What I’ve Read: Ilse Witch

Ilsewitch

A re-read (maybe the fifth or sixth) of Ilse Witch, book one of the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara by Terry Brooks

Brief Summary:

As a Wing Rider is doing his daily flights over the Blue Divide, he spots a castaway. Turns out, the castaway was an Elf prince who set out 30 years prior to discover a forgotten magic across the ocean. Blind and mute, the castaway carries a map. When the Druid Walker deciphers the map, he brings together a ragtag team of warriors, magic-users and a young boy with a mysterious past. Using the brand new technology of airships, the group undertakes a long and arduous journey to this long forgotten land. During the journey, the young Bek learns the truth about his ancestry and his undiscovered magic. Chasing them the entire journey is the Ilse Witch, who also has a mysterious past and deep hatred for the Druid. Upon reaching the land that time forgot, the group is attacked by the sentient dweller in the ancient city and become separated.

What works:

Though my first foray into fantasy was Tolkien, Terry Brooks was really the one to fully grab me. I read the original trilogy and the Heritage series in the late 90s, so when this book came out in 2000, I was aching for this series. And it didn’t disappoint (and still doesn’t). The biggest thing about Mr. Brooks is his attention to detail in crafting a story. While I loved individual books in the aforementioned stories, I really didn’t get invested in every single character arc (though after re-reads, I understood them better) until this story. I love every single character POV and care so much about them. This book, this quest, these characters are the exact reason I started forming/writing my own fantasy stories. There is just something so graceful and encouraging in this book/trilogy that I couldn’t help myself for wanting to emulate Mr. Brooks.

The one thing that sets this series apart for me is the expansion of the world. In the original trilogy there is only the most basic of hints this world is the future of Earth. A bit more is expanded in the Heritage series (I’m thinking of you Eldwist!), but this series really hits home that this is our future. I love the journey to Castledown – which is obvious it takes place in Asia (hence the name Parkasia). It really adds a layer of setting and place.

Every time I re-read this series, I find a new character to fall in love with, and that is what makes Mr. Brooks fantastic as a writer in these early series. When I first read it as a teenager, obviously Bek and Quentin were my favorites because they were of a same age to me. Then it became Walker. Now it is Rue and Redden, the Rovers. I always loved Rue because she was an awesome character, but now, I can really see the progression of Mr. Brooks as a writer. In the early stories, only Brin and Wren were main female characters, but they were magic users, family members. They were the ones the story happened to. Not Rue. Rue is not the main character, but her story arc is amazing. She relies on her instincts, her abilities, her charm, her wit. She is a perfect character.

I also love the fact that one of the main characters – with that familial connection – is a villain. It is a true flip of the script. The Ilse Witch is great.

While I really like stories with major plots and scheme, my favorite fantasy trope is the quest. I just love having characters go to someplace unknown and just grow from that. The Druid of Shannara is pretty much one of my favorite fantasy books because of Walker’s journey to the Eldwist. And this trilogy adds another level to an awesome journey story. I absolutely love the journey itself, but also the stuff that happens on said journey – like the growth of Bek, the mystery of the Ilse Witch, who is the spy, what will happen to the group. It is just an overall amazing first book in this trilogy.

What doesn’t work:

While I am a huuuuuuuuuge Terry Brooks fan (I will read the hell out of all his books!), this series starts the formula for all his other books that take place chronologically after this. What I mean is that the same types of characters start to reappear, especially the boy Ohmsford character and the Wishsong. Bek is amazing, but down the road, you see him over and over again, so it really isn’t a blight on this book, but it does set the stage.

The other thing I never noticed before I tried to become a writer myself was the repeating Mr. Brooks tends to do sometimes. For example, every time the characters meet to discuss their plans, every single character is named in that meeting. It happens a lot! And after a few times, it gets somewhat trite. This also happens with catching characters up to speed, many times the same history is repeated.

The biggest thing to me is probably the title. I enjoy how the script is flipped with the Ilse Witch, but really, in the scheme of the trilogy (spoiler), she really isn’t the major focus until book 2 and especially book 3. While book 2 is aptly named, I think book 3 should have been called Ilse Witch. The reason this bugs me is because the Ilse Witch isn’t a major POV character here, and most of the story revolves around the journey from Walker/Bek’s POV. I know it is silly, but I think the title doesn’t fit the story, but if you couldn’t tell, I really love this books so I am somewhat nit-picking here.

