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Review: Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts by Jasper Bark (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, Dave here, and I’ve got a new review for you – that of a short story collection from an author I’m now a huge fan of!

This is collection featuring stories from a storyteller who should be spoken of in the same breath as Stephen King and Clive Barker. Very few storytellers, especially in the difficult and harrowing genre that is Horror, have managed to grab me from the get-go, and Jasper succeeded.

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STUCK ON YOU

The first tale blew me away and made my gorge swirl in my mouth. It describes the fate of an utter asshole as he travels across the border to help his girlfriend. One thing leads to another and a while later he has been lightning-struck and … well, I’m not spoiling it, but fuck.

I was astounded by what this guy went through, even more so by the way Jasper describes it all – pulling no punches, thrusting the reader into the mind, terror and pain of this character to such a degree that trying to tear myself away was like, well, fiddling with a very fresh scab. By the end of the tale I was breathless, shaking my head over and over, and hoping to hell that I never find myself in the kind of situation the character found himself in.

TAKING THE PISS

Damned fine tale that, in my mind, asks the question: ‘If you could right a wrong, and in doing so caused a lot of pain to someone, but could get away with it, would you do it?’ By the end of this tale I was cheering on what had occurred – a mean feat, considering just what it is that happens, but Jasper has a way, man…

THE CASTIGATION CRUNCH

The Catholic in me *loved* this tale, and if any stock-broker, insurance-broker, tax-guru type reads this then I’m pretty sure they will, too – long live Suchs! ;)

ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT

A tale that plays with your expectations right until the end while it explores the notions of betrayal, love and obsession in a twisted, horrifying manner. Also one of the ‘hotter’ tales in the collection. ;)

HOW THE DARK BLEEDS

This tale surprised me – in the beginning I thought I knew who the victim was and how that victim had been wronged, but as the tale progressed I was pleased to have been proved wrong. This tale also explores something entirely new when it comes to blood-rituals, so the crazier among you will definitely enjoy it. ;)

MOUTHFUL

Remember that scene in Hannibal (the novel and the movie adaptation) where Hannibal feeds a character his own brain? I never thought I would read something that would trump the horror of that scene. Not until I read this tale.

HAUNTING THE PAST

This tale was chilling and hard-hitting (not that the others aren’t), and follows how a man trapped in a house after a terrible event begins to understand just where he is and what he is doing. You might struggle to sleep after this tale, folks.

END OF THE LINE

A tightly-plotted and awesomely explored take on a couple of tropes, those being The-Guy-Who-Can’t-Remember-a-Thing and The Maze – didn’t see the resolution coming, and neither will you.

DEAD SCALP

Probably the very first Horror-Western I’ve read, this tale takes a whole bunch of ideas and mashes them together – coherently and masterfully written, it builds mysteries and characters until the very end. Damned good tale!

***

Taken together, these tales are shocking, brutal, utterly creepy and, in at least a part of every tale, beautiful. Jasper explores many different themes and ideas, pushing imagery into the mind and causing physical reactions while reveling in the settings his characters explore. There’s a seamless blending of physical settings and mind-scapes in these tales, and even though I sometimes didn’t want to be dipped into the various character’s minds I just couldn’t put this collection down.

If you’re looking for something that pushes many, many boundaries, this is it.

10 / 10

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This collection was published by Crystal Lake Publishing and is available from Amazon for both your Kindle and as a paperback. The collection also features excellent illustrations by Rob Moran (who also did the cover), so those looking for a ‘book with pictures’ can’t complain. ;)

Remember to check out Jasper’s site and keep on eye on Crystal Lake Publishing for future tales from Jasper.

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Shadowshaper

Look at that stunning cover! I didn’t even care what the book was about, I knew I had to have it as soon as I saw that cover and I dived right in without even reading the blurb.

shadowshaper

Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

Firstly, hooray for having a character of colour on the cover of a YA fantasy novel!! Like a million stars just for that. Secondly, hooray for a diverse YA urban fantasy novel! Have more stars! And this novel was written by a real life Puerta Rican from the very suburb in which the story is set. All the stars, book, have them all!! I’m a huge fan of diverse books and an even greater fan of diverse books written by diverse authors.

