Year’s End

As the year comes to a close, I finally finished rereading Fullmetal Alchemist with volumes 21-27.  The buildup to the final battle.  The battle itself.  The insane changes of side and friendship and the exciting final exchanges.  The denoument of what happened afterwards.  You get the idea.  It was as thrilling today as it was back in 2010 when this was first published in the United States.  It may have been a bit of a trek just to get to this point, but damn was it worth it.

Before I get distrated by the actual content, I wanted to be sure I talked about drawing Edward like I’ve meant to for the past several days.  The story of Fullmetal Alchemist covers a good chunk of time, and we see Ed in particular grow and change as a character.  He makes mistakes and learns from them, he makes new friends and allies, he grows up and becomes an adult.  This isn’t just reflected in his attitude, actions, and emotions, but also in his physical appearance.  It’s one of my favorite subtle parts of the series, that we see Ed’s facial structure mature throughout the story as he grows from a 12 year old (or sometimes a 3 or 4 year old in flashbacks) up through an 18 year old in the epilogue.  This also enables us to see his resemblance to Hohenheim once the Elric brothers’ father finally becomes a main character instead of a shadowy figure that was never around.  It gives the reader a sense of the time passing over the course of the series, because people don’t grow up overnight.

But that conclusion.  I am not even certain where to start when it comes to that conclusion.  It was, of course, the epic showdown you would expect from a shonen manga that involves so much violence and physical conflict, not to mention that Amestris is a military dictatorship.  There was also drama and emotional conflict to be resolved as well, tying up so very many storylines that have been running throughout most of the twenty-seven volumes that make up this story.  Not everything is tied up nicely with a bow, but it’s close enough to satisfy me.

When Fullmetal Alchemist first came to this country, it was a big deal.  I was there, and I remember it, from the moment we watched the first two episodes subtitled in Anime Club.  Later, the dub was aired on Cartoon Network, and I watched it in full.  I have the ending theme as an mp3 and it’s disturbing how well I still remember it, even without the audio prompting.  It’s weird that, looking back, I think of how Inu-Yasha seemed to be a bigger deal, and especially One Piece and Naruto when they came over, but that doesn’t deny Fullmetal Alchemist as a force to be reckoned with.  Actually, the biggest difference between it and the other series I’ve named is that Fullmetal Alchemist wasn’t created with filler.  Hiromu Arakawa always had a clear conclusion in mind and was always working towards that goal.  She wasn’t in the competition to have the longest running series ever, and that’s just fine with me.

Admittedly, twenty-seven volumes of manga isn’t short, but at least it’s a practical number.  Both One Piece and Naruto have at least seventy volumes, which is utterly ridiculous.  The longest series I own in full is Samurai Deeper Kyo, with a total of thirty-eight volumes.  Even Rurouni Kenshin beats out Fullmetal Alchemist with twenty-eight volumes.

I don’t mind long series, but there just seems to be a point where I (or the author) should question whether or not the series is worthwhile anymore.  Something like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, or C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe can have twenty or thirty books in it…but because you’re never obligated to read the entire thing in one go, it’s not an unwieldly number.  Fullmetal Alchemist was getting closer to something of an obnoxious length to have to read in a single go, but at least each individual volume isn’t too long.  I think that Lackey in particular may have spoiled me for long series where I don’t have to read ten or more books in a row, because I do find it more difficult to keep up with them the longer they go on.  If anyone remembers November 2016 when I reread all of Safehold leading up to the new book, At the Sign of Triumph, you know what I mean.

I mean, I guess I do it to myself with my insistence on rereading up to said new books, but I always find it helpful to have the previous events fresh in my mind.  There are some bits that I never forget from any book I’ve read, but the details tend to slip away given time and the sheer mass of other literature I’ve devoured in the meantime.

Fullmetal Alchemist is another manga series to feature a single character on the spine of each volume and, like Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, not one is repeated…technically.  Some characters have multiple appearances, and those forms may both be represented.  Or the final volume which doesn’t actually have a person, just Ed’s automail arm.  Still, it’s a nice touch.  And Arakawa remarked in the inside cover of one of the volumes that somehow she only featured characters that made it to the finale.

Moving on, I wanted to tie up some more loose ends and go into 2018 with a fresher slate.  Which means not leaving unread comic books lying around.  So I grabbed Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #21-22 to reread an older issue as well as the new one.  This particular new issue is more talk than action, but it’s very interesting talk.  There are definitely more secrets being kept from various people, including the rangers, and I still have misgivings about Grace.  However, it seems that the writers don’t want their readers to trust anybody outside the six superheroes, given the evasiveness being shown by Zordon, Alpha, and even Saba.  And Finster continues to be a sociopath of an artist.  I approve of the whole current arc, where it definitely seems like the writers are driving to drive their poor characters to the edge of insanity just to show us how heroic they truly are.

