Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stargate: SG-1- Trial by Fire by Sabine C. Bauer

It's Thanksgiving, and since all the other team members of SG-1 are off doing stuff, and with no family to go home to, Daniel Jackson decides to head to a national park to do a little Rogue Archaeology. But while he is there, he stumbles across something that he never expected to find: a Phoenician stela in the midst of a Native American site. And worse, it has the Stargate symbol for Earth, the Tau'ri, on it.

Daniel isn't an expert on the Phoenicians, but he knows someone who is: Siobahn Kelly, a graying Archaeologist who wants nothing to do with Daniel after he disgraced himself and his professional reputation by insisting that the ancient Egyptians had really been visited by Aliens in Ancient times. Of course, that belief led to the discovery of the Stargate, and to the entire mission of Stargate Command, but Daniel can't publish his real findings anytime soon, so his professional name is still tarnished with the image of a crackpot.

However the very British Miss Kelly isn't to be fobbed off with false explanations, and as soon as Daniel has copied the glyphs from the other stelae she has discovered in an Ancient Phoenician temple, he returns to SG-1 to find out where those coordinates lead. Kelly follows him with the consent of her own government, who decide to let Stargate Command sort it all out, and General Hammond reluctantly let her join their mission to the new world they have discovered, which for some reason, isn't in any catalogue of gate coordinates they have ever found.

The team finds that the world on the other side of the gate is known as Tyros, and the people who are descended from the Phoenicians on the other side of the gate believes that the team are servants of their God, Meleq, sent to help them with their problems. Someone, you see, is stealing their young children, and they believe that these people are Phrygians. The Phrygians are heretics who don't believe in Meleq, but they also cannot be found when the children are stolen away.

SG-1 finds all this out from Hamilqart, one of the priests of Meleq. He, his wife Ayezebel and his son Luli live together in the town, and Luliis to be a Chosen One of Meleq. He is also pleased with the presence of Teal'c, who he thinks of not as a Jaffa, but as a "spirit" of Meleq. He has been taught all his life that the gate is a passageway to the Realm of Meleq and therefore, anyone who comes through a gate must be from Meleq.

At first, the team is concerned that Meleq might be a Goa'uld, but no one, not even Teal'c, can recall a Goa'uld with a Phoenician God's name, so that seems to be the High Priest and Council's way of enforcing order. But when Luli and the other children of age are taken away to the temple to begin their initiation into the rites of Meleq, O'Neill decides to slip out and find out what is really going on. Nor is he alone- Siobahn Kelly, whose peppery personality hasn't exactly endeared herself to the team- especially O'Neill, is extremely curious about these rites and decides to go mufti and do a little snooping of her own

But the temple is raided under the cover of darkness by the Phoenicians and both of them are captured. The men get Professor Kelly to give up and go with them by threatening to kill O'Neill unless she surrenders, and she reluctantly does so. They are taken by sea to another island, with O'Neill suffering the indignity of seasickness en route, and discovers that while the men might be sailors, they are actually Roman.

Once on the island, O'Neill gets into a fight with one of the men, knocking the man out, then suffering the same himself. When he's only half-conscious, he's drugged, and Professor Kelly finds her hearing O'Neill's nightmares of being tortured by the System Lord Baal, which both disturbs her and makes her feel some sympathy for him. The next day, he is taken to the leader of the group of raiders and find that they worship Ahura-Mazda, and they know that Meleq is actually a Goa'uld and evil. They are trying to rescue the children and let them grow up free and happy, away from the religion that worships who they see as Ahriman, the most evil one.

Meanwhile, Samantha Carter asks General Hammond's permission to send out a flying scout machine to see where the attackers took O'Neill and Professor Kelly, and then lead a party of natives to rescue them. She gets this permission, and convinces the natives to let her lead it when most of them think a woman cannot do anything. But the native priests have their own ideas about what they will be doing, and it's not negotiating the release of O'Neill, Kelly, and the children. They want to run in and cut them all down to prevent any future problems. But Hamilqart has a secret. His wife, Ayzebel, is actually a heretic who Hamilqart rescued from a village that was supposed to be wiped out. He found her too beautiful to kill, so he hid her and pretended she came from a different village when he married her.

The village no longer believed in the God Meleq or in his benevolence, and the "Phoenicians" had told them tales to make them believe this. She still believes it today, which was why she felt pain that her son was a Chosen One. And it was she who notified the raiders that the children would be in the temple, as well as telling them of a secret entrance and exit. She doesn't want her son to serve the God. Hamilqart asks the SG-1 Team not to blab his secret around, and they agree, but they also feel that something isn't quite sitting right about these stories about Meleq.

Back on the island, the Romans know that the Phoenicians are coming, and they hide the women and children, then go out to fight the priests and parents who have come along for the fight to get back their children. O'Neill, who has been initiated into the cult of Ahura Mazda (once he found out that Meleq was a Goa'uld, he agreed) goes with them to fight, and hopefully to prevent the sides from killing each other.

There's a big fight, but one of the sides of the canyon wall collapses, killing many of the Romans and even catching Sam Carter and Teal'c in its path, but Sam and Teal'c escape with only minor injuries. Due to this, the Romans are persuaded by Sam and O'Neill to surrender, and the priests round them all up and take them back to Tyros Island. But since O'Neill fought on the side of the Romans, he is imprisoned for a "cleansing" by Meleq. Now having heard the Roman's side, SG-1 does some snooping in the temple, with the help of Ayzebel, and Daniel realizes that Meleq isn't really who he says he is. He is actually Moloch, a god who delighted in children being burned to death in the altar statue, a hollow bronze bull that is heated by lava.

Worse, Moloch is actually another Goa'uld with a far better known name- Baal, the Goa'uld who had imprisoned and tortured O'Neill. And once O'Neill finds that out, he's eager to take the false God on.

Even worse than that, Baal/Moloch is also posing as Ahura Mazda. He set this whole world up so that it would constantly be rocked by religious strife and bloodshed for his own amusement. And neither side seems to realize this and certain of the participants don't want it to end. But how can SG-1 and the villagers, with only primitive weapons, take on an alien with the power of a God and the technology built into the temple? And will SG-1 be able to kill Baal so dead that even a sarcophagus won't be able to resurrect him? Because that's what O'Neill wants, and he won't settle for any less.

I really enjoyed this book. There were a lot of stories written for the Stargate series in the US, but these books are from England, and printed by an English company. Only one of the eight stories from there had also been published in the US ("Sacrifice Moon"), so I was glad to see these turn up in the donations at my library. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the stories, even if fan-written, are just as good as the licensed American stories already available here.

And this story actually managed to surprise me with a twist I didn't see coming.(that Meleq was actually based on Moloch), mainly because the Phoenician Gods are pretty much a mystery to most people. But the characters are right on target, character-wise, and dialogue-wise as well. I mean, even though the name of the publishing house is "Fandemonium", don't let that turn you off. There are a lot of really bad fan-written stories out there, but these are excellent, even if they are fanfiction. And I'm not sure that they are, I'm merely making a guess based on the name of the publishing house.

This story is excellent, and all the characters, even the original characters like Siobahn Kelly, are well done. She is something of a stereotype, but transcends the stereotype through the course of the story, and her interaction with O'Neill evoked some real laughter on my part. Her stereotype involves the "Stiff upper lip British gentlewoman" with a fondness for calling people "Duckie". And if her character pokes gentle fun at British people, well she still comes off sympathetic, and the ending made me smile. Well done!

