Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dead is Just a Rumor by Marlene Perez

Daisy Giordano and her family finally have their father back, after he'd been imprisoned by the Anti-Supernatural Society known as the Scourge. And she's happy to have him back. Kind of. The truth is, he's been missing for six years, and for some reason, he still thinks of Daisy as if she's still twelve years old. He watches over her, and worries about her. Daisy finds it heartwarming, but restricting, and worse, her Dad seems strange around Ryan- almost as if he disapproves.

It's been causing Daisy to pull away from her father a little, and to throw herself into her other activities at school, like when her friend Samantha ropes her into helping with the decorations for the Halloween Dance celebrating the town's 200th birthday, which is taking place at the local Rich Lady, Mrs. Wilder's, House. And she finds out that the contest she entered with the Grand Prize of a trip for two to the Bahamas, that she hoped to take with Ryan, has instead netted her second prize- Cooking Lessons from Circe Silvertongue, a famous celebrity chef, who just happens to be from Nightshade herself, and is returning to town to work on a new cookbook.

Shortly afterwards, Circe comes to town, and Daisy discovers that while Ms, Silvertongue might be beautiful and a wonderful chef, she is also extremely demanding and something of a bitch. And just before her arrival, envelopes sealed with Red Sealing Wax have been showing up in town, and no one who has received one wants to talk about them or the messages within.

Also new to school is a new guidance counselor, Mrs. Tray, who is enthusiastic about Ryan's abilities and is pushing him to attend a college far away from Nightshade. Daisy feels hurt by that, since she wants to stay with Ryan, and stay close to her family in Nightshade. Mrs. Tray's enthusiasm doesn't extend to Daisy however, and Daisy feels that the woman is as false as a three dollar bill. When she lies to Daisy's father at the Halloween Dance, however, Daisy crosses over from her uneasiness at the woman and into actual dislike.

She also has a chance to work with Circe, who has a pet pig named Balthazar she keeps with her. What Daisy finds strange is that Circe uses some kind of strange powder in her dishes, the ones the serves to Balthazar and to some others. The dance brings up another mystery- Daisy chooses a beautiful blue and cream dress from Mrs. Wilder's closets to wear to the Ball, and while it looks amazing on her, Mrs. Wilder sees her and asks where she has been, calling her "Lily". Though Daisy quickly lets Mrs. Wilder know who she is, she wonders why the old woman would say such a thing.

It turns out that Lily was Mrs. Wilder's sister, and that she disappeared at a similar ball many years ago, along with the man that she loved, her boyfriend, Bam. No one knew what happened to her, and neither of them were ever found. Daisy decides to try and find out what happened to them for Mrs. Wilder, who seems especially saddened about Lily's disappearance. Mrs. Wilder's daughter doesn't want Daisy poking her nose in, but then decides she can, just as long as she doesn't tell Mrs. Wilder. The daughter doesn't want her mother to get her hopes up, then have them dashed if Daisy can't unravel the mystery.

Back at Slim's diner, Daisy continues to work, but Circe seems to have a feud on with Slim and Flo. And Lil, the intelligent jukebox, seems to have a special dislike for Circe, playing songs like "Bad Magic Woman" whenever she comes into the diner. Daisy knows that Lil is trying to tell her something, but what? And why would Circe be so insistent on buying the jukebox from Slim's? Does she have anything to do with the money troubles the diner is having that might force him to sell Lil just to save his business?

Finally, the secret of the letters is revealed. They are blackmail letters, and someone seems to know that the people in town are supernatural creatures. Most of them, anyway. The question is, who is sending them, and what do they really want? And can Daisy and Penny become friends again when someone is making Penny think Daisy is bad-mouthing her? Can Daisy and her friends come together to save the town from a blackmailer, and find out what really happened to Lily and Bam? Can there even be a happy ending for Daisy and her Dad's overprotectiveness towards her?

I love this series, and every time I see a new book out, I just have to pick it up, to see what new problem bedevils Daisy, her family, and her friends, not to mention the citizens of the town of Nightshade. In this volume, there is the mystery of what happened to Mrs. Wilder's sister and her beau, the identity of the blackmailer, and Daisy's new relationship with Circe Silvertongue. Of course, I suspected a great deal of what happens with Circe, because I really love Greek myths and stories, and anyone who has read them can figure out a great deal of Circe's story just by being familliar with her name.

I suspected Circe of being the blackmailer, considering her last name is basically given to someone who is a liar, or just on this side of the truth. Persuasive, certainly. But "Silvertongue" seems to have more of a negative connotation than that. We also get to see and find out more about the town, meet another good witch, and find out that Penny is dabbling in magic herself with gossip written on the walls of the girl's bathroom that changes and makes nasty comments about Daisy. But are Penny and Daisy really on the outs?

Reading this book is a lot like watching a soap opera, or reading one of those gossipy novels about celebrities. But this soap opera has more in common with "Dark Shadows" than "General Hospital" or "Days of Our Lives". The supernatural is just about everywhere in Nightshade, but it's played more straight than scary. Supernatural creatures are people, too, it seems, even Mort Bone, the mayor, who just so happens to also be some sort of living skeleton guy in diguise. Every one of the supernatural townsfolk mines some sort of supernatural trope, from Slim, who really is an invisible man, to werewolves, mermaids, witches and more.

This series is fun to read. The stories are pretty straightforward, for mysteries, and there isn't any filler in sight. Daisy is a wonderful heroine, not gloomy or overly cheerful, and not perfect, either. Reading a new "Dead is" book is like reconnecting with an old friend and hearing how they have been doing since then. Excellent and fun to read. Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

World of Warcraft: Arthas- Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden

Prince Arthas Menethil is the only son of King Terenas Menethil, King of Lordaeron. His problem, from the time when he was just a boy, was being hot-headed and impatient. But as a boy he made friends with Prince Varian Wrynn, whose father had been killed by someone he trusted.

As a boy, Arthas grew quickly, and he was trained alongside his mount, Invincible. But when he had to leave Invincible unridden for the first three years of his life in order to grow into a mount capable of carrying him in full armor, he felt cheated because Varian Wrynn's people would have been training him by now, and Varian told him this.

He tries to jump onto Invincible and is soundly chastised for possibly causing damage to his horse. However, he does get the training of Muradin Bronzebeard, King of the Dwarves, as well as the friendship of Jaina Proudmoore, a mage student traveling to the Mage city of Dalaran. During the trip, they sneak off to see a prison camp full of Orcs. They discover a deep liking for each other that is more than just friendship, but Arthas must leave.

Soon, he's hard at work, training to become a paladin, which he achieves. He also spends time with Jaina at Dalaran, and their liking quickly turns to love. He is a young, handsome Prince with his life before him. He is beloved by his men, and the people of his Kingdom, and he returns their love and devotion equally.

But then, everything turns. Invincible dies on an icy day when Arthas is riding him. The Kingdom is invaded by a dark mage, Kel'Thuzad, who Arthas kills, but with him comes a plague of undeath known as the Scourge. This mage's plan was to use the grain to turn the people of Lordaeron into Undead, and only Arthas stands a chance at preventing it.

Sadly, he cannot, for the people have already consumed the grain, and they will become the undead. Arthas can see no other solution but to destroy them and the town, but the other paladins disagree with this harsh solution, and it costs him the holy light he has served and used all of his life.

The brother of the Dwarven King thinks he has a solution, a sword known as Frostmourne, said to be especially powerful against the undead. As Arthas and his loyal band take the Dwarves to search for the sword, Arthas is driven to ever-greater desperation to turn back the tide of the undead... but can he drive them back when the touch of Frostmourne rips his soul from his body- making him the first of a new kind of Death Knight?

This book covers the life of Arthas, from when he was just a boy to the point at which he merged with the Lich King. And despite knowing exactly what becomes of Arthas (it's hard not to when the two colored pictures at the front of the book are of Arthas as a human and Arthas as a Death Knight), it was hard for me not to sympathize with him when it was all going down. He loved his people so much, but when it came down to them dying, he wanted to deny their bodies to the Scourge.

So instead of just killing them, he slaughters them, because he knows they will die anyway, and at least this way, the death is over quicker. And he burns the town and the infected grain to deny their bodies to the Scourge and get rid of the grain once and for all. It's this act that loses him his paladinhood- because he does it himself. Not happily, but he does it because they are his people.

After this, you could say he goes a bit mad, and once he's battened onto his plan to use Frostmourne against the undead Scourge, he doesn't want to be dissuaded from his plan at all. And that's when he loses it all- his soul, his life, and his mind. He's twisted to the cause of evil, and he doesn't look back. The ending of the book was painful for me to read because seeing this great person turning his back on what made him such a wonderful person in the first place made me very sad. To the point that he murders his father, destroys the elven people, and even worse.

Even if you never played World of Warcraft, or don't care about it, this is an excellent fantasy story akin to the fall of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. Arthas doesn't come off as any kind of paragon, but a flawed man led by his heart into a path that led to him falling to evil. I hardly know anything about WoW. I've seen some of the teaser videos, but this story sucked me in and simply would not let me be. I enjoyed it as just a fantasy story, but some people who might pick it up as just a fantasy should know that the story ends with Arthas becoming the Lich King. Not being defeated, but just settling in to being evil. That being said, should I say that I found the picture of Death Knight Arthas more interesting than Human Arthas? Highly recommended, even if you don't play WoW.

World of Warcraft: Shadow Wing- The Dragons of Outland by Richard A. Knaak and Jae-Hwan Kim

Jorad Mace is a Paladin of the Alliance and Tyrygosa is a good-natured but harsh Blue Dragon. The two met during a mission at the Sunwell, from which Jorad was expelled from his Paladin order for his actions. How, he has been taken back after a lot of butt-kissing, but he's assigned to the worst duties as a means of redemption. But when a woman named Tiri sneaks through the lines, Jorad takes on a mission of being a messenger in order to track her down.

Tiri is actually a Blue Dragon, Tyrygosa, and she has gone through the portal to where the orcs and the demons of the Burning Crusade came from in order to track down rumors of Dragons existing in the lands the orcs once owned.

