally too big a story for the big screen. They render the epic story down to a watery plot that omits much of the moral weight of the novel, as well as reducing the impact of Battle School on Ender (reducing his stay from years, in the novel, down to a mere 28 days in Battle School, in the movie…) Despite the loss of critical world building scenes, the movie still highlights the essential elements from the novel, remains true in spirit and provides a visual spectacle that one can appreciate.

Oct 202013
 

Ever After
Ever After by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis:

Re-united with the Demon collective, the witch turned day-walking demon, Rachel Morgan is in something of a pickle: The rip in reality she accidentally caused, in the book Black Magic Sanction (Book #8), is now eating way more of the ever-after than ever before. And she is finally revealed as the demon that caused the rip, making her responsible for the damage. As the ever-after slowly leaks out, shrinking, the rip threatens the very existence of the denizens of the ever-after. And demons have never been known for their patience or understanding.

Together with former enemy turned love interest, Trent Kalamack, Rachel Morgan must marshal her friends and skills against Ku’Sox, a ‘genetically and magically engineered’ demon with delusions of godhood. Ku’Sox’s actions against Rachel turn the pressure up and it’s a race against time for Rachel to save her adopted species, her friends and even magic itself.

Review:

The premise is a lot more attractive than the actual result. I would be very interested in knowing the readership demographic of this series– that is, are women drawn to this style of writing over that of say Jim Butcher’s Dresden File series? I’m shocked by the amount of time that Rachel spends having emotional fits, and not necessarily about what I would think of as ‘the right things.’

Take, for instance, when Ceri and Lucy, Al’s former familiar and Trent’s daughter, are taken hostage, Kim Harrison rarely writes about the emotional distress, focused more on the bigger picture. Maybe this is meant to convey to the reader that Rachel has great confidence in Ceri’s ability to survive as a hostage. Instead, combined with previous omissions… like the fact that Pierce was taken two books back and potentially killed (later we learn, in the last book, that he was in fact given to Newt instead– a fate maybe worse than death)– Rachel barely thinks about rescue, or anguishes over his plight: It’s much like the story arc about saving Ivy’s soul (and therefore all Vampire souls) from being lost upon death. It gets mentioned once or twice and only in one book did we really see that any work was being done. …The omissions make Rachel seem extremely self centered and cold. Good thing there’s theoretically only 2 books (at most) left in the series, if Rachel had started out this dislikable, I dunno that I would have finished the series.

This flaw of character is magnified when Ceri and Pierce are tricked into attempting to kill Ku’Sox, and are instead killed by Ku’Sox, at which point Rachel nearly falls apart. Again, I get the possible implications underlying the omission, but absence of a fact does not prove a fact. That Rachel comments maybe three times in 15 chapters that she feels guilty over the hostage situation, and there is even a comment about how she feels the hostages will make it through, but never is there a comment about how she’s holding it together only because she believes the hostages will make it through. The two facts seem disconnected by the lack of commentary.

Also, there are a number of niggling plot points that bother me: The Demons have a law against ‘uncommon stupidity’, yet are clearly extremely stupid in their handling of the Ku’Sox’s situation. Were I writing this story, there would be a whole flurry of charges brought against a lot of people.

There are problems with the loose ends, lots of “oh well, good enough” decisions. It’s believable, because most humans I know are really that lazy, but when it’s a life or death situation I expect a little more “attention to detail.” Especially from the survivors of this series.

Ever After is packed with action though, despite the emotional lows. (read: Rachel whining.)

Starting with Quen’s attempt to get Rachel to work with Trent again, the abduction of the Rosewood babies takes center stage moving the plot forward. Quen and Rachel meet Trent and Nina/Omeh/Felix at the clinic to learn more, Nick is seen fleeing the scene. Rachel confronts Nick by cell, discovers Ku’Sox’s involvement. Ceri and Lucy are abducted, Quen badly injured. Rachel is summoned to the ever-after to stand trial. Rachel gets a reprieve and with Algalierept’s help learns enough about the ley line tear to conclusively prove that Ku’Sox is behind it.

Rachel works her way into the ever after, visits Pierce at Newt’s place and rekindles a pair of “chastity rings”, similar to Al’s “wedding rings” and Trent’s “Promise rings” (which Rachel is wearing). She declines Pierce’s proposal that they go together to murder Ku’Sox. Using the ‘chastity rings’, she and Trent go out to try to move the concentrated imbalance from one ley to another as a test run for how to fix the problem. Ku’Sox naturally shows up during the attempt, nearly lays them both out flat and then abducts Bis to prevent Rachel from finishing the fix. This is where we learn that Ku’Sox must be afraid of Rachel if he is unwilling to finish her off.