Meanwhile in Go Go Power Rangers #4-5, Rita is being the weirdly focused supervillain we all know and love from the old TV show, but much more effectively.  It never made sense, on reflection, why she would spend so much time and effort trying to screw up the rangers’ real lives.  However, in this case, she’s trying to create discomfort and dissension in the ranks, to destroy them as a team and not merely defeat or humiliate them as individuals.  By destroying the ties that bind them together, Rita hopes to make it easier for her to take them out one by one.

But until this story arc comes to an end, it’s the sort of thing that’s going to make me cringe just because I really, really hate this type of story.  Oh well.  I’ll just have to endure a bit longer.  Luckily only one issue comes out each month, so it’ll be a while before I have to think about this series again.  In fact, given my current habits and inclinations, I probably won’t pick up more comics until Doomsday Clock #3 is released.  But that’s partially because Doomsday Clock is such a big deal, the local comic book shop reminds me of the release dates on facebook.

As the year comes to a close, I have a nice large Pile to keep me supplied with new material, as well as more books expected, particularly from January releases.  The Pile is currently thirty-four books of various shapes and sizes, although I am still missing some that are necessary to starting or continuing some of the series contained within.  Six of those are anthologies as well, but you’re probably not surprised by that.

Given my plans for the rest of my holiday weekend, I don’t foresee a lot more time to read before I go back to work.  After all, I do still need to go through and select games to bring.  I’m thinking I’ll be gearing towards anthologies, novellas, and lighter reads in general for most of the month of January, in order to keep myself from getting bogged down due to overtime.  Luckily, I just so happen to have new material in all of those categories, and a recommendation from a friend to not reread the novels related to a certain novella.  Which is…intriguing.

Anyway, I hope you all have a happy new year and that you’ve enjoyed reading my blog this 2017!  I’ve made 212 posts this year, including this one, and read so many more books than that, especially if you count manga volumes and comic issues separately.  (I’m not counting them regardless – I refuse to go through 212 posts just to figure out how many individual things I’ve read.  Maybe if I didn’t have plans tonight, but I do.)  I’ve gotten twelve new followers this year (this is a lot for me because you know I don’t do much advertising or anything like that) and almost a thousand views.

So I want to end by thank you everyone who reads this blog, whether you keep up with every post, poke your head in every once in a while, or even if you’ve only read a single post.  It means a lot to me that you do take the time to read my random thoughts and ramblings about whatever I’ve been reading.  I started this blog to keep better track of just how much I read, and now it’s a mark of pride for me.  I still do this entirely for fun and in my own free time, and I have no intention of changing that.  This isn’t my job, I don’t get any money for it, I do it for the sake of pride in my own accomplishments.

Thank you again, and I hope everyone has a healthy, happy New Year!

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Buying Books in the Cold

Well, I’m still not finished with Hiromu Arakaawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist yet.  Despite the fact that today was insanely cold in Chicagoland, I still went into the city and wandered around with friends.  A new bookstore opened in the Fine Arts Building and I agreed to go.  It was fine, but their sci-fi/fantasy section left a lot to be desired.  Not that they didn’t have a good mix of stuff, but they had nothing that was even worth taking off the shelf for me.  Such a pity.  So I bought something else instead.  I’d call it general fiction, but I’m betting it’s geared towards a young adult audience.  It looks like a light read at least, and the setting seemed appropriate what with today’s weather.

Then, since we were in the Loop, we wandered over to a Reckless Records I’d never been to before and finally Barbara’s Bookstore, the weird little place in the basement of Macy’s.  And I should take a moment to talk about this.  For the record, the building was once the flagship location of Marshall Fields, and really, all Macy’s can do to rebrand the place is put their silly red awnings up.  Sucks to own a Chicago landmark, eh?  (No, I’m totally not still bitter about the buyout.  What are you talking about?)  The place is literally a city block, bounded by State Street, Randolph Street, Wabash Avenue, and Washington Street.  It’s got eight floors plus a basement and as a department store can and will sell you just about anything, as well as the meals you’ll need when wandering this behemoth of a store.  My family goes every year during the holiday season to eat in the Walnut Room restaurant under the giant Christmas tree.  We also wander throughout the store with some other key stops.  Such as the womens lingerie (best view of the Tiffany ceiling) and Barbara’s Bookstore.