Tiri is surprised to see Jorad having such a lowly place in the expedition, since he fought valiantly in the battles they were in together. He's rather embarrassed by her praise, but now that his mount is dead, she offers to take its place.

Meanwhile the humans of the expedition meet s new race, the Draenai, and decide to work with them to wipe out the Demons left over after the Burning Crusade. But even as the humans have their encounter with the Draenai, Jorad is having one of his own. He and Yiri have run into a band of people called the Krokul, or "Broken" who help when a group of Dragon Hunters knock her down with magic. As Jorad tries to tell the tribe that Tiri is not a dragon from their lands, she encounters two strange spirit dragons that have no actual bodies.

But as they argue over whether to eat her or play with her, Tiri wonders how such dragons came to be, and learns from the Krokul that the Dragons laired far away, a dangerous journey. Jorad travels with the Chief of the Krokul to where the dragons came from, while Tiri follows on ahead with the Dragons.

But the Dragon-Hunters want Tiri, and she may learn for herself how and why the Spirit-dragons got made. But can Jorad reason with the hunters, and when the old chief dies, will his son turn on Jorad, who he doesn't like to begin with. Can Tiri find out what has happened to the Dragons of this world? Who are the Dragon Hunters, and what have they done with this world's dragons?

I found myself liking and getting interested in this story, which posed questions that aren't fully answered in this volume. What are these spirit dragons, and what do they have to do with the shattered drsgon eggs that Tiri finds in the cave lair of the spirit dragons?

Jorad is also kind of out of luck. Far away from his people, he may not have a way of getting back to them, and what's up with the Draenai? Are they being honest with the humans, or will they turn on them? Keep in mind, I don't play WoW, so I know next to nothing about the various factions. I only know the Alliance and the Horde, and one of my friends plays a High DPS tank, whatever that is.

So this was interesting to me. Even though a lot of talk about the alliance and Paladins passed right over my head, the story was still interesting, and I wanted to know what was going on. If I see the next volume in this series, I will definitely pick it up. Recommended.

Friday, August 27, 2010

World of Warcraft: Mage by Richard A Knaak and Ryo Kawakami

Aodhan is very much unlike his family, from whom many of Azeroth's finest paladins and warriors spring. But Aodhan simply isn't strong and powerful enough to stand toe to toe with foes like the rest of his family. To his father, that meant that Aodhan was useless- better to be a simple farmer than anything other than a warrior or Paladin. When he found out that Aodhan wanted to take up magic like his uncle, Crevan.

Though Crevan was something of an outcast in his own family, he saw the spark of magic in Aodhan, and when Crevan passed away, the mages who had taught Crevan had heard of Aodhan and sought him out for training. His father didn't like the idea at all, but neither could he refuse Aodhan the same chance to serve that Crevan had sought, and so sent Aodhan off, without his blessing.

Now Aodhan trains at Dalarann, the Mages' city in the sky. But during an attack on the city by Dragons, Aodhan is drawn off from the other apprentices to undertake a special mission in the Violet Hold, given to him by Archmage Rhonin, leader of the Mages of Dalarann.

Aodhan crosses the mage's city to the Violet Hold, where he finds that this is mages' prison, and imprisoned within is his uncle, Crevan! Crevan has been bereft of his magic by the mages, and needs to regain it to help them- or so he tells Aodhan. Aodhan must cross to the mages' library and retrieve a special spellbook to bring back his uncle's magic, and bypass the traps on it, then bring it back to his uncle, who he had long thought dead.

But unbeknownst to Aodhan, his uncle is in league with the Dragons attacking the city, and his job is to take out the magical crystal holding up the city and allowing it to fly. Now, with his Uncle's magic back in full, and Aodhan still a mere student, how can he overcome his uncle and prevent him from destroying Dalarann, while staying true to the lessons his teacher, Master Simeon, taught him?

I liked this book a lot, as it was a stand-alone story with characters and motivations you could understand without having to be steeped in World of Warcraft story or legends. While some may argue that makes it barely a WoW story to begin with, it's nice to see a story that might get people interested in WoW from reading these manga.

That being said, aside from the setting, there really is very little to tie this story to WoW. Not having played the games (or the MMORPG), I was unsure of how many of these characters are actually part of the WoW universe. In the end, I don't know, and I don't know if any of Aodhan's family is likewise prominent in actual WoW characters.

But there isn't much that really needs to be said. Mages use magic. and they can be heroes just as much as warriors and paladins in Azeroth. This story is limited in scope- it only takes place in Aodhan's family home and Dalarann- both above and inside it, and for Aodhan, it's all about choice. How will he use his magic? For an entertaining story that takes you into the WoW world without drowning you in details, it's a good start. Recommended.

World of Warcraft: Ashbringer by Mickey Neilson, Ludo Lullabi and Tony Washington

Long before the two sets of Alliance Knights, the Scarlet Crusade and the Argent Dawn, took up arms against each other, humanity had one legion of Knights who worked to keep humans safe. Lord Alexandros Mograine was part of a charge against the horde, and wound up with a strange black artifact- one that hurt his hand, giving him wounds that would not heal and drained his paladin powers.

This crystal was dark, the antithesis of the light that the Paladins embodied, and Mograine kept it hidden amongst his possessions until rumors of the scourge were heard in Lordaeron. Then, he revealed it and told the rest of the council that if they could find the antithesis of the crystal of darkness, it could be used as a weapon against the scourge. The others weren't happy to hear that and tried to destroy the crystal with holy spells, which transformed the dark crystal into the one of light that Alexandros had been talking of.

This crystal was forged into a sword, known as Ashbringer, that had the power to reduce Undead of the Scourge into a pile of Ash and was wielded by Alexandros himself. But the coming of this... scourge of the Scourge didn't go unnoticed by those in charge of the Scourge, and they set out to rip it from Alexandros themselves. So they planted a Scourge in one of Alexandros's knights, who worked on his son, Renault, who had always been treated as the lesser of Alexandros's two sons.

Eventually, Renault killed his father with Ashbringer, leading to the sword's corruption, and the breaking of the Paladins and Knights into two sects: The Scarlet Crusade, and The Argent Dawn. The Scarlet Crusade is fiercely human-only, where the Argent Dawn allows non-humans in their ranks.

Alexandros's other son, Darion, fought his way into the Scourge stronghold to try and rescue his father, unaware that he had already become a deathknight. But to free his father's spirit from the corrupted remains of Ashbringer will require as great a sacrifice of love. Can Darion make that sacrifice, and what will the ending of that sacrifice be?

I read this knowing nothing about the story of World of Warcraft, nor of how central the coming of Ashbringer was to the early game. But here we have it, told not as backstory, but as the main story. You can read in WoW that Renault Mograine killed his father- and here you can see why- it wasn't some dark whim, but a foul plot with a Scourge working on him, pointing out how his father didn't treat him well compared to Darion, and how unfair that was.

We also get to find out why- Renault reminded Alexandros of himself, while Darion reminded him of his dead wife. It doesn't excuse him, of course, but it does make it somewhat understandable. None of which mattered to Renault, because it left him feeling that he couldn't do anything right for his father.

The ending of the comic is even sadder- the outcome of the entire story is just very, very sad, and you get the feeling that there is little that can be done to make it better. But, given that so much of this story is already set out in the backstory and quests of World of Warcraft, there is no real reason to buy this comic unless you are a crazy-mad completist, as you probably already know what happened or will happen. And those who aren't into WoW, like me, will wonder who all these characters are. Suffice to say, save your money. It tells an interesting story, but I don't see why anyone should care.

Goddess Girls: Athena the Brain by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Athena thinks she is merely a human girl living in Greece. Smart, yes, but nothing more than an ordinary girl. Well, an ordinary girl with some extraordinary magic. Until the day she receives an invitation to the very exclusive Olympus Academy, delivered by a small dust devil directly into her bedroom.

It's from the Headmaster at Olympus Academy, Zeus, who also happens to be the King of the Gods. In the letter, he calls Athena his daughter, which is a huge surprise to her. She spends a last day with her best friend, Pallas, and heads off to Olympus Academy.

Just inside the doorway is a fountain which holds the most delicious-smelling juice she's ever smelled. She drinks some, and finds that her skin begins to sparkle like little gems are embedded in it. This is a sign that she is a goddess. The fountain holds Ambrosia, the food of the gods.

At the office, she checks in with Ms. Hydra, who has nine heads, and signs up to take 5 classes, quite a lot for a first year student. She finds the God-boy Poseidon quite attractive, but finds out that he flirts with everyone, which isn't attractive at all.

She finds herself making an enemy in Medusa and her two goddess sisters, but some of the other Goddess Girls come to her rescue- Artemis, Aphrodite and Persephone. They hang out together, along with Athena's roommate, better known as Pandora, who is endlessly curious.

Although the dislike of Medusa and her sisters is palpable, Athena struggles along in her classes of hero-ology, where she must guide a hero named Odysseus through the Trojan War, and with designing something to aid the Greek people for a school contest, but can't decide between rakes, olives or ships. However, she also causes a minor catastrophe when her literal "brainstorming" of these items rains them down over the Greek Countryside.

But when Medusa steals her "Snarkeypoo" potion, a shampoo that turns bad thoughts to stone in its user's heads, Athena realizes that she accidentally misnamed it "Snakeypoo" instead. And Medusa used it, turning her hair into snakes and giving her the power to turn non-Gods to stone. Can Athena undo the effects of her potion and rescue Pandora from being turned into a statue forever? And who will win the Invention competition? Athena or Poseidon?

In a way, I found this book very enjoyable. It's a book a lot of girls will enjoy, reading about the brainiest goddess of them all, and about how she triumphs over adversity. But at the same time, I've been reading about the Greek Gods and Goddesses since I was in the second grade, and every time the book diverged from the actual Greek myths, I cringed.

Poseidon, the older brother of Zeus as a teenager while Zeus (who is the youngest of all his brothers and sisters) is an adult? Athena, born from the head of Zeus fully grown, being a young girl? Although, to be honest, they do mention that Aphrodite was born from sea foam, and Artemis already has her hunting hounds.

