Saturday, November 21, 2015

REVIEW ROUNDUP: NEW 52 NOVEMBER!!!



As I mentioned in my eBook haul post I have amassed a humble collection of DC comics from The New 52 reboot. I purchased four first volumes each featuring a different character. In this lineup are The Flash, Batman, The Green Arrow, and Aquaman. Most of these were on sale during the time that I bought them hence why I bought more than I could read all at once. During the month of November, I am hoping to read and potentially review these four volumes. Why November - because alliteration that's why. As the month continues on, I will be making updates to this post to reflect my reviews of the individual volumes and The New 52 initiative in general. These reviews will be done a little differently than they have been in the past since this is partially a review of The New 52 universe being written alongside the actual book reviews. 


THE FLASH VOLUME 1 MOVE FORWARD (THE NEW 52)
3/5 

Overall, this was a very fun and entertaining read for me. I've been a fan of The Flash television show which plays on the CW so I was pretty excited to get into some of the source material for where the show's writers get their wacky ideas. I obviously did not have the expectation that this would at all be the same thing as the show, but I definitely wanted it to be just as good.

My feelings after reading are certainly a little mixed. On one hand, this was an action packed collection of issues which are lovingly rendered by some immensely gifted artists. On another hand, it's a narrative that isn't quite flat, but also isn't as approachable as DC Comics would lead you to believe. See although this is Volume 1 of this version of the character, it's not necessarily the beginning of the story. The Flash has already established himself as a hero, loved by many, but not trusted by others. All of the characters certainly get a proper introduction, from Barry Allen's (The Flash's) cute police girlfriend, Patty Spivot, to the icy Captain Cold. Despite everything being presented as fresh and new, I definitely got the sense that DC was trying extremely hard not to alienate or bore their current fan base. Some characters, like Patty Spivot, definitely feel like they are worked into the story in a seamless manner, but entrances for characters like Captain Cold are a bit more forced. This largely comes from the fact that  some of these characters have history with the Flash by this point - a history that I as a reader am well informed of, but this is a case where they tell me rather than show me that Flash and Cold are old rivals. Now, yes I know who Captain Cold is from the show, but I wanted to get to know him in THIS world and have him (as well as others like Iris West) feel a bit more fleshed out. Ultimately I just felt like I was trying to catch up with the story even though this is technically the beginning. I liked that there wasn't a tedious origin story, but there is definitely a way that they could have introduced things with a bit more grace.

I mentioned before that this is an action-packed storyline and I don't throw that term around lightly.
The events in this story are much larger than
Barry and Patty from the CW TV Show
life and the writers waste no time in tossing The Flash into a city-wide catastrophe. At first, it feels rather hectic, but the strong visuals make it all much easier to swallow and as the issues progress, things start to connect in a way that feels way less random. In fact, by the end of this volume, the story glides along at a much smoother pace and I found myself enjoying things a lot more once I had built up a bit more context from earlier issues. There are also some very cool antagonists who I have never heard of before. I'm not sure if they are new to The New 52 or just new to me, but they are pretty great in any case. One shows up at the end, so I won't mention them, but Mob Rule is featured in the majority of the volume and is a very compelling antagonist indeed. I felt like "his" arc was much more gracefully handled than any of the other villains in that his history with The Flash is shown to readers in the form of flashbacks. When everything felt chaotic and confusing, it was this character's development that held my attention through the first half of the issue.

Some of the spectacular action shots this volume has to offer
By the end of this, I definitely warmed up to The Flash in his New 52 iteration. I wasn't really sold on any of it until much later in the volume, but really do think this holds some promise despite my lower rating. I was even a bit torn in giving it a 3 because by the end I felt like it was more of a 4, but since I did have some trouble with it at the onset and think that things can get a lot better I'm leaving this as sort of a fat 3 (not to be mistaken for a 3.5). One other gripe I had with this had to do with the formatting for the digital edition. There were a bunch of two-page spreads that just look goofy on Kindle (not that I'm a huge fan of them in print either) and not all of the pop-up pannels were particularly well done. There were numerous times where text was cut off or part of the image was cut out and was just a bit of a choppy and unprofessional experience overall. It's not awful, but the publisher CERTAINLY could have put a bit more effort into digitizing this volume. I'm certainly tempted to move onto the next volume which will hopefully continue in the direction that Volume 1 left off in.