Barbara’s gets the weirdest selection of things.  They’ll have some new and popular books, some older and popular books, a lot of classics, and a lot of things you’ve never seen before and probably won’t see again.  It’s uncommon for me to see many of these twice, but I don’t think I’ve ever regretted anything I found there.  It also helps that a lot of their stock is on sale – the book I got today was priced at $3 before tax, although it’s normally $8.  I even saw these weird, but very nice looking, bamboo toothbrush sets.

Like I said, it’s a weird selection, but generally worth looking at.  Of course, the practical reason to go into Macy’s basement is the Pedway, which leads to the Red and Blue line stations for the El, among other things.  Very important on a day like today when there was a windchill advisory.  I’ll talk more about the two books I bought when I read them.  The $3 one is pretty short, so it may happen sooner rather than later.  But let’s get back to Fullmetal Alchemist.  I read volumes 17-20 today.

The main setting of the story has moved to Fort Briggs in the north, which is the last remaining location to see a bloodbath of some kind.  The massive plan behind the existence of Amestris as a country is just about complete…except that the time has not yet come to execute it.  Ed and Al’s father Hohenheim reappears and his backstory is finally explained in full…up to a point.

Essentially, we are getting ever closer to the climax of the series.  The villains have their pieces in place and ready, but the heroes still have a bit of time in which to prepare themselves for the coming battle.  At this point, it’s all buildup for the finale. Admittedly, there are still seven volumes left, so there’s a lot more to explain and intesify.  I’m glad it’s been so long since I last experienced Fullmetal Alchemist, because I find that there are a lot of parts I don’t remember clearly until I reread them.  It’s similar to reading a book for the first time, which is exciting for someone who knows their library as well as I do.  I remember some of the finale, but I don’t remember a lot of how we get from here to there, so I get to rediscover it.

I’m not sure how much reading I’ll get done with the rest of my holiday weekend, considering that I managed to have plans tomorrow and Monday, but you can be sure I’ll continue working through this manga.

Picking up the Pace

Today was a better day for making progress on Fullmetal Alchemist, despite the fact that I was at work again.  Good news, no more coming in on off days for a while.  Bad news…now I have a three day weekend before I go back on Tuesday.  Oh well.  Regardless, I finished volumes 9-16 today, meaning I only have eleven more to go before I’ve finished rereading the series.

There is a LOT that happens in this span.  Many secrets are revealed, we’ve now seen six of the seven homunculi, and people are dispersing to the borders of Amestris.  However, our heroes and thier allies aren’t defeated yet, even if it seems that their enemies are holding all the cards.  We’ve had clues dropped here and there that haven’t been followed up on yet, and may hold the necessary secrets to ultimate victory.

A lot of this portion of the series focuses on the Ishbalan civil war.  The Ishbalans are a minority ethnic and religious group that lived in eastern Amestris.  The war started when a soldier (in reality a homunculus in disguise) shot and killed a child.  In the end, despite valiant effort from both camps, the war turned into an extermination campaign.  At the beginning of one volume, Arakawa mentions the amount of research she did on wars and interviews with veterans and it definitely shows.  There are distinct WWII vibes, and a lot of PTSD and survivor’s guilt on the older characters faces.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s done well, especially for what could be seen as a children’s comic series.

Not that you can say this is the simplest manga ever.  Kidfriendly?  Sure.  But Fullmetal Alchemist is not at all light reading.  I realized today that this is part of why it seems to be taking me longer than I thought.  It’s because this series has a LOT of text.  Not just simple dialogue either, but theory, conjecture, and generally dense infodumps.  This isn’t a bad thing; I find it all fascinating.  There’s just a lot of text to read on just about every page, and so each volume takes me longer to go through than something like…Vampire Princess Miyu.  That one’s absolutely gorgeous…but has very little dialogue at times and so it’s very easy to read quickly.

By the end of volume 16, the Elric brothers have arrived at Fort Briggs, the northern outpost of Amestris and its military.  The fortress is commanded by Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong, older sister to the very commonly known Major Alex Louis Armstrong.  She’s a woman who takes no nonsense, but inspires copmlete loyalty in her subordinates.  By this point in time, as the brothers and their allies travel to the edges of the country, they have begun to recognize the scale of their enemies’ ambitions intellectually.  Psychologically…they haven’t yet begun to understand what that means for Amestris as a whole and themselves in particular.  There’s layers beneath everything, when you start to peel away what’s on the surface.