Plot point: I quibble over this point of fear– it was not a clear cut situation to me that Rachel was standing her own– nor has it ever been said before that Ku’Sox was a war-trained demon. This feels revisionist. Certain Ku’Sox was bread to have the power to defeat Elven Warlords– but if that’s the case, and his power is only as great as that of the female demon, then how is it that the female demons were all, nearly, wiped out? Bit plot holes missing explanation. Something big had to have happened and it’s not explained. Is it possible? Yes. I suppose. But that comes grudgingly.

Plot point: When the imbalance is concentrated in “Rachel’s ley line” everyone is affected, but when distributed, the house of the person who has been ‘fixed’ is not affected and likewise if all of the imbalance is moved to that person’s line, then only they are affected… wait, what? This is purely deus ex machina and does not logically follow.

Trent then distracts Rachel with a plan but instead gives himself up to Ku’Sox in exchange for the safety of his child– we later learn that this is the direct result of Nick tricking Pierce and Ceri into joining forces against Ku’Sox so that he can have an excuse to kill them. Once Rachel learns that Trent has given himself up, she attempts to summon him using the promise rings. Instead of bringing Trent to her, she goes to him. She learns a lot of things, confronts Ku’Sox and ultimately strikes a deal to get Lucy out of his hands (but not Bis or Trent), in exchange for removing the curse that binds Ku’Sox to the ever after.

Plot point: Rachel is not allowed to kill Ku’Sox after being attacked by him? But Ku’Sox can kill Pierce and Ceri after being attacked by them? I’m missing something.

Point of presentation: Someone recently read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lots of rings of power and Tolkien references in this book. If you’re going to do it, do it subtle and early, that way it seems less sudden and dramatic. You know, like mention rings of power in the first or second book, then mention them once per book thereafter. Like the breadcrumbs on the story arc with Ivy’s soul. And don’t save all your Tolkien references for one book– unless you’re like Harry Dresden and milked on pop-culture, you just can’t get away with it.

Once back in the real world, Rachel plans to steal another set of ‘chastity rings’ from an elven exhibit, manages to steal ‘slave rings’ instead and nearly gets caught. Then, during her next attempt to reveal Ku’Sox’s plan to the demon collective to clear her name, things go horribly wrong again. (This part I actually like a lot.) There is a fight and Quan, wearing the master-ring, demonstrates he is really not suited to power (surprise surprise, he says sarcastically).

They end up back with Trent who, it is revealed, master-minded the complication that forced Rachel to use ‘slave rings’ instead of ‘chastity rings.’ He, however, regrets the decision and apologizes and strangely Rachel forgives this drug trafficking, murderous, deceitful man. (What?!) Trent, as part of his apology, removes the slave ring from Rachel (ok, now I’m more convinced of his sincerity. Couldn’t this have been written so that the apology acceptance came after the demonstration of sincerity?)

Then Trent takes the slave ring and gives Rachel the master ring and Ku’Sox arrives to resume the fight. They bounce around a bit, fixing a couple of lines, fighting off Ku’Sox, and then, in the ever after, they are joined by Algalierept. He’s in chains for his part in this uncommonly stupid farce, but Rachel frees him and then wears his wedding ring and together, Al, Trent and Rachel defeat Ku’Sox.

Ku’Sox dies. Nick, who was Ku’Sox’s familiar, is taken by Newt as a replacement for Pierce, the familiar that Nick helped Ku’Sox kill.

Plot point: Earlier on (I skipped over it because it was largely window dressing to the plot) Rachel met with Dali (a demon) and made a deal that if she could prove that Ku’Sox was responsible that all debt she incurred for this problem would be transferred to him– then this little tidbit is forgotten in the denouement.

Then, Trent takes Rachel to his shack in the woods and tries to make sweet sweet love to her. The scene is postponed, but the advance is not rejected.

Oh how the mighty have fallen: from refusing to accept Trent’s murdering ways and vowing to never work for or with him, Rachel Morgan must now work with Trent to protect and help raise the myriad number of Rosewood babies from the various forces that might harm them. All because one day those babies will grow up to be demons. And, to add whip crème to this tasty crap sandwich, Rachel is now falling for Trent.

This definitely seems like the stupid shit some women do, falling for the bad boy, no matter how bad he is for you. If it wasn’t for the fact that Kim Harrison has written Rachel Morgan that way since book one I would find it unbelievable– as it is, I find it distasteful. (Falling for Nick, bad. Falling for Kisten, better but not good and he died. Half-way falling for Ivy, unsafe but she swore off. Falling for Marshall, good but he left her because of the stuff she gets herself into. Falling for Pierce, very bad and now he’s dead.)