I recommend this book wholeheartedly for anyone who loved the classic Stargate SG-1 lineup and humor. O'Neill is at his snarky best, and his grinding his teeth when Professor Kelly blithely ignored him, or treated him like a slightly dim package of testosterone, made me laugh, because I could just see it happening. In the end, they both come out of it with an appreciation of each other as professionals that was oddly sweet. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wolfsbane by Patricia Briggs

Aralorn is a green witch, shapeshifter and mercenary working for the country of Siovale. Her companion and lover is Wolf, an ae'Magi who is actually the son of the former head of the ae'Magi, the Archmage Geoffrey. Together, she and Wolf, whose real name is Cain, return to Reth, her homeland, and the place where she grew up, Lambbshold, to attend the funeral of her father.

Aralorn left Lambshold under something of a cloud. Not for anything she did, but rather for who she was. The daughter of Lyon's first wife, a green witch and peasant woman, Aralorn learned from her uncle how to shift her shape. When her sister Irreleth married a former Darranian mage named Nevyn, Aralorn grew infatuated with him. But Nevyn hated magic- he barely had enough to be trained, but the training turned him off magic forever. And when he, infatuated with her infatuation, gave her a much too steamy kiss, she realized that what they were doing was wrong, and fled, in the form of a mouse. This equally shocked him, and his opinion of her dropped precipitously, making it uncomfortable for her in her own home. And so she ran away into the night, and into the profession of a mercenary.

Now, she returns to find that not much has changed. Her family still loves her, but Nevyn still sees her as something unclean and tainted by magic and her own gifts. But much to her shock, when she lays a hand on her father in an attempt to say goodbye to him, she discovers that he is actually still alive- but kept in a near-death state by magic. ae'Magi magic, she suspects, but it's too faint to tell for sure.

Stricken by the knowledge, she informs her family and seeks out her uncle, Halven, to see if he can see more surely than she can. The Green Mages want little to do with the ordinary people of Reth, but her Uncle was working with her father to secure a homeland for the Green Witches in the further parts of his land, which he deeded to them in exchange for some help on and with the farm. The Green Witches want nothing to do with Aralorn or her family, but Halven agrees to help, regardless of the fact that he could be kicked off the Ruling council of the Green Witches for refusing to follow their orders. They need him more than he needs them, you see.

But that isn't the only magic swirling around Aralorn's family. For the current Archmage of the ae'Magi, Kisrah, is an old friend of the Lyon and is there for his funeral as well. He believes that if anyone has done this, it is the son of the former ae'Magi Archmage, Cain. Geoffrey, you see, had cast a spell of Charisma on himself so potent that he could easily play with people's minds, and he made everyone love him unconditionally- even after his death. It makes them almost unwilling to believe the truth, that he sought out the darkest, blackest magic because he was driven to be the greatest and the best (and most powerful) ae'Magi ever.

In no small part, he succeeded, but as his power grew, so did his capacity for evil. And Aralorn believes that he was trying to bring back a dark power known as the Dreamer for some reason, a power which had fueled evil magic and forced the creation of the ae'Magi, who were supposed to stand against this power. Even more disturbing to Aralorn is the idea that Geoffrey ae'Magi might somehow have cheated death thanks to his own power as a dreamweaver, and that this business with her father's deathlike state might only have been a snare to draw in and somehow destroy the two people who led to Geoffrey's death: Aralorn and Wolf/Cain.

To remove the spell on Aralorn's father will take more than one mage, for more than one mage cast the spell. But the cost of doing so must be a life. A life for a life. And Wolf knows it will be his own life that will pay the Price. But Aralorn attempts to forestall him by having the priestess of death marry them, knowing that the price for that is a soul bond. If one spouse dies, the other will as well. She hopes this will remain unknown to Wolf, but restrain him from doing anything too outrageous. But if the price is a life, whose will it be, and how will the family change in the aftermath of such a sacrifice? And who cast the spell to begin with?

I read Masques a few months back and just loved the story of Aralorn and Wolf. Aralorn, despite being a Green Witch and Shapeshifter, is very unlike Patricia Briggs' other heroines, and this is actually a good thing. She's not the same as Anna from the "Alpha and Omega" series or like Mercy Thompson from the Mercy Thompson series. She's unalike and complete unto herself, which made a nice change from her other characters. Plenty of people live inside Patricia Briggs' head, and that makes her a very versatile writer.

She's not as close to the animals she can take the form of as Mercy and Anna are, and yet, like both of them, she gives her heart completely to the man she loves. At the same time, she keeps her head and her ability to plot and plan, but she's not so good at it that Cain generally can't run rings around her. He far outstrips her in the ability to read people who aren't friends or close companions of his, but he can be remarkably ignorant about love because he was raised without it. And yet, thanks to their working together for so long, he and Aralorn are like a well-oiled machine. They fit and work together remarkably well as partners, not just as lovers, and he's comfortable enough around her that he drops the (very literal) mask he wears and shows her his scars as he is able to do with very, very few others.

In part, he reminds me a bit of Chirichi from Fushigi Yugi, hiding his feelings behind a mask and hiding his real self, too, in part because of shame, and in part because he really is more comfortable in Wolf Shape than in human form.

Reading this book was wonderful. The mystery of what happened to Lord Lyon and what and who was behind the plot drove me through the story, and the ending of the book promised something more... another sequel perhaps? I definitely hope so. The Dreamer is out there, and it is waiting. Waiting for what? And can Wolf/Cain, with his combined ae'Magi and Green magic, be the only man who could end up defeating it? I don't know, but I wonder. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pokémon Gold and Silver Adventures, Volume 9 by Hidenori Kusaka, Art by Mato

Gold has been attacked in the Ilex Forest while attempting to rescue a Charcoal Burner and his FarFetch'd. But his attacker is wearing a mask, and as Gold attempts to uncover who the villain is by having Aibo pull off the mask, he gets into a fight with the mystery trainer, who apparently is waiting for a shrine hidden in the forest to light up. But when the shrine lights up in the middle of their fight, Gold's attack prevents the mystery trainer from getting to the shrine in time. All Gold is left with is some gold dust from beneath the trainer's cloak, and the satisfaction of rescuing the charcoal burner and his Pokémon.

Meanwhile, he has arrived at Goldenrod City, but without any money. During the night, he is attacked by a Smeargle, and his face is painted. Gold chases it into the city and runs into a radio promoter doing a program in the city. He invites Gold, whose Pokémon have shown excellent teamwork, to be on the program. But at the program is the same Smeargle who painted his face, and his fight with it attracts the attention of Professor Mary, who is also doing a program there, and the Gym leader of Goldenrod City, Whitney, who gave Professor Mary the Smeargle. Gold and Whitney agree to a Pokémon bike race, but when the path is blocked by a huge tree, Whitney is kidnapped by a rampaging Rhydon and Gold and his Pokémon must rescue her, aided by the "tree", a Pokémon known as a Sudowoodo.

But afterwards, when Gold is napping beneath a tree, another Pokémon tries to steal the egg, and Gold's Pokémon try to get it back, causing it to hatch into a Togepi. Elm is happy to hear that it hatched, but all it seems to be able to do is play cards, pool and other games of chance, which make Elm tell Gold he's turned it into a juvenile Delinquent! He tells Gold to take it to the Pokémon Day Care Center, where it was found, and show it to the old couple who discovered the Egg. Unfortunately, they can't help with describing the creatures that laid it, but the old woman tantalizes Gold with the promise of special training for his Pokémon., and he decides to stick around for a bit.

Meanwhile, the old man calls a girl named Jasmine to come see the hatched egg, as she has been interested in it from the beginning. Gold is shoved into a cage to fight several highly evolved Pokémon, while the old woman gives him fighting tips. Gold's Cyndaquil evolves into a Quillava, and Gold can see the benefits to the training. But Ecruteak city has been hit by an Earthquake, and the old couple sends Gold to the city to see if he can find Jasmine, who would have had to pass through the city to come to the Daycare Center. She also gives him a King's Rock, saying it may come in handy.