Rating:

5 our of 5

Terry Brooks will always be one of my favorite authors and I re-read them quite often to immerse myself in a wonderful story. It is hard for me to rate each book individually because this trilogy is so strong as a whole, there are no let-down books that tend to happen with series. I don’t know how anyone who enjoys fantasy could not love this book (trilogy).

What I’ve Read: Prince of Thorns

51HPFAvjb9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, book 1 of the Broken Empire trilogy

Brief Summary:

A young boy (nine) sees his mother and younger brother murdered by one of his father’s (the King) enemies. Once healed, the boy (ten) runs away with a group of merchenaries and becomes their leader. Now fourteen, he aims to return home to become a king. Though his father has other plans for him, sending Jorg on a suicide mission to bring him a great stronghold of an enemy.

What works:

This book isn’t for everyone. Jorg and his companions are definitely not heroes and they definitely aren’t nice. They kill, burn, rape and pillage and sometimes in very graphic detail. At first it was a bit off-putting to say the least. Though once the story fleshes out, it doesn’t seem all that difficult to see why Jorg does what he does. But it still isn’t for everyone.

That said, the way in which Mr. Lawrence writes is superb. I highly dislike first person point of view, but this book demanded it. Jorg is so complex, not being in his head would be a major shame. One thing I really did like (and only after major thought on my part), I loved the voice of the novel. It is set over a thousand years after nuclear destruction, but the limited allusions to that are great. Very little description is used, and I think that works to the story overall. Also, the way in which Jorg describes things is so basic, so stringent on detail, I came to love it.

Another thing I didn’t like at first, but after thought, really came to dig, was the fact characters were killed so quickly. Unlike in Game of Thrones where plots happen and people die, this book had Jorg (mostly) killing characters you just got to know. Some I didn’t see coming and I loved it. I thought it was so daring of the author. Well done, sir.

What didn’t work:

Though Jorg is complex, sometimes I felt like he was too badass, almost like when you play an RPG until your characters are just like God. The dude is 14 years old and he already is a genius, skilled fighter, master manipulator, leader. While cool, I wish there was a bit more build-up to it, not just him having these abilities.

This was a very short book (only 320 pages) and I felt a bit disappointed in the overall plot. I love revenge stories, but there wasn’t a ton of build-up to the end. Further, I wasn’t a total fan of the villain popping up randomly toward the end of the story. Almost a bit of a cheap fake-out.

Rating:

4 out of 5

The best thing about this book is the pace. Yes it is short, yes it is dark, but the pacing is so strong, I didn’t want it to end. The writing, while hard to digest due to the graphic nature, was so well done, it was excellent. It really is a great piece of fantasy.

What I’ve Seen: IT

download (1)  IT by Andy Muschietti

Brief Summary:

Based on the Stephen King novel (and updated to take place in 1988-89), the movie follows seven teenage kids as they are haunted by a strange creature – It. It takes the form of multiple fears for the children: sometimes as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a Leper, a headless boy, among others. It is an ancient evil that comes back every 27 years to feed, mostly on young children, by use of their fear. After the seven friends – the Losers Club – all realize they have seen the creature, they come together to defeat it.

What works:

One thing Stephen King does well, is create believable friendships of children (see Stand by Me). If you have ever read the book IT, then you know the Losers Club are excellent characters, they feel real, they talk like real friends, you care about them. The 1990 TV miniseries, you didn’t feel that, but in this movie, damn you definitely feel like these kids are actually friends. From the snappy dialogue – boasting and roasting, to the in-fighting of teenage friends, this group feels so realistic, I found myself naming my friends at that age in their roles. The child actors were so into their roles, it didn’t feel forced at all and the movie stood taller because of it.

Pennywise was creepy AF. Tim Curry will always be Pennywise to me, but that is because I was growing up when that TV miniseries came out. He creeped me the hell out (still does), but Bill Skarsgard more than ably fills in as the clown of evil. In fact, he is much more creepy than Tim Curry, much more evil, more childish, more brutish and all around terrifying. I usually don’t get scared in horror movies, but he definitely gave me some goosebumps.