THE FLASH VOL. 1 MOVE FORWARD (THE NEW 52) Can be picked up in print and digital formats on Amazon.

BATMAN VOLUME 1 THE COURT OF OWLS (THE NEW 52)
4/5 

I've always been a batman fan. I grew up with the cartoons and have greatly enjoyed the more recent film and video game presentations of this classic character and his vast gothic universe. There's something inherently iconic about Batman. Even people who have never seen a movie, played a game, or read a comic that features him will instantly recognize the cape, cowl, and symbol. Many will even recognize characters like Robin and The Joker and instantly associate those images with the world's most beloved detective-hero. The greatest thing for me about this character is how vast his world is. In Gotham, it feels as though anything is possible. Sidekicks can become heroes of their own, villains might join forces with the good guys, and psychopaths rise up from the shadows at the worst possible times. The number of stories to be told in this place is seemingly endless which is what makes Batman one of the most compelling and complicated superheroes on the DC lineup. Needless to say I was curious to see how they would "reinvent" Batman for the New 52 and my opinion of the first volume is generally favorable.

The story starts off with Batman already very well established. He's on good terms with Commissioner Gordon, Dick Greyson has already assumed the role of Nightwing and he even has, not one, but TWO Robins in his bat-family (one is technically called Red Robin). There are also cameos made by a whole host of classic Batman villains during the opening sequence, but this story isn't really about the Batman that fans know. This volume introduces a villain that has never been part of the Batman mythos before - one that is particularly horrifying. Strange things are happening in Gotham and that's saying a lot considering the city's normal day-to-day. Before long, Bruce Wayne (Batman) find himself a target for a mysterious organization called The Court of Owls. There is a little nursery rhyme associated with this band of Gotham elite and their primary assassin, Talon, but no one considers them to be more than an urban legend - a spooky tale spun to children to get them to behave. Unfortunately for Bruce, The Court is all too real and it is out for his blood.

Bruce facing off against new villain, Talon
There's something special about the way this story is delivered and how well a new nemesis is brought into the fray. The volume feels like it is giving readers something that they have never had before in a Batman story-line and does a fantastic job of keeping them constantly in suspense. If your going to rewrite a superhero, then it makes sense that this is the way you should go about doing it. Like I said before though, there are certainly a number of nods to Batman's long history, so the past is not at all disregarded. One area that did feel very weak for me though, is on the side of Batman's allies. It makes sense that they would all show up at some point and a few of them do get proper re-introductions, but the way the story makes use of them is not particularly compelling. For characters like Jim Gordon. Alfred, and Nightwing, the relationships that they have with Batman/Bruce are well
Bruce and his boys
defined over the course of the story and even if I had no idea who any of them were previously, I'd be pretty much up to speed by the time the last issue ended. Then there are characters like Tim Drake (Red Robin) and Damien Wayne (Robin) that are introduced, but readers never really get to know
them in any significant way. In fact they are barely present at all during the very serious conflict that Batman finds himself tangled up in. Then there are cameos by Catwoman and Batgirl (or maybe Batwoman - I wasn't 100% sure), but the shots featuring them are so unprecedented that their inclusion felt somewhat meaningless. I got the whole Batman pushing his loved ones away so he could handle the issue himself thing - it's nothing new - but it felt really stupid to have all of these characters show up and really just not do anything. In the end it sort of felt like a half-hearted attempt to include the bat-family that didn't amount to much of anything save for a couple select cases.

On the villain side of things, I will say that the cameos make a bit more sense. Even if you don't recognize characters like Harley Quin or Two Face, you won't feel like you're missing anything of extreme importance. They mostly only show up in the first issue as inmates of the asylum and they remain there throughout the duration of the remaining issues. If you've been a long-time Batman fan then you will enjoy seeing them pop up, but if you aren't then it won't throw you off too much. Ultimately though, I am still not entirely sold that this is Batman for a brand new audience of readers. It was cool to have a
story told in this universe that no one has ever really seen before and it was really neat to see all sorts
A page from the opening sequence
of weird science-fictioney technology used, but this really felt like Batman for a new era, not a new audience. Despite the wonderfully focused scope of the narrative, there is just too much going on here for brand new readers to get the full impact of the story's events. In the end, this is a fun new story for fans to enjoy. It presents a whole host of new concepts and ideas to the existing Batman universe, updates it with cool technology, and is chock-full of references to pre-existing characters and plot points. It's not as welcoming to new readers as it should be, but it also doesn't make them feel as though they are late to the party. If I had one other MAJOR complaint against this comic it's that the publisher REALLY effed up the digital version of this comic. There is literally a span of pages that are oriented upside down, a bunch that are rotated sideways and trying to read it this way was just extremely annoying - not to mention unacceptable. If you do pick this up, DO NOT get it on Kindle.