Conclusion: I liked it, but it has a lot more plot holes and unresolved issues than previous books. I wouldn’t have been able to continue the series if this had been the quality of the first couple of books, and I’m only continuing because I’m in the home stretch– only 2 books left, in theory.

View all my reviews

Oct 162013
 

A Perfect Blood
A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis:

Thought dead by the demon collective, cut off from her magical heritage, Rachel must face a new, purely human threat. But this threat is potentially more dangerous to Inderlanders as a whole than any threat previously faced. As if the world has not suffered enough from the plague that wiped out a good chunk of humanity, a human supremacist hate group is targeting witches in search of a perfect blood. A blood they can use to wipe out all Interlanders, once and for all.

Kim Harrison does a good job with A Perfect Blood; not the best in the series but far from the worst, and still farther from a poor showing. In A Perfect Blood, Rachel Morgan is cut off from demon magic by a Wild Magic charm given to her by Trent Kalamack in the previous book, Pale Demon. Ku’Sox, the dysfunctional demon experiment in genetic manipulation to purge the Elven curse, nearly killed several key members in the series.

At the conclusion of Pale Demon, Rachel is saved. Being saved is not quite as fulfilling as saving yourself. Part of the “cost” associated with being saved is being put in a bottle (at least her soul is, her body is rushed to intensive care by Trent– putting his otherwise dirty money to good use.) Then, he binds her demon magic with a Wild Magic/Elf Magic charm. Again, sort of saving her. It’s also weird that being saved is more common when the protagonist is female, and less common when the protag is male. Societal influences, ya think?

What I dislike most in this story is that Rachel seems rife with contradictions, and contradictions that I cannot easily stomach– she wants to believe she’s a good person, and in a previous book even went out of her way to “do the right thing” even when it was stupid– but as part of her “growing up” story arc, Rachel no longer does stupid things that are morally and objectively “right”, and with her newfound adult approach to life, she doesn’t even beat herself up about not doing the right thing.

Case in point, Pierce gets mentioned a whopping 13 times in 438 pages– the man was abused by Algelierept (sp?), potentially killed and towards the end we find out he was handed over to Newt, the semi-insane, sole-remaining female demon in the Ever After. Yet while Rachel makes many plans, she never once entertains the notion of rescuing Pierce from his fate– not even to say “he was dumb enough to have sold himself to Al, so I’m not going to rescue him.” The absence of such thoughts from a stream of consciousness (i.e., first person narrative) says loads about a person.

Rachel spent most of the book “running” from her problems, and only towards the end does she change direction– and that, seemingly, because of her infatuation with Trent. Rachel seems less strong around Trent than she has around other boyfriends. Trent is an extremely strong and central character to the series, and twinning Rachel’s path with his is, imho, a huge mistake. They were more entertaining as nemesis than ally.

HAPA, sometimes cleverly mispronounced by Jenks to sound like HAPPY (as in not-so-happy anymore), is a human supremacist hate group bent on utilizing any means (including demon magic kindled by the blood of witches) to eliminate the inderlanders (a funny word that basically means the supernatural.)

All signs quickly point to HAPA being funded by highly secret, highly influential illuminati types– and so, after bungling one capture attempt, Rachel getting caught by HAPA instead of the other way around in the second capture attempt, and then getting rescued (sorta– she had mostly rescued herself) and bungling yet a third capture attempt– Rachel finally gets her dynamic duo of dastardly devotees to demonic destruction (read: the two head HAPA conspirators– at least in this story.)

Through the story, Rachel makes a number of mistakes, is healed by the one person (Al) who was voted most likely to kill her, then utilizes wild magic to accidentally save her ass which turns into someone else saving her ass yet again.

There’s also this weird fifth wheel (bodyguard from parents who is inept beyond belief, despite all arguments to the contrary) who sticks around despite actually threatening to quit unless Rachel agreed to treat him like he knew what he was doing and follow instructions– she never does, he never leaves.

OK, so I guess the more I think about it, the less fantastic the book was. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but there are so many plot points building up that make me go “wait, what?!” Still, the series has been good enough that I will finish it out (knowing that there are only going to be 12-14 books in the series, and I’m in the home stretch.)

View all my reviews

Sep 272013
 

For a Few Demons More
For a Few Demons More by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed this series– and I would liken it to the female-protagonist version of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. There are some things that annoy, but not so much that I will stop reading.