Jasmine is definitely in Ecruteak city, trapped in one of the buildings. But not only is Gold on his way to find her, but Silver has also heard the news and come to investigate. Jasmine asks her Pokémon Ampharos to send out a signal, and it pulses with light, ensuring Gold sees it. He and Silver make it to the tower to rescue Jasmine, who is at the very top of the place known as Tin Tower. Silver pulls her out of the rubble and sends her off with the Ampharos, while the two of them are trapped in the tower as it collapses. Gold sees a statue in the tower of something called a Ho-oh, and he and Silver must trade Pokémon, including Gold's Poliwag, who has tranformed into a Poliwhirl, and now becomes a Politoed, whose power gets them out of the tower.

But no natural forces were behind the earthquake in Ecruteak. Instead, it was team Rocket and their Piloswine, whose burrowing and ramming took down the town and the tower. They want the Ho-oh, but Gold and Silver fight off Team Rocket and defeat them, causing them to flee. Afterwards, Gold realizes Silver is deeper than he thought, and challenges him to a friendly competition of Pokémon battles to learn about the Ho-oh and what Silver is up to. Silver accepts, and takes a one Pokémon handicap, because he is a better trainer than Gold. But surprisingly, Gold fights him to a standstill, and Silver must resort to using an extra Pokémon to win. In return, Silver acknowledges that Gold could have easily won, and tells him that the Ho-oh is a legendary Pokémon said to nest in the Tin tower, and that Team Rocket destroyed the tower to try and force the Ho-oh to return so that they could try and capture it. As for Silver, his job is to crush Team Rocket. That's what he's there for. Then, he must leave, and Gold now has even more questions.

Gold follows Silver to a lake, which is suddenly full of Gyarados. One of them, a red Gyarados, is sending out a signal that is causing all the Magikarp to evolve. Gold captures the red Gyarados, and succeeds in holding off the others, but Silver sees who is behind all this frenzy, the same trainer who attacked Gold in the Ilex forest, one with control over cold. As this trainer reveals his or her secret past with Silver, the two trainers will have to evade both the mystery trainer's gibes and powerful Pokémon. And meanwhile, far away, the trainer known as Red battles for the leadership of the Viridian gym. But can his weakened arms and legs hold him up through the battles? And can he prevail against a swarm of wild Pokémon attacking the gym, along with the help of Blue, Yellow and Fisherman? And can his arms and legs ever be healed properly?

Another excellently done Pokémon book. Now, the writer is mixing up Heartgold and Soulsilver with the characters from Earlier games like Red and Blue and Yellow, and even Misty and Brock show up. Not having played the game, I can't comment on how much Red resembles Ash and his rival Blue looks like Gary from the Old Pokémon TV series, and is also Professor Oak's nephew, just like Gary was. Are these the game versions of the TV characters? Red doesn't have a Pikachu, but still...

Since Team Rocket was disbanded in an earlier game, here they are once again being set up as villains, who are being gathered by one of the Gym leaders. As yet, we don't know who it is, but we are given clues. One is the mystery trainer's control over cold, and the fact that Red was hurt by a Team Rocket member with the same kind of control over cold. But who could it be? And Gold, with his designation as "Heart" over Silver's "Soul", wants to help the person who has become his friendly rival against Team Rocket. It's becoming obvious that this new series is going to drag in every one. But who will be the one who finally takes down the unknown Gym Leader? Gold, Silver, Red, or will they all do it?

This is better in storyline than most of the other Pokémon manga, but again, that isn't saying much. With the other stories of other characters intruding into the Gold and Silver stories, it can be taken that this is the manga with either the most inclusive storyline for other characters, or that the creator didn't feel that the characters of Gold and Silver were able to carry the story on their own, especially as the other characters seem to be getting more page time with each volume. But I am willing to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I will say that this is recommended to Pokémon fans, and that even people who don't otherwise watch or read it will find it less samey than the other Pokémon books.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Star Shall Fall by Marie Brennan

Irrith is a faerie, one who was originally from London and the court of Queen Lune, but she has spent the last years rusticating in the countryside. Now, she has returned to London, bearing a tithe of fairy bread, the bread that humans leave out for faeries and which enables them to walk among mortal humans without fear of Cold Iron and Church Bells, both of which are inimical to Faeries.

But the court of Queen Lune is caught up in a problem. A Dragon, an elemental being of fire unleashed in London at the time of the great fire, was imprisoned in Halley's comet the last time it passed over the earth. Now, the comet is returning, and the Faeries are seeking a way to deal with it forever, as the Dragon is only imprisoned by the ice and cold of outer space. With the comet falling back towards the sun, the dragon will reawaken, and if it gets free, it will be free to wreak fiery vengeance on London once more. And not just London, the entire world.

Ever since the last appearance of the comet, the faeries of London have looked for a way to either imprison the Dragon forever, or kill it so it will no longer be a problem. But in all the time since the Dragon was imprisoned, they have discovered no way to do either. Now, Lune is hoping that her Human Prince of the Onyx Court, Galen St. Clair, will find some way to do the impossible, if not with fairy magic, then with Human science.

But Galen is a young man, and a gentleman, and he doesn't know much about science. Worse, even though he is Prince of the Onyx court, it is meant to be a ceremonial position- an ambassador between humans and Faeries. And Galen has done more that served Queen Lune, he has fallen deeply and hopelessly in love with her, and hopes beyond hope that someday, she will return his regard, not knowing that she already lost the love of her life and it was a faerie, and she still mourns the loss of her love.

Worse for both Galen and the Court, several faeries are convinced that it was some weakness of Lune that has led to this pass and seek to overthrow her and put another of their choice upon the throne. They seek Irryth's support, though Irryth believes that Lune is just the ruler that the Fae of London need in this time.

As time passes, Galen befriends Dr. Rufus Andrews, a physician much concerned with Energy and movement. With Lune's permission, he reveals the Faeries to the scientist and asks him to help them with the Dragon. Unfortunately, Dr. Andrews is dying, but thanks to the Faeries, he receives more time to work on the problem, along with the help of Djinn traveling in England and a pair of Dwarves who have built a room where time passes more slowly. The answer that Galen receives from the result of their researches is the last one he would ever want: To defeat the dragon, with the power of fire and the sun, it will require a sacrifice, one of water and the moon, Like Lune, perhaps.

But as Galen attempts anything in his power to save the woman he loves, the forces inimical to Lune see this as their chance to be rid of an impediment to the throne. And Galen's father forces him to wed to assure the good marriages of his sister, which means he must marry into money to save his family. And he and Irryth fall into a sexual relationship, each aware that she isn't the one he really wants, and yet too deep into each other to let go.

But can Galen find some way to save the Faeries and to save the Queen that he loves more than anything else at the same time? What would such a sacrifice require, and can he save London, both Faerie and Human, from a threat that one doesn't understand and the other understands only too well?

It took me a fairly long time to get into this book, because it started rather slow after Irryth gets attacked on the road into London by a black Dog-like creature. Yes, that was actually a pretty fast start, but after that, the rest of the story slows to a pretty glacial crawl, mostly concerned with the return of the Dragon and Faerie politics. The course of the novel covers years, so it seems as though the story itself is very slow-moving when it is actually the pace of time in the story.

I would like to say that I got caught up in the characters of the story, but it was a distant sort of caring I had for them. Yes, I wanted the faeries to be saved, but as the story went on, I wasn't really all that invested in the main characters. I mean, I felt for Galen, loving a woman he could never have or possess except in the most superficial of ways because she wasn't in love with him and his position was ceremonial rather than having something to do with relationships or affection. At least, not the type of affection he wanted.