BATMAM VOLUME 1 THE COURT OF OWLS (THE NEW 52) Can be picked up in print and digital formats on Amazon.

THE GREEN ARROW VOLUME 1 THE MIDAS TOUCH (THE NEW 52)
2/5 
I was one of the early adopters for the CW's ARROW before it got all the buzz that it now enjoys (and rightly deserves). I knew next to nothing about The Green Arrow, but did enjoy the version of the character that became a part of the supporting cast in later seasons of SMALLVILLE. Aside from that minimal exposure, I had no idea what to expect from a show featuring only that character, but it became my guilty pleasure and when season two came out, it was just a pleasure. Because I am such a big fan of what they did with the TV show, I was definitely nervous to dive into the comic incarnation of this DC mainstay, but I wanted to see what it was all about so I gave it a go and as you might have guessed from the rating, it was a less than favorable result.

It's not so much that any one part of this was particularly bad, it's just that the volume failed to get one particular thing right ... that is make me care. There's just nothing and no one here that really gripped me in any way that truly mattered.

Characters are a little too snarky to be loveable, villains are so numerous that I really only found one, maybe two, of them to be remotely compelling. There's just no one in the cast I really found myself passionately routing for or against which is a major problem in this type of universe.

Then there was the plot - which there wasn't really all that much of. Don't get me wrong, there is a ton of action and some genuinely brutal combat sequences. But that is really all that this story-line
has to offer. It feels like one band of villains after another is hurled at Oliver (The Green Arrow's
Ollie charging into battle
alter ego) and that's it. There isn't really any larger conflict to consider or even very much held at stake. It's just one impressively rendered action sequence after another, some of which are actually a little sickening in terms of the blood/gore. I will admit that the final issue of this volume SEEMED to hint at a larger set of conflicts that MIGHT come, but it was sort of a too little too late type of deal for me at that point. The writer also seems to be obsessed with making harsh jabs at modern day technology. Baseless comments about violent video games and twisted portrayals of social media infest the panels of this story and if this is their best stab at making a comic feel more relevant to the modern day, then it is a sad one indeed.

Additionally, I wasn't even that huge a fan of the art style. It's not bad exactly, it just looks dated. Which is weird since the New 52's whole thing is that it is a more modern, hip take on the whole superhero thing. The artist also changes for the last issue of this volume (noticeably). It was sort of a weird transition for me even though the styles are fairly similar - I think it was just that the characters look visibly different so it's kind of strange. That said the art in this last issue is slightly better than that of the previous ones so it's kind of a tossup I suppose. Any way you look at it, this is certainly not the prettiest series in the DC lineup. It is also weirdly erotic - not so much in that people are behaving in a sexual manner - its just in how much skin is shown on both sides of the gender spectrum and how some of the characters are posed during the action shots. That's kind of a weird thing to complain about since it's not really a huge deal, it was just one more thing that I found to be a little off about this comic. While still addressing the visual aspect of this, I will say that I had NO problems this time around with the digital version like I did with THE FLASH VOLUME 1 and BATMAN VOLUME 1. The difference here being that I actually bought this one from Comixology and read it on their app, so maybe I will go to them from here on in since the Kindle versions have been a continual disappointment in terms of the overall reading quality.


Ultimately there just wasn't very much about this work that I enjoyed. The characters were depressingly cynical and annoyingly harsh to one another. The "modern day" references felt more like a crotchety old man's view of my generation. And the plot just didn't rivet me in any way. This volume only amounts to one fight scene after another with sarcastic quips and judgmental sentiments thrown in to fill the space in between. It's overly sadistic in a lot of ways and really just didn't provide me with joy of any kind, nor did it give me a whole lot of entertainment value. If you're a fan of The Green Arrow, just stick to the show, or go and find another comic series featuring this character because I don't think this will do much for you. I certainly will not be continuing with this particular series.

POW right in the kissa!

If you do decide to pick THE GREEN ARROW VOLUME 1 THE MIDAS TOUCH up, it can be found in print and digital editions on Amazon, though if you are going to go with digital, then I recommend going with Comixology.