But okay, onto the story. This was a fun, colourful, different and refreshing read. I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy but I happened to really enjoy the books by Cassandra Clare and can definitely recommend this novel to fans of the City of Bones series. Shadowshaper, however, was a lot more awesome because it felt so fresh. This novel presents Puerta Rican mythology to the reader, something I sadly knew nothing about until I picked up this book. And, despite having been exposed to a great number of books, TV shows and movies set in New York city, this story took me to Latin suburbs I’ve never explored.

While the plot is good and definitely kept me turning pages, there were times in the first quarter or so that left me wondering about the stakes and wondering whether the characters should be more concerned. Turns out they should’ve been, but the story takes just a teeny tiny bit too long to get started. Once it does, however, it kicks into top gear and doesn’t stop until the very last page. I loved discovering the shadowshaping world along with our narrator Sierra, who, having been denied her own heritage, wakes up to who she is on a lot of different levels throughout the story with the help of her wonderful friends and Haitian love interest.

What I truly loved about this book was the characters and the portrayal of Latin, black and mixed-race characters – nothing smacked of tokenism, every character felt real and necessary and an organic part of the story. I also received a crash course in Spanish and NYC slang. The voice is strong but not off-putting and Sierra was extremely relatable. I loved that she took charge and didn’t hesitate putting others in their place when they deserved it, calling out her aunt on racism, her grandfather on sexism and so on. This book explores feminism within the Latin community and closer knit family as well as what it means to be a Latin teenager growing up in NYC. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I never even thought about.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am really looking forward to reading more by this author, particularly if his future works contain more Puerta Rican mythology. Fascinating premise, great characters and superb writing, this book scores 4/5 glorious ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Empire of Night

This is book 2 in the Age of Legends series. Over here, you can read my review of book 1 Sea of Shadows. I knew I would return to this series because I adored the characters, and I’m really glad that I did because what I felt was lacking in book 1 was delivered in spades in book 2!

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No blurb this time because it would give away too many spoilers. This is going to be a spoiler-free review as well, so I won’t be discussing too much of the plot. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that this book kept me turning pages way past my bed time!

Book 2 picks up almost exactly where book 1 leaves us, weaving recaps of book 1 into the narrative in a way that didn’t feel like a major info dump. While book 1 was mostly about two girls traipsing through the wastes and battling legendary beasties, book 2 dives straight into what I thought was lacking in the first book: political intrigue! Book 2 introduces quite a few new characters which not only adds to the world-building but also forces the characters to grow and change in unexpected ways. Again, the girls are split up by circumstances and must face their own trials and tribulations, but the book never lets you forget that this story is first and foremost about the sister-bond between Moria and Ashyn. There is romance, but it always comes second to the love between the sisters which I found most refreshing.

While I found the world-building a little confusing in the first book, book 2 reveals far more about the cultures and construction of this fantasy world that seems to be a mesh between East and West, with a tendency toward 17th Century Japan although I think Armstrong does well to avoid some of the cliches while still introducing recognizable elements of the culture. There is also mention of foot-binding which was a Chinese practice, but the caste system comes straight out of Edo-era Japan. Coupled with the northern cultures we’ve only begun to get a taste of by book 2, I would say the world in this series isn’t a borrowed version of the ancient East so much as an continental amalgamation which I found really different from the vast majority of Euro-centric fantasy.

While there are no openly LGBT+ characters in the series – yet? – same-sex relationships are mentioned several times and seem to be accepted if not quite the norm. I’m not quite sure how this would work in a society very much concerned with family and lineage, but I hope that Armstrong explores this in the final book.