I really do enjoy series like Fullmetal Alchemist.  I first read this in highschool and enjoyed it then as a fantasy series that took some rather dark turns.  As an adult, I see the political, religious, and intellectual struggles taking place all throughout and pick up on symbology and clues my younger self missed.  I wouldn’t say it’s not for kids, or teens, but there’s just as much to appreciate now as there was then, and I don’t ever feel like I’m “too old” to be reading it.  It’s great when books don’t talk down to their audiences.

Of course, I’m not sure if I’ll manage to finish the last eleven volumes before Tuesday, given that it is New Year’s weekend and I have plans from now until work starts again.  So, we’ll see what happens.  I can’t wait to read more.

“I Just Wanna Chop You”

As far as progress goes, today was better than the past two.  I got through Fullmetal Alchemist volumes 4-8.  Still not quite a third done, but it’s better considering all I did today was spend a few hours in the city hanging out with a friend.  Who took me to The Armadillo’s Pillow, yet another used bookstore that I’d never been to before.  It was a cozy little place and I found a few books.  Mostly some more Tanith Lee and another Patricia A. McKillip.  I’m definitely going to revisit the Unicorn books I read long ago, but they didn’t have Black Unicorn (the first book) and Red Unicorn (the third book) was only in hardcover, so I had to settle for Gold Unicorn by itself.  Oh well, I’m sure the other two will turn up eventually.

Back to Fullmetal Alchemist, these volumes move from the introductory phase of the story to the beginnings of several key plot threads.  Admittedly, the story has been going since volume one, but there’s a bit less of introducing characters and a bit more of what the Elric brothers have to figure out by the end of the series.

This is where we first hear the term “homonculus” as it relates to a person, although such individuals have been hiding in the shadows right from the start.  By this point the reader has been introduced to Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Greed, and Wrath…with a peek at Sloth who hasn’t done anything yet.  Pride is still hiding in the shadows, but that day will come.

We also see the return of one of my favorite side characters, Barry the Chopper!  He’s one of the guards from Lab Five and he’s absolutely hilarious.  The man is an empty suit of armor with a skull for a head that loves strong women and chopping people up.  He’s great comic relief, especially given that the previous comic relief character died a tragic death.

One nice touch Hiromu Arakawa adds to the books is that at the end of each volume is an “In Memoriam” section with sketches of whichever characters died, even if it was only in a flashback.  There’s several bits of bonus content in every volume, and Arakawa comments at one point that if a manga could be written of only bonus content, they’d do it.

Volume 8 also introduces Mei-Chan and Ling Yao from the country of Xing, who have come to Amestris (the country Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in) seeking the secret of immortality.  Xing is clearly an analogue for China (I think the word “Xing” is an old term for China?) and the characters’ dress reflects this.  Beacause these are their first appearances, not much has been established yet for readers beyond their foreignness.

When I reflect back on what I’ve reread, it’s all familiar of course, but a lot of inicidents I feel should happen later than they do.  This is probably because anime takes longer to experience than manga (I read a lot faster than TV episodes take to play out and you can never change how long an anime takes to go through save by skipping parts) so it just seemed to take more time to get there.  Or maybe the anime took more time for certain parts of the story.  Certainly the scene where Edward qualifies as a state alchemist plays out differently in the anime.  Here, he was in a relatively empty room inside.  There, several alchemists were transmuting on a fairly large scale outside.  Instead of making a weapon, Ed transmuted the potentially disastrous results of the other candidates’ making into something harmless.  (I don’t remember specifics, but I remember some of the visuals.)

I’m not complaining, mind you.  There are changes you can easily expect between books and movies for multiple reasons.  In this case, for a more cinematic experience.  In other cases, like The Princess Bride, the Zoo of Death was changed to the Pit of Despair for budget and time reasons.

Well, I’m going to go shelve most of these books (Fullmetal Alchemist is too long to fit on a single shelf the way I have it stacked) and pull the next few volumes for tomorrow.

Slowly Advancing

I didn’t read as much manga today as I might like, considering I was at work for most of the day.  Yeah, it’s my week off, but there’s a reason I’ll still be working overtime in January.  So, not a lot of volumes read.  In fact, I only finished Fullmetal Alchemist 2-3.

Having established the world, Arakawa begins introducing elements that will be seen throughout the series.  We learn about the darker side of alchemy and the Elric brothers’ quest specifically, we’re introduced to a number of side characters whose roles will gradually grow and evolve.  These include people like Scar, Winry Rockbell, Sheska, and Maes Hughes.