In the end, for Greek Myth purists, watching your children read these books might be awfully cringe-inducing, but they are very enjoyable for young girls and give them an introduction to the Greek Myths, which might lead to them reading the *actual* Greek myths. I can only hope. Recommended slightly.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blackest Night by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reiss, Oclair Albert and Joe Prado

Seven colors, each with their own set of ring-wielders, have arisen in the galaxy. Red, the color of rage, Orange, the Color of Avarice, Yellow, the Color of Fear, Green the Color of Will, Blue, the Color of Hope, Indigo, the Color of Compassion, and Violet, the Color of Love.

But why these colors and their defenders? Because another color has also arisen- Black, the color of death. And to get its own defenders, Black rings are seeking out and finding dead heroes, like Batman, and Aquaman, and dead villains like Nekron, who becomes the voice and the face of the Black Death entity.

And it's not just the heroes and villains who are on the side of the entity, but one of the Guardians who has gone over to the black side, Scar, who kills one of the guardians and imprisons the rest, preventing them from interfering. While the Green Lanterns try to prevent the Black rings from spreading through the galaxy, the representatives of the other rings travel to earth, where the bearer of the Indigo ring tells them the only thing that can fight the black rings and Nekron is to come together and use all the rings to reconstitute the greatest light possible, the anti-black, white.

Meanwhile, Deadman discovers that the dead heroes holding the black rings are not truly those heroes, because his own body is resurrected, but his spirit is untouched. So, who exactly are these dead? And when the black rings take heroes who were once dead but revived, including Superman, Donna Troy, Mon-El and others. It is revealed that life first began on Earth, and that the Guardians concealed that to justify their importance in the universe. The White Light entity is cocooned within the Earth, and Nekron wants to kill off all life and all emotion in the universe, to wipe out the filth that is life.

But can the heroes overcome death to destroy Nekron, and what will become of him? Likewise, what will happen to all the dead heroes returned to a half-life by the Black Rings? Can death be overcome? Or is it too powerful, even for the other seven flavors of color?

I wanted desperately to like this comic. I really did. But even though certain pages evoked a response in me, I just felt the ending was "Meh" and could have been way, way better. Part of what troubles me are story things, like when the author of the story sets up religion as being the opposite of science: "When a man of science like me turns to god..." It made me scrunch up my face, because plenty of scientists are believers, and that left a bad taste in my mouth through most of the rest of the book.

This is probably the best "event" comic recently, but that's actually weaksauce, considering how lame some of those event comics have been. The biggest problem for me is that I never actually felt thrilled or excited when I was reading it. It was okay, but I could have stopped reading in the middle and not cared about finding out the ending.

And that just seems wrong to me. Geoff Johns is okay, but when it comes to stories that I actually find exciting and interesting, he just seems to miss the mark. Here, part of that was the story itself and part of it was the ending, which seemed wholly arbitrary in who it brought back and who it left dead. Why not Ralph and Sue Dibny, for heavens sake? And the story doesn't really end, it just wanders on, to be finished in "Brightest Day", or whenever that gets published.

To be frank, I was disappointed in the book, the dialogue and especially in the ending which wasn't really an ending, just a stopping point. And while vaguely epic stuff occurred, it didn't quite feel epic enough for something that was so heavily hyped. Yeah, it had its moments, but it left me feeling bored. Not recommended.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Doctor Who Classics Omnibus by Various

This book collects several Doctor Who stories that appeared in comics, mostly starring the fourth Doctor, but also with recourse to the sixth and seventh in two stories. Most of these comics were published in the 1970's, so they are pretty much unfindable now.

"The Iron Legion" takes the 4th Doctor on a trip through a futuristic empire derived from the Romans, including the dreaded robot army known as the "Iron Legion". But unbeknownst to the humans making up the empire, the woman in charge is actually a dragon-like alien, and so are the 'Gods' that they worship!

"City of the Damned" takes the Doctor through a futuristic city where emotions are outlawed by the brains that rule the city. They maintain that living without emotion is healthier for people, until a bunch of separatists who keep emotions alive, one each, unleash a plague of bloodbugs on the city. These carrion eaters can only be killed by emotion-fueled adrenaline, so can the Doctor and the other separatists save the city in time?

"Timeslip" has the Doctor running his Tardis into a beast that literally eats time. As time runs backwards and K-9 turns into its component parts and then into molten metal, and the Doctor starts running backwards through his own regenerations, can he overcome the creature and save himself?

"Doctor Who and the Star-Beast" has the Doctor landing on Earth and becoming entangled in a group of insectile aliens who are attempting to kill a cute and fluffy alien known as a Meep. The kids, Fudge and his friend Sharon, are attempting to keep the alien safe- but unknown to them, this alien may look cute and cuddly, but is the former emperor of an empire that conquered and exterminated many alien races, and he harbors murderous thoughts towards his rescuers as well. Can the Doctor unmask the tyrant and save the two children from death?

"The Dogs of Doom" takes Sharon and the Doctor to help humanity fight off a race of Werewolfized Humans and their masters, the Daleks! With only the aid of Brill, a hypnotized Dog-man, can the Doctor defeat the Daleks and take away their time machine?

In "Doctor Who and the Time Witch", the Tardis is split in half by a time chasm, and the Doctor and Sharon find themselves in a strange place, where the world itself is mutable by the power of thought and will. But when the Doctor and Sharon fall afoul of Brill, the woman in charge, can they restore her to her rightful place and break free of the Time Chasm?

"Dragon's Claw" takes the Doctor and Sharon back to 16th century China, where a group of monks at a monastery are under the rule of a very strange abbot, one who possesses a beam weapon and has it in for both the Doctor and Sharon. The monks, who are Shaolin, have no idea who their real masters are, but the Doctor soon discovers that the head abbot, Yueh Kuang, is working for aliens- the Sontarans. Can the Doctor defeat their plan to get the crystal they needs and defeat the abbot with his own army of monks?

"The Collector" takes the Doctor and Sharon to a spaceship owned by a strange alien who only wants to leave. But leaving the ship kills him and enrages the robot who runs the ship. Can the Doctor undo his mistake and rectify the problem using the Tardis?

"Dreamers of Death" takes the Doctor and Sharon to Unicepter IV, a world where he has been before. But now, creatures called Slinths, animals native to Unicepter, have been found to have telepathic powers that allow people to share fantastic waking dreams with each other. But when the Slinths go bad, can the Doctor save his friends from the Slinths? And must he say "Goodbye" to Sharon?

"Changes" involves the 6th Doctor and his companions Peri and Frobisher, a shapechanger who prefers the form of a Penguin. When a strange alien who can also shapechange invades the Tardis from the Zoo, can the Doctor and Frobisher save Peri when she falls into its clutches?

"Culture Shock" takes the seventh Doctor, who goes to an unnamed planet to think, where he finds a telepathic alien swarm in danger from a bacterial attack. Can the Doctor save the culture and bring it to the right place to allow it to breed and grow, or will an entire race of creatures go extinct?

"The World Shapers" brings back the 6th Doctor, Peri and Frobisher. They find a strange planet with a dying Time Lord who can only speak "Planet 14" before he dies. This touches a chord in the Doctor's memory, and he travels back in time to speak to Jamie MacCrimmon, one of his former companions about Planet 14. But when they travel back to the planet, it is completely changed, and time is running forward very quickly. Can they pierce the heart of the mystery, or will Jamie lose his life for nothing?

"The Life Bringer" returns us to the Fourth Doctor, traveling with K-9. When he comes across a man chained to a rocky outcropping by a beach, he discovers that the man is Prometheus, and he wanted to release life into the Universe, which is still being formed by Zeus. But when he goes back to Olympus, he is imprisoned, and the Doctor is sentenced to be "examined" by Asclepius. Can the Doctor escape and free Prometheus to do the job he was meant to do?

"war of the Worlds" takes the Doctor to Biblios, the Library Planet, run by machines who constantly catalogue information. Unfortunately, no one has been able to land on Biblios because two races are fighting over it, and over the information on super-weapons they think are held there. Each race is fighting to prevent the other race from obtaining the information. But the library doesn't hold that information and never did. Unfortunately, the races don't believe the librarian robots. Can the Doctor convince them?

"Spider God" has the Doctor land on a strange planet where a race of humanoids seem to worship a race of giant spiders. The Doctor comes into conflict with members of a human survey ship who decide to destroy the Spiders to free the humans. But is this the right thing to do?

"The Deal" has the Doctor making a deal with an alien to get him off a planet. But unbeknownst to the Doctor, the alien is a megalomaniacal killer. Can the Doctor do as he promised without leaving the killer free to kill the rest of the galaxy?

"End of the Line" takes the Doctor into the future, where the world has run out of food and most people have become cannibals. But a few vegetarians exist. They want to escape the city to the countryside, but need to use a long unknown-of subway line to get to freedom. Unfortunately, the engineer who is helping them is dying, and without him or someone to save him, they have no hope. The Doctor isn't a medical Doctor, but can he get them free of the city? And is there really any hope in the countryside for them?

"Freefall Warriors" takes the Doctor into the seat of a Blue-Angels like fighting Jet of the Future for some acrobatics, but when the pilot gets caught up in a real fire fight, it will be up to the Doctor to save the day!

As I said at the beginning, most of these stories appeared in the late 70's and early 80's in comics, so I'd seen many of them before ("The Iron Legion" and "City of the Damned" are the ones I remembered best.) But even so, it was nice to see them here again, and to read the new stories (okay, new to me) that I had never seen before.

This book best shows off the real zaniness of the 4th Doctor- and the ending of the "City of the Damned", where you see an entire city of people who are now "just like the Doctor", it inspired chortles of mirth that brought me right back to being a kid again. Not all the stories are that light-hearted, or have light-hearted moments like that, but it was still fun to read.

I loved reading these stories, and they run the gamut. I think they best show off the character of the 4th Doctor, and less so the 6th, as the story with the 7th is too short to really show people what he is like. But the stories are always interesting and entertaining, and you'll smile, if not laugh. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by Dr. David Dosa, M.D.