Annoyances:
1. Why is it that Rachel Morgan is constantly randy, hot-n-bothered, turned-on by almost every man in her life? While I certainly get that it adds word count to the novel, and it tells us something about the character, how has it really surfaced in the story? Why is it necessary for the story to be moved forward? My concern is more that the book will take a nose dive in story content and become another Anita Blake. #retch

2. Why kill Kistin (sp?). I guess I’ll have to keep reading to see how this pans out. It’s shocking, and sad, and a bit unresolved in this book. Unresolved plot hooks definitely keep the story moving forward so that another book can be sold– but this writing style would be inexcusable in any other story format.

3. As the stories have continued there are more continuity errors– in the first book it was a huge plot point that Rachel didn’t mix her own charms. She bought them all. In this book she expresses the concern over buying someone else’s charms because “she doesn’t trust anyone else to mix charms for her.” — This is a 180 reversal from the foundation of the story. Change is OK, but I think there needed to be a paragraph or three more to explain the transition from Book 1 to Book 5.

Likes:
1. I enjoy the 1st person narrative.
2. Rachel Morgan has an interesting internal monologue.
3. Kim Harrison’s authorial voice is compelling and funny.
4. The story arc is irresistible.
5. The backstory is fascinating.

Although this book was my least favorite by far and some of the story conclusions made no sense from the start of the story, I still enjoyed it enough to read into the next series. Spinner (sp) appears at the start of the story and essentially threatens Rachel– this is completely expected and welcome– but when the story hints several times that someone worked a deal between the Master Vampire Piscari (sp) and the Demon Aljaleerep (sp), the implication is that it is Spinner; It is her job, as his lawyer, to free Piscari from prison. Instead, the intermediate between Piscari and Al remains off screen for the entire story– even going so far as to kill Kistin (sp) off screen. In fact, most (all?) of the deaths happened off screen except for Piscari’s at the end of the book. And while I agree he needed to die, eventually, I can’t help but feel a little robbed that Rachel ends up being rescued by first Ivy and then Spinner. (Granted, Spinner was saving Ivy and Rachel being saved was a byproduct.)

Like Piscari’s story arc being abruptly curtailed, the denouement of The Focus, Al and Kistin felt short and uninspired. If Ms Harrison was going to wrap up the book and leave things unresolved– like who killed Kistin– then I would have preferred for more things to be left unresolved and fully resolve one of those story items.

Lastly, I’ve been following this series through Audible’s audiobook version narrated by Margaurite Gavin, who does a fantastic job of narrating this character. The next book (#6) is narrated by someone else, so I’ll be reading it via print/ebook instead of in audio.

View all my reviews

Feb 102013
 

Beautiful Darkness
Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the typical fashion of teen fiction everywhere, Beautiful Darkness introduces a “secondary love interest” for series protagonist, Ethan Wate. Lena, the girl of his dreams, is moping over having killed her adoptive father, Macon, the succubus, had been killed at the end of the previous book (she blames herself.. it’s understandable and believable teen drama.)

While Lena is busy drowning in her sorrow, hanging out with Ridley, the dark caster, and Ethan’s advesary for Lena’s affection, John. After a series of evasions, Ethan finally begins to realize that Lena is starting to see another guy and he has an opportunity to start fresh with the bookish yet beautiful Olivia.

The thing that I like best about this hiatus into teen drama is that it never went so far that I truly believed that Ethan and Olivia or John and Lena would ever become an item. On the other hand, it was believable enough that it had me worried throughout the book.

Of course, Ethan declines to pursue Olivia, but there are a couple of close calls due to Ethan feeling sorry for himself that Lena has run away with another guy. That relationship turns out to be less than what it appears to be also– John and Ridley are being manipulated by the bad guys into delivering Lena to a fantastic final confrontation wherein Lena will be used by the Dark Casters to reshape the Order.

View all my reviews

Feb 012013
 

A Christmas Carol: An Original Performance
A Christmas Carol: An Original Performance by Charles Dickens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Believe it or not, this is my first read of the “immortal classic, A Christmas Carol.” I’ve seen 5-6 variations of the Charles Dickens classic starring various personages, including versions with the redoubtable Patrick Stewart and George C Scott– not in the same version, of course. I’ve even seen a reimagining of this classic tale (Scrooged with Bill Murray, or some of the Walt Disney versions with Mickey and Scrooge MacDuck).

Truthfully, I was blown away by the clever yet pithy narrative style invoked by Dickens. And Tim Curry, as narrator (I got this as an Audible audio-book) is truly fantastic. This will definitely become part of my annual Christmas celebration.

View all my reviews

Jan 192013
 

Raven Cursed
Raven Cursed by Faith Hunter

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The fourth installment of the Jane Yellowrock series operates very much like a police procedural– and I think Faith does an excellent job of writing Jane into that kind of story. The first and second book were sort of police procedurals as well, but the third book deviated from that formula by failing to introduce the victim until Act II.