I cannot talk about the plot without giving away major spoilers. This book is all about the plot! There is substantial character development as well, but what kept me turning the pages was the political intrigue and wondering who the girls could trust, or who might betray them next. What I do absolutely love about this story is that the girls are both strong, independent young women who aren’t strong because they act like men. They are still young girls with a rather narrow if slowly broadening understanding of the world and people who use their significant skills to help themselves and others while not being afraid of asking for and accepting help when needed. Too often, strong female characters are written like male characters as if any show of femininity is somehow a show of weakness, but this is definitely not the case in this novel where the girls can do battle just as easily as they can chat about pretty dresses.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that the ending was a punch in the gut and is going to make the wait for book 3 a special kind of torment. While book 1 wasn’t my favourite, book 2 was excellent and I strongly recommend giving this series a chance because I’m sure it’s going to finish on a high! 5/5 splats for Empire of Night.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming

This book has been on my radar for ages. It’s also my first foray into the writings of Francesca Lia Block, but it certainly won’t be my last.

love global

Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

What you need to understand before you venture into this story is that this is less science fiction and more magical realism. While Block does attempt to provide some sciency answers to what’s happening in this post-apocalyptic world, most of what’s going on is decidedly trippy and surreal. If you start trying to make sense of what’s happening in terms of science and technology, you will not enjoy this book. Rather, suspend your disbelief, and embrace the bizarre yet beautiful landscape Block effortlessly crafts with elegant prose.

This is the first YA magical realism book I’ve ever read and I absolutely loved it. At first, I was wondering how on earth the author would justify what was happening, but I quickly ceased to care about the details as I became utterly engrossed in the story and emotionally invested in the characters. There isn’t an awful lot of plot in this book. It’s really just a roadtrip adventure through a surrealist landscape with some obvious goals to keep the story moving forward, but the plot isn’t what’s important here, it’s the characters. I should mention that this story is quite openly inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey, with some overt references to the classic. If you’re not au fait with Greek mythology, however, fret not as these references are fairly well explained given that the target audience is teens.

In the world of YA we talk a lot about diversity and the need for intersectionality – where minority meets minority – and this book delivers that in spades. While the story revolves around Pen – a teen girl coming to grips with her bisexuality – all four of the main cast members are queer teens. How refreshing to read about an entirely queer main cast! We have Hex, Ash, and Ez – each with their own gender identity, sexuality, racial identity, and socio-economic background. These traits are masterfully handled by Block so that at no time does the story seem preachy or like a lesson in privilege. Instead, the author weaves the back-stories of each character into the narrative in a way that helps the four friends understand each other and better come to terms with their situation.

In order to fully explain why I loved this book so much I need to give a few details about Hex and Pen which may seem spoilery, so skip the next paragraph if you’d prefer to avoid spoilers…

Hex is a trans boy with whom Pen falls in love. Their relationship brings to mind the unfurling of a flower as they get to know each other and their own hearts. I have never before read open-door sex featuring a trans character in YA fiction. Block handles the love scenes between Pen and Hex as she does everything else in this book, with an easy elegance that results in scenes of true beauty, scenes that are honest and open without becoming crass. I think it’s important to show trans teens having normal relationships and exploring those relationships physically without the usual genital fixation that comes from the cisgendered. This book shows that love is love, subtly giving the reader insight into Hex’s identity while also developing Pen’s character and burgeoning sexuality. Kudos to the author for going there in this book and doing it so well!

Spoilers are over!

This book has a dreamlike quality to it with refined prose referencing art and music in a way that made my nerd hurt extremely happy. References to Goya and Bosch abound – two of my favourite artists – so this was a personal win for me! For anyone who enjoys magical realism and is looking for something a little different, or is looking for a diverse read, I strongly recommend Love in the Time of Global Warming. I’m now going to hunt down the sequel and then make my way through the rest of Block’s works. 5/5 splats for this book!

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Jupiter Ascending

The trailer for this looked so pretty and ridiculous, I just knew I had to watch it… and last night, I finally did.

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*

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Last week I reviewed the Wachowskis’ foray into Netflix and awarded their efforts with Sense8 five glorious splats. This week, I’m reviewing their latest cinematic offering: the ever so lavish if somewhat over the top, Jupiter Ascending.