David Dosa works in a hospice in Rhode Island named Steere House. Steere House tends to those who are dying, not just from cancer, but any progressive disease. What sets apart Steere House are some rather unusual staff members- the animals. Unlike other hospices, Steere has a "staff" of six cats, two rabbits, and other assorted animals.

It was once thought that bringing dirty, unsanitary animals into a hospital-like building was ridiculous. The dirt and the animals would bring disease and make things worse for the staff that had to keep everyone clean. But one day, a cat appeared at the door of Steere House, a very special cat who eventually acquired the name of Henry. Henry came in through the sliding doors one day and sat in the lounge area, bold as brass. Thinking that "Henry" was unclean, the staff attempted to chase him off, but "Henry" wouldn't be moved- until he went off on his own later that day. The next day, however, he was back.

After a long period of trying to prevent "Henry" from coming back, the staff eventually found it too wearying trying to chase him off every day, and "Henry", named after the Founder of Steere House, Henry Steere, whose portrait the cat liked to sit under, became a member of the staff himself. As he grew older, the staff tried to protect him, for after a fairly long life, "Henry" himself suffered end-of-life issues. Balance problems, vision problems, inability to control his bladder. As the staff realized that Henry was dying, they put off that last vet visit, not wanting to have to put him down. But they didn't have to. One day, Henry went to sleep and just never woke up.

But by that time, the staff realized that Henry had been therapeutic for staff and patients alike, and the idea was floated to adopt a cat as a replacement for Henry. Instead of just one, they got six, two for each floor of the house. One of those cats was Oscar. Oscar appeared normal for a time, until one of the nurses noticed that every time a patient passed away, Oscar was lying on the bed next to them, watching them like a sentry and purring. And as this happened to more and more people, the tale of a cat who could tell when a patient was to die spread through the nursing staff like wildfire.

Doctor Dosa heard the story from the third-floor nurse, Mary, and at first he pooh-poohed the story. But investigation showed that she was right, and that Oscar would indeed lie by the bodies of patients who were about to die. It got to the point where the staff used Oscar as a "tester". If he refused to lie down by a patient, no matter how poorly they looked or were doing, the staff knew they would survive- for now, at least. But the converse was also true.

As Dr. Dosa investigated the stories about Oscar, he came to conclude that it was true. Oscar seems to sense when a patient at the hospice is about to die. And that his "sense" seems to involve smell, as Oscar would sniff at the people, especially their feet, before making his "diagnosis". In the course of writing this book, Doctor Dosa interviewed not only hospital staff, but the families of former patients about Oscar, how they felt towards the cat, and how Oscar helped them come to terms with the death of their family members.

This book is very heartwarming to read, but also difficult at times, as it shows people falling into Alzheimers, Senile Dementia, and other diseases where they are no longer the people their families once knew. This takes a toll on the people that care for them- often sons and daughters, and it's a thankless task that you can't take a break or a vacation from, no matter how much you want one or need one. The pain of husbands and wives, sons and daughters when a parent or parents no longer know who they are or believe them to be scary strangers was heartbreaking to read.

More than a few times, it moved me to tears, because it reminded me of my own mother's death from a Parkinson's-like disease. She was once a funny, literate, articulate woman, and by the end, she could barely speak, and her words were muffled and slurred- added to the fact that she'd decided to have all her teeth pulled, which made her voice bad to begin with. And the regret that comes with not having gone to see her in the nursing home the night before she died- because it was late, and I didn't want to disturb her. So reading this book was very emotional for me, but in a way, I was glad that these people had something to comfort them before they died, even if it was Oscar.

Sad and yet happy, this book shows the connection between people and animals even in places that can be the saddest of places. If you've lost a parent or a partner to disease, this book can make you cry, and the stories of the people who die will make you want to cry anyway, from the man whose beloved wife didn't know him anymore and screamed, cried and ran away from him, to the man who would call his daughter asking to be rescued from the strange woman in his bed and asking to be taken home. But the "strange woman" was his wife, and he already was home. Stories like these and more fill the book, turning reading it into a three-hanky cry, especially towards the end, when several of the people we are introduced to in the book finally pass on.

This book was a difficult read for emotional reasons, and yet, I am very glad I read it. As Doctor Dosa did, I found that losing someone you love, or the threat of losing them makes you re-evaluate your life, and decide what you want to live for. The book points out that now is the time for living and making memories with those you love, as tomorrow might just be too late. An excellent book and highly recommended.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Unwritten, Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Tom Taylor is a man who is famous, because as a boy, his father, Wilson Taylor, wrote a set of stories about a young boy named Tommy Taylor, who had magical powers and a destiny to save the world. But when he was a teenager, his father disappeared, and he was left alone behind. His father's vast estate was tied up in lawsuits, so he never got any money, and had to support himself. Which he did, at a variety of professions, but not very well. Now, he's reduced to appearing at conventions for his father's books, signing them as the supposed real Tommy Taylor.

But he's tired of appearing as something he isn't, and he begs his agent to get him something else to do. Only nothing else he's done has paid as well. And while signing books for awestruck kids is all well and good, he's also being followed by a man who thinks he is Count Ambrosio, Tommy's greatest foe. Until the day when a woman from the audience asks who he really is, and tells him that his father never had a son, but hired a boy from a Serbian family to pose as one for the publicity. Tom has never heard this before, and to be honest, he doesn't really remember that much about his childhood. His mother died when he was just four, and his memories of his early life are very spotty.

But her questions are soon picked up by fans and the media, and the backlash falls on Tom. Fans feel that he is a fraud, and rise up in rage against him, trying to kill him where they once lionized him. Worst comes to worst when "Count Ambrosio" knocks him out and kidnaps him, deciding to blow him apart with a bomb full of nails on a live video feed to show everyone around the world just what a fraud he actually is. But the same girl who asked him the question at the convention shows up and helps him get free. The bomb goes up and kills "Ambrosio", and the girl knocks out Tom and rips up his clothes, so that when the Police come in, they find him completely unharmed, aside from his destroyed clothing and a head wound from "Ambrosio" knocking him out. Since the Camera "Ambrosio" used was destroyed in the fight, and the girl, who calls herself "Lizzie Hexham" took care never to appear in front of the Camera before it was destroyed, everyone now believes that Tom really is "Tommy Taylor", the magical kid, and they won't accept Tommy telling them he isn't.

So, leaving behind his legions of loyal fans, Tom decides to go in search of the truth about himself. Who is he really? Is he really "Tommy Taylor" or just some kid from Serbia? Even if it turns out to be the second one, he can live with that. He just wants to know the truth. But what is the truth? And what does it have to do with the chalet in Austria where Tom mostly grew up with his father?

Tom tracks down the woman who was his father's mistress and asks her about his father and mother. She tells him she knew his mother, and that they had been friends. But she also shows him that the world is much stranger than he can imagine. She tells him to count the stairs down in her basement, which is dark and black, and he counts over 1000 before stopping, not having reached the bottom, but to where there was light. The way back up, there were only twelve. Having completely shaken his sense of what the world is, she tells him that the housekeeper in the Chalet could tell him more about his life there. After Tommy leaves, she is visited by a man who apparently wants him dead, and she works for the same people. And this man can dissolve anything to water/gel.

At the Chalet, Tom finds that it is not abandoned, that it is home to a horror writers group having some sort of writing meeting. The woman in charge says that the housekeeper isn't here, but she will be back when the meeting is done after the end of the week. However, as the owner of the property, Tommy can walk in and not be thrown out. Once again, he meets "Lizzie", which he knows isn't her real name because "Lizzie Hexham" is a character from a work by Dickens. But in her company, he remembers things about his father, and disturbing ones- his father beating a man so savagely that blood splattered everywhere, and how his father was so angry so much of the time. But thanks to his memories, he discovers a hidden safe behind a painting, containing a note, and a doorknob, much like one described in a Tommy Taylor book.

Meanwhile, at his father's old publisher, the man who edited the books receives a new manuscript supposedly written by Tom's father, the supposed 14th book in the series that all the fans have been waiting for. But as Tom and "Lizzie" examine his father's office, the man with the melting touch has arrived, intending to kill everyone there and blame the murders on Tom. the question is, who is he, who does he work for, and what is his real intention for Tom? Is he seeking to blight the "memory" of Tommy Taylor, or does he have something else in mind? And what is really happening here?

The graphic novel closes out with a story showing the lives of Samuel Clemens, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde and other authors, and the people, or perhaps the force they worked for. The same man who is trying to kill the other writers in the comic makes an appearance, completely unchanged between then and now, and we get hints of a force using stories and words to steer human thinking. A force that steered the Tommy Taylor stories- but to what end? We see how ruthless and cold they can be, and how writers transgress against them at their cost.

This was an incredibly spooky story. Obviously, the tale of Tommy Taylor resonates very well with Harry Potter, even to the point that Tommy is accompanied by two friends, one male, one female, and all three are wizards who can use magic, with wands. There are definitely points of departure- Tommy's got a winged cat as a companion, not an owl, and he's also much younger than Harry Potter was at the end of his run of the books. But like Harry, Tommy apparently crosses over the veil of death and comes back again- or at least, Tommy is fated to, anyway.

But brief glimpses of the "Tommy Taylor" stories aside, the real story is about adult Tom, and what is happening to him now. During the course of the story, he goes from fĂȘted, to despised, to considered to be something akin to a god. Even God himself (since in the story once Tommy is recovered from his attempted bombing death, people stop going to Catholic Church to worship Tommy Taylor). I honestly doubt that fans of the series would be so quick to proclaim someone a real magical kid (or adult), that part of the story quickly became ridiculous for me. But definitely, there were some real crackpots there in the crowd, so in some ways I do think maybe some people would, but not the huge crowds depicted in the graphic novel.