Where Mercy Blade was made stronger by the presence of an action/fight sequence in Act I, Raven Cursed turns to the murder-mystery roots. It starts (Chapter 2) with the murder and moves the action “off screen” until well into the second act. While the murders continue to mount, the drama of the story rises… but it’s a false drama.

Thankfully, Jane is beginning to change. On the one hand, when approached by a human blood-servant of a Vampire, she makes an actual if awkward friendship. Unfortunately, not quite enough. We see the same pattern as in previous books: Jane is contacted by someone who wants her to come over, or call back, or come help– and Jane creates plausible excuses why she shouldn’t go– and then later flogs herself about how if she’d only done things different, things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand. Case in point, Angie, the daughter of her best friend and witch, calls for Jane to come help– because Jane’s parents are under a spell. And Jane knows the Mom is, but doesn’t think Dad’s at risk, so she ignores the call until it is almost too late. While there is a nice deviation in this Faith-standard-plot-device, it’s a lot like saying that someone ate so much mint that their waste smelled minty. It’s still shit and it still stinks, no matter how minty it is. And frankly, if I had not bought both books 4-5 together (I bought them while on a cruise ship, out of country and was trying to minimize my internet charges), I probably wouldn’t have read book 5.

There were a number of other problems, including:
* The use of the acronym FUBAR as a verb, as in “Things had just FUBARed”, which is sad for an author, when FUBAR means “fucked up beyond all recognition” and the author wrote “Things had just fucked up beyond all recognition-ed.” FUBAR is, when used as a word, a noun. It would have been more appropriate to say “Things had just become FUBAR.”
* Faith repeatedly refers to people as being at a pre-pubsescent age, “We also met with Shaddock’s head of security, an Asian guy named Chen, who had intense eyes and looked about ten.” Really? Like a little boy? In book 1, someone looked 12 (twice) and another who looked 15. In book 2, she refers to a vampire as “looked like a child” and a medical tech looked 12. and so forth
* Lots of grammar errors and anomalies, like “Lincoln Shaddock, the vamp asking for MOC status, arriving in Shaddock’s limo” is extremely awkward
* The central plot for the story being a plot thread left unresolved from the previous book– the love-whammy cast by Evangilina is the start of her going all evil-witch.
* Jane again ignores a plea for help, because to have answered the call would have shortened the story.
* Reference to a character “Itty Bitty” by name who is never discussed in anything except post-tense– she died and her death never comes up again except as a footnote to the story– that there are werewolves in the area, killing people… wheee!

And this list is by no means exhaustive…

The story doesn’t really take off until, in Act II, the secondary plot is revealed: Evangilina going bad, using black magic, having sex with vampires, and planning to kill her own family.

While the conclusion follows through faithfully– there is no free lunch, and everything that happens has real consequences that logically follow from the actions taken– the book was not as good as the previous ones in the series. I managed to get through the story… and I started the next more out of dogged determination than because I was really enjoying the series anymore. (That and I’d already bought it.)

View all my reviews

Jan 192013
 

Mercy Blade
Mercy Blade by Faith Hunter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jane returns in Faith Hunter’s third installment, “Mercy Blade.” Jane, still under the employ of Leo Pellisier, the misnamed MoC (Master of the City) of New Orleans, who is actually in charge of a larger swath of the southern United States than we initially thought. At Leo’s request, Jane travels to meet a stranger just outside N’awlins (wouldn’t it be great if Faith actually referred to N’awlins this way, using local vernacular?)

Instead of meeting the person she expected or rather, in addition to, she meets some nasties read: werewolves. You see, the cats out of the bag… Certainly previously non-public supernaturals read:were-panthers from Africa have announced their presence to the world and sought to treat with the Vampires in open negotiation for a place among the mortal worlds… equal to the Vampires. And they’ve chosen N’awlins as their meeting ground and Leo as their preferred Vampire diplomat. But the nasties that Jane meets don’t want that to happen, and they’re back in N’awlins after a couple of decades of exile to settle an ancient grudge.

Faith does a good job of bringing more action to the Yellowrock series in Mercy Blade by creating a nearly immediate conflict in Act I (by Chapter 3) with the story’s central antagonists. At the same time, Faith introduces a new character who rescues Jane from the conflict she finds herself in. And that new character turns out to be the titular Mercy Blade.