AQUAMAN VOLUME 1 THE TRENCH (THE NEW 52)
5/5 
When most people think of Aquaman, they think of a pretty-boy wearing a goofy outfit who talks to fish. While it's true that all superheroes went through a period of being extremely childish and cheesy, Aquaman never really outgrew that reputation in the way that characters like Batman and Superman did. For years, Aquaman has been the subject of obscurity and is probably everyone's least favorite Justice League superhero. From a personal standpoint, I have seen some really fantastic representations of the character that are nothing like what I just described. The version of the character that appeared on SMALLVILLE was seriously badass and the version that appears in Netherrealm's INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US, a one-on-one fighting game, even looks fierce as hell in addition to being a regular boss. Because of these prior experiences with the character, I went into AQUAMAN VOLUME 1 THE TRENCH (THE NEW 52) with a healthy degree of optimism and was very happy that I was not disappointed.

What fans rightfully considered to be one of the lamer characters in the DC lineup has come out in THE NEW 52 with by far the strongest first volume that I personally have read. Aside from comparing it to the rest of THE NEW 52's offerings, this is just a fantastic graphic work in general. The story kicks off with Aquaman dealing with the reputation of being kind of a joke. No one on the mainland takes him seriously or even believes that his kingdom, The Lost City of Atlantis, is real. Being half human on his father's side and half atlantean on his mother's Arthur finds himself in a spot where he belongs to neither the realm of land nor the depths of the sea. He's a bit lost and only seems to be sure of two things: his love for the "mermaid" Mera, and a desire to use his powers to protect the shores along with the people and creatures that live there. Arthur's desire to help others is put to the ultimate test when a hoard of flesh eating sea-humaniods emerge from the depths and begin to harvest the human population that lives in the small seashore town in which Aquaman makes his home with Mera. The police force is at odds about letting Aquaman help, but the jilted hero takes matters into his own hands and takes on the mysterious race of monsters with Mera's help.

Kids say the funniest things, don't they?
It would be hard to say more about the specifics of the plot without ruining something, but it should THE NEW 52. I didn't feel like I was trying to catch up with anything nor was I left to guess about some of the finer details of the story. Yes, the first issues do reference Aquaman's history as a character, but only in the vaguest sense. And yes, there is certainly a sense that Aquaman has been around for a while, but the fact that nobody really seems to understand him gave me the feeling that I was meeting him for the very first time. It also helped a lot that little snippets of backstory were thrown in to help shape my image of who Arthur and Mera were before the start of this story. Some readers may be bothered to hear that there is not necessarily any tangible arch nemesis for Aquaman, but this actually worked for me. The hoard of sea monsters is genuinely terrifying and gruesome and Aquaman's struggles against them revealed some openings for a much broader threat. This is a story that is filled with as much mystery and intrigue as our real-life oceans provide and although the conclusion felt satisfying, I definitely craved more.
be made abundantly clear that this was by far the best and most accessible volume that I have read in

Another big part of what made this such an absolutely unhindered delight were the fantastic main protagonists of this tale. Both Arthur and Mera were phenomenal. I loved them as individuals and was touched by their relationship as a super-powered couple. Both characters are estranged from both
A shot of the power couple
the land and the sea, but seem to find a home in one another. Things aren't always perfect for them though as both struggle with the fact that they are not accepted anywhere and that their intentions are
never fully understood. It felt very true to life how the general populace refers to Mera as Aquawoman rather than acknowledging her as a unique individual and how they hold fast to silly beliefs about Aquaman's powers and habits. A lot of people talk about this pair, but no one ever really seems interested in actually knowing them as ... well as people. The stark reality of this plight definitely cut a little deep for me, but this made it all the more rewarding when a select couple of humans do extend a hand of friendship to Aquaman and Mera. It's this personal angle that makes the story feel as meaningful as it does. It's the quality of the dialogue - the tender way that Mera and Aquaman touch each other - the way facial expressions are drawn - that really made me connect with these two.

