What I’ve read: Six of Crows

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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.

Writing Thoughts: On Creator’s Block…

So, where do I stand with my writing? That is a tricky question to say the least. And I’m not sure where I want to start (literally and figuratively)

I say this because my head is being torn in three (maybe even four places).

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After I went to the writer’s conference a few weeks ago, I was deadset on changing my passion project trilogy to Young Adult. Young Adult is hot right now and my writing of my main character tended to fit that mold well. So, I jumped in and edited it to YA. It wasn’t all that difficult to do.

However, that edit caused me grief. I had to cut points of view characters that I truly loved. The story was about one character with five other main POV in book one alone. I had to cut 3 of those POV and one of them hurt my soul. I have always loved dark, anti-heroes and this one character was a sick bastard that was fun to write, but he didn’t fit my new audience (he was super creepy and sick, so not so good for teenagers!)

But that also meant three other characters in later books that I loved, one of them being a totally not reliable sky pirate. This character was so ridiculous, vain and swear-happy that I was totally bummed to have to cut. Add in two others that were so different as well, and I had the makings of a separate work.

And throw in working with a critique partner on my just finished completely separate novel and the very early stages of plotting the next one.

And that is where I am in my scatterbrained world…

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I really don’t know which to focus on. Changing to YA isn’t going to take me that long, but it isn’t going to take all that much to tie together my cut characters into a new story, just a few changes and few chapters to tie it all up. But which to do first?

I have a couple of critique partners and one is super hyped about the sky pirate work, but she is also working on my YA story (while I work on hers) and I don’t want to overwhelm her.

I guess my problem is that I think both books would work well separately. The YA book is obviously toward YA audience and the sky pirate toward adult. But the YA is, like I said, my passion project for years. However, I think the sky pirate one will pick up easily enough since its arc is interesting and the main POV is so enjoyable. I also obviously want all my books to ultimately succeed, I just need to find a way to make them all soar.

Which is why my head is near exploding with how to organize it all, good thing I do project management professionally…

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S4

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Season 4 of The 100 on the CW via Netflix. Latest and most recent season.

Brief Summary:

Picking up immediately after ALLIE was destroyed, Clarke and her friends learn that a second nuclear wave is coming in 6 months. So the scope of the show finally slows in the world-building and reverts back into a smaller scope – how to survive the upcoming fire wave. With no Commander, Roan becomes king of the Grounder clans and with Clarke’s help, they begin to search for a way to save their people (once again). Raven deals with after effects of the AI chip, Jaha wants to redeem himself, Jasper accepts his fate, Bellamy hates himself, and Octavia tries to retreat to a less violent way. In the end, 1300 people can be saved in an underground bunker, some return to space, and Clarke is left on her own.

What Works:

The return to the smaller scope. I loved season 3’s expansion into Grounder lore, but I thought this season was great from the aspect that there was only one true foe, one that wasn’t a human. It gave the characters a common enemy to defeat.

With that said, the whole Grounder conclave was AMAZING. That was probably one of the greatest episodes of TV in some time. Violent, tense, gripping, jaw-dropping. Perfection. Sure the outcome was a bit predictable, but how it happened, didn’t see that coming at all.

Though I was so happy to finally see Jasper go, this season I softened on him from the last one. His death is coming, we should enjoy it attitude was brilliant. I liked how it came over other characters too. And his final goodbye to Monty was fitting.

Super Raven and the return to the Ark. Now that was an awesome thread. Pitting her against ALLIE and Sinclair as her Devil and Angel was pure awesomeness. And throw in her ever perfect love/hate relationship with Murphy, I couldn’t get enough of those scenes. Plus the full circle of characters back in space.

Which leads to the 6 year time jump! Wow, what balls by this show. In the grand scheme of things, the first 4 seasons took place within a 6 month time frame, so to skip 6 years was gutsy. But it sets up the next season by creating factions/groups. I loved it. I can’t wait to see how Octavia did with all the Grounders/Ark people in the bunker. How the 7 back in the Ark. And who the F*ck was in that spaceship???

One thing this season did a great job with was giving nearly all the main characters some sort of redemption thread. Clarke with her stopping ALLIE & starting the reaction saved her friends and then we see her with a child 6 yrs later, Bellamy and Echo, Murphy and Raven, Monty and Jasper, Abby and Kane, Jaha and everyone. All of this against the backdrop of certain doom.

What Doesn’t Work:

While I loved the idea of the second bunker, it almost felt too easy to me. Also, why couldn’t people stay at the bunker where ALLIE’s lab was???