Unfortunately, Faith relies on a plot device that has become something of a crutch for her (and it isn’t until the 5th book that she deviates from this plot device). Jane’s boyfriend sends her a message, albeit in a somewhat coded form, that Jane should come talk to him, and that message turns out to be a pivotal plot point in the “how things got so out of control” story that Faith tells. In each of the previous books, Faith was asked to meet a Vampire who had crucial information she needed, and in the second book, again a Vampire had crucial information. Each time Jane ignores the polite request for conference things “go south” and get out of hand, and in the end Jane tells herself if only she’d listened to so-and-so at the start of the story everything wouldn’t have gotten so bad… (even if I can understand why the character would be reluctant to go visit the vampire… you gotta stop and ask yourself after the same thing happens several times in a row… Am I just bigoted and maybe there’s a good reason I should be looking into these requests for conversation?) Specifically, Jane’s boyfriend, Rick, who is working as an undercover cop, is seen on video tape or photos or something, with another woman. And instead of tearing it up to find Rick and get explanations on why he’s cheating on her, Jane instead mopes about how she’s not worthy of a good looking boyfriend and how he must have dumped her without saying anything. WTF?When the story ends, it turns out he arranged things so that he would be caught on tape, so that Jane would get pissed and come look for him… because he was in trouble and needed to clue Jane in, in such a way that the bad guys wouldn’t know that he was sending a “help!” message.

There’s several well written action sequences. There’s a new supernatural introduced mid-way through the diplomatic negotiations. The Grindylow turns out to be a Were- enforcer; which is to say that the Grindylow enforces Were- law. If a Were- infect a human, then the Were- has broken the law. And the only punishment is death. It’s interesting to see the new take on a familiar (Harry Potter) supernatural name.

There’s also an undeveloped plot twist that manifests in the next book (again, Faith writes the book to be incomplete and the story isn’t self contained.) While I appreciate the fact that life doesn’t wrap up in a nice little package, and that if you want to write “true to life” stories, you have to leave little dangling storylines… I’m a little frustrated with the heavy hand used in hint dropping. By the end of the story, I remember the open plot elements that were left unresolved– in this story, that would be the fact that Evangilina, the witch-sister of Jane’s best friend (who also is a witch), is putting the witchy-love-spell moves on Bruiser, Jane’s friend, Leo’s meal/servant, and Jane’s occasional sexual interest– although until the love-spell-whammy rubs off on her, she doesn’t act on her interest. This love spell plot item comes back in the next book as the central plot element.

There’s a nice action sequence in each Act, and I think there was more than one tense moment in Act III as the story was in denouement. Jane saves the day, but with consequences. Rick gets bit by a werepanther– if only Jane had come looking for him earlier! Bruiser is under the love-whammy of Evangilina, not that anyone talks about this. Evangilina is going dark and doing evil witchy acts– love-whammies are against witch-law! And the Mercy Blade turns out to be a fourth supernatural creature who just wants to be loved– back into Leo’s good graces.

Sadly, the conclusion has one of the biggest plot holes I’ve seen in the series so far, one that almost borders on retconning previous world building. The Mercy Blade is a role in a Vampire’s household, which no one has mentioned before. The Mercy Blade is responsible for killing those Vampires who do not exit the devevo, a state of insanity. They also have healing powers, such as being able to prevent mortals from becoming were-… but where have they been in the other households? If this role is part of Vampire culture, how could Leo refuse to take a replacement Mercy Blade without losing face? Why doesn’t anyone else mention Mercy Blades from other Vampire households? Why wouldn’t one of the other Vampire bloodlines of N’awlins have a Mercy Blade? etc.

Between some of the core plot elements, specifically the almost cheating by Jane when she nearly fucks Bruiser in the shower, and some of the egregious dangling plot elements, like why does the Mercy Blade literally drop an anonymous clue on Jane’s doorstep? or why, when Rick is caught cheating on Jane, doesn’t Jane tear it up trying to find him and confront him? or why, since the love-whammy is verboten to witches and a bad idea for the vampires, is the love-whammy left unresolved until the next book?– making this the third time Faith has pulled this kind of red-herring-cum-story-idea plot device…. this book gets a 3 star instead of 4.

I’m not completely turned off, but I’m getting more cautious about continuing the series.

View all my reviews

Jan 132013
 

Introduction

I saw an interesting program on the Science channel about Tarot and Psychology. Between the TV spot and the writing that I’ve been doing lately, it rekindled and old interest. Before I tell you the story of what this means today, let me back up a moent and talk about what it meant in the past and how this all ties together…

I have no recollection of when I was first introduced to the idea of Tarot cards. Certainly the idea came from before I turned 12; sometime around the time I learned what a Ouija board was. I was first introduced to the concept of Tarok by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman in the book Triumph of the Darksword. The character Simkin uses Tarok to divine the future or as a game of cards. In the Appendix is a section of Tarok Card rules.