Scar is a serial killer who is hunting down alchemists specifically.  When he clashes with Edward, Ed’s automail arm is shattered.  This necessitates a visit to Ed and Al’s hometown of Resembol where they lodge with Granny Pinako while her granddaughter, Winry Rockbell, builds an entirely new automail arm in her role as Edward’s mechanic.  We don’t see too much of Maes yet, but we know enough.  He’s a friend of Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist, and often ties up military lines and time to brag about his wife and daughter.  He’s a very happy man, who is ready to welcome a friend with open arms at any time.

We also deal with some of the research alchemists whose trail Ed is retracing, such as Dr. Marcoh and Shou Tucker.  This ends up leading him to the defunct Laboratory 5 and another broken automail arm.  It’s the start of the intrigue, mystery, and political labyrinth that Fullmetal Alchemist will slowly lead its readers through as the series progresses.

In addition, today was an important day for publications.  After all, it’s not every day that Doomsday Clock #2 is released!  You can bet that I went straight from work to get myself a copy and find out what happens next.  As I predicted, where most of last issue took place in the world of Watchmen, most of this issue was in the normal DC universe.  The world of Watchmen is clearly going to hell in a handbasket, but the main DC universe isn’t quite at the same point.  In fact, while Watchmen has advanced to 1992, the DC universe is concurrent with our, it being December 2017 there.

Honestly, that bizarre twenty-five year gap is puzzling me, but not so much that I wasn’t inwardly squeeing thorugh much of the volume.  It’s still early days yet, but there have been two very important meetings, although one hasn’t gone beyond a stolen pile of pancakes yet.

I also picked up new issues of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Go Go Power Rangers, but I think I’ll leave those for another day.  I am getting sleepy and last night wasn’t long enough given all the things I did yesterday and today.

So far, I’ll say that Doomsday Clock is living up to expectations, but that’s mostly because it’s gott a good feel for the world and characters of Watchmen.  It remains to be seen if this skilled setup will actually deliver in the way that fans want it to.

Brief but Serial

I did not read very much today, as I was out and about in the freezing cold weather.  I do mean that literally – the high today was about 7°F (about -14°C) and it felt like about -3°F (about -19°C).  And my friend and I were wandering around Mag Mile.  For those who aren’t familiar with Chicago, this is the Magnificent Mile, the shopping district of Michigan Avenue.  We were there to see Potted Potter, a silly parody play at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.  But, of course, we stopped at Block 37 on the way home and poked our heads into the used bookstore there.  I only bought one book and I am not expecting much from it, but who can really argue with $1.25 for a lightly used paperback?

So what did I read in the small amount of time I had?  A volume of manga, of course. It’ll be easier to get through at work (because joy of joys, I am going into work tomorrow despite the fact the office is closed – have I mentioned the overtime?) and I have been considering rereading this series for a while.  After all, it usually takes less time to read manga than to watch anime.

Today I reread volume one of Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa.  I remember enjoying this series, both the manga and the original anime.  When Brotherhood showed up on Netflix, I remember thinking I should watch it, because all accounts said not only was it closer to the manga, it was just plain good.  (Not that the original was bad, but it’s obvious more time and money went into Brotherhood.)  Unfortunately, I couldn’t even get past the first episode.  It was so much like the first episode of the original series that…I just couldn’t.  I’m not even sure why.  I think because I know how late in the first anime it diverged from the manga, and I simply couldn’t deal with rewatching that much.

So, I’ll be rereading the manga, because even if I do run into problems, it’ll still be less time spent than if I tried to rewatch the anime.

For those who are not familiar with Fullmetal Alchemist (which I find hard to believe given how popular it was in the early 2000s, but it has been a while since then), this volume introduces us to three things.  One, the world itself and the laws of alchemy which will be the backdrop for the series.  Two, our protagonists.  They are the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse.  Edward is the small-statured young man, and Alphonse the hulking suit of armor.  Three, we are introduced to the fact that Ed and Al have attempted a forbidden thing: human transmutation.  For their crimes, Edward lost his right arm and left leg.  Al lost his entire body.  Their quest for the whole of the series is to regain their normal bodies.

And really, that’s all for volume one.  See you again tomorrow for however many volumes I finish then!

More War

Well, it seems that while Crown of Vengeance was the beginning of Vieliessar Farcarinon’s story, Blade of Empire isn’t quite a continuation.  That is to say, Vieliessar is not the main character.  Oh, she’s there, and we see her point of view in those segments, but she spends the ten years covered here in her formerly lost city of Celephriandullias-Tildorangelor.  That is to say, the city of Celephriandullias paired with the Flower Forest of Tildorangelor, home to the Land Shrine of Tilinaparanwira.

