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How to Twist Tropes for Fun and Profit by Delilah S. Dawson

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I didn’t get psychic powers the day I got my period, which really disappointed me. Stephen King’s Carrie was the first book that made me realize there was a really slim possibility that when one became a woman, one could also become a pyrotechnic mutant capable of exacting revenge. That was one of the first tropes I remember seeing twisted in a story, and I found it very satisfying. Instead of menstruation causing panic and fear, it could trigger empowerment—and someone was actually talking about it instead of acting like it was some shameful secret. That’s why I covered the trope of First Period Panic in the Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling from Apex Book Company, although my protagonist’s new powers further twist the trope in a different direction from Carrie.

The goal of Upside Down was to bring together a wide variety of writers working in fiction and nonfiction and let them twist the tropes that we see so frequently—or discuss and define the tropes. For many of us, it was a delight to take an annoying literary conceit that usually makes us roll our eyes– a chainmaille bikini, really? And turn that on its head. After writing their story, each author was asked to explain their trope and why they chose it, which further enhances the reading experience. It’s almost like reading secrets. It’s got great stories on the Damsel in Distress, Yellow Peril, The Chosen One, The Super Soldier, The Black Man Dies First, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Blind People are Magic, and so many more, often written by people who have experienced these tropes first hand.

I love twisting tropes in my books, and here’s how I make sure the story is about more than just a single twist.

  1. Decide on a trope to twist, usually in a fit of anger. Wake of Vultures, for example, is based on watching Lonesome Dove and being annoyed that women in the Wild West could only be portrayed as whores, martyrs, or lunatics, and also that people of color had very little power during that time of history.

  2. Craft a protagonist who embodies the twist and will be uniquely challenged by the world. In Wake of Vultures, that’s Nettie Lonesome, a mixed race girl raised as a slave who longs to be a cowboy.

  3. Create a rich world that offers tons of possibilities while uniquely challenging the protagonist. I wanted Nettie Lonesome to be more than just a regular cowboy, so I turned mid-1800s Texas into Durango, an alt version of our own history that’s full of monsters. Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, harpies. Taking it a step further, I looked at the Texas Rangers and their spotted past and turned them into a monster hunting outfit … that sometimes performs atroticities in the name of what they consider public safety. And then I made Nettie become a monster-hunting Ranger. So … instant conflict.

  4. Begin the book just before the moment when everything changes so that we see where the protagonist begins and go with them on their journey. Wake of Vultures starts when Nettie is awakened from her nest of rags and goes outside at midnight to find … well, the beginning of her story.

  5. Find places in the plot where the protagonist will fail, nearly fail, or make stupid mistakes. I was also sick of women in stories being simpering and polite, so I made Nettie rough, rude, and violent, which gets her in plenty of trouble.

  6. At any point where you must make a decision, don’t go with what’s expected. Part of twisting tropes is to delight the reader by doing something new. There was one point where Nettie was feeling sick, and instead of having her be super tough, I decided she would be the victim of a troublesome digestion. She threw up on a coyote … who was actually a person. They had lots of arguments, from then on.

  7. Discover new tropes to twist along the way. In Wake of Vultures, a shapeshifter named Coyote Dan shows up to help Nettie and seems like he might be playing into the “Magical Negro/Native” trope, but he busts up that trope pretty fast.

  8. Remember that every character is the hero of their own story. Each character needs motivation, a reason to be near the protagonist or to push them away. The villain needs to have good reasons for what they’re doing. Ultimate Evil is just another crappy trope. Real people are ambiguous, not all good or all evil. The bad guys Nettie fights are never just in it for the hand-wringing Dr. Evil of it all.

  9. Have fun with it. Part of the joy of twisting tropes is to explore new ground. Everybody else went down the trope path, but you’re forging a new trail. If you get bored writing it, the reader will get bored reading it. So spice is up. When in doubt, throw in some sex or violence, I always say. Nettie agrees on both counts.

For more ideas on how to twist tropes, pick up a copy of Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. Believe me: You’ll find plenty to love. And plenty of blood, at least in my story.

delilahauthorpicDelilah S. Dawson is the author of the Blud series, the Hit series, Servants of the Storm, Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon and Scorched, and Wake of Vultures and the Shadow series, written as Lila Bowen. Her first comic, Ladycastle, is out in January with BOOM! Studios. She teaches writing online at LitReactor.com and lives with her family in the north Georgia mountains. Find her online at www.whimsydark.com.