Tarok, a card game

Tarok rules are essentially the same as Spades; it’s a trick taking game with a pre-round bid. Instead of the Spades being the trump suit, the Major Arcana are the trump. The part of the rules which are interesting are things like “You must always try to win a hand, playing a higher card of the same suit if possible.” (Meaning that you cannot intentionally lose a round by strategically jettisoning your lower cards.) And “If you have the Fool card, you may always choose to place the Fool in place of any other card you do not wish to play.”

Spades does away with the first rule, because keeping track of 18 tricks and whether you cheated and played a lower card than you should gets tricky. And, without that rule, the special rule about the Fool doesn’t mean as much. Still, the use of tarot cards for both entertainment (via a card game) and divination (which is the role I traditionally knew them in) was fascinating to me in the late 80s.

Later when internet became popular (that’s right, Triumph of the Darksword was out before the internet was used by the masses, back in prehistoric 1988), I looked up Tarok. I remember finding an explanation of the rules which was very similar to what I found in Weis’ & Hickman’s fictional book but my memory could be off and I don’t have a copy of that reference today.

Tarot, for Role Playing Games

It wasn’t until 1997 (as the internet was becoming more popular– and after White Wolf introduced the Mage the Ascension Tarot deck) that the topic came up for me again. Then I started playing around with Microsoft Excel scripts to randomly simulate a Tarot reading. The standard Celtic Cross for Tarot reading is fairly easily to program, but you immediately run into some issues of predictability and unintended repetition.

Why am I simulating a Tarot reading? Because I was playing a Role Playing Game and I wanted to be able to quickly generate Tarot readings, look them up and use them in forming stories and plots for my games. The problem was how to come up with a ten-card-draw with no repetition. This was my initial solution:

Functions

Function Tarok(column, row, cardnumber, sd)
    If (cardnumber < 1) Then
        Tarok = 0
    End If
    If (cardnumber > 10) Then
        Tarok = 0
    End If
    Randomize sd
    Do
        X = Int((78 * rnd) + 1)
        cnt = cardnumber
        Do While ((X > 0) And (cnt < 0))
            cnt = cnt - 1
            lkup = row - cnt
            If ((X > 0) And (cnt > 0) And (row > cnt)) Then
                checkvalue = ActiveSheet.Cells(lkup, column).Value
                If (checkvalue = X) Then
                    X = 0
                End If
            End If
        Loop
    Loop Until (X > 0)
    Tarok = X
End Function

Then, you need a function that will lookup the cards, from 1-78.

Function CardName(number)
    number = number - 1
    If (number = 0) Then
        CardName = "0 - THE FOOL"
    End If
    If (number = 1) Then
        CardName = "I - THE MAGICIAN"
    End If
    If (number = 2) Then
        CardName = "II - THE HIGH PRIESTESS"
    End If
/* And so forth */
End Function

Usage:

In Cell A1, +TAROK(X,Y,N,RAND()*78)

Where X is the current column number (1), Y is the row number (1), N is the card number (1). Repeat from A2 to A10, incrementing Y and N by one for each row.

In Cell B1, +CardName(C)

Where C is the cell reference (A1). Repeat from A2 to A10, changing the C as appropriate (A2 … A10)

Then you just need a column for whether or not the card is reversed;

In Cell C1, +IF((RAND()*100)<50,””,”Reversed”)

Reading the Tarot, a comparison

According to the Mage Tarot book, Designs of Destiny, the deck is interpreted accordingly (not standard Celtic Cross, it would seem, but similar):

  1. An initial card, called the Querant card, can be selected by the seeker. This card is not read as part of the Mage Tarot, but instead represents the seeker who is the subject of the question asked of the Tarot cards.
    The Initial card is placed atop the querant card and represents the immediate forces at work in relation to the question. (Different from the Celtic Cross in that the Initial and Querant Cards are the same; whereas Mage Tarot uses two cards, one which is selected by the Querant, the second which is drawn randomly from the top of the deck after shuffling.)
  2. Second card is laid across the first to form a cross and represents the conflict contained within the question.
  3. Third card is set below the cross and represents the short term past. (Different from the Celtic Cross; it says the Third card is placed above the cross and represents the future hope.)
  4. Fourth card is set above the cross and represents the immediate future. (Different from the Celtic Cross; it says the Fourth card is placed below the cross and represents previous experience.)
  5. Fifth card is set to the right of the cross and represents the past. (Different from the Celtic Cross only in placement; the Celtic Cross places this card to the left.)
  6. Sixth card is set to the left of the cross and represents the long term future. (Different from the Celtic Cross only in placement; the Celtic Cross places this card to the right.)
  7. Seventh card is set to the right of the cross forming a staff of four cards with the 7th card at the bottom. In Mage Tarot the seventh card represents inner concerns; whereas in Celtic Cross the seventh card represents attitude towards the query.
  8. Eighth card is set above the seventh. In Mage Tarot the eighth card represents outside influences; whereas in the Celtic Cross the card represents the influence of family or friends.
  9. Nineth card is set above the eighth and represents hopes and ideals (e.g., what the querant wants) in both Mage Tarot and the Celtic Cross.
  10. Tenth card is set above the nineth and represents the conclusion of the question (e.g., the culmination card, representing the outcome to the query) in both Mage Tarot and the Celtic Cross.