Lastly, there are all of the gorgeous visuals and intense action shots in this comic. I think my favorite visual piece out of  the THE NEW 52 series that I have sampled is still THE FLASH VOLUME 1 MOVE FORWARD (THE NEW 52), but this one is also quite stunning and daringly takes on some very complicated shots. It also does a nice job of making the scenes on land look different from those underwater and flashbacks to the past usually have this sort of hazy quality to them to visually separate them from the current events. All in all, it is just a really good looking comic that oozes with details like the scales on Aquaman's shirt and Mera's bodysuit. Every face looks distinct and are easy to identify and then there are the gruesome monsters
that are a truly horrific image to behold. The action shots are also quite bloody and the gore is eerily realistic. It's nothing so over-the-top that it distracted from my enjoyment of the story, but rather just enough to put me on edge and worry about what might become of the heroes trying to stop the flesh-hungry beasts.

What big teeth you have!
I would very quickly recommend this volume to anyone who enjoys graphic works of fiction. It shines in ways that I have yet to see any other DC comic succeed and is really just a compelling work of fiction period. I am also happy to report that although I read this as a Kindle eBook, I did not experience any formatting or readability issues like I did with the digital versions of the first volumes for both THE FLASH and BATMAN. No matter who you are, it's worth giving this series a look. It requires absolutely no prior knowledge in regards to the world of superheroes and at its core it doesn't even really feel like a traditional superhero story-line. This is a series that has me pleasantly surprised and it's one I will definitely be continuing.

AQUAMAN VOLUME 1 THE TRENCH (THE NEW 52) can be found in print and digital formats on Amazon.

SUMMARY (To be updated as this post grows)

11/11/2015:
I came in with no real idea of what I would be getting myself into and while THE FLASH VOLUME 1 MOVE FORWARD (THE NEW 52) was not a perfect introduction into the universe, it was certainly a very enjoyable experience all the same. Reinventing a classic mythology is certainly no small task, but it definitely could have been done with just a bit more grace. I'm very optimistic about the future of THE NEW 52 incarnation of The Flash and about the other first volumes I have on my TBR!

11/21/2015:
I found that I enjoyed BATMAN VOLUME 1 THE COURT OF OWLS (THE NEW 52) far more than I did THE FLASH. Part of this probably had to do with the fact that I am already a big fan of all things Batman. I am not a big connoisseur of the comics, but certainly knew enough where I picked up on most of the subtle references and nods. I am still really not sold at all that THE NEW 52 makes these heroes any more accessible to new readers, but this iteration of Batman definitely provided a space to tell an exiting new story that updates the universe in some compelling ways. I also continue to be a little astounded at how sloppy DC is with putting together the digital versions of these comics. I'm hoping that I have seen the worst of it and that things will only get better as I read the first volumes for THE GREEN ARROW and AQUAMAN.

11/22/2015:
I suppose I'm at a loss for what to say after reading THE GREEN ARROW VOLUME 1 THE MIDAS TOUCH. I didn't enjoy it and basically just chalk it up to being a dud. I know DC writers have some great stories to tell and that there are artists who can render them in stunning portrayals, but this volume had neither good writing nor stellar artwork. It felt like a very half-hearted effort to reinvent a character for the modern reader and is probably a good example of how not to go about telling a superhero story, rebooted or not. Overall, I still have relatively positive notions about THE NEW 52 as a whole and am looking forward to reading AQUAMAN VOLUME 1, the last on my New 52 November Reading List.

11/27/2015:
After reading AQUAMAN VOLUME 1 THE TRENCH (THE NEW 52) I can honestly say that I have a lot more faith in THE NEW 52 initiative than I ever did before. This is an example of a reboot done right and a series that I actually can't wait to continue. It gets all the essentials right and leaves me wanting more without leaving me feeling unfulfilled. Up until this point, I'd been feeling like THE NEW 52 was a bit of a scam in terms of how it was advertised to comic newcomers, but this volume has made me question that stance. Before I call this post a wrap, I will have one more update on how I felt about the THE NEW 52 in general, but if I got nothing else out of the experience, then I can at least say that I enjoyed the retelling of Aquaman's story in a way that exceeded all of my expectations.