But let’s review what we know from the older six books about the above and one more topic.  We know that each of the Elven cities has a Flower Forest.  These are repositories of every type of plant in existence, magical places, and well worth protecting.  The Land Shrines are the nine locations where Light came to the earth and where the Great Powers can be invoked.  And that Elves would not marry outside their race if they don’t feel a bond with the other person.

This last is important because in the days of Vieliessar Farcarinon, a Bond is no small thing.  It is the Powers that Be declaring that these two people will share a life.  Rather literally – if one half of a Soulbonding dies, the other will not long outlive them.  It’s not even a love match, it’s a force that cannot be denied.  And in Crown of Vengeance we saw that Vieliessar’s Bondmate might as well be her mortal enemy, for he was positioned in the House that opposed her the most.

Blade of Empire is more his story than hers, as he learns that people come in far more forms than he ever imagined, that he cannot escape his war training, and that there is more to fight than he ever knew.

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST BOOK.
Runacarendalur Caerthalien is now the last of his House, just as his parents ensured Vieliessar was of hers.  In this book, we see him end up among those races we might know from fact, from history, and from legend in the other trilogies – the Otherfolk and the Brightfolk.  Here at last are our Centaurs, Minotaurs, Bearwards, Fauns, Dryads, etc.  There are many races, all collectively called “Beastlings” by the Elves.  Why, there are even Elves among them, calling themselves Woodwose, who have long forsaken the snootier ways of their cousins.

It’s a lot of fun to look at all the Elves in these books and identify what will later become key elements of their culture and to see how they as a people have changed over the millenia.

Runacar agrees to serve the Minotaur who reigns over the Land Otherfolk west of the Mystrals and promises to give him all of the Western Shore.  He becomes the Warlord, as he understands the position, and proceeds to take the next ten years doing this.  All the while Astromancer Hamphuliadiel consolidates his power at the Sanctuary of the Star, making himself a Prince in fact if not yet in deed and High King Vieliessar tries to keep her people focused as they rebuilt amongs the ruins of their ancestors.

Most of the action is Runacar’s, especially as he learns to see the Otherfolk as other people.  Only once he is able to do so, and to grieve for all their lives lost under his command, does the most infuriating and elusive of the Otherfolk come to him…a Unicorn.

This is also the book in which the Endarkened begin to take a more active role, including attacking Vieliessar’s Enthroning Ceremony and revealing themselves to the High King and her forces.  Not everyone yet understands that this is a true war, but they begin to realize it.

This is yet another excellent entry into The Dragon Prophecy, although I have to admit I don’t yet see how it can end in just one more book.  Obviously there are two big events that have to happen in addition to a victory that will last for centuries: Lautric, the Minotaur Emperor-King, must surrender crucial information to Vieliessar.  Using it, the High King will be able to wake the dragons from the earth.  At that point, her Mages who bond with the dragons will be able to draw their strength not from the Flower Forests, but their Bondmates, meaning the Elves will no longer risk destroying their livelihoods for the sake of power.  On the other hand, if I remember correctly, this sacrifice also means that no Lightborn without a dragon will be able to use their magic.

Well, we’ll see how that falls out next volume.  Obviously, I’m just trying to fit together the various pieces I have from all eight books set in this world.  Until Lackey and Mallory actually explain it, all I have is conjecture.

And the conviction that Unicorns exist to lighten the mood of whatever scene they’re in.

Something More Epic

After being limited to anthologies by circumstances beyond my control, it’s nice to read something longer.  And more epic.  But also by Mercedes Lackey.  However, she is joined once again by James Mallory, for this was Crown of Vengeance, book one of The Dragon Prophecy.

To properly appreciate this book, I have to backtrack a bit.  You see, back in 2004 (oh man, has it really been that long?), Lackey and Mallory joined together and began the Obsidian trilogy.  It was an epic tale, a battle of good against evil, Light against Dark, for the fate of the world.  There were swordfights, romances, betrayals, friendships, Elves who hate asking questions, dragons, unicorns and so much more.  I loved it.  Then, once that trilogy was complete, came the Enduring Flame trilogy.  Set a thousand years after the Obsidian trilogy, the heroes of the first books have been transformed into mythical demigods with the amount of distortion applied to the tales of their exploits.  And the world is in danger once again, etc.  Enduring Flame wasn’t as good as Obsidian, but you can’t have everything.