Only other complaint was that the finale episode only focused on Clarke’s group, very little in terms of the bunker. I wanted to see what happened with Kane and the others a bit more.

Rating:

5 out of 5

This season was just exquiste, there is nothing about this season that could be seen as anything other than awesome. The 100 really took strides forward and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S3

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Season 3 of The 100 from the CW via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

With the destruction of Mount Weather’s people, the Grounders are allies with the people of the Ark. Clarke is missing, left on her own accord due to her struggle with her decisions. Jasper is a drunk, Bellamy is a leader in his own right, Raven is dealing with her injury, Octavia becoming more a Grounder each day and Monty is being Monty. The peace is hinging on Clarke being found. She is taken to the Grounder leader, Lexa, and forms the peace treaty (while falling in love with Lexa). Also, more Ark survivors are found, causing friction in the camp. Finally an AI plot. Lots going on.

What Works:

Though incredibly frustrating, the introduction of Pike is great for the story as a whole. His whole us vs them ideals are truly indicative of what the world has become. I dig it.

Clarke becomes better in this season, but only because of her plot with Lexa. Clarke, though a great main character, needed something like the Lexa storyline to give her that added oomph. She was fading in season 2 for me and this season she grew on me.

Kane continues to be such a badass character. He wants nothing but peace and will go to any length to get it, a total far-cry from season 1. His character is inspiring.

The AI plot was great. I loved how the City of Light would erase problems, but there were also limits. I thought it was great that the chip had to be taken voluntarily, but then the AI was willing to bend the rules to chip everyone. It was very tense when you didn’t know who was chipped or not.

The continued growth of this world is great. With the expansion of the Grounder faction, the mythos is larger and a deeper well to draw from. I loved the back-stabbing from the Grounder clans, especially the Ice Nation. And that battle with Lexa and Roan, damn. If you couldn’t tell I love Lexa.

Which leads me into this next point. Lexa’s death. I know this is spoilery, but it has to be said. With Lexa and Clarke’s love arc, it was the first true LGBTQ main character on a TV show. Lexa built up Clarke and vice-versa. Lexa was such a great character that her death sparked outrage (mainly due to how she was killed – a stray bullet and the classic “kill all your gays trope”). I get the backlash, her death should have been handled better, but her death was necessary for the character growth in Clarke. I found in incredibly important for the sake of the story for Lexa to die. It really drove home the hero storyline for Clarke – every hero needs a tragedy to overcome. This was that, but I wish it could have lasted longer…

What Doesn’t Work:

…Lexa’s death part two. Her death signaled the shift in plots of this season. The first half was all about Pike & Kane’s differing views on joining the Grounders. There was so much tension and story that could have been mined here. But instead, the show focused on the AI plot for the second half. While that plot worked also, I think the show would have been better served making this two separate season arcs. There was so much that could have been added to strengthen both…

Jaha again. God I hated him, but that was because of how frustrating he was. Though I loved the AI plot, Jaha was so boring and dull for me. I think it would have been stronger if this was another character (see my post about S2).

Bellamy’s decisions. For me, I don’t think Bellamy would have joined with Pike so easily. Yes, Bellamy has his flaws, but this blind devotion seemed forced for me.

Oh my God if I hear another “my people” quote on this show, I’m going to scream! The theme of this season was doing what was right for their people, but good gravy it was beaten in with a hammer. Like every single sentence. DOING THIS FOR MY PEOPLE….ugh. Though it does make for a good drinking game.

The small break with Mount Weather & Jasper. I combine them because they were both useless and unnecessary. Jasper should have killed himself in season 2 (as he was supposed to, but the writers changed their minds last minute) and Emerson coming back didn’t work.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

Season 3 was by far its best and most ambitious, but I can’t give a perfect score due to the fact it should have been two separate seasons. Both plots were awesome, but smashing them together was not the right choice, but who am I to say what is good TV.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S2

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Season 2 of The 100 on the CW via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

Picking up immediately after that cliffhanger ending of S1, S2 is all about the people of the Ark adjusting to the ground, and the 100 (those still alive…) stuck under Mount Weather. The mythos of this show is expanded exponentially in this season. Hundreds of people survived the apocalypse under the mountain and they use the blood of the Grounders to heal them using blood transfusions. Though it starts innocently enough, the people under the mountain want to use the blood of the 100. In S1, we are barely told much about the Grounders, but in this season, we learn so much more backstory. Clarke is torn by her decision in the S1 finale and doesn’t know what to do. The people on the Ark must come to learn their new surroundings. And Bellamy (who totally redeemed himself halfway through last season!) must be a secret agent in Mount Weather to save his people.