The jumps & scares. I hate torture porn (like Hostel & the Saw movies after the first one). Don’t like it and don’t think it is scary. I love horror movies with slow burns, ratcheting up the tension, playing on fears. IT does this to a T. Every scare was well-placed and felt real, especially relating as a teenager. Those things would have scared the piss out of me and I found myself jumping a few times when the scare came. But the best part was because of some the absurdity of Pennywise. The herky-jerky movements were amazing and really sold the terror of the scene.

The absolute best thing about IT was the humor. I already mentioned the kid actors being awesome, but they were laugh out loud sometimes. It made the movie fun. Really fun. And then the theater would laugh at itself after the scares because we all agreed it was fun. And to top it all off, the rock fight was just a blast, I don’t think a scene made me laugh as hard as the start of it in quite a long time.

What didn’t work:

I found very little I didn’t like with this movie. The only thing I could nitpick is the one scene where Pennywise did his dance. I know that scene was humorous and gonna make a popular gif, but it was a bit out of place for me.

Rating:

5 out of 5

I absolutely loved this movie! When I saw they were remaking IT, I was ecstatic, I loved the book and I still enjoy the TV miniseries. I eagerly waited for more to come out and the marketing of this movie was fantastic – there were red balloons all over Austin, TX the day of release. This movie scared me, made me laugh, and all around was such a fun time, I can’t wait to see it again.

What I’ve Read: Throne of Glass

TOG-NYT-Cover

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is a Young Adult high fantasy

Brief Summary:

Celaena Sardothien is the world’s greatest assassin and while serving time within a salt mine, she is given the opportunity to fight in an upcoming competition to become the King’s Champion under the banner of Crown Prince Dorian. If she wins, she serves four years and gains her freedom. Accepting this, she goes to the capital and begins her training with the other 23 would-be Champions. They are given tests and then when four remain, they duel to discover the winner. But then the Champions begin to turn up murdered, and it is up to Celaena to discover what is going on before she becomes the next victim.

What Works:

Celaena really is an all-around fun protagonist. Not only is she this fearsome assassin, but she is also written as her age. She enjoys clothing, reading, fine dining, and she also is witty, funny, smart, vain, and loyal. It was really cool to see the different sides to this character, because most protagonists aren’t this layered. One minute she will be talking about missing a party, the next talking about snapping a guy’s neck. She even plays up her being this awesome assassin to other characters when they discover she is only a teenager. Really fun character.

One thing about Celaena I want to point out is that she wants to be the best and her frustration shows. I loved that because I think that is every teenager ever. She is told in the beginning to not stand out, not to cause the others to figure out who she is. But I loved that growing sense of aggravation from her. I loved knowing she hated every second of it. And then when she finally gave in, the shocking way in which she revealed herself was spot on.

I really liked how there were multiple threads/plots going on in this book. At first, I was just thinking it would be about the competition, but it was really good to have the other side plots as well. The story is fast-paced and goes from scene to scene really smoothly without missing any beats.

I know I have said this in my other reviews in the past, I typically enjoy multi-POVs. That said, even though this book has multiple POVs, it truly is Celaena’s story. I think by having the other POVs only have small paragraphs or just a few pages really worked for this story. It gave another visual of the scenes, but didn’t bog it down by having to go into too much of that character’s head.

What Doesn’t Work:

The ending with one of the sub-plots. I really liked the supernatural element to it all, and thought it was really fun and cool, but the way it ended didn’t hit for me. I didn’t understand how it came about and how it all worked out. It just fizzled without much bang.

The one POV of the King in the end. Without spoiling anything, I was let down, or maybe too obvious is a better choice of words. I wish that whole thing was saved for the second book.

The love triangle. I enjoy a good triangle, I mean that is what makes many a good story. But this one didn’t work for me, mainly because I don’t see a Crown Prince doing the things Dorian does. Also, I didn’t like that Celaena was so smitten by both so quickly. I get it, she is a teenager and all teenagers (male and female) go through pangs of lust (all that was handled really well, IMO), but I didn’t feel like that was in her character to go so swoony so quickly. I wish it was more a slow burn.

Rating:

4 out of 5

I really did like this book and Ms. Maas sure does spin a good tale. Celaena is one of the best all around protagonists I have read in a long time.