And then, back in 2012, Crown of Vengeance was released.  You see, part of the climax of the Obsidian trilogy, especially in the second book, To Light a Candle, was based on ancient history of the last couple times the world had been threatened with the destruction of the Light.  It was interesting and heady stuff, but not explored in any true depth.  Much of what the reader learned had been long forgotten, even by the long-lived Elves.

Crown of Vengeance is the story of Queen Vieliesssar Farcarinon, the woman who made those later events possible.  It is the beginning of the ancient epic that would reshape the world far more completely than the other trilogies could begin to understand.  It is the book that, when I first read it five years ago, I immediately flipped it over and reread it upon completion.

So you could say I liked it.

In all honesty, this was the third time I’ve read the story.  I haven’t actually touched Crown of Vengeance since that immediate second read-through because I’ve been waiting for the second entry in the trilogy.  You can imagine I didn’t expect to be waiting five years.  It’s not the longest I’ve waited, true, but it’s probably the longest I’ve ever waited for a book with Mercedes Lackey’s name on it. So when I idly googled James Mallory’s website earlier this year wondering if I could find information on when my curiosity was satisfied…I was ecstatic at what I found.  He had a general release month and everything for book two!  It was coming!  I poked around until amazon finally gave me an item page that I could add to my wishlist, and then I added it to a pile of preorders.  It took a while, given that I have no interest in amazon prime, but finally, finally, the second book arrived.

I was going to read this a bit earlier this month, but you know what happened to that plan.  Still, now that I have some time off, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally return to the world of Vieliessar Farcarinon.

I don’t know if I still find it as good as I did five years ago.  I still got bogged down by the insanely long names by the end, or at least by the names that weren’t main characters, but I think I was able to track a lot of the events better.  I even used the map more this time!  Unfortunately, I think this may be the only map in the series which is annoying.  I would truly love to compare and contrast Kellen’s world, or even Harrier and Tiercel’s world, to Vieliessar’s.  After all, the Land Shrine Idalia visits in To Light a Candle is said to have once been the center of the Elven lands.  I can guess at some things, particularly when the name of a mountain range hasn’t changed over the millenia, but a visual is always nice.

Ah well, the important thing is that I finally have Blade of Empire to follow up Crown of Vengeance.  There’s no reason why the second would be bad, and both are sure to put Pathways in the dust for quality.  Plus, I cannot wait to see what happens next!

Another Valdemar Anthology

I have to say, I am so glad that the office is closed next week, because as much as I enjoy anthologies, I am looking forward to reading longer books.  Especially certain longer books that I have new entries in series for…

But that’s starting tomorrow.  Probably once I get home.  For the time being, I have yet another anthology completed.  This is Pathways, the newest Valdemar collection. It has entries by a number of familiar faces; sometimes continuing stories, sometimes starting new ones, and some are probably just one-shots.  I am a little disappointed by the fact that, despite there being twenty-one stories crammed into this book, there’s only one new author in the lot.  At least she wrote a good story, so it’s possible she’ll be returning again next year.

It’s really sad to say that the weakest entry in the book is probably Lackey’s own contribution.  Mostly because it’s building on the damned Scooby-Doo group and I think I’ve made my opinion on that abundantly clear.  Admittedly, if you took out Scooby and wiped my mind clean of the experience, I’d probably have no problems whatsoever with this story.  I just…cannot stand the Scooby-Doo shit.  Please, stop.  Also stop with Mags.

If there can be said to be a theme for a Valdemar anthology (aside from the world tying everything together), then Pathways would likely be themed on alternative lifestyles.  There are several instances of gay couples, solo parents, even Valdemar’s first transgender person.  As per usual, everything is presented as something to be accepted as truth because the people living the lives tell you it’s true, which I can appreciate.

Really, the only downside is that we have a story dealing with cutting…by not actually dealing with it.  It’s better than that damned new adult book I read, but that’s not saying much.  In this case, the cutting is given a different purpose aside from self-harm, so that aspect isn’t really discussed.  In fact, the act and its causes aren’t really looked at very deeply, which I found disappointing.  If this series can serve as such a voice for so many marginalized individuals – including those who are deaf, mute, and otherwise disabled – why can’t it delve deep enough to really talk about some of the issues it touches on?  Oh, I know these are short stories by other authors, but that doesn’t stop the other issues from having their proper gravity shown.