I'm not sure if it was because I realized the story was not going to have a very happy ending, or perhaps I didn't sympathize with the characters quite enough, but I felt as if I was reading the story at a subtle remove and never was completely invested in them as characters or in their plots and plans. I didn't quite sympathize or empathize with them enough, and so by the ending, I just felt... removed and somewhat distant.

Is this an effective story? Yes, I did care for the characters and something for the outcome, but I didn't care enough to make it seem anything like real for me. When it was over, I felt a vague sense of disappointment, but that was it. And this was the kind of story that should have made me care more than that, should have made me feel much more invested in the story, in Galen's struggle to save Lune, Irryth and the rest of the Faeries, but in the end, I just didn't. So, Recommended, but I can't recommend it highly. It was interesting, but not enough to make me care about it to the degree I felt I should have.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Kate's father is a woodcarver, and her mother died in the birthing of her. With only her father to raise her, He placed a carving knife in her hand almost as soon as she could walk. She started with whittling, but by the time she was older, her skill at carving was immense. And since her people were superstitious about carving already, believing there was a magic in how things grew to shape from mere wood, they considered Kate halfway to a witch.

The town she was born into was periodically subject to disease, and when it came back, it caught Kate's father in its grasp. She and her father fought it as long as possible, but he died of it, leaving Kate alone. The villagers, still thinking her a witch, threw her out of her home, forcing her to live in her father's storefront, where she took the things that were left to her and made a life for herself with her carving, her old home being given to the new carpenter.

The villagers may have gone to him for the everyday carving, but Kate's talents can't be denied. She carves a marker for her father's grave, saves three kittens from death and starvation, and ends up with one staying with her-not the black cat or the white cat, but the gray. Soon, a man all over white named Linay comes to the village, selling charms and magic. Charms for love, for protection from the mists that come off the river and bring monsters, and all other sorts of charms.

Kate speaks with him but finds him strange and sly. He brings the villagers a huge haul of fish, but only Kate's stay around. All the others are simply gone the next morning. And when a strange gray mist creeps into town off the river, sending villagers into a sleep from which they cannot and do not awaken, the villagers look for someone to blame and settle on none other than Kate, who they already think a witch with her strange eyes and ability with a carving knife. Forced to flee, Kate sells her shadow to Linay and takes shelter with the wandering people, the Roamers. And in exchange for her shadow, he enables her to flee and gifts her with her heart's wish and the means to leave her old life behind and perhaps find a new one. In addition, her cat, Taggle, can now speak and think like a human, but still remains a cat.

Starting over with the Roamers means having to gain their acceptance to travel with them, both from the men and the women, like Mother Daj. Let stay with them because of her carving ability and because the Roamers, too, are often accused of witchcraft. Here, Kate makes a friend, Drina, who knows a bit of magic herself.

But before long, Kate realizes that something is wrong. More and more people are succumbing to the witch-sickness brought on by the fog, and she fears that Linay, and her own shadow that she gave up to him, may have something to do with the sickness. Cast out by the Roamers for her missing Shadow, she must find Linay and regain her shadow and figure out what he is doing to make people sick and why. But can a single girl on her own defeat such dark magic? And what connection does her friend Drina have to Linay and to Drina's dead mother?

This book I enjoyed, but it had a strange feel to it, as Kate constantly spends time with people she is outcast from. From the villagers of her home, who basically ignore her because of her talent, to the Roamers who she may join but will never be a part of, and Linay, doubly outcasr for his strange looks and use of magic. Kate seems a girl perpetually adrift on some strange and silent shore, never to have a true home or a place to rest where her talents are useful and valued. It actually made me feel alone and strangely lonely when reading it- it wasn't until the end of the book that Kate finally found a place where she could be herself.

The book itself is perhaps a little disturbing. The land harks back to Russia and its folktales, being dark and dreary through most of the book, and most of the characters have Russian names, Kate's being Katerina Svetlana, and her father being Piotr, and the Roamers, of course are the Romany, better known as the Gypsies. The book doesn't show much of Kate's growth as a person- she remains much the same throughout the book in character. Where she does grow is in self-knowledge and maturity. This is not a happy book and the cover art, which shows Kate walking over rooftops with her cat, Taggle, comes late in the book and is not nearly so carefree as the art suggests. It actually happens in the midst of a crisis.

The ending of the book is one many readers will find rather bittersweet, and reflects what Kate has come to know about herself during the journey, but remains true to her character at the start. It's almost completely unrelentingly grim. Kate never seems to know some kindness that isn't ultimately snatched away from her, and there's no romantic subplot in the book at all. But the words and imagery are wonderful and almost poetic. It's the kind of book that leaves a mark on your mind and your soul. I just wish that the ending had been slightly happier, but then that would have betrayed the Russian Fairytale feel of the text. Highly recommended, but not your usual sort of YA book.

"I'd Just as Soon Kiss a Wookie": The Quotable Star Wars Compiled by Steven J. Sansweet

Everyone who has seen Star Wars knows it has some of the most quotable, and most quoted lines ever. This book is lines from the first trilogy, enlivened by pictures and separated out by characters speaking and spoken about, from Han Solo to the Droids and covering most of the major characters from the series and even the minor characters like Lando Calrissian

Despite the large number of quotes, this is a very short book. In truth, its not really a book at all, but is more the size of those little pamphlets of bible quotes handed out by the Jehovah's Witnesses. But even so, it's really packed with the best quotes from the first trilogy and some really good pictures as well.

Because of its size this is a very light read, but it does make a good companion for the "Lines from the Star Wars movies that can be made better by changing one word to 'Pants'" list you can see on the internet. Or just for nostalgically remembering the best lines from the movies all over again. This tiny book makes a good present to a similarly Science Fiction-obsessed friend so the two of you can argue over which line was the best, or as a fairly cheap buy to add to your SW swag.

Light (very light) and tiny (Yes, very tiny, too), this book won't keep you satisfied for very long. It's like the Chinese food version of books, and while it's short and cute, it's also not very satisfying. recommended only if you are obsessed with Star Wars, even then, it won't truly satisfy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Drink This, Not That by David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding

If you are on a diet and wonder why you don't seem to be able to drop the pounds as quickly as you want to, the answer might be what you are drinking, not eating, that is the culprit. The hidden costs of the nutritional choices we make in drinking, as well as eating, can be the difference between a flat belly or the gaining of 10, 20, or even 30 pounds in a year.

Drink This, Not That points out the very worst offenders in nutritional choices that most of us never even think about when it comes to what we drink. Starting off with the twenty worst offenders in areas as diverse as soda to shakes, it shows how what you don't know, and aren't used to thinking about, can often be the worst offenders in our diet. Even things that were once somewhat healthy, like flavored waters, are being made sweeter and sweeter to satisfy our hunger for sweet foods. The best flavored waters have a very low calorie count, but some of them are so sweet that they are even worse for you than a soda would be! And that is just not right.

Drink This, Not That covers not only choices you will find in the grocery store, but also the drinks you will find being served at your local fast food chain, restaurant and coffee shop. If you find that what you are drinking is simply too calorie-laden for your diet, this book can show you better choices with far better bang for your nutritional buck, one that won't put too much of a cost on your pocketbook or your body.

Of course, part of the fun, and horror, of reading this book is the horror stories being perpetrated on you by the drink companies you patronize every day. One 20oz bottle of Sunkist soda has as much sugar as six Oreo Cookie Icecream Sandwiches- without the same filling effects of the ice cream and cookies. The one that made the #1 worst spot is the Coldstone Creamery PB&C Gotta Have it size Shake, with an unbelievable 2010 calories packed into it- more than the average person is supposed to eat in a single day, and the equivalent of 30 Chewy Chips Ahoy Cookies in sugar content alone. That one made me sick to my stomach- that's a lot of empty calories packed into just one 24oz Cup.