This part of the story, well, I may be over-thinking it, but, it seemed to poke fun at the people who were part of the Harry Potter phenomenon. As if to say that the adults who were part of it weren't quite all there, and were perhaps borderline insane, which wasn't very flattering. It would be like saying that anyone who is a strong fan of anything is borderline insane, like the people who paint themselves in the team colors to go to sports matches, or people who strongly identify with characters from videogames. On the other hand, fan is a shortening of "Fanatic", after all, and the word "fanatic" does have that connotation. I just didn't know if the authors were poking gentle fun, or just taking a poke at those who loved Harry Potter.

In any case, this graphic novel intrigued me. The hinting of an organization that uses works of fiction to shape the world was unexpected. Apparently, although the theme of the books really ties into Harry Potter, it's actually based around the life of Christopher Milne, whose father used him as the basis for Christopher Robin in the Winnie the Pooh books. Milne felt his father took away his childhood, made a profit from it, and then gave it back to him as books he couldn't use. As for me, I'd like to see more about this shadowy conspiracy and more of the story, which ends rather abruptly. Thankfully, there are three volumes available- i just have to find them! Highly recommended.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Kitty Goes to War by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a werewolf. Thanks to a disastrously bad date in college, she wound up fluffy and lupine every month. Worse for her was the fact that the Alpha of Denver, and his mate were really bad people that kept the wolves under them scared and submissive by torturing them mentally and putting the beatdown on them physically if they stepped out of line.

It got so bad that Kitty left, and her job, as the moderator of a late-night radio talk show called "The Midnight Hour" gave her an out. Once she started taking calls from other supernaturals, it became so popular that she was able to take it on the road. But it wasn't all good. Kitty was outed as a werewolf to the nation by a scientist with some serious hardons against Weres, and actually showed people that werewolves weren't savage, bloodthirsty beasts, but normal humans with a virulently contagious disease.

Since then, she got married, returned to Denver, defeated her old Alpha and his wife, and took over the pack, running it in a saner and more humane way. Her mate, Ben, is a contract lawyer who supports her completely, and is brother to Cormac, a former hunter who used to hunt Supernatural creatures. He once tried to kill Kitty, but she ended up befriending him. That, in fact, was how she met Ben. After Ben was bitten, Kitty helped him through the change, and fell in love with him.

However, on her latest show, Kitty spoke of the convenience store chain known as Speedy Mart. Strange things have been happening at or very near their locations. Kitty opens up her lines to callers and hears plenty about strange things that happened at or near Speedy-Mart stores. One caller in particular accuses the CEO of Speedy Mart, Harold Franklin of... causing storms? He's been tracking Franklin's visits to particular Speedy Marts and realizes that every time there has been some major weather event in a city- a hurricane, blizzard or whatnot, Franklin has made a recent visit to every Speedy Mart in that city.

Kitty is intrigued by the story, and wants more information, but the man cuts off and leaves at the end of the show. When Kitty tries to contact him afterwards, she discovers that he is dead. Killed by... lightning? A very strange death. But Kitty doesn't have time to ponder this for long, because she is contacted by a scientist who works with the military, Dr. Schumacher. She asks Kitty to meet with her at the local military base, because the army has a problem and needs Kitty's advice. Kitty agrees. But soon after her show on Speedy Mart, she is served. Speedy Mart is suing her for libel because of her show on them.

Kitty barely has time to wonder about that when its time to go meet with Dr. Schumacher. Schumacher introduces her to the local commander, Colonel Stafford. There, he tells her about an officer in the Iraq war who was special. He was a werewolf. And he'd been introduced to the man who once held Schumacher's position, Dr. Flemming, who had been obsessed with creating special "werewolf commando units" to fight in war for the US. This soldier was going to be recruited by Dr. Flemming, but Flemming died before they could do anything more than meet a few times. However, Captain Cameron Gordon was already a werewolf, and he apparently liked the idea of America having its own supernatural commando force, and decided to go ahead and create one on his own.

He gathered together men who were orphans or had no close family and infected them, then inducted them into his pack. None of them had close family ties, so the unit became their family as well as their pack. And it worked. They became the army's most effective unit in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing jobs others had failed at. The men worked together and fought together... until Gordon was killed by a bomb, beheaded by shrapnel- one of the few ways to kill a werewolf. With the death of Gordon, who had been the unit's sole Alpha, the unit went to pieces, almost literally. The men within started killing each other, until a new leader emerged, a man by the name of Vanderman. Now, out of the eight men of the unit, only three are left, and Vanderman is not being a good Alpha for them- he's leading by fear and intimidation.

The army, and Kitty herself, hope that she can reach out to these men and bring them back into normal society- human and werewolf. And it has just become more important than ever- because Vanderman and his two other weres have escaped from the compound, and the military needs the help of Kitty and her pack to track them down and bring them back in. Kitty wants to help the men, so she agrees and calls her pack, including her husband, Ben. She decides to lure the men herself, thinking that they will never have seen or smelled another female werewolf before and be intrigued. In addition to herself, she takes Becky, another female member of her pack and one of the strongest werewolves.

But the team Vanderman still leads are battle-hardened soldiers, while Kitty, even though she's the Alpha of her own pack, is not a soldier, nor someone used to a lot of combat. Being an Alpha, however, Kitty knows how to speak to the wolf inside Vanderman and his men. It's too bad that Vanderman isn't buying any of it. Even though Kitty and her pack capture Vanderman and his fellow soldiers, Vanderman is too busy trying to be and stay leader to really help them to adjust to life outside the army and outside Gordon's command. Having met him, Kitty knows that Vanderman is a lost cause. She might, though, be able to help the other soldiers, Sergeants Joseph Tyler and Ethan Walters.

Colonel Stafford is happy about that, but Dr. Schumacher isn't so sure. Kitty wonders why Schumacher is so negative when it comes to the chance of rehabilitation for the two soldiers, and slowly comes to realize that Schumacher doesn't believe it is possible for the men. But Kitty is determined to try. And she's nothing else if not optimistic when it comes to her ability to solve the problems of these men. But first, they must be separated from Vanderman. He's the man they look to as an Alpha, and he can drag them all down.

So as Kitty tries to draw them out, bringing real food (mostly meat) to the two men, she also has to deal with Harold Franklin, who shows up at her office to try and get her to apologize for what she said about his stores. But Kitty doesn't think she has anything to apologize for. It isn't like she directly accused him or Speedy Marts of anything- most of it was speculation from others. So she declines to apologize, and he basically tells her she'll see him in court. Or rather, his lawyers.

But Kitty has detected a strange smell about him, one she can't quite put her finger on. She sets Ben's brother Cormac, the former Supernatural hunter, to follow Franklin and discover exactly what he is doing in Denver. And Cormac discovers that Franklin is visiting each Speedy Mart in Denver, supposedly as he does in every city. But he doesn't go inside or check the books or anything- he just opens a small box located on the side or back of the store and leaves something inside. Something that looks very much like a charm. A charm to control the weather, maybe?

Kitty has time to be concerned about Cormac as well. He doesn't seem quite like himself since he got out of jail. He's been morose and preoccupied, and often seems to drift off into la-la land. And his apartment is littered with books on magic and arcane traditions, that when he is asked about, he says he is researching. But what gives with that? That isn't exactly what Cormac has ever been interested in before. And he's been burning herbs like sage. What exactly is going on with Cormac, and why does he suddenly know so much about magic?

Meanwhile, one of the Werewolves Kitty is rehabilitating, Ethan Walters, escapes after a full moon night of shifting with Kitty and her pack, and decides to go back and try to free Vanderman, equating it to leaving no buddy behind. But as a massive winter snowstorm rolls into Denver, Kitty, Ben, Tyler and her pack must recapture Walters before he can find and free Vanderman, and deal with the massive storm that seems to have been brought in by the actions of Speedy Mart CEO Harold Franklin. But can Kitty and her pack do all that and save Joseph Tyler from the resulting fallout, and let him return home to Seattle, where his mother still lives? Or will they all fall to the cold weather and massive snow blanketing the area? How can you fight a snowstorm, anyway?

I love the Kitty Norville books, and this one was no exception. Kitty has come through a lot since her early days as a frightened and cowed female werewolf whose only escape was her job in radio. Now, she still works in radio, but it's no longer really an escape for her. Not only is she married to a man she loves, who is also a werewolf, but she's the Alpha of her pack, and she tries to lead in a more cooperative fashion than her old Alpha.

Not that this has ended her problems. Even though she's defeated a demon, made friends with mages and other werewolves, and even vampires and other supernatural creatures, Kitty, because of her position as head of her pack, must deal with the stuff that threatens her home city of Denver. Because of her job and her proactive disposition in dealing with other people, Kitty is often one of the first lines of defense for supernatural threats to her city. And here, we see her step up and deal with one that she may not understand, but which she must deal with nonetheless.

I liked this book. I really liked it a lot. The narrative skillfully interwove the three threads of the threat to the city from Franklin, the threat to the city and her pack imposed by the three army werewolves, and the mystery of what is happening with Cormac that made it one hugely enjoyable story that wove out of those three major, and some minor threads. What's best about it are that all three are handled in a way in which they dovetail beautifully by the end of the story- Denver is saved, we find out what happened to Cormac- and he was instrumental in saving the city, and the single Werewolf that Kitty manages to rehabilitate helps save the city and ends up being able to find a happy ending- and all because of Kitty.

It's not as obvious if Franklin came to Denver to set the storm because of Kitty, or if he was setting out to do something bad to Denver and Kitty's profiling of his business was simply icing on the cake, providing him with an extra reason to be there. But in the end, it didn't really matter. This was a kick-ass story, and another perfect book in a kick-ass series. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder by Jodi Picoult. Terry Dodson, Drew Johnson and Paco Diaz

Princess Diana, better known to the World as Wonder Woman, is a testament to being raised by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, the virtuous and gracious leader of the Amazons. While her mother long fought for justice, and ruled the woman-only island of Themiscyra, she realized that the world needed a champion, and when Diana turned out to be that champion, Hippolyta tearfully let her daughter go out into the world of men.