As a read, Pathways is perfectly fine.  I just want more from this series than “acceptable.”  Unfortunately, Valdemar’s on the level of commercialism that isn’t mainstream, but is known by name and the name sells.  I don’t think the series has completely sold out yet, but I do feel that it could happen.  Which…makes me very sad.  I tend to avoid series that hit the mainstream, in part because it feels like my secret safe place has been opened up to the whole world and now all these strangers have opinions on it.

I’m not done with the series, but between my growing disinterest in Lackey’s chosen directions and the general lack of real power and emotion in the anthologies, I begin to fear the end may be in sight.

Mooooooom

I have to say, it’s a lot better for me to read anthologies while I have overtime going on.  Normally I can get a minimum of two hours reading time in a day, plus however much I choose to add in the evening.  At the moment, I’m getting about forty-five minutes plus whatever I add in the evening.  But because I can finish whatever short story the next time I pick the book up, at least it’s not nearly as bad as it was for City of Brass.  This does mean that I’m having trouble remembering some of the first stories in the anthology I finished today, which is a shame.

I found this at the Gallery the weekend before last, and I’m starting to formulate a theory that anthologies from the nineties and early 2000s may be the ones I enjoy most.  Those were formative decades for me, and so writing from that time period is easiest for me to read and understand.  The theory’s a work in progress at the moment, I’m just reflecting on trends of my preferences.

The book is Don’t Forget Your Spacesuit, Dear and the cover calls it “the Mother of All Anthologies,” edited by Jody Lynn Nye.  Which tells you three things about the stories within.  One: they are themed on mothers.  Two: they’re going to be hilarious. Three: they’re going to be good.  Jody Lynn Nye is one of those authors that, in my experience, pops up on the fringes of groups including much more famous authors like Anne McCaffrey (who has a story here).  She doesn’t strike me as being as prolific or as well-known, but she’s definitely productive and available.  (Also local!)

There’s a series from Robert Asprin (who also has a story here) called the Myth Adventures.  If you’re unfamiliar, you should be reading this as “Misadventures” with “myth” thrown in.  I think this properly illustrates the type of tales the series holds.  Back in 2003, Jody Lynn Nye came on as a coauthor until Asprin’s death in 2008, after which she continued the series solo.

I bring up the Myth series because some of the first stories in Don’t Forget Your Spacesuit are every bit as absurd.  It’s been a while since I laughed that much at a book.  I mean, there is a story that is all about underwear.  Underwear.

There’s a great many types of mothers in the stories, ranging from the ones you love to the ones you hate, and a number in between.  There’s stories about being mothers and stories about listening (or not) to mothers.  There’s stories about mothers controlling your life and stories about refusing to let them take control.  There’s even a couple stories that made me think about the old Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House.

The authors who caught my eye in here included Jody Lynn Nye, Ellen Guon, Robert Asprin, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, William R. Fortschen, Bill Fawcett, Anne McCaffrey, Josepha Sherman, Elizabeth Moon, and Mike Resnick.  And that is not all of them either.  But with that many names I recognize, it’s no wonder I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Apparently in addition to those, I’ve also previously read work from Diane Duane, Christopher Stasheff, Laura Anne Gilman, George Alec Effinger, Esther M. Friesner, and Morgan Llywelyn.  Which means the only authors I had no prior knowledge of were Michael Scott, Judith R. Conly, Eleanore Stasheff, Terri Beckett, Chris Power, and Louise Rowder.  To recap, that’s ten names that urged me to pick it up, six more I’d read previously, and six that I had never heard of or read before.  Pretty impressive for a random anthology.

I should probably talk about some of the stories too.  “You Never Call” by Robert Asprin and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s “Don’t Go Out in Holy Underwear” are probably the most absurd of the lot.  “The Golden Years” by Anne McCaffrey is the most terrifying by far, but more for how it seems to work with today’s society than the content.  It reminds me of “Wet Wings” by Mercedes Lackey.

There’s a number of other excellent titles from typical “motherly” expressions: “From Your Mouth to God’s Ear” by Ellen Guon, “I Told You So” from Michael Scott, “Your Face Will Freeze Like That” by Morgan Llywelyn, “What’s the Magic Word” from Jody Lynn Nye, “Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own” by Esther M. Frisner, “You’ll Catch Your Death of Colds” from Bill Fawcett, “Clean Up Your Room!” by Laura Anne Gilman, “Mother Knows Best” from Josepha Sherman and, the best of all is Diane Duane’s title “Don’t Put That in Your Mouth, You Don’t Know Where It’s Been.”

Because everyone has a mother and can either relate to having one or the absence of having one, anyone can easily relate to one or more of the stories collected here.  Most of them are funny, all of them are entertaining, and overall this has been a great read.