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Posted by on December 20, 2016 in Guest Post

 

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Eye of the Storm by Frank Cavallo

Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Frank Cavallo’s new novel EYE OF THE STORM…
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On a research mission in one of the most remote regions of the world, former Navy SEAL Eric Slade and Dr. Anna Fayne are caught in a mysterious storm. Catapulted through a rift in space-time, they are marooned on a lost world. 

Struggling to survive and desperate to find a way home, they must confront the dangers of this savage land—a dark wizard and his army of undead—a warrior queen and her horde of fierce Neanderthals that stands against him—and a legendary treasure with the power to open the gateway between worlds, or to destroy them all: the Eye of the Storm.

Excerpt:

Kerr watched the horror unfold beside Azreth.

Down from their perch among the jagged stones and hills, the approach to Storm Crag Pass had been transformed into a black inferno. Shrieks echoed through the skies, as the lightning wraiths struck down warriors and raptors of dark flame soared through the ruined heavens. The beasts climbed in killer sorties, their fiery wings scorching everything in their path. Scalding talons skewered men, carrying them through the air as they died, burned alive and then cast aside like carrion.

True fires stoked by the wreckage of chariots and war machines painted the sky in livid hues of gold and orange. Columns of smoke churned up from the fighting; black plumes on the helms of war gods. Across the burning plain, men encased in shells of hot iron, half-mad from the heat, slashed and tore at each other in a blind frenzy.

It was a death feast. Bodies ravaged by all manner of calamity lay strewn upon the rocky terrain; charred remains that were unrecognizable for the twisted grotesquerie of flesh melted into metal.

Everywhere across the battle-plain the Hordes of Tulkoras fell back. Split into pockets, some were surrounded by the black knights of Tvath, who moved without fear of the dark flames that ravaged the steppe-warriors. Penned in like animals, the trapped hordes-men were slaughtered without quarter.

“The day is lost,” Azreth muttered. “Tarquin has bested my summoning.”

Kerr scoffed at the mystic. He was about to do more, when he saw a figure scrambling up the hill toward them. In a moment he realized it was Slade.

The former SEAL was covered in blood and soot. His chest was heaving as he rushed up from the lower reaches, struggling to make it to the heights of the pass.

Kerr grabbed a jug of water and limped to meet him, leaving his cane behind. When the two met neither said a word. Kerr handed the water to Slade. The warrior took it, nodded and drank every drop.

By the time he’d finished, Azreth had made his way down the hill to join them.

“What happened?” he demanded. “Where is the Queen you swore to protect?”

Slade scowled at the holy man. Instead of an answer, he smashed the clay jug on the rocks at Azreth’s feet.

“We got separated,” he said. “Black smoke. Black knights. Black fire. You can’t see a goddamn thing down there. One minute she was beside me, the next…”

Azreth shook his staff in anger, pointing it at Slade like a school teacher.

“The Queen must not be lost, despite this disaster she has wrought,” he said.

“This is your doing,” Slade said. “If anyone is to blame for this it’s you.”

“I did my part,” Azreth answered. “If only you had…”

Slade didn’t wait for the shaman’s reply. He turned back to Kerr.

“What do we have left to work with here in camp?” he asked.

“Very little, I’m afraid. The reserves have all been called into the fight,” the leper said. “There is nothing but a rearguard.”

“How many men?” Slade asked.

“A hundred, at most,” he said. “And that’s counting the couriers and their lizard-wing mounts.”

“Lizard-wings?” Slade asked, recalling the high flying dinosaurs he’d once witnessed by chopper. “You’re talking about pterosaurs?”

“That may be a word my father did not know,” Kerr answered. “We keep them behind the lines, in a separate camp. How does that help us?”

“You can ride them, can’t you?” Slade asked.

“If you need to, but they’re only for relaying messages.”

“Not anymore they aren’t,” Slade said.

“You’ve never ridden one before,” Kerr replied. “It is not easy.”

“Then I’ll have to be a fast learner,” he answered.

Kerr shook his head. He looked out toward the battle, and then turned his back.