Even things you would think are more good for you, like coffee and tea, aren't immune to sugar inflation- and calorie inflation as well. A bottle of Sobe Green Tea has the equivalent in sugar to half a Sara Lee Cherry Pie. Yes, 4 slices every time you drink one down. Think about the effects of that on your waistline! Even a small Starbucks Vanilla Frappucino (13.7 Ounce Bottles) is the sugar Equivalent of 32 Nilla Wafers. Rockstar Energy drink? 6 Krispy Kreme Glazed Donuts.

But, thankfully, Drink This, Not That gives you the tools to make better choices. Really want to lose weight? Go for the plain water when you go out to eat. Or squeeze some lemon in it (or orange. Or lime.) But if none of that appeals to you, you can make much better choices thanks to this book.

This book was a revelation for me. I don't like the taste of coffee or tea, and I don't drink anything carbonated, which pretty much leaves me water, milk, or fruit juice, and I stick with water pretty much all of the time, seeing as how it's free from the tap, can be chilled in the refrigerator, which kills any nasty metallic or mineral taste, and as long as I have a bottle and maybe some ice, I can take it with me anywhere.

Yes, I am overweight, but after reading this, I was very glad that water is my tipple of choice, because I'd probably be two or three times my own weight if I was into soda. It's also good because it lays to rest the "High-Fructose Corn syrup is just as fine as sugar for you" that the soda companies have been selling us. This may be so, but sugar has a shorter shelf life, and is harder to blend, so HFCS was a godsend for the bottled drinks industry. What's insidious about this is that it's not just sneaking into soft drinks, but everything else as well, even foods that weren't traditionally sweetened, like whole wheat bread, so we are consuming more of it than ever before, in foods in which we might not know it's there. So when they say it's fine in moderation, how are you going to know what "moderation" is when it might be sneakily hiding in foods you weren't even aware contained it?

The book also goes over new sweeteners on the market, everything from the same old Aspartame to the new Stevia and things you may not have known existed as sweeteners, like Agave Syrup. Then they move on to wine, beer, and cocktails, giving you choices to avoid and better things to choose, both in the liquor store and at the bar.

This book was another real eye-opener for me, and again, made me very glad that I drink straight tap water with a chill on it. You may not be able to do the same, but this book can save you from making disastrous diet choices when it comes to the things that many people never think of cutting from their diets- bottled drinks, beer and sodas. Serving as both a horror show and a guide to what to do better, this book is invaluable when it comes to losing weight and revealing just how many calories are in those drinks you may be thoughtlessly gulping on a daily basis. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear America: The Fences Between Us- The Diary of Piper Davis Seattle, Washington, 1941 by Kirby Larson

Piper Davis is an American Girl growing up in Seattle, Washington. The War is on, so there have been straitened circumstances in her home, and in the community in which she lives. She and her sister attend school, and Piper is sweet on her own special suitor, Bud, who just also happens to be her best friend, next to Trixie.

Piper's father is a pastor to a church composed of mostly Japanese and Chinese people, and now her brother, Hank, wants to go into the service and fight in the war. Piper doesn't want to let him go. She's afraid of him dying, and doesn't want to lose him, but their father tells him that he's old enough to make the choice and he's seemed to think it through, so he'll let him enlist. Piper is inconsolable, but agrees to write Hank letters and keep in touch with him while he's in boot camp and then in service. Before he leaves, the family's housekeeper, Mrs. Harada, gives Piper a journal for her to write and record her thoughts in. Piper at first thinks that is a bit babyish, but Mrs. Harada tells her than no one else can tell her what to write in her journal-only her, which Piper likes a lot.

Shortly after Hank enlists and Piper starts writing in "DeeDee", short for "Dear Diary", Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese, with the loss of much life. The bombing enrages America, and sends them on to War with Japan. But other changes happening at home are more worrying for Piper and her family, for otherwise good American people seem to think that the Japanese in America had something to do with the bombing, and start taking it out on the people of Pastor Davis's church. Her father tries to keep the peace, but some people want nothing to do with the peace, and incidents of racism spring up, even against people who look oriental but aren't Japanese, like Chinese or Korean.

Sadly for Piper, even Bud, the boy she likes, doesn't seem immune to the effects, and causes her to break up with him. In the meantime, it seems that it isn't just the people of Seattle who think that the Japanese, the Nikkei and Issei, living in America are a threat, but the government does as well, for they start rounding up the Japanese and taking them off to "internment camps", along with their families and a few of their belongings.

Since Pastor Davis's entire congregation is Japanese or oriental and is rounded up, her father decides that he cannot leave them to suffer alone. It is his Christian duty to follow along and help the people of his church, no matter where they end up. Leaving behind Piper's older sister Margie to take care of his house and the things he stored for the people of his church in the basement of the church, Piper's father takes her with him, first to "Camp Harmony" in the old Fairgrounds outside the city, and then to Idaho, the "Minidoka War Relocation Center" in Eden, Idaho.

But Eden is no Eden, and some of the people there are just as prejudiced against the Japanese as the people in Seattle were. As Piper and her father deal with a neighbor who wants to evict them from their new house because they are giving aid and comfort to the Japanese, who he considers the enemy of the US, They also have to deal with the horrible conditions in Minidoka and trying to keep up the hope of the inhabitants that this will not be the rest of their lives.

But after the way the US has treated these people, when the military gives them the chance to enlist and serve their country, how many of them will take the opportunity and go? And when Piper's brother Hank is injured, will Piper and her father get back in time to welcome him home?

Needless to say, the idea that America imprisoned its own citizens during the war just because they happen to be of Japanese ancestry sounds ridiculous these days. Did America imprison people of German ancestry? Italian Ancestry? Yes, but not in the numbers of the Japanese interned in the US. The Japanese interned in the US were interned mainly for reasons of racism, not military necessity. They already couldn't become citizens in the Western states by law since 1920, and the Japanese removed were not only strong and healthy young men and women, or adults. They took everyone, including children, babies and the elderly. Over 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were interned, compared to about 10,000 Germans and 400 or so Italians. After the war, and some lawsuits, America admitted what it had done was wrong and paid reparations to those who had been interned.

Some readers may think that this story is out there. But it is based on the true life story of a minister from California who was Pastor of the Japanese American church who also lost all his Parishioners to Internment and followed them with his family. And the diary atyle of the book and the understandable attitudes and feelings of Piper as she is uprooted away from all her friends and the rest of her family makes the book very touching. It details a very sad period in American history, when Racism made her imprison her own citizens. It shouldn't be forgotten.

I had known that Japanese-Americans had been interned, but not Italians or Germans until reading this book impelled me to do some research. It's an affecting book that takes you into that period of American history, but you still won't understand what made people do those things. Nevertheless, as a book and a means of presenting the truth and making you want to find out more about that period in history, this book is wonderful and really makes you think. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tron: Betrayal by Jai Nitz, Jeff Matsuda and Andie Tong

Long ago, there was a computer system that belonged to a corporation called Encom. Encom had started as a science tech company in one man's garage, and gotten large and powerful. Employed by the company was a computer programmer named Flynn, one who spent his free time coding computer arcade games, until his ideas and code were stolen by a fellow programmer named Dillinger, who used the power and money this generated to become the President of the Company. Flynn quit in disgust and opened an arcade named Flynn's, where he made money playing the games that he'd developed.

Also part of the company was Flynn's ex-girlfriend. Lora, and her new boyfriend, Alan Bradley. Alan had created a program, Tron, that would monitor the Master Control Program that ran the systems at Encom. The MCP didn't want this, as it was breaking into other systems and stealing programs and data from them, even from the systems of other governments. When Alan was locked out of the system, he and Laura approached Flynn for help, as Flynn was a master programmer. Flynn had his own reasons for wanting to help- he wanted to look for the proof that Dillinger stole his work. Alan and Laura helped him get into the building, and Flynn went to work.