Final Thoughts:
Overall, my  experience with THE NEW 52 was certainly not a bad one. It also WAS NOT everything that DC hyped it up to be except in the case of AQUAMAN. Three out of the four of these first issues were solid enough for me to want to continue on with them, but only one of them really wowed me in the way I was hoping for. That said, only one of them was a true disappointment, so overall this initiative fared reasonably well with me. As an overarching reboot THE NEW 52 really does not do a good job of welcoming newcomers in the way it should and I can't really attest to how well it appeals to comic veterans either. I think if you're curious about trying something that belongs to this line of comics, then by all means it is worth a shot. One of the series might just grab you in a way that comics never have before or you might feel like it is more of the same cacophony of confusion. I'm glad I personally gave it a shot and can't help but feel very curious about what other's thoughts are on THE NEW 52 or even just DC Comics in general.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

REVIEW: SIXTH OF THE DUSK

INTRODUCTION
I've heard a great deal about Brandon Sanderson's writing through various sources - all of it wonderful. While I've certainly been tempted to try something of his for a while now, he is also known best for his much longer pieces of writing and I really couldn't motivate myself to dive into one of his large novels. So as part of the BookTube SFF read alongs, I saw one of his novellas on the shortlist and took the opportunity to sample his widely beloved writing style.

HOW I RATED IT

5/5 This may not be the most original or particularly exceptional pieces of modern literature, but it is by far one of the most enjoyable narratives I have read in a good long while. Intriguing characters, a bizarre setting and a compellingly weird narrative make this little novella one that had a big impact on me as a reader.

CHARACTERS
There are really just two characters to speak of here - it is a piece of short fiction after all. Our main protagonist is a man named Sixth of the Dusk or Dusk for short. He is a tough as nails Trapper who knows the island of Patji like the back of his hand. Then there is Vathi, a sheltered mainland scholar with a sharp head on her shoulders but not much in the way of actual survival instincts. Both are pretty interesting and each is distinct. There is a bit of a cliche dynamic between them in that they are seemingly opposite and come from very different walks of life. It's the classic boy meets girl and they don't understand each other, but eventually of course find that they had more in common than they initially realized. You might be cringing at this since it is such a common trope in romance stories, but Sanderson actually surprised me a little by not taking that path. There is definitely a relationship that builds up between these heroes, but it isn't necessarily a romantic one. Instead they form a bond of mutual trust and respect, which is what ultimately keeps them alive in this harsh environment. It was a lot of fun to watch them learn from one another and grow as friends. Vathi definitely supplies the majority of the cast's personality since Dusk is the quiet, down-to-business type of guy, but both are reasonably compelling, mostly due to their motives which are slowly explored over time.

While they may not be characters in the sense of being creatures that can speak out loud, Sanderson includes birds known as Aviar. These are birds which are imbued with special abilities and form bonds with their human masters. Dusk is in a rare case because of a bird who is not of an Aviar breed, but has a very special power. It's called Sak and she can show Dusk visions of his own corpse - where the corpse lies is where Dusk could potentially die. The interaction between dusk and this bird was immensely entertaining, especially at the end when the bird's senses are thrown into disarray. It's a very interesting take on a symbiotic magic system and one that I found to be quite memorable. If I had one complaint about this though, it is that I was really unclear what the regular Aviar do. They are described as important companions, but don't appear to have special powers or anything like that. Upon looking it up, I found out that they mask their mind as well as the minds of those around them which is significant because the apex predators on the island hunt based on sensing minds as opposed to scents. I'm sure this was probably mentioned a couple of times and I just missed it, but it is definitely worth noting that compared to Sak, these regular Aviar feel like a non-presence.

 If there is one primary issue I had with any of the characters, it is that I really did not get a strong sense of what they look like. That's not to say there were no descriptions at all, just that I personally did not have a strong visual attachment to anyone in the cast, even the birds.


WORLD/SETTING
Basically the entirety of the novel takes place on the hostile island known as Patji. The island is portrayed as a sort of character in and of itself. It doesn't necessarily display any real intelligence, but every creature that lives on it and every plant that grows there seems bent on killing unwelcome guests. Trappers act as the human presence on the island, but really seem to only make the place that much more deadly - because they set traps - hence the name. Basically, this is one place where a split second of not paying attention could literally mean the end of someone's life. Despite the devotion that Dusk displays toward it, the island spends every waking moment trying to kill him and anyone else who tries to set foot there. It's also so happens to be a place of great interest for those on the mainland since this island is where the Aviar come from. Particularly industrious folks hope to try and tame the island for commercial use and this is what brings Vathi to the island as a guide since trappers are unwilling to support the mainlanders' agenda. Adding to the conflict is the vague allusion to space travelers who have made contact with people on the mainland, but have not given any actual assistance to them. There's a lot of speculation about who the "Ones Above" are or what they want, but it felt interesting to have this sort of distant element to the setting. There is a lot of talk about the people that live in ships up in the sky, but never a direct interaction between whatever is happening there and the events on Patji. It kind of felt like a reverse episode of Star Gate or Star Trek in this respect.