Jupiter Ascending is based on a well-worn fantasy trope, that of the ignorant Chosen One being thrust into a chaotic world when they eventually become aware of who they really are and their grand destiny etc. We’ve seen it a dozen times before and the execution here didn’t really offer anything fresh, except that Mila Kunis is a Russian immigrant in Chicago, which added an extra layer – albeit thin – to the Cinderella-esque aspects of this story.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, I don’t think this movie is meant to be taken seriously, but it could’ve been a lot more awesome had as much time been taken with the story and character development as was clearly taken with the ostentatious sets and costuming. This film is exquisite and attention to detail is excellent, from the way feathers sprout in a goatee on the token black guy to the intricate tribal etchings on the spaceships. This film should win an Oscar for set- and costume-design. But it’s a superficial prettiness, a gilded veneer that adds little sparkle to a lacklustre storyline.

Having recently watched 2010: Odyssey 2 and in the wake of films like Prometheus, I wasn’t super impressed by the idea of a master alien race being the seeds of human life across the universe. The reason why this alien race seeds human life was even more implausible, at least in the way it was portrayed. Here’s where we get into spoilery territory… so apparently, the master race who has a near-religious affinity with genetic engineering, splices their DNA into native populations on planets in order to grow these populations for a harvest which results in an immortality elixir providing the wealthy uppercrust of the master race longevity and youthful appearances. Now this I can totally get behind, but why would said master race leave humans on Earth to their own devices, allowing them to develop nuclear weapons to a point where they might actually be able to defend themselves from an incoming harvest? These master aliens and their various minions are also capable of erasing memories, turning invisible at will, and restoring buildings after Man of Steel-scale destruction in a matter of hours, so why they don’t take advantage of some very real and easy opportunities to kill Mila Kunis’s character and the eponymous Jupiter, I have no idea. Because plot convenience.

Okay, so this film is science fantasy in the vein of Star Wars and John Carter of Mars so I shouldn’t examine the science of this too closely, but a master race that farms and obliterates entire planets, should at least have more effective weapons when they are desperately trying to kill a target. Nope, instead they have what amounts to stun guns allowing the hero to swoop in in the nick of time to save the damsel in distress, again and again and again.

Jupiter’s character is a space Cinderella but instead of a fairy godmother, she has a magical genome and becomes a queen, not a princess. She also gets a genetically spliced space werewolf with wings instead of a prince – the princes here are trying to kill her – which is kinda cool, but Channing Tatum is less wolf and more elf. They give him this whole vicious backstory – that’s never explained – but never show him going full beast (despite allusions to Beauty and the Beast – barf!). In fact, most of the time his facial expressions range between kicked puppy and a dog about to get belly rubs leaving him as a cardboard cut-out, one-dimensional, stereotypical yet reluctant hero. As such, he swoops – literally, given his gravity-surfing boots – in to save Jupiter from her own idiocy time and time again. It becomes so predictable that there is zero tension in this film. Zero. You know he’ll save her and they’ll all survive major explosions and other certain-death moments because this film is all about the happy ending. I’m not against Disney-esque uplifting feel-good films, but I’d like the film to at least throw a few curve balls and maybe have believable moments of angst. It’s not a good sign when you start rooting for the hero to die just to make the film a little less predictable and pedestrian. Also, this love story. Yeah, I have nothing good to say about it. Cute at best, but oh so very trite.

About this hero business. I am so sick of seeing this damsel in distress trope and Jupiter here was the most reactive, idiotic female protagonist ever, who needed constant saving from herself by the big, burly dude. I’m not sure if it was Mila who thought it was a good choice or the director, but to have her utter these little gasps every time something astonished her – almost always – was a bit much. There were precisely two stronger female characters, one was a psycho bitch trying to outwit her brothers who vanished from screen after her five minutes were up and the other was a stoic space captain- hooray for a person of colour! But sadly the only one of any significance in this film. I am absolutely not counting the token Asian and black guy hunters who appeared and disappeared just as quickly without serving much relevance to the plot. In a fantasy film featuring feathered aliens and even sentient dragon-people, why couldn’t the royal house of Abraxas be people of color or even biracial? Nope. Given the aliens’ obsession with genetics, I find this an interesting choice that smacks of Aryan eugenics. Perhaps it was meant to make a statement about the evils of such things. I’m not sure. As a side note, there was no apparent LGBT+ representation in this film either, making it pretty ordinary Hollywood sci-fi fare.