In the lab where the scientist who formerly owned the company was working on a program and way to tranlocate objects, Flynn tried to break into the MCP of Encom. The MCP utilized the equipment there to digitize Flynn and draw him into the computer, where he was treated as a program and sent to the cruel gladiatorial games the MCP ran inside its mainframe. But Flynn had powers as a user the other programs didn't, and used them to escape, along with two other programs, TRON and RAM. Coming under attack from creations he had developed, a tank game and constructs known as "Recognizers", they came under attack and were separated, RAM was injured, and Flynn confessed to RAM what he was before RAM died. Together, Flynn and TRON took on the MCP and its henchman, Sark, and freed the Encom computer from the MCP's control. Flynn was returned to the real world, Dillinger was arrested and indicted, and Flynn took over from Dillinger.

But afterwards, Flynn found himself returning to the world inside the computer, dealing with its problems and working with TRON to restore order and harmony. But at the same time, on the outside world, Flynn's girlfriend Jordan Canas is pregnant with his son, and between the world inside the computer, his job as President of Encom, and his real-life concerns, he is being pulled in three very different directions that each need him to be everything. To help him in the digital world, Flynn resurrects a program he once created called CLU to be his deputy in the world inside the computer.

At first, they work well together, and everything seems to be going fine. But when Flynn's son is born, and Jordan dies, CLU starts getting resentful of Flynn's life in the world of the users, and wonders why he can't have as much concern for his life inside the computer. He also disagrees with Flynn about new programs showing up on the grid, called ISOs. CLU wants to exterminate the ISOs, certain that they are poisoning the new system, but Flynn wants to let them be and develop at their own pace so he can see what happens with them and where they go from here.

But when Flynn decides that his life belongs to his son, and steps down from leading Encom, leaving Alan in charge, and stops coming to play in his digital world, what will CLU do to retain control of his digital kingdom? And what lengths will he go to, to enforce his control?

This comic attempts to bridge the gap between the original TRON movie, and the new TRON movie that came out this year. In that, it's somewhat successful. We don't get to see how Flynn met his lover (since she doesn't take his last name, I'm not entirely sure that they were married), but it's certainly possible that they were together at the time of the events in the original film, and we just never saw her.

But more of the conflict comes from something else of Flynn's creation: CLU. Part of the problem is that CLU, as a computer program, can't understand that Flynn's son'd needs come before his own, and since programs might be able to fall in love, they can't have children. Therefore, CLU will never understand Flynn's relationship with his child and why Flynn needs to be there for his son first. In fact, the ISOs, too, are Flynn's children, in a way, born from the seed of a computer that he programmed. And so it is something of a dynastic battle between Flynn's children. CLU versus the ISOs versus his son in the real world. CLU sees Flynn preferring his other children over CLU, and acts out to try and focus Flynn on doing what CLU thinks is important.

Or some sort of God and Lucier/Satan analogy, with CLU being Satan who is hurt by Flynn/God's attention on something he detests and looks down upon, and so he rebels against what Flynn wants- but he hasn't been cast out, not yet.

The comic makes Flynn's vision far-reaching in other aspects as well, such as the fact that Encom should expand into other markets in the far east, and the fact that oil as a power source is on the way out, making Flynn into much more of a visionary than he seemed to be in the original movie. I can't really say it's out of character for him, but I did find it fairly startling.

I ended up enjoying this comic a good bit, and there were certain startling aspects of it for me as well. The art is okay- the characters generally resemble their actors from the original film, but I didn't recognize them until the comic named them. Okay, except for Flynn- Alan only appears in one scene and I don't think we see Lora at all. There's a blonde that could be her in one of the scenes when Flynn arrives at Encom, and she and Alan appear (from the side) in one panel in a flashback sequence with a Flynn that doesn't in any way resemble himself in the rest of the book or the movie. So, the art is only okay. But otherwise, I had no real complaint, with the story or the comic. Recommended, but not really for the art.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower and Skottie Young

Tip is a young boy who lives in the land of Oz. He is the servant of a witch whose name is Mombi. Well, actually, she wasn't quite a witch, but she did dabble in the magical arts, and her Gilikin neighbors didn't like her very much. Tip did worse than not like her, he hated her, because she wanted him only to work all the time and not have any leisure time. So when she went off to buy groceries one day, Tip thought to frighten her by making a pumpkin-headed man to meet her on the way home.

But she wasn't frightened, and she used a new magical powder she'd bought to bring the man to life. He became Jack Pumpkinhead. But when Mombi brought him to life, she decided she'd had enough of Tip and made a potion to turn him into a marble statue. However, her mistake was in telling him what the potion was for. Instead of staying around and drinking the potion, Tip stole Mombi's food and magic powder and freed Jack Pumpkinhead, for the witch was going to use him as a servant in Tip's place, and the two of them ran off for the Emerald City.

Along the way, Tip and Jack Pumpkinhead discuss the world and the Emerald City. They also find a horse-like creature carved from wood, and with the help of Mombi's magic powder, Tip brings it to life, with the intention of riding it to the Emerald City. But when he attempts it, the tail he is clinging to breaks off, and Jack doesn't notice, meaning that Jack arrives in the Emerald City to meet with the Scarecrow that rules it long before Tip can make his way there.

Once in the city, Jack speaks with the Scarecrow through the "aid" of the interpreter Jellia Jamb, who at first mixes up what they are saying to each other, and then reveals that they have been speaking the same language all along. The Scarecrow reveals that there is trouble in Emerald City. a contingent of women, led by a girl named Jinjur, is agitating for control of the city, and she and her all-girl army have the women of the city on their side.

Meanwhile, Tip has encountered "General" Jinjur, and she conscripts him as a dogbody for her army. She leads him to the rest of her girls, and they storm the city. And quite easily, since the gatekeeper has no weapon and the troops who guard the gates don't have any bullets in their guns, to prevent accidents. When Tip finally makes his way to the palace, he informs the Scarecrow of this, and the Scarecrow decides to flee. He, Tip and Jack flee the city on the back of the Sawhorse, and make their way to the Kingdom of the Winkies, where Nick Chopper, now known as the Tin Woodsman, rules as Emperor.

He agrees to aid the Scarecrow in regaining his throne, and they begin their return to the Emerald City, and along the way, they meet the Thoroughly Educated, Highly Magnified Woggle Bug, who becomes their companion. But Mombi has decided to join General Jinjur, now Queen Jinjur, and agrees to aid her, as long as she gets Tip. Jinjur, afraid of Mombi's magic, agrees, but she doesn't like it. Mombi uses her magic to try and prevent the Scarecrow and his allies from returning, but the Tin Woodsman calls on the aid of the mouse Queen who once aided them before, and gets twelve of her subjects to come with him, hidden in the straw that makes up his body.

They make their way into the city, where the women have forced the men to do all the tasks they once did while the women enjoy themselves. Even Queen Jinjur is lying around eating chocolates and other savories. She scoffs at the Scarecrow when he shows up again, but he routs her and her women with the aid of the mice, which makes them scream and flee. But once again, the Scarecrow is locked into his castle and surrounded by JinJur's army, and once again, they must flee, this time on the back of a flying creature they construct from some couches, a broom, clotheslines, palm fronds, and a stuffed head of a Gump, a deer-like creature native to Oz, along with the last of the powder of life that Tip took from Mombi. This time, they go to Gilikin country, and its ruler, Glinda the Good Witch. She is sympathetic to their pleas, but she will not help restore the Scarecrow to the throne, Not when the daughter of the previous King is still alive. The daughter is named Ozma, but she disappeared with the death of the old King, and nobody knows where she is, except Mombi- who is still in the Castle of Queen Jinjur.