But even legends can die, and so it is with Hippolyta. After taking her daughter's place when Diana became the Greek Goddess of Truth, Hippolyta took on the mantle of Wonder Woman, but instead of fighting with the Golden Lasso of Truth, as her daughter did, Hippolyta used a broadsword. And during the war against Imperiex, fighting as part of the JLA, Hippolyta laid down her life to defeat Imperiex. Diana, who had already returned from Godhood a year earlier, wept over her mother's body, and laid her to rest on Paradise Island, in a hero's grave.

Diana, meanwhile, returned to her life, fighting crime under her assumed name as Diana Prince. But now the American government wants to find Wonder Woman, to get the secret of the Amazon's Purple Ray out of her for their own use on their enemies. And when a woman looking just like Wonder Woman kills American soldiers, they have a pretext on which to do so. Diana and her partner, Thomas Tresser, go out to look for Wonder Woman, while Diana tracks down the "Wonder Woman" who attacked the men at night on her own after she and Tom part.

She discovers that the bracelets that "Wonder Woman" wore were indeed authentic, as she donated one of her past costumes to the Wonder Woman Museum for their display. But the museum has closed permanently, even though all its artifacts remain. Someone stole the bracelets from the costume and used them to impersonate Diana. But for what reason? Discovered, Diana is taken captive by U.S. Soldiers, and Diana refuses to kill anyone to get free. She is taken to a high security prison, where her captors tell her what they want. She will not tell them, so they begin to torture her.

Back on Paradise Island, a woman approaches Queen Hippolyta's Tomb and brings her back to life. She regales Hippolyta with news of her daughter. Hippolyta knows the woman for who she is: Circe, the sorceress, who hates all the Amazons and wants revenge on them for past defeats. Nevertheless, Circe tells Hippolyta that she is telling the truth; her daughter is imprisoned by the Americans and being tortured to reveal the secrets of the Amazon Purple Ray. Hippolyta looks for herself, sees the truth, and is enraged. Before long, she declares war and she and her Amazons attack Washington D.C. to try and get her daughter back.

Meanwhile, Tom Tresser is trying to find Diana and free Wonder Woman. He manages the latter, and when Diana sees that the city is under attack by Amazons, she goes to her mother to try and get her to stop the attack, but Hippolyta will not, going so far as to declare war on the entire United States. But Hippolyta's fury astounds even her Amazon generals, who feel that she is not the woman she once was. Diana tells her mother to kill her rather than continue the Amazons attacks, but Hippolyta cannot kill her own daughter. Neither will she stop, however.

Diana learns from Circe that Circe added a bit of her own soul to Hippolyta's in reviving her, tainting the Amazon Queen with Circe's evil and vengeful qualities. But as Hippolyta continues to attack the United States, can Diana break through the Queen's obsession with vengeance and persuade her to see reason? Or will Diana be forced to kill her own mother to end the attack?

It's amazing that in all this time that the Wonder Woman comic has been around, there hasn't been a single female writer assigned to a run of the comic. Everyone who has been writing her has been male- even the writer who created her was male. And now, Jodi Picoult, the writer, took over as writer of Wonder Woman.

And the story is good. This pulls at the very heart of who Wonder Woman is- tearing at her self image, and also at her mother. Hippolyta was everything for Wonder Woman when she was growing up, and she raised her daughter right. Essentially, she was the perfect mother. And now, the dark side of Motherhood has come out- Mother as defender, to the point where she loses all reason.

The sight of Wonder Woman on her knees before her mother, offering to let her mother kill her rather than stop defending the country and the men who threatened her and tortured her- it's a very powerful image, and it's ironic that Hippolyta, who fell in love with a fellow JLA'er, Ted Kord aka Wildcat, passes on that torch to her daughter, who ends up making a connection with Diana Prince's co-worker Thomas Tresser.

Of course, their romance ended up being kiboshed by yet another reboot of the DC Universe, and it's gotten to the point where all these reboots get ridiculous, because everytime someone new takes over, they reboot, and all the interesting storylines get blown out of existence. I still remember with fondness when Diana was interested in Steve Trevor... and that was AGES ago.

But this is a really good graphic novel with a compelling storyline and good, but not amazing, graphics. seeing the JLA trying to hold off the Amazons was very interesting, and rather made me smile. Recommended.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Moneylender of Toulouse by Alan Gordon

Theophilus and his wife Gile, formerly known as Claudia, have settled in Tolouse. Theophilus was set on a task by Father Gerald, the leader of the Fool's Guild, to help better the position of the fools in the church. To that end, Theo helped solve a murder and discovered who was behind the threat against the life of Abbot Folc, formerly Folquet of the Fool's Guild. In the process, Theo made an interesting discovery about the life of Folquet and why he left the life of a fool behind and joined the church.

But now that he has Folc's agreement to come to the town of Tolouse and become Bishop, he must move on to the next part of Father Gerald's plan- removing the current Bishop of Tolouse, who happens to be very ineffective as a churchman. Tolouse is a fairly large town, and is ruled by a count, but most of the time he is absent. Theo won't just be assigned to Tolouse, he'll be the Chief Fool there, and he goes to meet the men he'll be in charge of.

Chief among them are Pelardit, a jester who is very good at broad physical comedy but does not speak, and Jordan the Jester, a man married with two sons. When Theo first arrives, Jordan thinks that he will be made Chief Fool thanks to his long living in the area. But in truth, Jordan doesn't change his routine much, and it takes the arrival of Theo for him to realize that he might not have been the best man for the job.

Meanwhile, Theo has done some digging into the background of Rasembert, the current Bishop of Tolouse, and it seems that he and a local moneylender, Milon Borsella, have had some dealings before. And when Milon presses the Bishop hard for repayment, the next day, Milon Borsella is found dead. Was the Bishop behind the murder? What reason could he have for killing the man who lent him money?

When the Bishop shows up at the wake for Borsella, he distracts the widow while his man searches Borsella's office. Only the arrival of the dead man's two brothers, both holy monks at various churches in town, prevent the churchman from looking further for... whatever it is he was trying to find. Helga, the apprentice fool, overhears enough to know that what the man was looking for was a small notebook that was usually kept in the top drawer of his desk. But whatever the churchman was looking for, he didn't find it- but the dead man's brothers insist it was stolen anyway.

Theo, who has been asking questions about the Bishop, is taken to the church, where the man who was searching interrogates him about his intentions, and hires him to find the notebook. Given the state of the church and how it is crumbling, Theo assumes that the notebook contains Borsella's notes on money transactions. But he isn't the only one looking for it, and when the Count of Tolouse, Raimon, returns and takes an interest in the case, can Theophilus find the notebook, decipher what is in it, and use it to bring down the Bishop, or will he taste failure for the first time in his life? And even if he manages to succeed, is Folc the right man to take on the job as Bishop, and will he help the Fool's Guild regain its stature with the church as he promised?

This was a quick romp through Marseilles, showing how the Fools use their unprecedented access and ability to spy to go everywhere and learn everything they need to know. In this case, Helga, their apprentice, does the most of the spying by taking on the role of an unpaid servant in the Borsella house.

I found this book to be very atmospheric, especially at the end, when we see the fruit of Theo's frantic spying and intriguing finally bear fruit. In fact, the ending is rather disquieting after all that has gone on. Have Father Gerald's plans borne fruit that will help the guild? Or have his schemes gone hideously awry?

I suppose we'll have to wait and see, but I can tell you that I am interested in reading what happens, with Theophilus, Gile/Claudia, Helga and the rest of the fools. It will also be interesting to see who is proclaimed as the new head of the Fool's Guild. Father Gerald has made it clear he won't be seeing Theophilus again, and no clear front runners exist to take over his position. (They might offer it to Theo, but I doubt he'd take it.) In any case, highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Megatokyo, Volume 6 by Fred Gallagher

American Otaku Piro and his computer genius friend Largo originally arrived in Tokyo wanting to attend a convention, but their lack of money to leave has left them stranded in Tokyo. Largo got a job at a school, supposedly teaching English, but really in schooling the kids on how to build "uber-l33t" computer systems.

Piro, meanwhile, has a job in a store catering to Otaku, Megagamers. Along the way, he's befriended quite a few people, including a girl with magical girl powers, another girl who is now on her way to becoming a voice actress, and his co-worker, a former voice actress who disappeared from public life when the stress and the attentions of her fans became too much for her.

Now, Kimiko, the girl who has chosen to become a voice actress for a new production, has incited a wave of fan-love that has led to her "outing" as the voice of the fan-favorite damaged girl character and made her be stalked by hordes of clueless male Otaku through the streets of Tokyo. Rumors that the game is to be cancelled has led to a massive outpouring of fan rage, and even more obsessive stalking of Kimiko.

Add to that a Zombie invasion of Tokyo which Largo is throwing himself into fighting against with the aid of Erika, and with Magical girl Yuki, whose only power seems to be stealing stuff really quickly. Of course, her mother, Meimi, is also a magical girl, so it appears to run in the family. Yuki helps Largo steal a Rent-a-Zilla, which is bitten by Zombies and turns into a Zombie itself. Yuki protects it from the soldiers and teleports it to her home, where it is shrunk into a smaller version of itself and becomes her pet.

Meanwhile, back at the Harajuku, Kimiko finds out that the company wants her back to finish the voice acting job, which she quit after she was yelled at for keeping her waitressing job while in the midst of doing the voice-acting work. Her fans, who love her for defending fanboys from the scorn of a radio-show host, all want to see her. But some of them finally seem to be realizing that life is not like the games they so enjoy and want to defend her from the other fanboys who are making her life miserable.

She gets to the event that her bosses wanted her to attend with the aid of Miho, a dark girl Goth whom Largo believes to be the Queen of the Undead. She and Piro have a long history together, and she manipulated most of the characters in an online MMORPG they were in together to get control of their characters. But Largo and Piro found out and turned her in, then killed her character. Piro, who had felt a real connection to Miho through the game, was deeply hurt by what he saw as her betrayal, and it stays with him, even now, years later.