The best part of this film was Eddie Redmayne’s character – a totally unhinged alien royal with some serious mommy issues. He was by far the most complex character, but he hardly got any screen time and when he did, he didn’t have much to do other than be an asshole. There were a few moments where we got to see his more complicated and vulnerable side toward the end of the film and I was looking forward to him developing a relationship – however creepy – with Jupiter (the genetic recurrence of his mother) but that gets cut short in the interest of flashy action scenes that got boring after the first thirty seconds because it’s so painfully obvious Channing won’t die despite getting mauled by a dragon. And he still didn’t wolf out! I feel cheated! *sulk*

Did I enjoy this movie? Weirdly sort of yes. It was brainless entertainment and two hours of eye candy. The score is also pretty impressive thanks to Michael Giacchino. Would I sit through this film again? Not if you paid me. Would I see a sequel? Only if Channing goes full space werewolf! It was ridiculous fun, but these days I’m looking for more than that in my sci-fi. We already get the fun, spectacular, hilarious stuff from Marvel. I wanted a lot more from this movie that seemed to have a huge creative force behind it but lacked the courage perhaps, to blaze a trail into new territory the way the Wachowskis’ did with The Matrix. Perhaps that’s the biggest problem. Every time I watch a film by these siblings, I expect to have my mind blown the way I did with The Matrix, and then I’m left only with disappointment when it doesn’t happen. 2/5 ink splats for me, for being exceptionally pretty and somewhat entertaining.

2 inksplats

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Reviews

 

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TV Series Review: Sense8

Netflix has done it again, delivering a sterling scifi series that challenges the tropes and traditions of the genre as well as traditional storytelling, understanding of gender and sexuality, and so much more.

*I’ve tried to keep plot spoilers to a minimum but I do reference aspects of characters that could be considered spoilery – you’ve been warned*

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I’ll admit I wasn’t convinced by the first episode. While I liked the premise of this series, the first episode felt chaotic and left me feeling untethered in the maelstrom. There were so many characters, so many cultures and identities packed into 60 minutes, I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know who to care about. Consequently, I didn’t really care about any of them and ended the episode feeling weirdly detached from a series that is all about the depth of human connection. Suffice it to say, after chatting to friend online and IRL, I gave the next episode a chance to draw me in and draw me in it did. I proceeded to binge watch half the series in one sitting.

Here’s what makes Sense8 so special and different and worth watching whether you’re a fan of scifi or not…

1) The premise actually done well. There have been a bunch of series – like Heroes and most recently the short-lived Messengers – that endeavoured to connect a disparate group of people by ethereal means. While the other shows have been tragically Western and woefully homogenous (mostly Americans connecting with other Americans where the biggest difference between them is their socio-economic background and possibly race), Sense8 goes all out to entangle 8 people from completely different worlds. In the one ‘cluster’ we have a kickass businesswoman from Seoul involved in an embezzlement scandal, a taxi driver from Nairobi whose mom is dying of AIDS, an Icelandic DJ living in London who gets caught up in the world of drugs, a gay Mexican telenovela star in the closet, a lesbian transwoman and hacktavist living in San Fransisco, a Chicago cop with daddy issues, an Indian woman struggling to come to terms with a loveless engagement, and a German thief with ties to organised crime. These 8 people represent an array of gender identities, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, moral codes, and ideologies. The writers seem knowledgeable and sympathetic to the cultures/identities they’re representing on screen although some of these representations still tend toward stereotype. This generally good approach elevates the show beyond quirky scifi fare, making it an exploration of the human condition through various lenses.