Glinda will only lead her army if it is to put Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, on the throne. But Mombi also holds magic, and is very evil and cunning, besides. Can Glinda, her army, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, Tip, Jack Pumpkinhead and the others discover where Ozma has been stashed and restore her to her rightful throne? Or will Mombi and Queen Jinjur be able to outwit the good Witch and retain the throne? And will Ozma, if she is found, be able to be a good and just Queen?

I found this an interesting follow-up book to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. As I rather suspected, the Scarecrow. pins and needles in his head to give him "sharp wits" or not is not the best ruler of Oz. Oh, he gets good ideas occasionally, but he's essentially a figurehead, and to top it all off, he's not really happy with his position. But then, the entire society of Oz is pretty much a joke, and JinJur taking over because she and the other women of Oz are tired of doing all the hard work is also played for laughs.

The upshot of all the story is that hereditary rulers make the best rulers, but even they aren't really necessary except as figureheads. Men would have a hard time doing women's jobs, but women have no place ruling anything, as they just want to lord it over men. And those are messages I have a hard time accepting. It smacked a lot of "Women should know their place, which is doing all the hard jobs because men couldn't do what they do, and men are suited for being figureheads." It's sort of a slam at the whole of society that just made me slightly angry and feel disagreeable. I mean, what suited Ozma for ruling? As we see her in her hidden form, she didn't seem to have all the answers and made just as many stupid choices and mistakes as the rest of the characters. And suddenly, when she is restored to being Ozma, all her decisions are wise and just? I didn't feel that this could be said about the character, because there was nothing to base that conclusion on.

The art continues in the same cutesy style of graphic novel as the previous volume, and can even be slightly creepy-looking on the non-human characters like Jack Pumpkinhead and the Scarecrow. Even creepier are some of the human characters, like Mombi, who occasionally bears more resemblance to a mushroom than a human in form. Only the children, like Tip and Ozma, and the cute characters, like Jinjur, actually look attractive.

I found the politics of this story troubling, and wonder what the author was trying to say about people when the only one who comes off as being described as wise and just didn't exhibit that behavior and judgement in her other form, and we don't get any examples, we're just told that it is so. It left me feeling conflicted about the book. In short, it's okay, but if you are anything but a kid reading this, the story will leave you with lots of questions and not so many conclusions. Good, but not really recommended for any but younger readers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wolverine: Weapon X- Tomorrow Dies Today by Jason Aaron, Ron Garney, Davide Gianfelice and Esad Ribic

Steve Rogers, the Adventurer and Military man known as Captain America survived being sheathed in ice in World War 2 and put into suspended animation for over 30 years. But after the Civil War that surrounded America and Iron Man endorsing a policy of superhuman registration, in which he lead the fight of the anti-Registration forces, he was struck down and killed by an assassin's bullet wielded by the woman who he had come to love and who loved him in return. Recently returned from the dead, his friend Wolverine, who just happens to be a mutant, are out celebrating his return.

But something strange is happening. A creature known as Deathlok has appeared and is killing off various superheroes, vigilantes and even the parents of heroes and vigilantes yet to be born. And next on their list of people to be exterminated is Captain America, both as Bucky Barnes, the current Captain America and Steve Rogers as well. And it's not just one Deathlock, but multiples of them. Even if one is defeated, more arrive, and pursue their targets with mechanical efficiency and patience.

The Deathloks are from the future, a world where Roxxon controls the world, and has expanded to nearly every industry. But even though most people aren't happy with the company, Roxxon keeps iron control with their mercenary and security forces. There are those who fight against Roxxon, but they are forced to do so from deeply secret bases and installations. The Rebels keep track of the few remaining heroes and try to help them.

So when they become aware that Roxxon is sending their Deathloks into the past to kill heroes there, the resistance has to do the same, and keep this possible future from coming about, but with Roxxons seemingly endless supply of Deathloks, and its ruthless methods of wiping out future heroes, how can Wolverine, Captain America and Steve Rogers ensure that the future Roxxon wants never comes to pass?

Only one person, a woman dressed in white, seems to know the truth behind the invasion. But who is she, and how does she know what she knows? Who is the small boy she is trying to save, and can saving him truly have that much of an effect on the timeline? And what is up with the Deathlok who keeps asking her questions about the nature of sacrifice?

And when Nightcrawler dies, he gives his friend Wolverine one last task, to take a concert grand piano up an inaccessible mountain to a chapel and a community of monks, using only his own power. As Wolverine struggles to fulfill the last wish of his friend, he wonders why it fell to him to do this job in this specific way. Is Kurt trying to teach him something from beyond the grave?

I found this a very interesting graphic novel. which started out with a big question and soon introduced a bigger one. Along the way, the identity of the "General" directing the war against Roxxon and its forces is hinted at, but every answer the reader comes up with turns out to be wrong, from Wolverine to Iron Man, and who it finally ended up to be was a total surprise to me at the end, even if it did fit the story as a whole. But that it was such a surprise just made me very happy with the writing. It's rare that a story manages to not telegraph the ending as you read.

The art was also very good, and the menace of the various Deathloks came across quite well. The nature of their menace is shown early on when one eliminates two people on their first date because in their future, they have a child who becomes a vigilante hero. Later on, another woman is killed in the maternity ward for the same reason. The message is clear- there is no pity and no emotion in these things, and they will go to any lengths to finish their mission, which makes them very menacing, no ifs, and or buts.

My one peeve with the book is that the story seems to say that the future will happen, for good or ill, so even if the heroes were successful in stopping the attacks from the future, the whole point of the exercise seems kinda pointless. All their heroism only postponed what was going to happen, which is rather a bleak outcome to the story, no matter that they changed the future for at least one man. It left me feeling melancholy, which I suppose isn't exactly a bad thing.

So, reading this might be a bit depressing after all is said and done, but it's an absolutely rocking storyline with plenty of ups and downs and a rescue against seemingly all odds. Despite not being a typical superhero story, I would definitely recommend this one simply because it isn't the usual and because of that ambiguous feeling at the end. Well done, and highly recommended.

Runaways: Dead Wrong by Terry Moore, Humberto Ramos, Christina Strain and Dave Meikis

The Runaways are a group of kids brought together by an unusual coincidence: their parents were supervillains, and most of them were raised unaware of that fact. When they found out, it was by accident, and it completely changed their opinion of their parents, and of the group their parents made, the Pride. Separating from their parents, they discovered their own powers and fought back, defeating their parents.

But without anyone to care for them, they were just a bunch of teenagers, and they ran into problems from the authorities who wanted to stick them into homes, and their parents foes, not all of whom were heroes on the side of good. Their lineup changed as two of them died, and they were joined by a shapeshifting Skrull. Xavin, whom Karolina's parents betrothed her to at an early age, a girl who can control plants, Klara Prast, and Victor Mancha, who just happens to be a cyborg.

Now, Karolina, an alien whose race is called the Majesdanians is on the run from the members of her own race who believe that she has done their race as a whole a great injury. Before she can learn exactly what it is that she is supposed to have done, though, she and her friends go on the run once again. From New York City, they return to Malibu to try and take shelter in a house owned by one of their fabulously rich parents. But to live there, one of them is going to have to get a job. Maybe even more than one. And the house is guarded by security demons, which they take care of, but not without a fight.

The fight, though, attracts the attention of the Majesdanians, and in the local mall, as Chase gets a job with local shock rock radio celebrity "Uncle Val", someone who is extremely misogynistic and anarchistic. After they return home, they are attacked by the Majesdanian soldiers and team leader Nico uses her black magic powers to scatter them all over the planet, all except for one, a young man who Karolina talks to, and finds out that the Skrulls attacked Majesdane because of her parents, who gave the coordinates of Majesdane to the Skrull leaders.