But while Piro and Kimiko reconnect at the event, Yuki, who was a drawing Student of Piro's, wants to track Miho down. Miho was attending Yuki's school, and Yuki thought they were friends. She wants to find Miho, and she wants to affect a reconciliation between Piro and Miho, so she steals his old laptop to help track Miho down, and finds her at a hospital. But why is she there, and what is wrong with her? And can anyone, even a magical girl, bring a reconciliation between two people who hurt each other so deeply? And what about Largo and Erika? Will his continual dashing off to try and end the zombie invasion, not to mention his inability to deal with his own emotions, lead to the end of their relationship?

I've been reading Megatokyo for a while now, but this story seemed strangely out of place. For example, in the events of this story, Yuki gets a pet zombie zilla, yet I have seen that same "pet" in books past taking up space in her room. So parts of the story seem to happen in the past, and part in the future, and I just found some of that confusing. What is really going on? Honestly, I can't say.

On the other hand, it's not necessarily the confused and confusing storyline that I read the books for, but for the characters, which keep me reading. Piro and Largo, their friends, Romantic interests and foes, are what really move the story and keep me interested. Especially Kimiko, who ran all unknowing into the face of fanboy worship and is now dealing with the fallout. But can she move her fans into an understanding that she is *not* the character they are so attracted to, and that life is not like the visual novels and games that they are so addicted to?

That remains to be seen. I also want to find out what really went on with Piro (in his character Pirogeth) and Miho's characters in the MMORPG and what happened afterwards. We've heard Piro's side, but not Miho's, and not Largo's really, either. The ongoing storylines and characters keep me coming back to the stories, and I find myself really loving this series. Highly recommended.

Prelude to Deadpool Corps by Victor Gischler, Rob Liefield, Whilce Portacio, Jamie Mendoza and others

Deadpool is on a mission from the Elders of the galaxy, but this is one he can't make alone, so he decides to recruit a group uniquely suited to the mission- himselves.

Deadpool travels to four alternate universes to recruit different versions of himself, as watched over by Uatu, the watcher, who also narrates some of the stories. His first recruit is a female version of himself with long blonde hair, who is in the middle of a fight with their Version of Captain America, Major America. After a fight, the two subdue Major America, and Wanda Wilson signs on to the mission.

A few Universes over is Kid Wade Wilson, who is stuck in Professor Xavier's Orphanage. Xavier is more interested in trying to bed Emma Frost than in taking care of his kids, but Kid Wade is proving to be a thorn in his side. Not that things are looking so great from Kid Wade's perspective, either. He's stuck with Kid Cyclops, who wants to meet Kid Marvel Girl at the big Dance between the two orphanages of Professor X and Emma Frost. Just when it looks as if things might get a little heated, Adult Deadpool shows up to whisk his kid number off to the mission. Kid Wade, who has clearly worn out his welcome, is eager to go.

Next comes the tale of Dog Wade, the Merc with a Bark. After the sinister scientists do their experiment on him, he appears dead, so his body is thrown into the dumpster out back. When he comes back to life, he crawls from the dumpster, and through a series of coincidences, ends up working in a circus as a death-defying dog. But when the scientists discover what became of their experimental pooch,they become determined to get him back with the aid of their success, Wolverine, an even larger, scarier dog. But when Wade shows up, he helps Pooch Deadpool against "Wolverine", and takes him back to his own dimension.

Lastly, Deadpool goes after the zombie version of himself, reduced to just a head, and therefore known as "Headpool". Headpool had been thrown into the ocean, put his head is fished up from the sea by a band of pirates, and he is with them when they enter the island of Dr. Killcraven, whom they work for. But when Deadpool shows up, Killcraven thinks that Headpool is a ploy by his enemies to steal his inventions. Can Deadpool save Headpool from Killcraven, or has he met his match in the Doctor's Daughter, who thinks Deadpool is her husband returned from the Jungle?

Finally, the team is assembled, but to prove their worth to the Elders, they must take on one final mission, to prove that they can do the job. But will their collective madness help them win the day, or will it hinder more than help them?

Well, this was an... interesting book. I'm not a massive fan of Deadpool as a character, so having five of them only promised more madness than anything else in the story. And there was plenty of madness. As if to signal this, each section of the story, and each Deadpool had their own penciller and inker, and the last section, where the multiple Wilsons get together, is done in something like futuristic 3-D computer graphics and features cute furry animal aliens who are bent on murder and destruction.

It's not often that I am truly weirded out by a comic, but this one was so out there that I felt like I should run a line of floss through my ears and floss out my brain afterwards. The story is entertaining, but like Deadpool himself, completely crazy. Some of the characters have apparently been introduced before, while others, like Doggie Deadpool, are completely new in this comic.

I did find it mildly entertaining, but as a person who doesn't consider themselves a fan of Deadpool, I have to say that this is a graphic novel/series that will really only interest Deadpool fanboys. And there are certainly a lot of them around. I just really don't consider myself to be one of them and this book left me feeling more turned off than anything else. If you like Deadpool, you are going to want to buy it. If not, there is nothing that attractive to find here. Overall, for me, not recommended.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Demonfire by Kate Douglas

Dax is a demon. Unfortunately, after many years of being obsessed with killing, eating and fucking, he began to wonder if there wasn't more to life. Losing interest in the three mainstays of Demon life got him thrown out of the Abyss and into the void, where he drifted, bodiless and unable to do anything but remember. But because he was a demon too good for Hell, he came to the attention of the Rulers of Eden, the counterpart to the Abyss.

As it turned out, there was an invasion of Earth underway by the Demons of the Abyss. The Demons had opened a portal into Earth and were flooding into it- the small demons at first, but the more and more powerful demons can get through the longer it stays open. They ask Dax for his help in closing the portal and banishing the demons back to the Abyss. To help him fit in, they will provide him with a human body and give him access to his demon powers over fire and ice through a tattoo his human body will wear.

Ha agrees, and is sent through the portal into Greenwood, California. Greenwood isn't just the first step on the path to the Demon invasion of earth, but is also the home of Edwina (Call her Eddy) Marks. Eddy is a reporter who lives in town, not far from her dad Ed, who happens to be a widower. Without her at home, he's become a little strange, believing in tales that Eddy has a hard time taking seriously, such as Lemurians having a home in a cave in Mount Shasta, where they fled after their old home was destroyed. But she doesn't belittle her father for holding such beliefs/

One night, she comes home after a day of hearing very strange stories, such as one of her neighbors telling her that his cat was nearly killed by a garden gnome that had glowing red eyes and lots of teeth, to find a strange man in her shed, being menaced by a garden gnome with glowing red eyes and many rows of sharp teeth. Eddy is startled, but her new pet, Bumper, a mixed-breed cross between a pit bull and a poodle, takes well to the man, and while she hits it with a shovel, he fires a bolt of ice at the black mist that arises from the shattered statue, causing it to shatter. And then a bolt of fire destroys the remains of the black mist completely.

The man, of course, is Dax, and something happened to him on his way into Greenwood. He was attacked by a fire-breathing stone gargoyle that laid some kind of curse on the tattoo that allows him to access his demon powers. He's burnt from the thing's fire, and he's not sure what the curse will do. All he knows is that he's only got seven days to defeat the influx of demons. If he somehow manages to succeed, he can pass on and become part of Eden for the rest of his life. If he fails, he'll be returned to the void, to drift forever.

Eddy has a hard time believing his tale, but to be honest, having seen his powers for herself, she can't exactly deny that what he says might be true. And the stories she's been hearing for the last few days make her see that Dax's tale is truth. She takes him into her home for shelter, because even though Dax is injured, one of the things he has retained is his fast demon rate of healing. The next day, she shows him around the town and introduces him to his first taste of food, which he finds amazing. But when they return home at the end of the day, he home has been attacked by demons, and it leaves her house a mess.

She asks shelter of her Dad, but it's a little awkward, considering how much she is feeling for Dax. Dax feels the same, but he's still not used to a world where sex is an act of affection, not of combat or supremacy. But when he hears about Ed's beliefs about the Lemurians living inside Mount Shasta, he's able to confirm that Ed is correct- mostly. Actually, the Lemurians live in another dimension and are known demon-fighters, so perhaps they should ask for the help of the Lemurians in fighting the demons.

Saying goodbye to Ed, Dax and Eddy travel to Mount Shasta and dimension travel into its depths, where they enter the dimension of the Lemurians. But the Lemurians have given up on combat, and no longer feel that they should fight demons physically. The only two who disagree are Alton, the son of the Lemurian ruler, and his friend, Taron. Alton has been bored, and he can see that if he doesn't help Dax and Eddy, that the Lemurians will be next on the open buffet for the demons.

Leaving Taron behind to convince the Council that what he has done is right, he travels back to Earth with Eddy and Dax, bringing with him his crystal sword, which is made to destroy Demons. He also uses his sword to close the open portal to the Abyss, which means as soon as they destroy the demons already on earth, the danger will be ended. But while Dax and Eddy must deal with the curse, which is slowly bringing his tattoo to life and which only she can quiet with her touch, Alton is afraid that his sword will never awaken and begin to talk to him. If he cannot communicate with his sword, he will not be able to stop it from attacking Dax, who still smells like a Demon despite his human body.

But Dax begins to suspect that the Demon inhabiting the Gargoyle, the first one that appeared in town, is not a simple demon at all, and is smarter and more powerful than he was led to expect. But how can he love Eddy, and she love him back, when they will only have seven days to be together? Can he destroy the demon in that time, and prevent it from opening the portal to the Abyss once more?

I like Kate Douglas's writing, and this was a good book. At the beginning, I didn't have much of an interest in either Eddy or Dax, but I got slowly sucked into the book so that by the time I was halfway to two-thirds of the way into the book, I was invested in seeing the two of them end up together.

The one thing I found a little strange was that Dax seemed to have no interest in doing the sort of things he used to do as a demon. I expected him to be a little more interested in fighting and eating, and having his way with Eddy, but he acts with a commendable and almost unbelievable restraint. I mean, I know he said he was a Bad Demon, but still...