What Works:

The tension in this show is off the charts. Between the cruel torture of the 100 halfway through the season to Bellamy’s mission, to Clarke’s uneasy alliance with the Grounders, to the back and forth between the adults of the Ark, this show never has a dull moment.

The Grounder introduction and the Mount Weather people really opened the world of this show. There are nuances to each faction and the show could have played it simple and signified who the actual villains are, but there are so many shades of grey, that it was interesting to see what would happen next.

For the sake of redundancy, the fact that this show is willing to kill off annoying characters is awesome, even when they are one of the main players. That character (who shall remain nameless, though its not hard to guess who…) had little purpose in this season that it was good he was killed off quite early (though two episodes too late in my opinion).

John Murphy. Enough said. This guy is awesome as a character. From bit part villain of S1 to major POV, he is so good to watch on screen. A survivor to the core.

The double-crossing is amazing in this show. So much plot thickeners, tension-building and out of left-fielders. I loved it.

What Doesn’t Work:

Jaha’s return. I loved how he sacrificed himself in S1 for the sake of the Ark, but his return (and role in S3) truly was not my bag. I found myself saying “F*cking Jaha” every time I saw him on screen. But then again, that is the mark of a good character I guess. I just wish they could have used someone else for the role he plays.

The YA return in Mount Weather for spurts. I loved the Mount Weather plot, but there were times it was so teenage high school film style that it didn’t fit with the theme of the show. And Jasper’s instant falling in love with that girl was too YA for me. (But I liked Jasper later in the season)

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

While there is so much more going on in this season than the first, it wasn’t as strong. But that is only by mere decimal points. Season 2 was very good and thought-provoking, asking the difficult questions survival would entail. It set up the series for much more in the following seasons.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S1

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Season 1 of The 100 on CW via Netflix. This was a second viewing (in a month) in anticipation of the 4th season being released (and to get my wife to watch it so I would shut up with my raving about this show…)

Brief Summary:

After the remnants of mankind escape nuclear destruction by forming a giant ark in space (truly, this spaceship is called the Ark), new rules must be enforced to ensure the survival of the species. So whenever a crime is committed, the person is floated – unless they are under 18 years old. The story picks up as the Ark is running out of air. So 100 18yr-old criminals are sent to Earth to determine if the ground is survivable. There are two plot arcs in this season – one on Earth and one on the Ark. And these are two completely different story-types – Earth = YA, Ark = A. But the lines get blurry. Lots of trials and tribulations happen to both parties and the season ends with the 100 realizing they are not alone on Earth.

What Works:

Episode 3 onward. Let me explain. The first two episodes start out super Young Adult style. Bunch of teenagers loose on Earth with no parents, straight Lord of the Flies. There is the obligatory Imagine Dragons song, the young vixen who rebels strips to her boy-briefs while two sex-crazed boys goggle, the older rebel boy wants to be in charge, the main character starts to develop the feels for the cool kid. All of that happens and though the first episode ends on a WTF moment that you don’t see coming, the show doesn’t shed that YA stuff until episode three when a semi-main character gets his throat cut by an unsuspecting character. From then on, this show goes dark with its themes and that works so well.

The dichotomy of the 100 and the people on the Ark (the parents and adults) are great. The Ark scenes are straight Sci-Fi and are very heavy. With the Ark dying, people need to be culled from it for the sake of the species. Those are questions that you normally don’t see on YA shows and I love it. The 100 on the ground are completely different. They all go back to our baser instincts as humans – survival. But varying degrees of it. Some characters want to do “whatever the hell they want” while others want to ensure they survive. It is a style of story that truly brings the viewer in deep.

Without going into spoilers, the introduction of other humans on the ground (called Grounders…come on its YA!) is excellent story-building and tension. The vixen character from above, sheds that stereotype when this happens and she becomes one of my favorite characters, as well as it creates the sibling tension of the older rebel brother.

Raven & Kane are such great layered characters. Though she gets so much better in later seasons, I loved Raven from the get. She was the kickass female without having to play to the stereotypes you would expect from YA. And Kane, holy crap what a character. He starts out the villain, turns good, then villain again, then again. He goes from hated to loved to hated. I love it!

The level of blood is great here. Even though they don’t go crazy this season with the gore, the show doesn’t shy away from it (mentioned above). This is important because a show like this needs violence.

What Doesn’t Work:

Clarke and Finn. I know  I know. Clarke is the main character – smart, leader, asskicker – but I find myself leaning toward other characters much more than her. The first season she is a strong character, but as the show moves on, I find myself caring less about her and more about the story. This is just my thoughts though. And Finn, ughhhh. He is annoying, but I can see why the intended audience would like him.