“There isn’t enough time,” he replied. “Tarquin has already won. We cannot prevail. Honorable surrender is now our only option. I’m sure his terms will be fair.”

Azreth scoffed. Slade moved in closer to Kerr, grabbing him by the arm.

“You have a problem with me…fine,” he said. “But this is isn’t about winning. It’s about saving her. Which one do you care about more, hating me or helping Threya?”

Kerr looked at him for long, quiet moment, then back out toward the chaos. Finally, he nodded. Slade shook him by the arm.

“Let’s get to those winged lizards,” he said.

#

Khurghe was back on the high ground overlooking the fading battle, Threya beside him again.

“So it comes to an end,” he said.

A messenger came upon them in a rush, dashing up the hill.

My Queen, if you are to withdraw it must be done now. The wizard-king presses the attack,” he warned. “We’re almost overwhelmed.”

Khurghe looked to his queen, who tightened the buckles on her armor.

There will be no retreat,” she said. “Already our best thanes have fallen. I will fall with them.”

My Queen,” he protested. “If we stay, the whole army will be destroyed. At least call down the rearguard so we might have a chance to escape.”

No. It ends here,” Khurghe said. “I will ride out with you. You will not…”

Khurghe did not notice that the messenger no longer paid him any mind.

It was only when Threya called out that he looked up. What he saw stunned him, and left him unable to utter even a word. The scream of a pterosaur peeled across the burning plain. A giant aerial lizard skimmed the rocks from the east, its forty-foot wingspan carried upon the wind. Upon its back, an azure-cloaked rider held a long-bow, launching a hail of arrows upon the Etruscans as his mount swooped through the smoke and flames.

A second winged war-lizard charged against the tide alongside him. Another warrior rode forth upon it, carrying a red-stained scimitar. The shield-less thane was garbed in the armor of a Tulkoras horde. It was Slade. Kerr rode beside him, Azreth seated behind.

The lizard-riders dove down toward the trapped Queen. Flying in a single-line formation, they split the Etruscan ranks, opening a clearing in front of Threya and Khurghe. Hacking and chopping from the back of his pterosaur, Slade led the charge, carving a bloody swath through the wall of black iron, warrior after warrior brought down by his scimitar.

The screeching, enormous aerial reptiles cleared the ground a hundred feet in front of Threya, as the surprised Tvath knights fell back. They broke to either side, yielding a space at least half as wide between their divided lines.

Then, Slade pulled up on his mount, rearing in mid air. He banked hard to the right. Behind him, Kerr and Azreth cut in the other direction. The shrieking lizards circled, leaving the shattered Etruscans behind them as they curled back toward the Queen. One hoplite remained behind, and he charged toward Threya, whose back was against a boulder. Khurghe, seeing an opening, dropped his shield and ran for the safety of Storm Crag, disappearing into the smoke.

Slade brought his lizard down in a dive-bomber fashion, hurtling toward the single remaining Etruscan. When he was within reach, he pulled up, again rearing the animal as it spread its wings like giant sails, braking its momentum.

The knight turned, just in time to see Slade’s sword cut in an arc, splitting the shield of the Tvath thane, cleaving his chest and his throat in one strike. Pale flesh and bone splinters spat outward.

Kerr and Azreth brought their reptiles down beside Slade’s. The beasts folded up their wings as they landed on all fours, where they stood as tall as three men. Looking down from his great mount, the former SEAL sheathed his sword, reaching his hand out toward Threya.

Need a lift?” he said.

About the Author:

cavallo-head-shot-1Horror and dark fantasy author Frank Cavallo’s work has appeared in magazines such as Another Realm, Ray Gun Revival, Every Day Fiction, Lost Souls and the Warhammer e-zine Hammer and Bolter. 
His latest novel, Eye of the Storm, was released in August 2016 by Ravenswood Publishing.

In Eye of the Storm, I try to bring back some of the elements that I like from old time pulp fiction,” says Frank. “It is a throwback to old school adventure stories, combining the pacing and the feel of those classic tales with some newer elements that are not all that common to typical fantasy fiction.”

Frank’s previously published works include The Lucifer Messiah, The Hand of Osiris, and the Gotrek & Felix novella Into the Valley of Death. He is currently working on a new novel, The Rites of Azathoth, with Necro Publications, due out in February 2017.

