Stormdancer

pressStormdancerUSI recently read a book called Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff. It caught my attention because it’s Japanese steampunk and what could be more glorious than Japanese steampunk?—I mean seriously!

After reading it I have to give it 3 out of 5 stars. I liked it a lot, but there were elements that stopped me from liking it as much as I hoped.

Setting: The setting was fantastic! There’s rich, colorful world building, it’s something you can really sink your teeth into. The story is set in the Shima Isles, which would likely translate to Feudal Japan in the real world. But Shima has airships, Iron Samurai, and chainsaw katana. All of which is fueled by lotus flower, a plant which poisons the land and has turned the skies red. It’s a fascinating setting and one which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Story: The main character is 16 year old Yukiko. Her father is Masaru, the Black Fox, the Shogun’s Master Hunter. They are sent on a mission to capture a Griffin—a creature of legend, a Thunder Tiger, that is said to be extinct—for the Shogun. Failure means death.

     To everyone’s surprise they find a griffin in the heart of a storm and manage to capture it. Masaru clips its wings to control the beast, but soon after the airship is torn apart by the storm. The crew abandons ship, but Yukiko can’t allow the Thunder Tiger to die like this. They end up stranded in the wilderness. Yukiko has an ability called the Kenning, which allows her to touch the mind’s of animals. She discovers that the Thunder Tiger has a very unique mind. Yukiko and the Thunder Tiger are forced to form an unlikely alliance in order to survive.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in a story full of corruption and intrigue.

Characters: I liked the characters. Yukiko’s character is forced to be the responsible one in her family, her father is a lotus fiend and makes a habit of smoking and drinking himself into stupor. Her relationship with her father is complex and interesting. She’s relatable and has strong potential. Yet I wasn’t entirely satisfied with her character arc. I didn’t feel like she did enough on her own, it seemed like she was always getting help from someone else and I wanted to see her stand on her own more.

There’s a cast of fascinating characters, many I became quite fond of, sadly most of them didn’t get as much page time as I would have liked.

Style: The author likes to paint a picture for the reader, sometimes this is a far more vivid picture than is necessary. The descriptions are often weighed down by elaborate metaphors and similes. While many of these helped add to the atmosphere of the setting, it bogged down the writing in places. The author also did a fair amount of character hopping. This doesn’t bother me as long as the changes are clearly marked, but there were times when I wasn’t sure who’s mind I was reading from. My final peeve with the writing was that during intense action sequences the author switched from third person past tense, to present tense, which was obviously an attempt to make the action more immediate, but I found it jarring and annoying.

Conclusion: I loved the setting and enjoyed the book, but not as much as I hoped. I have started reading the sequel and so far I’m enjoying it more than the first and I’m hopeful that it will rectify some of my complaints. Because I truly love the idea of the books and there’s so much potential there. So despite it’s imperfections I still encourage anyone who likes dark fantasy, steampunk, or Japanese culture, to give these books a shot.

How to Train your Dragon 2 Review

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In the world of sequels, this is a pretty impressive one. The animation is gorgeous and if you spring for 3D there’s a whole added depth. John Powell once again does an amazing job with the soundtrack, though it didn’t quite have the same magic as in the first one and that is something I’ll say about the entire movie.

The movie is very good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Where the first movie was a story about friendship and finding your place in your world, this is a coming of age story. It’s five years later and a lot has changed in our favorite viking village of Berk, dragons have became a part of the culture. Things seem perfect, everyone is happy and content–everyone except Hiccup that is. He’s a free spirit and flies far from home, creating maps and searching for dragons. But his father believes it’s time to retire and for Hiccup to take over as leader, this is an honor Hiccup is not thrilled about. The story goes on from there, it’s solid, but not terribly imaginative.

SPOILERS ahead! I found it interesting to discover Hiccup’s mother was actually still alive, but it’s definitely not the most original move. Part of me was happy that Hiccup and Stoick were so understanding as to why Valka has been gone for 20 years. It warmed my heart, but my brain had some trouble with it. I feel like there would have been some anger or hurt going on, it didn’t need to be extreme, but I didn’t feel her explanation as to why she left and stayed away was very convincing. But I will say it was very sweet, especially the scenes with Stoick and Valka, which of course was put in to twist the knife later on.

The idea of the dragon army being amassed by any angry, scarred man, with a grudge against dragons, was rather typical. They went from a heart warming story about a boy who befriends a dragon to a typical action adventure story about fighting an ultimate foe. I liked that Hiccup had to grow up, learn, and take responsibility, but killing Stoick to do it felt like another cliche. I don’t think these things would have bothered me with most kids movies, but after the magic of the first one I had such high hopes. I will not say that those hopes were dashed, because I did truly enjoy the movie, but I did leave feeling disappointed.

I think my final point and perhaps the one that annoyed me the most was that Astrid didn’t play a larger role in the story. I wanted to see her and Hiccup working together more. They’ve been dating for 5 years and are apparently going to get married one day, but aside from the promising beginning there wasn’t much of them working together as a team. It’s not that Astrid wasn’t present throughout the movie, but her scenes weren’t important for the most part and we didn’t get to see much of the relationship between Hiccup and Astrid. I was also disappointed that Astrid and Valka never had a scene together. I would think that Hiccup’s mother would want to get to know the girl who is likely to become her daughter-in-law. It could have been a great scene but it appears they were too caught up in their giant dragon battles to fit that in.