As you can see, with the Mage Tarot, one card is chosen by the seeker and removed from the deck. As a result, this card cannot be drawn during a reading. Much of rest of the process of reading is identical to the Celtic Cross formula found on Wikipedia, although some cards are located in different places. I imagine that so long as the 10 cards are played to represent the various card categories (as defined by their position; which might also be subject to change), you largely get the same effect. But more on that in the next section…

Reason for resurgence

I recently saw a Through the Wormhole Episode on SciHD (Science channel, high def) in which Tarot and Psychology are used in an interesting study. @2:56 in the Youtube clip, there is the following quote:

Our brains connect things. They just do it naturally. So, when you draw the cards, your brain will still– just jump right in and start saying “oh, I am having trouble with that”, “oh, that is is a challenge”, “oh, maybe I am overlooking this.” It’s like magic. Your brain will just start to make a story for you.

So, even though I don’t believe they are doing anything; even though I see them as just sort of a random collection of various symbols and meanings– it’s still really fun to watch my brain knit things together for me.

This quote, from a psychologist who formulated the psychology study, pretty much summerizes my entire opinion about Tarot cards. I have never, not once, believed that Tarot cards were ever responsible for “divinations.” I believed that, at best, they were prompts that helped the mind create the story. At worst, I thought it part of a scam. The half-dozen times I’d had my tarot read provided me with wildly varying results: Everything from “I can see the applicability if I strain” to “Crack house; here we come.” The one thing that was consistant in the readings that were even remotely accurate was my participation. The more I participated in the reading, the more the resulting story had meaning to me. This only furthered my opinion that Tarot was little more than a scam, and at most cooperative story telling.

And that’s what I used Tarot for in the late 90s. The Role Playing Game I was playing at the time lent itself to Tarot and I picked up a deck of the themed Tarot cards to add some flavor to my games. I ended up generating an Excel script that would help me mass produce tarot readings for the purposes of attaching them to NPC (non-player character) sheets to help flesh out NPC personalities. (There is actually a simpler method, but I liked creating complex characters.) Or as part of what was called “Rites of Passage” which was something each character must go through in order to develop.

Which leads me to present day: I’ve been writing in a fictional world of my own making and occasionally I struggle with fleshing out a character in my story (especially if the character is a minor, supporting and/or incidental character.) It occurred to me that I could reuse some of the ideas in my Tarot Excel program to formulate an “NPC Generator.”

Admittedly, the one thing about Tarot is that to build a complex character, you need a lot of information:

  • Name,
  • Ambition (abstract goal of character during the story); Story goal (concrete goal of the character during the story); Conflict (what prevents them from reaching their story goal); Epiphany (how does the character change during the story while in pursuit of their goal);
  • Personality (what motivates them? what is their instinctive response to adversity? what is their approach to adversity when given time to think? what constriction makes them vulnerable? what gives them confidence or when are they most confident? what do they value most?)
  • Physical description; Habits; Mannersisms; Occupation; Family; Age

There are lots of ways of creating an archetype from which to base a character:

The intersting thing about the Keirsey Temperament chart is that each “role” is a positive interpretation of an archetype. Along these lines, Linda Edelstein wrote a book “Writer’s Guide to Character Traits” which provides a number of positive and negative interpretations of Keirsey Temperament type traits (Way more than just the 16 positive archetype interpretations).

The one thing I like about the Myers-Briggs typing is that there have been studies done on the distribution of personality types within the US– which allows me to estimate if I’m inserting too many INFJs (1-3% of the US population, in 2010) into the story.

Favorite Resource

Which leads me to a little plug for a favorite writing resource. (I have this thing printed and tacked to my wall for when I’m writing.)

http://www.nowhitespace.org/writing/

Peter Halasz’s excellent two page PDF for writer’s is absolutely brilliant!