Frank was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in Communications in 1994 and he earned a JD from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 2001. He currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio, where he has been a criminal defense attorney for fifteen years.

Readers can connect with Frank on Facebook, Twitter, and GoodreadsTo learn more, go to http://www.frankcavallo.com/

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2016 in Spotlight

 

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Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

I heard a lot of buzz about this book, particularly noted for its diversity and fresh setting. I couldn’t wait to read it, but when I did, I was left a little shocked to be honest.

*Spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned!*

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Laia is a slave.

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

This book is YA, meaning it’s technically for teen readers about teen characters doing teenish things and dealing with teenish issues even in fantastical settings. And it was with that understanding that I cracked open the spine on this novel.

While I did thoroughly enjoy the Spartacus TV series (back when Andy Whitfield was the lead) and can generally handle the violence and brutality in shows like Game of Thrones, I was absolutely not prepared for the brutality of one of the very first scenes in this book. Remember this novel is aimed at teen readers… and yet, in one of the opening scenes introducing readers to Elias and his life at Blackcliff (much like the ludus in Spartacus only for kids as young as 5) a ten-year-old boy is publicly flogged to death by a commanding officer. I struggled with this scene. Even more so because the vast majority of the characters in the story seem so unaffected by the brutal abuse (actually, it goes beyond abuse really) of a child. A child! I should’ve known from this opening scene that the rest of the book would continue in a similar vein.

This book is brutal! The CO of this elite warrior school is an unapologetic sadist delighting in the continuous and brutal torture of slaves and Martials (the upper echelon attending the warrior school), even tormenting her own son! The brutality visited upon Laia is unspeakable and had me cringing for the majority of the book. If this were a movie, it would have to be R-rated for violence. But it gets worse, because the physical damage done by a sadist isn’t nearly as bad as the psychological torment Elias endures as part of the trope-ish three trials he is meant to pass in the hopes of becoming Emperor. The violence and brutality kicks up yet another gear to the point where I actually felt queasy reading some scenes and had to put the book down. I was so overwhelmed by the brutality, which often felt unnecessary and senseless, that when the few tender moments did happen, I was so relieved, I felt myself falling in love with these characters for the most minor of niceties.

Aside from the brutality – which I really shudder to think is considered okay for inclusion in a book aimed at young readers – the plot is complex and kept me intrigued. The main characters you couldn’t help but feel for given their circumstances and heinous mistreatment. I loved Elias and Laia although I could’ve done without all the convoluted love-quadrangling going on.

The biggest issue I had with this book was the constant threat of sexual violence against the girls in the story and the numerous near-rape scenes. Had there been at least one threat of sexual violence toward a boy (completely realistic) it would’ve perhaps felt more balanced, but as it stands, it seemed to be a stereotypical ‘boy taking what he thinks he can get without consequences from the weak and frightened girl’. Even the strongest female character in the book wasn’t immune to rape threats and that infuriated me! Why is rape always used!?

Had this book being marketed as adult or even new adult, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more or at least handled it a little better because I would’ve known to expect a different level of violence. There are several books with big cross-over appeal being marketed toward a more adult audience, books like Six of Crows and A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I think An Ember in the Ashes should’ve been marketed similarly. I was left emotionally damaged after reading this book and had nightmarish images of dead children playing in my mind for days after I turned the last page. Even as an adult book, I think this story will upset some readers with the amount of violence leveled at children. Did I mention a five-year-old little girl gets deliberately blinded with a hot poker as retribution for something an adult slave did? Yeah. Nauseating.

So, good plot, good characters, good prose if not very descriptive, and an interesting world with a slightly Arabic or Middle Eastern flavor featuring a cast of PoC characters, but it wasn’t quite as diverse as I was hoping. I kept waiting for an LGBT+ character to make an appearance but sadly, they never did. I find it really difficult to rate this book. I was intrigued, I kept turning pages – when I wasn’t battling nausea – and I did sort of enjoy it, but the brutality was simply too much for me. This gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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Book Review: Fathoms of Fenlake

Today’s review is going to be a little different, because the book in question is a little different too. I received this book from the author for an honest review so here goes…

fenlake

Aigi’s journey into the mythical world of the Sami people starts with a race for the first ray of sunlight of the New Year, and continues with a plunge into the wondrous Saivo realm to search for a childhood friend. On the journey the knowledge of beings such as the gobmi, skammaidas and other fantastic creatures will surely be needed.