PLOT/TONE
The plot as a standalone component is nothing overly spectacular. The book starts off as largely a character piece where readers are introduced to Dusk, his birds, and his complicated relationship with the island. Eventually Vathi enters onto the scene and her relationship with Dusk begins to develop. About halfway through, we learn about the Northern Interests Trading Company and the Ones Above. From there the full story begins to develop and we learn about how the people in this world covet the technology that the Ones Above possess but won't share. Without spoiling too much, one of these devices slips into the hands of the Trading Company and Dusk receives horrible premonitions of what will happen if it is used. This sets Dusk and Vathi on a mad race to reach the trading encampment in an effort to stop them from using it. The narrative woven is simple, but tight, and brilliantly focused while still allowing some room for bigger picture ideas to be featured. The ending is conclusive, but also open-ended in a way.

The tone of this story is certainly an edgy one. There is a brutal quality to just how readily someone can die on Patjji, but Sanderson doesn't really delve too much into gore for the most part. There's also and overarching sense of mysticism at every turn. Part of this comes from the involvement of the Aviar, some of it can be credited to the Ones Above, and the rest has to do with the seemingly concerted effort made by the island to kill Vathi and Dusk. The best way I can describe the story is unnerving, but not unsettling. It's just the right amount of twisted to make readers stay on the edge of their seats, but never crosses the line of being too dark or gruesome. All of this is supported by highly serviceable writing and dialogue.

CONCLUSION
There is no one aspect of this piece that really sticks out as overly unique or exceptional, but the complete package is something that is really quite special. The characters are interesting and their interactions are entertaining. The setting is fierce and unforgiving. Lastly, the plot is wonderfully concentrated. This is just an enjoyable narrative from beginning to end. It doesn't waste time or linger  unnecessarily on certain details. Things move neither too fast nor too slow and by the end I felt extremely fulfilled despite this being a much shorter work of fiction. This is apparently part of a larger, shared universe, but I didn't really feel hung up or confused on this at all and believe it to be a nice introduction to Sanderson's writing. Admittedly I'm still a bit intimidated to take on some of his larger works, but I enjoyed this novella enough that I think I will eventually try to dive into one of his novels.

SIXTH OF THE DUSK can be found on amazon in eBook format on Amazon.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

REVIEW: WHITE WIND RISING (GUNPOWDER AND ALCHEMY BOOK 1)

INTRODUCTION 
I'm not generally a huge internet creep. If something doesn't show up on my Facebook or Twitter feeds, then I don't see it. I rarely add people on social media sites unless they show up as a recommendation and I generally don't post a ton of stuff online (aside from this blog). But in this particular instance, I happened to find a book by creeping on Goodreads. What happened was I wrote a review of a book by an indie author which then got 'liked' by someone I'd never heard of before. For some reason, I felt so inclined as to click on this person's name and discover that he too was an indie author (in my defense I half suspected that he might be which is why I clicked his name in the first place). Turns out he had several books he self published so I gave one of those a look. My first impression of WHITE WIND RISING (GUNPOWDER AND ALCHEMY BOOK 1) by Dan Davis was that it was a charming fantasy novel with a delightfully crafted cover which was perhaps meant for younger readers. That said, there was something about it that I kind of liked so I put it on my To Read list and determined that I would come back to buy and read it later with the excuse that I was helping out an indie author. Now that later has come around, here is what I thought of this book.

HOW I RATED IT

4/5 I think the book has some distinct issues, but overall it was a very enjoyable read for me. I hadn't read something with this much color in a good long while and was very happy that I gave this author's work a shot (hopefully it will make up for my creeping).

CHARACTERS
This book stars a young boy who calls himself Archer. This isn't his real name, but rather one he's sort of given to himself due to his fondness for - you guessed it - archery. Our dear Archer gets himself into a bind when he daringly approaches a tower owned by a man known only to the people of The Vale as The Alchemist. Archer has never met this man and has been told many times during his young life to stay away from the tower, but in spite of all rational thought, Archer marches up through the snow and demands that The Alchemist take less away from his parents this year who work as Shepherds. It seems that the Alchemist lays claim to large portions to whatever the people of The Vale produce as payment for his protection. The Alchemist hears the boys pleas and whisks him magically away into the tower. He then speaks to Archer in an ominous voice instructing him that Archer is now to serve him as a baker for the rest of his life. It turns out the previous baker is ... no longer working in the tower.