2) United by having been born on the same day as sensates, all these people in the cluster start to feel each other’s emotions, and experience each other’s thoughts as well as physical sensations. This allows for some truly unique experiences such as the taxi-driver in Nairobi who has never been out of the country or on an airplane to suddenly experience flying and what life is like around the world through the eyes of others. This is also where the show breaks new ground when it comes to exploring gender identity and sexuality. WARNING – SPOILER AHEAD! SKIP TO POINT 3 TO AVOID— In episode 6 there is a phenomenal ‘orgy’ scene where a couple of the characters are having sex – namely the two gay characters (with their respective partners) – and unwittingly pull the others in their cluster into their experience. This results in the gay Mexican man experiencing lesbian sex, the straight Chicago cop experiencing gay sex etc. The scene is pure art, expertly choreographed to communicate not only the amount of physical passion occurring between characters, but also the transcendental experience these characters are a part of as they switch between various viewpoints. I take my hats off to the producers here because no one – gay or straight – appears to have a negative reaction to this experience, but accepts it for what it is: a borrowed, shared event that expands their mind without compromising who they are. *I just want to hug Netflix for allowing this scene to happen*

3) The scifi-ness takes a back seat to the exploration of humanity. While the show goes to great lengths to show how different each character is and how the events of their lives have uniquely crafted their identity, the show also shows in a most poetic way that no matter where you are on Earth, no matter what your race, religion, or gender, we are all human and can relate to one another on an almost primal level. When one of the cluster is hurting, the others feel it, and the show indulges the audience with fairly long scenes between pairs of character where they simply talk about their emotions, their lives, their thoughts. This is where Sense8 breaks from traditional scifi storytelling to deliver raw and honest dialogue in place of adrenaline-pumping action scenes. In fact, despite what’s going on in the background which definitely does get the adrenaline pumping plot-wise, the show is content to slow down and spend time allowing the characters to discover each other and in turn, discover more about themselves. It really is quite beautiful to see people from such different worlds connect so viscerally with each other. And, of course, there is no judgement, no prejudice, because these characters are literally walking in each other’s shoes, feeling what the other feels, knowing what the other knows. Gah! I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

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4) This show doesn’t shy away from tough topics and is, at times, rather difficult to watch. Once again, being on Netflix has given this show a lot of freedom with its content which has resulted in pretty explicit sex scenes (although nothing gratuitous in my opinion) and some unflinching violence – although the show’s focus is definitely more on drama than action. Still, the themes of this show make for some potent emotional content that left me wanting to punch certain characters, rail against the universe, hug a pillow and weep, and jump up and down in elation – sometimes all in the span of a single episode.

5) The trans character in Sense8 is played by a transwoman in real life and the portrayal of Nomi is excellent (it definitely shows that a trans person – Lana Wachowski – was behind this project)!

Note: the characters all speak their own language, but because knowledge is shared between the cluster, they all speak each other’s language which results in the Nairobi man speaking Korean, the German man speaking Punjabi etc. just in case you were wondering how this mass communication was able to take place.

Also, ever since Riley was introduced as Icelandic, I was waiting for the inclusion of a track from Sigur Ros or perhaps Of Monsters and Men – they sure made me wait, but the show finally delivered my music! ;)

Okay, so those are all the things that make the show brilliant and worthy of any and all awards and all your attention. But, I’m nothing if not nitpicky when it comes to scifi and there are a couple of things that do bother me.

1) The cultural/racial stereotypes. While I do think this show goes a lot further than most – any, possibly in this genre – to explore racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, it does tend to full into the traps of stereotypes, such as the dutiful Indian girl marrying a man her parents approve of or the Asian woman who is proficient at martial arts. While I think the show uses these stereotypes to allow their Western target audience to better identify with the characters (although I think its somewhat tragic that Western audiences can only relate to people who are different from them via stereotype!!), I do hope that the writers explore new ground and break away from these stereotypes in seasons to come.