Fathoms of the Fenlake is a groundbreaking fantasy story. A solid nature connection, ingenuity and courage along with mystical powers have always been present in the Sami culture. The colorful pantheon has survived the attempts to abolish it, and the Aigi-saga draws from that legendary folklore. The bewitching novel will charm its readers.

Ante Aikio is a reindeer herder and modern entrepreneur living between two worlds himself, splitting his time between his company and his reindeer herd. Both are far beyond the polar circle – in the land of Sami mythology and tales. This is the one from the fathoms of ancient lakes…

*There are a few spoilers ahead*

This book is unique in that it is written by a Sami reindeer herder from Finnish Lapland and is all about Sami mythology, a mythology rarely seen (if ever) in mainstream fantasy. This book was originally written in Finnish and since my Finnish comprehension isn’t quite up to the challenge of reading a full novel, I decided to read the translation instead. I’m generally quite hard to please when it comes to translations and this book was sadly, no exception.

Firstly, I have to applaud this author for writing down what has, for the most part, been an oral tradition of story-telling. The Sami have a unique outlook on the world, their traditions entwined with nature-worship, and are a rather isolated group of people living at the edge of the world so this book has the potential to reach readers around the world, letting readers know that the Sami exist and that their story-telling is rich and profound.

Despite being exposed to Sami music while living in Finland and getting to know about some of their traditions during my studies, I didn’t know much about their mythology before reading this book. While I did enjoy getting to know more about Sami mythology and tradition, this book fell short of its promise.

This book is presented as an epic fantasy novel. It is not. Instead of reading like one cohesive story, the book is structured more like a collection of mythological stories as one might find in a non-fiction tome on the subject. The writing is similar in style to narrative non-fiction, heavy on telling and light on dialogue. This style does not make for an immersive experience. The main character is interesting and the story teases the promise of a Chosen One who has only to develop his magical powers. Sadly, this remains a tease and the character doesn’t do too much growing towards that destiny. Perhaps this was intentional, leaving room for a sequel, but this didn’t work for me. It seemed very anti-climatic when the main character, who could be a powerful sorcerer, doesn’t really amount to much at all despite having endured various travails in the Hero’s Journey tradition. This for me was the biggest disappointment and, combined with the dry prose, didn’t really allow me to enjoy the story that much.

Story aside, which will definitely be interesting to those who enjoy reading mythology anthologies, the writing itself made reading this book difficult. Perhaps simply a case of poor translation, this book suffers from bad grammar, tedious repetitions, incorrect vocabulary, and bland description. I really wish I could read this in the original Finnish to get a better feel for the story-telling.

As an epic fantasy novel, this story falls flat and would not easily rival the works of Rothfuss, Eddings, Lawrence, Erikson, Marillier, or, of course, Tolkien. While the story is rife with nasty beasties and liberally sprinkled with magic, the writing just isn’t up to scratch and the story suffers for it. As an experience in diversity and as a study of Sami mythology, this book excels, enabling global readers a more accessible means of discovering a relatively unknown culture. Perhaps I went into this book with unrealistic expectations. Perhaps had I approached this book as I would the a ‘Collected Tales of Greek Mythology’ I might’ve enjoyed this book far more. Regardless, I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in exploring Sami tradition and mythology.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 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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TV series review: Daredevil

Now I absolutely realize I’m a bit slow on the uptake, but I binge watched this series in two days and am already suffering serious withdrawals having to wait almost a year for the next season, so without further ado here are my thoughts on Daredevil!

Note: I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible!

daredevil-poster

A usual fan of all things Marvel and DC, I have to admit I was feeling a little burned out on superheroes. I tried Gotham, and had really high hopes for the show but gave up after only maybe 5 episodes. I was addicted to the first couple of seasons of Arrow but this latest season left me underwhelmed. I gave up after 6 episodes. I similarly had very high expectations for The Flash and was, again, disappointed. Perhaps I was simply burned out on the CW with the last two shows. I watch a bunch of series on that channel and, to be honest, they all start to look and feel the same. It doesn’t help that they recycle actors, so familiar faces keep popping up. Stephen Amell will always be the sulky werewolf from Vampire Diaries for me, not Oliver Queen. The CW shows are all very pretty with very pretty cast members and all that saturated color and prettiness gets boring after a while. The CW is also a ‘family’ channel and storylines, even dialogue, are somewhat constrained by that PG requirement. Suffice it to say, when I saw teasers for Daredevil, I rolled my eyes and watched Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful instead. Until now…