What I’ve Read: Crooked Kingdom

5128y9FecAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, book two of the Six of Crows duology.

Brief Summary:

Picking up less than a week later from the previous book, Six of Crows, Kaz Brekker and his crew are coming up with a scheme to get Inej back from the doublecross at the end of the first book. The plan seems to go to hell when another doublecross happens. Each member of the crew are hounded by rival gangs, countries, and Grisha (oh and don’t worry, they rescued Inej in the process). With everyone seemingly against them, Kaz must come up with a scheme to defeat them all, while also saving their own hides.

What Works:

The pace of this book, like the last, is bang bang bang that it is hard to put down. I loved that it went directly into the plot and didn’t waste any effort. Ms. Bardugo has a gift for story-telling and it truly shows in these books.

I will admit, while I saw many of the twists coming, there were a couple I didn’t see. Without spoiling the book, the way in which the crew gets out of the final climax was very well done and interesting.

I am also glad there was a character death. These six go through a ton and get injured quite a bit, but after Inej gets cut multiple times and the other close encounters with death in this group, I almost started to think they were all going to be safe regardless of what happened. And when the one character died, I was glad for it because it showed that this world did have consequences.

The banter between the crew was very well done. I liked the silliness of it because you have to remember these are still teenagers, even if they are thugs and badasses.

What doesn’t work:

Unfortunately, this book suffers from the Ocean’s Twelve problem. There were far too many schemes and roles played by all the characters throughout that it just got cumbersome. And so many doublecrosses and subplots that it was just too much. I liked how the first book was focused, whereas this one was not.

Along that line of using Ocean’s Twelve, I didn’t like the addition of Wylan as a Point of View character (it seriously reminded me of Matt Damon’s character wanting more in the sequel…). I enjoyed having him be a main character but not being in his head, made it more interesting. Also, it was fun to have Jesper interact with him (they eventually get together) without knowing Wylan’s side of things. I think it took away from the other characters, especially Kaz and Inej.

Also, I didn’t need the little scene of Wylan and Jesper going to see Wylan’s supposed dead mother. I get why it was there, but it was meh to me. And then adding Jesper’s dad into the mix was not all that good.

Another thing that worked so well in the first book was the use of flashbacks and backstory, but in this book it didn’t work for me. I thought all of them were just filler and not needed. Especially when adding Wylan as a POV.

Rating:

3 out of 5

While I certainly enjoyed the book overall, I just felt let down after how good the first book was. I think there was just too much going on in this book that some parts suffered where they could have really shined. I was very satisfied with the conclusion and I am glad that it is only a duology instead of more books coming, I think it ended perfectly.

What I’ve Watched: The VVitch

The_Witch_posterThe VVitch via Prime.

Brief Summary:

Taking place in the early 1600s, a Puritan family is ousted from their community due to their faith. Taking up residence near a foreboding forest, the family settles and builds a farm, though the crops are failing. When Thomasin, the oldest daughter, is playing with the newborn child, it is abruptly taken from her without her understanding how. The child, taken by a strange older naked woman murders the child. Thomasin is accused by her mother and twin younger siblings of witchcraft. Her family being tormented by the eerie world around them pushes their faith to the test. And their survival in a harsh land.

What works:

Holy eff this movie is creepy in all the right ways! This isn’t a standard horror movie at all. There are maybe only one or two actual moments of jump. It is a slow burn, and it is the world the characters live in that makes it scary. I truly loved this form of story, the cheap thrills grow old after a while.

The biggest thing that makes it creepy is the music. I mean seriously, this music is so eerie that it was a power unto itself. The guy created a hodgepodge of instruments together and called it the Apprehension Engine. (for real, check it out online) The music is so profound and dark that each scene is magnified because of it. And the slow burn of the story goes hand in hand with the music.

One really cool tidbit (and could really turn off casual viewers) is that the characters speak in the literal language of the time. They say “thee” and “thine” as well as an array of other phrases that aren’t commonplace anymore. It really made me pay closer attention to the world than I would have if they used modern English. I thought it was brilliant. It was also great the director only used natural light, which made the night scenes all the more frightening.