Abby Griffin. Clarke’s mother is a frustrating character (and trust me, she doesn’t get better). I mean she was April frickin O’neil from Ninja Turles II Secret of the Ooze, but in this show she flip flops her beliefs way too much for me.

Rating:

5 out 5.

I absolutely love this show! I was hooked from the end of episode 1, but it took until episode 3 to truly make me a fanboy. And upon second viewing, I love it even more.

What I’ve Read: Graceling

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore is a young adult fantasy set in a world where people can have  a magic-like power, called a Grace. But unlike magic, Graces only enhance one particular ability, such as cooking, fighting, or swimming.

Brief Summary:

Now, this is a young adult, so there is only one POV character and the story is all about her. Katsa is a Graceling, one Graced with what she believes is fighting. Katsa, a seventeen year with two different color eyes – the symbol of Gracelings – lives in a kingdom where she does bully work for her uncle, the king. When we meet her, she is rescuing a prisoner of another king, because since it is a young adult novel, our hero must also be a saint – she forms a council of do-gooders – all at the ripe age of 17. Then she meets this guy named Po, who of course she has to fall in love with later on, who can stand up to her fighting like no one else could. Turns out, this guy is the nephew of the prisoner she saved, so the two of them must journey to find out why the guy was kidnapped in the first place. Along the way, they learn her Grace is survival, not fighting and the other guy has mind powers – you know, pretty standard fare. They save a princess (cousin to the guy Po and named Bitterblue for crying out loud) and they defeat the evil king – super quickly by the way. They love each other, but don’t want to marry one another for reasons and they go their separate ways to promise to come back to one another for more reasons. Everyone wins!

The Good:

Let me just say this up front: I typically don’t read young adult, even fantasy novels which are my jam. However, I read this because I was toying with writing a young adult story and wanted to dip my toes in the genre to see what it was like. That said, I did enjoy this novel quite a bit.

While I normally don’t enjoy single POVs (mainly because I love epic fantasy with big scopes), Katsa was engaging and fun to follow. When I think of YA, I think of kids not acting like adults or learning to be adults. Katsa was neither. She was dark and brooding and interesting. Ms. Cashore doesn’t spend too much time exposing Katsa’s emotions, but rather lets them come out in the course of the story. Katsa was a hidden person, keeping emotions at bay, but then she slowly learns to grow and interact with people. It was a slow burn that made the story excellent.

I truly enjoyed the “magic” system in this story. It made the characters human and it was interesting that Graces could manifest in anything, not just badassery, though Katsa got one of the better ones. It was cool how Katsa and Po both had this initial idea of their Graces and because people with Graces in this world are semi-loners, they were totally wrong about it. But what was great storytelling was how these characters brought it out of each other, though it did resolve itself a bit quickly for my taste (see further below).

Like I said above, even though this is YA, it was a darker tale than what I am used to in this genre. Though it isn’t gritty or super dark, there is an underlying shadow on this world, not all ribbons and rainbows, which makes it more enjoyable for someone like me. There is intrigue in the kingdoms and Ms. Cashore doesn’t shy away completely from the truths of reality, which was a breath of fresh air.

The Bad:

Since I don’t typically like YA, this part is only “bad” because it isn’t my favorite genre level. I thought things moved too fast and too conveniently. For example, the defeat of the evil king was so easy and over so quickly, that I was disappointed. And the way in which they figured out the king’s Grace was way to simplistic for the characters to deduce. Like they literally had a thought about it and then poof, its true. Then they win. It would have been way more satisfying to draw out the Grace of the king, because it did have some serious potential.

Also, Katsa, though only seventeen, was way too adult for my vision of the character. I understand that she lived this crazy life of fighting from a young age and that makes a person grow up quicker than others, but I found it difficult to envision her starting this global secret council doing public service. Just seemed like she wouldn’t have had the experience to do something like that, just too young in the sense of the world. But then again, teenagers were considered adults way back when.

Another thing that bothered me was Katsa always called Bitterblue “child.” I understand Bitterblue was like ten, but Katsa is not all that much older. Just sounded strange to read/hear from Katsa so often in the book, way too grandmotherly.

The last thing that bothered me, and again, this is small potatoes in the scheme of things, I didn’t like how the evil king was defeated and then there were some 50-100 pages left to go in the story. This is where the YA/romance trickles in and they have to set up how Katsa and Po are going to live after they won. I think it could have been scaled back tremendously since this book is standalone (though there are very loose continuations by Ms. Cashore).

Rating:

4 out of 5