Last weekend I was husband-less and feeling lonely without anything new to watch. Since I’d heard people chatting about Daredevil, I decided to look it up and holy crap – that’s Charlie Cox! Charlie was the adorable, if somewhat bumbling, love interest in Stardust and I adored him. I couldn’t imagine that teddy bear playing the badass Matt Murdock. I was intrigued. Then I continued reading the cast list and well, yeah, I just had to watch. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the villain people!

vincent-donofrio-kingpin-daredevil

With much trepidation, I started watching and I couldn’t freaking stop! First off, no voice over! No ‘my name is…’ – just good story! Also, Instead of pretty, well-coiffed cast members in ridiculous designer clothes running around in high heels and pumped up cleavages, I got gritty and bloody. Even the cinematography turns monochromatic in some places, adding to the overall bleakness of the show. Sure, it has its moments of shiny, upper echelon sparkles, but most of it is spent in a decrepit Hell’s Kitchen among the less affluent. How refreshing that the hero isn’t a billionaire. He isn’t exactly poor either, but he’s no Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen (before certain events dented Ollie’s bank account). Matt Murdock comes from the same background as the people he’s fighting for. His superhero motivation comes from seeing how rough people in his quarter of New York have it and wanting to make their lives better – not some selfish idea of avenging dead parents. I love that! It’s so much more real and so much easier to empathise with the guy.

Matt Murdock is blind – although, granted, some comic-book license has been taken with this disability to make it more help than hindrance, it does lend him a certain vulnerability. It definitely makes him more human, showing he’s susceptible to injury, to pain, and death. Murdock’s, and likewise Daredevil’s, fragility is reiterated throughout the series as he repeatedly takes a beating (he dishes out plenty too), but this is a guy who gets tired, who takes days to recover from injury and who bleeds buckets for what he believes in. The show doesn’t shy away from showing his weaknesses – and what hubris will get you – and that’s refreshing too.

Matt Murdock is Catholic and the opening scene sets up the internal conflict for this character brilliantly. It’s the first (only?) time I’ve seen a religious superhero on TV. It adds another dimension to his character, again making him more real by showing that his moral quandary goes beyond the letters of the law and that he’s trying to act within a powerful if ethereal moral code. It makes him not wanting to kill people a lot more understandable, even when it means he has to take twice the beating before putting down the bad guys. The fight scenes are very realistic too – this is a guy who gets tired and shows he’s hurting.

daredevil fight

Matt Murdock is a lawyer. He’s smart, he worked hard for what he has (no wealthy daddy handed him the keys to a company on a silver platter), and has to work every day to keep food on the table. As such, he is so much more relatable than these billionaire playboy superheroes with a chip on their shoulder. Okay, enough about the awesomeness that is Matt, who is played perfectly by Charlie Cox by the way!

The villain, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, is one of the best I’ve encountered. He is so heart-achingly human. Disturbed, misguided, morally dubious sure, but he’s human. He’s damaged, he’s vulnerable, he needs a hug! And that makes the struggle between Matt and Fisk all the more real and despairing because they’ve both struggled, they’ve both come from tough backgrounds and had to fight to get where they are. They both believe they’re doing the right thing and doing it for the right reasons even though their approaches couldn’t be more different. It’s a very odd thing to feel empathy for the villain in this way. It makes for some seriously nail-biting episodes because there are times I find myself almost rooting for the other side (sorry Matt!). Vincent D’Onofrio is, of course, spectacular in his role as Fisk and commandeers every scene he’s in, demanding your undivided attention.