2) Some of the scifi elements are a little odd. For example, these characters can visit each other where they appear physically to one another and can physically interact. This seems to contradict the initial idea that they would be experiencing the world through the other sensate, meaning they could only feel what that person felt sensory wise, and they’ve even shown this a few times – such as a visiting character drinking tea only to have the next scene cut to show the non-visiting character as the one who was drinking the tea. But later, this becomes confused – or blatantly ignored – as characters start to physically interact with one another and the world. In one scene one of the visiting characters drives a car while the existing character sits in the passenger seat. Since in other scenes, the visiting characters remain invisible to everyone but the cluster member and characters are shown to be seen ‘talking to themselves’ by external observers, does this mean that someone watching the car scene would’ve seen a driver-less car hurtling down the road? There’s also the matter of ‘contact during unconsciousness’ that seems a matter of convenience. Minor points of contention, but in a show that does everything else so well these inconsistencies irk me.

Right, so that’s enough about this brilliant show. What are you still doing here? You should be on Netflix watching Sense8! This show scores 5 spectacular ink splats from me.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2015 in Reviews

 

Book Review: The Girl at Midnight

While this title has been languishing on my TBR pile for a while, it was still a bit of an impulse grab at the library because I saw it sitting looking pretty on the shelf and just had to take it home with me.

TGaM

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

This book has been compared a lot to the beloved Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I read the first book in that series and can see where readers may find similarities. In both books we have a pretty sassy heroine who flits about the world through magical doorways. There are mythical creatures in both series – demons and angels in Laini Taylor’s books, anthropomorphic dragons (Drakharin) and birds (Avicen) in Grey’s. To be honest, that’s where the similarities ended for me. I don’t understand why some reviewers see The Girl at Midnight as a ‘rip-off’ of Taylor’s series. It’s really not, and, to be honest, I strongly preferred The Girl at Midnight – Although Taylor wins hands down when it comes to exquisite writing, world-building, and description.

The Girl at Midnight is a little be Neverwhere-ish in that there is a hidden world operating in tandem with the human world, a world divided into the scale-adorned Drakharin and feathered Avicen. These two are, of course, at odds with each other and a human girl – our protagonist Echo – gets caught up in the middle of all the action as she goes in search of the mythical Firebird. At the mention of the Firebird, I was hoping for a stronger tie-in with Slavic folk-lore and was disappointed when the Firebird in this story seemed completely disconnected from the traditional mythology. Not that it isn’t cool in its own right in terms of the story world, but it’s a lot more Phoenix than fiery peacock from Russian fairytale.

It’s a little tricky to talk much more about this story without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say, there was a twist, but I saw it coming from about halfway through the book. That said, it was still fun to see how the characters coped with the revelation even if it didn’t elicit quite the OMG reaction in the reader as I think the author intended.

The true strength of this novel lies in its characters, and not just the protagonist. Actually, Echo is possibly the least interesting of the lot. This book has multiple POVs, switching between various characters sometimes erratically. At first, I found this irritating because I was struggling to connect with Echo. In the end, I’m glad the author chose to give the reader personal time in the other characters’ heads because they were a fascinating bunch. I strongly preferred the chapters from the dragons’ perspective. Caius and Dorian all but stole the show, Dorian in particular who seemed to suffer the most internal conflict which made him the most interesting character even if he was relegated to the periphery. His interactions with the Avicen were some of the best scenes – particularly the snappy dialogue between Dorian and peacock-ish Avicen named Jasper. I could easily have spent the entire book in their POVs, following their story rather than Echo’s. This is both a positive and negative, I guess, because the story was meant to be Echo’s but there was so much going on with the side characters that I sometimes resented returning to Echo when I found other characters more compelling. I was particularly pleased to see the LGBT characters getting so much page time and even POV chapters of their own. Hooray for a diverse YA fantasy read!

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book and appreciated the fact that the romance element took a backseat to the plot. I also really enjoyed the exploration of supporting characters even if the switching POV chapters sometimes felt disruptive. I think there could’ve been more nuanced world-building, but this is only book 1 so perhaps more details are coming in book 2. While I don’t find myself too emotionally invested in the protagonist, I am absolutely enthralled by the supporting characters and hope that book 2 continues to follow all the story threads presented in book 1. Ultimately, this was a fun urban fantasy read and scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2015 in Reviews

 

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