Once imprisoned and enslaved by The Alchemist, Archer decides that he will not stand for this cruelty so he ascends the tower via it's chimney and meets other children that The Alchemist has claimed as his own. There's Keeper, Weaver, and Writer. Together they work to defy their plight and change their fate in a never ending struggle against the odds.

Child characters can be tough to nail down in a way that feels authentic and believable, but Davis manages to deliver on a cast of mostly all children and present each one in a way that I totally believed in. Archer is a good-hearted boy who struggles with his temper and with sometimes coming off as a know-it-all, but always has the best intentions. There's the ever disagreeable Weaver who seems to hide her true emotions under a mask of bitterness and whining. Then there's the blissfully ignorant Keeper who is a bit simple, but also very caring and compassionate. Writer is a graceful and patient girl with a mild temperament. Finally, there is the baby dragon known as Burp who while not 100% a character is still a vibrant enough presence to count as a major contributor to the cast.  They are an easy crew to fall in love with and I found that I had no trouble routing for them to succeed.

WORLD/SETTING
The story takes place in a place known only as The Vale. It is a region of land which is protected by The Alchemist's dark magic. It keeps things out, but also keeps his people in. The region takes on a distinctively fantastical vibe and feels like what one might expect from a pseudo-medieval European civilization. It's also not a place that we see much of in this novel, though it is teased at the end that we will be seeing more of it in the second book.

Much of the book is set within the rounded walls of the Alchemist's tower. It is a mammoth construct which seems to have very little in the way of windows and absolutely no doors. The Alchemist has the ability to magically teleport himself, others, and objects of any kind in and out of the building. This presents quite the problem for the children trying to escape since it means that they must get to the tower's top before they can get back down to the ground. Along the way, readers are treated to what each of the floors is like. As one might suspect by the naming convention Davis employs, each of the children has a job that they fulfill within the tower and the floor that they live on reflects their positions.

Rounding out the list of locations is a cold, unforgiving forest region which is where the kids are put to the ultimate test.Being that this area is the protective outer region of The Vale, they find that it is almost as enchanted as the tower itself.

PLOT/TONE
Overall, I think the right word for this novel is "charming." The youthful style is very well done and it just has a very fun fantasy feeling. For me the younger voice is what really made this a standout piece for me, despite my being past that level of reader. It feels juvenile, but not overly so. There's a distinct maturity about the way that everything is said and how the story unfolds - unfortunately, this is also where the novel partially comes crashing down, at least within the context of a children's book.

Much of the promotional materials for this (the cover, the product description, and even the title itself) all identify the book as one that is written for a younger audience. The writing style mostly reflects this, but the contents DO NOT, at least not in the later portion of the book. Without spoiling too much of the back half, I feel the need to point out that this story deals with some very heavy, very adult, concepts. There is human modification/breeding/genetic selection which plays a big part and is mentioned in several places. Then there is a twist at the end that is really just too morbid to be suitable for a younger audience. The story has a happyish ending, but the implications of what these children come home to are just a tad too heavy. Then there is a sequence that is just extremely graphic and unreservedly gory. Of course there is also the matter of all these children being victims of kidnapping and enslavement. In this end, this novel felt as about appropriate for children as the Fable video game franchise does (which is to say not at all). Now I love all of the Fable games (yes even 2 and 3) so I personally did not feel upset by the more adult contents of this piece (I enjoyed them in fact), but I WOULD NOT at all recommend this as a book for the audience in which it seems to be intended. Furthermore, I came across numerous copy-editing errors which, while relatively infrequent, did mar the experience overall and also contribute to this not being a suitable read for younger people.

CONCLUSION
All in all, I really did like WHITE WIND RISING. I don't know if this is Davis's debut novel or not but it is certainly an worthy start to a series (which at the moment appears to be a duology). I think I will probably pick up the second book sometime in the near future and would definitely recommend this one to readers who enjoy a somewhat more childish brand of fantasy that retains a dark maturity. Aside from the mildly poor editing and apparent misunderstanding of who it's audience should be, this book is a solid buy and an enjoyable read.

WHITE WIND RISING can be picked up as an eBook on Amazon.