The show isn’t perfect though. The stereotyping of Asians is rather atrocious and I hope the show does something about that in season 2. The role of women in the show could also be better. At the moment they’re relegated to playing damsels in distress or the love interests (sometimes both). The exception here is Karen (played by Deborah Ann Woll who was my fav vamp in True Blood). Her character is stronger and darker than she first seems and they’ve only just begun to expose the various layers of her character. I hope they make more of her in the next season and give her room to shine alongside the boys. Rosario Dawson plays Matt’s love interest, Claire, and could also be doing a lot more if the script allowed her to. As of yet, there are no LGBT+ characters and only minor black characters 😦 (Ben Urich is perhaps the exception here but is the only PoC with a substantial storyline that isn’t a racial stereotype) I guess I’ll reserve judgement until season 2 and hope the writers move in the right direction, embracing the diversity of their setting. I do like that fact that Matt and Karen both speak Spanish in a part of NY where there is a large Latin community. And we don’t only get two words of the ‘foreign’ language (looking at you Arrow!), we get entire scenes with characters speaking Spanish – and Chinese – which pleases me because it means the producers at least acknowledge the fact that their audience can read subtitles and doesn’t need to be pandered to.

Thank goodness Daredevil is on Netflix. I don’t think the show could do what it’s doing were it on a channel like the CW. This show is dark and gritty, full of conflict, bloody and badass, and my new favourite addiction! I am definitely going to have to rewatch this series before the next season comes out. Actually, I might have to start rewatching today… 5/5 ink splats for a fabulous show!

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book review: Sea of Shadows

It’s been a while since I’ve read an epic fantasy novel, YA or not. This week’s review is of Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong and marks my first foray into a work by this prolific author. Not knowing Armstrong or any other works, I think probably helped me approach Sea of Shadows without any preconceptions or expectations.

armstrong

 

In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court–one that will alter the balance of their world forever.

So this blurb just about gives away the entire story. Really. No spoiler warning required because it’s all in the blurb.

I enjoyed Sea of Shadows, although I often found myself wondering why. Most of the book is spent partly with Ashyn as she bumbles through the wastes with her thief turned protector confronting monsters, and partly with Moria as she bumbles through the wastes with her obdurate guard turned friend confronting different monsters. At times, I just wanted the girls to get to court, because that’s where the secret and intrigue awaits, but it’s literally only in the last couple of chapters that the girls make it to court. Granted the ‘secret’ – aka plot twist – is pretty clever and does throw quite the curveball, but the book ends where the blurb does and left me feeling cheated and rather disappointed. I knew this was a trilogy, but I did expect more story and less traipsing through the wastes in the first installment.

Why did I like it then? The characters, or more specifically, the character interactions. The girls are superbly teemed up with boys who act often as foils and sometimes as mirrors. Ronan is a thief who challenges Ashyn’s rather black and white perspective on the world. He’s also been around the block, which makes for some funny and blush-worthy banter between him and the ever so innocent girl. Moria is the antithesis of her sister: brash, opinionated, argumentative and far more open if no less experienced in the ways of the world. Her guard is an equally opinionated warrior, and their scathing repartee (which of course develops from animosity into affection) makes for entertaining reading. I read this book for the characters and I will probably return to finish this trilogy because I have come to care deeply about this foursome.

The weak point in this book is the world-building. We have a forest of restless souls, which come back as the walking undead called shadow stalkers, and these shadow stalkers are only kept at bay by warriors of the North. If it sounds familiar, I guess that’s because GRR Martin called dibs on anything undead strolling around the North. The world also seems to be somewhat influenced by Asian culture with character names like Kitsune and Tatsu and a scene that hinted at the use of chopsticks rather than knives and forks. I really liked the Asian aspects but they seemed few and far between, with the girls – the main heroines – being described as pale, red-headed northerners. There are other characters, however, with darker skin and ’tilted’ eyes. The description of the architecture also seemed odd to me – going from pretty standard Castle Black-like villages to something that called to mind the white-washed abodes of Greece and then perhaps something resembling the Forbidden City. I’m all for a non-Western, non-European fantasy, but this felt like it couldn’t quite make up it’s mind about whether the influences were Western or Eastern. Perhaps the rest of the series will flesh out the world-building a bit more. I hope so, although I’m not sure that will save it from feeling a little derivative.

Come to think of it though, can any epic fantasy these days survive being compared to Martin or Tolkien? Some of the most cliched elements of fantasy are the reasons I love the genre!

Sea of Shadows is a highly enjoyable YA fantasy read with characters you can really care about even if the plot isn’t terribly exciting in this first book. I’m definitely going to read book 2 so Sea of Shadows scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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