Eddy was more interesting a character. Readers can see she cares deeply about truth and about those she knows and loves. Even Bumper, the Mutt she doesn't intend to keep, comes off as an interesting character. My only objection in the story was the forthcoming story with Eddy's friend Ginny, which was forecast in the equivalent of sixty-foot high flashing Neon letters "SEQUEL COMING HERE!" I didn't mind the whole sequel-baiting, I just wish there was a more subtle way to do it.

This was a good and enjoyable story, a bit slow-starting, but definitely worth the read. By the end of the story, you will be rooting for Dax and Eddy to survive the battle and stay together. The ending was a bit of a shock, but a pleasant one. And I recommend this book as a good read.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Demon in Me by Michelle Rowen

Eden Riley has been working as a psychic phone friend, but she's a phoney, or so she thinks. When she starts exhibiting real psychic powers, it's quite a shock to her and gets her fired from her job, and into a new consulting job with the police, along with inheriting the 49% interest in a detective agency owned by her mother.

However, when she is at the Police station, she meets the handsome detective Ben Hanson, who she thinks looks rather like Brad Pitt. She is quite enamored of him, until there is an incident with an escaped psycho that Ben is forced to kill right in front of her. A dark mist floats up from the body that no one but she can see, and right into her.

Then, she hears a man's voice inside her head, and things rapidly go south. The voice belongs to a Demon named Darrak, and he's been imprisoned on Earth for over 200 years. He wants to go back where he came from, but there's a catch- he was cursed to stay on Earth by a black witch, and unless she removes the curse, he can't leave. He wants Eden to help him find the witch so he can leave.

She, on the other hand, is so freaked out by the voice in her head that she calls in a pair of exorcists, a mother and her son. They insist that the demon inside her is dangerous, and must be gotten rid of, but by the time they have gotten there, Eden feels a small bit of sympathy for Darrak and isn't sure that she wants him gone. In response the two exorcists attack her, and she's only saved by the timely arrival of Ben Hanson, who sees the son choking Eden and runs the both of them off. Realizing how much she likes Ben, Darrak offers her a deal. Help him get back home, and he'll help her land Ben. Eventually, she agrees.

Even though Darrak is angry at her for trying to have him exorcised, he leads her through getting ready for a date she made with Ben. They also discover that Darrak can be apart from her and appear to have his own body during the day, but at night, he will be drawn back inside of her to become a voice in her head. That freaks her out a bit, but she has no choice but to live with it. However, every time she goes to sleep, she wakes up in Darrak's arms, being embarrassingly intimate with his body.

At the same time, Darrak starts backing out of his deal to help her with Ben, claiming that he isn't right for Eden, that he has too much mental and emotional baggage for her. Eden disagrees, of course, but Darrak finds out that he can control parts of her body, making able to trip a waiter who is being rude and snobbish towards her, or slap Ben when he tries to kiss her. This really annoys Eden, who attempts to step up her efforts to try and find the witch Darrak needs to find. But her partner in the Private Eye Business is going out of business and doesn't have time to help her, because he's going broke... until a bunch of Supernatural Clients, drawn to Eden by her Darrak-supplemented aura. start paying lavish sums to make her take their cases.

But even when she finds the witch that Darrak is after, the woman has become a famous author known as the "Love Witch", and is dispensing relationship advice to women. Eden, who has slept with Darrak, discovers a bunch of new information about him that he never told her, and which makes her question everything he's said and his truthfulness. Plus, the return of the exorcists, who want to rip Darrak's spirit from Eden's body- but for what reason? And trying to persuade the Witch to free Darrak to return to the place where the Witch originally summoned him from make Eden's life very, very complicated. Especially when she finds out that she will be dead in only a couple of years if Darrak stays attatched to her the way he is.

What's a girl to do? Can Eden get separated from Darrak before he kills her, and who is lying to her and who is telling the truth? Can Eden discover the true facts, or has she already damned herself to a life with Darrak prowling around inside her head until he kills her?

I was expecting this book to be another sort of romance, but it is actually urban fantasy, and the first in the series. From that, you can probably guess some of the plot details, but I wound up feeling a lot of distaste for the story. I wasn't at all enamored of Darrak, and when he started being pushy about Ben, my sympathy for his situation completely dried up. Basically, he got traits of Alpha assholishness that just made me want to puke. I felt like saying, "Yo, Eden is an adult, and can make her own choices, even if you think they are a mistake, you don't get to interfere in her life like that."

At that point, I was ready to see him gone, and Eden's deciding to have sex with him because her body parts were interested in him just felt like a betrayal of her character to me. At that point, I really lost all interest in the characters and just wanted to see Darrak get gone out of her. I kept reading for that reason alone.

But, as you can probably guess, that didn't happen by the end of the book, and I walked away feeling utterly disappointed in the whole story. It's like Michelle Rowan wanted to set up a situation like in the Kim Harrison books, but while I can root for and feel sympathy for Kim Harrison's characters, I did not feel the same for Eden and Darrak. As you can imagine, I will not be picking up any more books in this series, and I am not proud of the fact that I read to the end of this one. In fact, if you have any sort of self-esteem and ability to make your own choices, I would advise you quite strongly not to pick up this one. I not only ended up with a bad taste in my mouth, but I ended up despising both main characters. Avoid.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Elminster Must Die by Ed Greenwood

Elminster was once one of the most powerful mages on the face of Faerun. But the Cataclysm that unleashed the Spellplague and numerous other problems on Faerun, including the destruction of the Weave nearly obliterated his immense magical powers. He was stripped of his status as Mystra's chosen with Mystra's death, and his mind was invaded by the consciousness of other wizards he had killed after they attempted to kill him. Now, any time he casts a spell, it dangerously interferes with his sanity, and the stronger the spell, the worse the effect.

Luckily, another former Chosen, Storm Silverhand, has the power to heal Elminster of his madness, but doing so exacts a toll on her body, draining it of energy. Both of them are attempting to find and heal Alassra, better known as the Simbul of Aglarond. She, too, has descended into madness, and only stored magic from items can bring her back to herself. So Elminster has become an accomplished thief of magic, and seeks ever stronger magic items to drain of Dweomer to restore his lady-love to permanent sanity, for the stored magic quickly leeches away from the Simbul.

But now, after all these years of a shadowy life, someone has finally decided that Elminster must die, and it is one of his old foes, Manshoon of Thay. Manshoon survived the taking over of Thay by becoming a vampire, and he's used his long unlife to plot at the killing of Elminster. He doesn't take a personal hand in attacking his former foe. Instead, he primes the pump by setting up groups of foes to fight Elminster, knowing that they will eventually wear him down by their constant attacks.

However, as Elminster returns to Cormyr to try and retrieve three powerful magic items that he hopes can restore the Simbul permanently, little does he know that powerful conspirators are coming together to try and change the face of Cormyr and who sits on the throne. But Elminster, alerted to the threat, finds that he cannot leave Cormyr to die and collapse, no matter than people now seemed more focussed on their own interests rather than the interests of King and Country.

But there are a few left who can be persuaded to try and save the country. The nobleman Arclath, a dancer named Amarune, who turns out to be the only living descendant of Elminster's Daughter, and the Ghost of Alusair Nacaia, the daughter of King Azoun of Cormyr, now haunting the palace as a Ghost, must come together to save the country from its conspirators and the fallout of Manshoon's plots, with the help of a former friend long imprisoned in a magic item. But can Elminster himself survive when so many seek his death?

I'll admit, I am not a fan of fourth edition D&D. In fact, I don't even think it deserves the name. But I like Ed Greenwood, and I like Elminster, so I decided to pick up this new book and see what it was like. And I found it interesting. But honestly, when all the interesting characters are from a previous version of your game system, what does that say about your game? Why are there no really interesting characters from 4e? Why are all the popular characters from previous editions of the game? I'll tell you why, because 4e characters are generic. They are optimized for combat, so there are some very good combinations of powers and after a while, everyone in a specific specialization starts to look the same. And with all that combat, games become more focussed on roll-play and not role-play. Where is the need for a backstory if your combat monster character is all about eviscerating everything that comes into his path. It's not so much roleplay as becoming Master Chief or the nameless marine #246 in a First Person Shooter game. It's lazy.

I was raised on the Original D&D, which is to say, before the basic set. And I've played every iteration of D&D since, with the exception of 4e, which I tried, but which didn't float my boat. So it was nice to see the staples of AD&D 2e return. Oh, I'll admit to a lingering resentment of how the characters were nerfed at the end of 3e because some players couldn't handle the idea that they were not the foremost and only heroes of the world- which just blew my mind, I'll admit. But, anyhow... So, Elminster is still nerfed. He can't use magic without going crazy, and his love, Alassra, the Simbul, needs magic to keep her sanity. Storm, the Simbul's sister, has the power to calm Elminster's insanity, but it takes energy from her, energy she doesn't always have to spare. And she's fallen in love with him as well, and sort of resents her sister for having Elminster's love while she, who is the only one who can keep him sane, doesn't.

Some things in this story were not well explained. Like how Elminster and the Simbul were still alive despite not being the Chosen of Mystra any more. I mean, Storm's longevity is a side-effect of the Spellplague, but it isn't said where Elminster's longevity comes from (hidden stashes of Longevity potions?). That aside, all of their foes, with the exception of Manshoon were simply... forgettable, like cards in a deck. Oh, war wizards and highknights, certainly. But none of them really stand out. And like I said at the beginning, when all the interesting characters in the book were conceived in another generation of the game you are supposed to be promoting? That's a problem.

I have to say that the end of the book made me sad, in a way, but at the same time, it may have solved Elminster's problems. The kind of thing that he became (a Spectral Harpist? hard to tell, but he sounds and looks like Sylune sometimes) may actually be a "cure" for his madness when he uses magic. He does have a successor when it comes to helping Cormyr. but since this book is first in a trilogy, we'll have to see if he's tied to the place where his transformation took place, and what will happen to Storm and the Simbul now. So, is it a good book. Yes. And it kept my interest, but none of the new characters were in any way interesting to me as a protagonist. I really preferred the older ones, as they had tons more life. Recommended.