Anna Taylor-Joy was amazing as Thomasin. There was an air of the unknown in her performance, but it was so grounded that it made her believable. She is devout in her faith, but everything happening to and around her family shakes that belief. While I loved the father and mother (both Game of Thrones alums), it was Thomasin’s movie.

Add in the fact that the witches were so damned creepy, it was excellent.

What didn’t work:

Nothing. And I mean that. This movie was flawless.

Rating:

5 out of 5

I don’t know how this movie didn’t get more press or attention. It was absolutely scary on every level. I don’t get scared all the easy from movies, but this one definitely had me on the edge. The world was so perfect that after 5 minutes I forgot it was a different time period altogether. And the ending was just so creepy and vivid. I loved this movie!

What I’ve read: Six of Crows

91WEx42EdiL

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a Young Adult fantasy novel set in a world where magic is the crux of conflict and gangs run the streets.

Brief Summary:

The Grisha are magic users and while they have their own separate powers, a new drug makes them more powerful than ever. A country who hates Grisha imprisons the creator of this drug in an impenetrable fortress. A merchant seeks out the most accomplished thief in his city – Kaz Brekker – to pull off the job of getting him out. Kaz forms a team of rejects to complete this job: an acrobat turned thief, a sharpshooter wisecracker, an explosives guy, a Grisha and a former prisoner who knows the fortress intimately. Twists and double-crosses occur, because obviously, and the crew get into the fortress only to realize the creator was already dead, but his son lives and he can recreate the formula for the drug. And they get out, live happily ever after…not exactly, leaving with a cliffhanger for the next book.

What works:

The world of this story is awesome. From Ketterdam & the Barrel to Fjerda, the lands are excellently description and real. Ms. Bardugo goes to great lengths making these lands feel lived in and would sport these types of characters. Also the fact that Fjerda and the Grisha are bitter rivals is a great story in itself.

The one thing that sets this apart for me is the multiple view points. I am fairly new to the YA scene, but most of the YA I have read seems to only have one, maybe two, points of view. I love the sprawling epics with many POVs, so this book feels at home for me. There are five main POVs here out of the six crew members and I can say each is different from the next. Kaz is his own man, Inej has her own demons, Nina & Matthias complement/contradict each other perfectly and Jesper is a fun character in his own right.

On top of that, I love how using these characters make the pace of the book much smoother. In most adult fantasy with many POV, the plots of those characters are not always together, so we are going to many different locations when changing POV. Not with Six of Crows. There is only one single plot here and each character plays a part in the heist. I love it! You get to see things happen in almost real time, from each character. Reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven in a way.

While the heist is cool, (and a bit easy, but that is YA so it’s fine with me) the true perfection of this book is the characters of Nina and Matthias. The doomed tragic lovers scenario. (or are they?) I loved their backstory and I loved how they both hated/needed one another. But it was great tension because you never really knew if they would turn on each other or listen to their heart. I thought they were spectacularly written and developed.

A cool technique I liked here was that we got to see flashbacks of these characters in the course of the story, showing who they were and how they got there. But it wasn’t distracting at all. I thought Ms. Bardugo did an excellent job of making it fall within the confines of the plot without slowing down the pace.

What didn’t work:

In my opinion there aren’t any glaring issues. I really loved this book. However, and this is purely my own preferences here, but two things stuck out to me.

  1. Though I know this is YA, there were quite a few scenes of adult behavior, which I loved. That said, some things just felt off to me, especially when characters said they wanted waffles or an omelet. Or that they wanted to drink a cup of coffee. I wish Ms. Bardugo would have just stuck with a bit more adult here instead.
  2.  Kaz Brekker’s back story and subsequent love interest. I loved the other character’s backstories, but I felt it would have served the story better without showing Kaz’s. Kaz is defined by his history, but doesn’t show it to anyone in the Barrel, which is why he is such a badass. I wish I didn’t know why he became the Bastard of the Barrel. I would have liked the secrecy. Also, I know that YA stories tend to have love interests, and this story had Nina/Matthias, it didn’t need to add Kaz into the mix. While I get it, I didn’t need it.

Rating:

5 out of 5

This book was awesome. It read great, fast and always moving. There were no sections where it dragged on and there really wasn’t much filler. The world was well managed and the characters are great, each of them important players in the story, bringing depth.