I know this is all rather negative and it is by no means a bad movie, it’s beautiful and has some great moments in it, but after the simple magic of the first, I feel like this one could have been so much more than the big action film it turned out to be.

~~Lady of the Pen~~

The Emperor’s Soul

 

 

I recently got a bundle of e-book for $12 and Brandon Sanderson’s novella, “The Emperor’s Soul” was among them. I highly recommend this short fantasy book. The writing is beautiful and rich, the characters are fascinating, and did I mention the magic system is brilliant?

The story’s about a woman named Shai who is a Forger, a person who rewrites an objects history in order to transform it. The story starts with her being in prison awaiting execution, having been caught trying to replace the Moon Scepter with a forgery. But then she is offered a unique challenge that might save her life; to succeed she will have to create her masterpiece.

The story is wonderful and it is written with a unique understanding of its characters. I believe it is the finest piece of writing I’ve read from Brandon Sanderson thus far–I admittedly haven’t read that many, but it is excellent.

~~Lady of the Pen~~

Haywire Review: Not a Spy Movie For Everyone

I just finished watching ‘Haywire.’ I really liked it. It appears to be a lower budget film with some heavy hitters such as Antonio Banderas and Channing Tatum. I’m certain that many people would find ‘Haywire’ to be a slow movie. Especially considering it’s about a spy on the run. But I didn’t find it to be slow. I liked the pacing, it drew me into the movie. The film also challenged me to understand what was going on with the larger plot. I understood the immediate problems, our protagonist, Mallory Kane, is on the run from her employers who have tried to kill her, I don’t feel like I’m being left in the dust, but I’m forced to close my computer-which I’m usually using while watching a movie-and pay attention. And as I payed attention I found myself drawn in by the long scenes, the two or thee camera angles, and the often absence of music. There was an underlining tension that could be felt in the film even during the slow parts.

Then of course there’s Gina Carano who plays Mallory Kane. Most actresses who play spies are just a pretty face. Their stunt double do most of the sweaty work leaving the actress to stand over “her conquered foes” once the Double is done. But Gina Carano is an ex MMA fighter and she knows how to handle herself. Her fights lack the usual Hollywood over the top showiness-though there are some cool moves-but actually look like realist fights. Not to mention the movie doesn’t make her Superwoman. She has to go up against a couple of the guys and she doesn’t beat them with just brawn, but with skill and strategy. Because come on, I’m a martial artist, and there’s no way I’m going to go up against a guy twice my size and start trading punches. I’m going to go for his weaknesses and try to finish it as quickly as possible.

I’d say this is one of the best female spy movies I’ve seen. Though not for heart pumping, flashiness, but rather intensity and believability. The movie has it’s flaws, the dialogue is a bit weak, though it preferred to show you what was going on rather then tell (hence the need to pay attention). Interestingly enough many of the things that I believe people would call flaws in the movie were actually the movies strengths; the long scenes, the limited camera angles, and lack of soundtrack are all things that many-including myself in many cases- would call flaws, but in this movie I would say they were the things that drew me in.

This is definitely not a movie for everyone, but I for one enjoyed it.

Divergent: The Book I Didn’t Think I’d Like

‘Divergent.’ I had a couple friends recommend the book to me, the same friends who recommended ‘Hunger Games’ (which I didn’t like much), so I was hesitant to actually read the book. The synopsis felt familiar and after reading the first page I rolled my eyes and thought “another book about a teen girl written in first person, great.”

But curiosity got the best of me and I decide to start it. At first I wasn’t impressed. The book seemed to be following along with my worst fears; “Typical teen girl in turmoil as she tries to decide between home faction, which she doesn’t quite fit into and the faction she’s always been intrigued by.” Oh great drama.

I was slight intrigued by the idea of her being Divergent, whatever that meant, yet was still feeling critical and so not easily impressed. I found the Dauntless rather interesting and started to enjoy myself in their compound-I’m a sucker for violence, what can I say? Though I spotted Four  a mile away. Actually I knew as soon as Beatrice jumped into the net. Yet you can’t imagine my relief when I discovered there was no love triangle-“Glory Hallelujah!” I think I really started enjoying the book as I read about Beatrice’s growth and change from Beatrice into Tris. I was impressed by her as she learned bravery and yet didn’t let go of the values she’d learned in Abnegation. She went through some real changes and I like to see a character change and grow. I also liked that most of her success in Dauntless was not because she was physically powerful, but mentally so. She does improve physically because of the Dauntless training and who wouldn’t *laugh,* but she doesn’t turn into some superhero.

I think in the end what I really liked about Divergent was the characters journey to self discovery, which led her to see the flaws in her world. Her connect with her old life was what stopped her from whole heartedly accepting the Dauntless values as the only values. And she eventually realizes that bravery and selflessness go together. And by discovering this she began to realize that all the virtues are equally important and that it isn’t right to divide them because that’s when a virtue becomes a flaw as the people become self-righteous  and prideful.

I believe I liked the book because of its focus on morals, growth and family. It actually had some depth to it and wasn’t loaded down with silly drama and ridiculous love triangles.