Karolina already knew that, which is the reason that she was betrothed to Xavin and that later she agreed to the betrothal. She believed that their marriage would bring their planets and peoples closer together and be the path to peace. But while on earth, the children cannot be blamed for the actions of their parents, that isn't so on Majesdane, which is why the soldiers are trying to bring her in. Karolina knows that after the attack of the Skrulls, there are few Majesdanians left, so she asks why these soldiers are trying to bring her in, knowing she will fight to defend herself, but they see it as a matter for justice.

This saddens her but she still decides to try and defend herself. Meanwhile, Chase must deal with the fact that his boss seems to be able to make anyone do what he wants, as long as he asks them to do it- but Chase is immune to his power. But when tension within the team ramps up and nearly brings them to blows, Nico realizes that her spell affected everyone, including the other members of what was formerly their team, and she has to undo it somehow to get everyone pulling together again. But even if they do, can they defeat the might and determination of the Majesdanians and get them to let her off the hook for the actions of her parents? Or must she and her teammates go the extra mile to ensure that Karolina gets out from under the cloud that her parents actions have cast over her life?

I read the first few graphic novels starring the Runaways last year, and since then, nothing. So this was something new for me, since I'd missed a lot of stuff, but once I was into it and reading, it all came flooding back. Some of the characters are no longer there, and there is a new one that is apparently from the past somehow (Karla) in addition to Xavin and Victor, and how she joined, I don't exactly know.

Since most of the group are young teens, they have problems trying to look after themselves. Chase is the only one who can work legally, and none of them can access their parents accounts... or money. But life, and the past evil deeds of their parents keep coming up to smack them in the face, and this is no different, and now it's Karolina's turn to reap the fallout. But will the remnants of her people be willing listen to reason?

I actually liked the fact that the other Majesdanians don't have the same views on justice as most humans do. It made them more alien to have their own ideal of justice, and to stick to it and not be swayed by the views of humans. It may suck from Karolina's point of view, but why *should* aliens feel the same way about what is justice than humans? I felt it made the story. and like I said, It may suck from the view of Karolina and her friends, but it also made it harder for them, and they had to step up their game to compensate.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel. At this point, despite losing their parents (who were evil anyway), the team has had some pretty smooth sailing as regards to taking responsibility and having to live in a world where there are no adults to take care of them. Now is the time when the bills, so to speak, are coming due, and I am going to enjoy watching the kids deal with them. Highly recommended.

Batman: Life After Death by Tony S. Daniel

Now that Batman is dead, Dick Grayson, formerly known as Robin and Nightwing, has taken over the role of Batman. But with the death of Bruce Wayne, new problems, led by some old villains, have arisen to plague Gotham. The first is the villain known as Black Mask, aided and abetted by his new allies/henchmen, the False Faces. The second is the return of the Falcone crime family, one of whom may be tied to the Black Mask by her actions.

Unlike before, this time some of the False Faces seem to be fine, upstanding citizens. But how is the Black Mask controlling them? Dick takes the gas mask one of the dead False Faces was wearing. Even though he didn't find any trace of chemicals in them before, he's going to try again. In the meantime, he contacts Selina Kyle. She's been running with Poison Ivy, who once worked with Black Mask. Maybe she knows where his current hideout is...?

Selina agrees to try, but not without significant payment. She might have done it for Bruce out of love, but from Dick, she'll require 25 large wired to her secret Swiss bank account. When he comes through, she meets him and says Ivy doesn't know, or says she doesn't, and Selina would be a fool to press her. But she did find an uninhabited mansion in Gotham that is showing signs of someone being there.

Dick checks it out to find that the Falcones are using it as their base of operations. With them is Kittrina, a minor member of the family who has accompanied them to the city. But she isn't planning on staying around. Meanwhile, the Black Mask is working with a man named Doctor Death, and they have plans for Doctor Gruener... plans that involve a scythe he used to wield. Meanwhile, Dick and Bruce's son Damian take down another set of False Faces who have stolen an Ambulance, and lots and lots of pills of all sorts, but mainly ones that affect the mood, like Xanax.

The next day, Dick and "Bruce" attend a party of the city's movers and shakers. "Bruce" is actually an impostor, and Dick is going with Helena, the Huntress. Also at the party is Edward Nigma, formerly known as the Riddler, now retired from crime and pursuing business as a private eye. And so is a young girl that Oracle wants Helena to follow. The girl sets off an explosion that hurts Nigma, but Helena is hardly injured and follows the girl. Meanwhile Dick learns that "Bruce" made a donation to the Arkham Asylum, and that Dr. Arkham is using it for research. But he, too, follows the girl to learn who she is and what she is doing. He stops to question a street youth, only for the young man to be shot in the head right in front of him. But he does learn that the girl has been seen working with the former Penguin's goons.

Batman tracks down Penguin and gets him to tell her about the girl, whose name is Kittrina. As far as Penguin knows, she's just a street girl who does odd jobs for him. But she had to leave because of some family thing. Back at the Batcave, Damian discovers that the pills in the stolen ambulance may look like ordinary, over the counter pharmaceuticals, but they are actually mixes of all the anti-psychotics. The Black Mask is drugging his men to keep them in line and sane. Dick arrives and tells Damien that he discovered that already, but he'd like Damian's help with the gas masks, and finding out exactly what they do.

Meanwhile, he finds that Doctor Singh, the owner and head of a company named Gene-core, has been working with the girl Kittrina, who he says threatened himself and his family for some information and to use his lab. Batman returns to the place that he encountered the Falcones and discovers that the girl is Kittrina Falcone, a relative of the Falcone family. He thinks that Penguin and the Falcones are working together to bring down Black Mask, with the intention of taking his place, but as Selina Kyle discovers when Kittrina breaks into her place to steal back the maps that Catwoman stole from the estate where the Falcones have been holing up, Kittrina has an even more ambitious plan. She wants to capture Black Mask and claim the $50 million bounty on his head, and she wants Catwoman to come with her as backup.

The question is, will Selina abandon Dick to side with the girl, and what is Black Mask really up to and what does he want? How is he controlling his False Faces, and can Dick and Damian, the new Batman and Robin, find, defeat and unmask the Black Mask and end his reign of terror in Gotham? Or will that task be beyond them this time?

Well, I have to say that this was a startling book to read. Is it becoming Batman that seems to suck every single iota of fun or a sense of humor out of the people who take on the job? Bruce Wayne had no sense of humor, and neither did Batman, but Dick Grayson did have a sense of humor when he was younger. What happened to it? Where did it go? I am assuming that he pretends to be as humorless as Bruce because he wants Batman to seem like he never died, but does that humorless mask spill over into everything else, too?

Okay, maybe it's a side-effect of losing Bruce and having to deal with Damian (that asshole kid can suck the fun out of anything. No, I don't like him, why did you ask?), but he comes across as pretty unrelentingly grim in this book. As a whole, the story is well-told, and I didn't figure out who the Black Mask was until pretty late in the book, but still before the reveal. I did like the addition of Huntress, Oracle and Catwoman in the book and their interactions with the new Batman- different from Bruce Wayne, but at the same time strikingly similar.

Black Mask is a credible villain, and the way he controls the other villains around him is surprisingly scary, or at least I found it so, and I ended up enjoying it. Personally, I think the Batman canon has changed a bit too much for me to enjoy these newer stories as much as I did some of the older ones., but that's okay, too. Stagnation is bad as well.

Recommended, but not especially highly. Dick comes off as a retread Batman, with the same abilities, but without a lot of the things that made Bruce Wayne interesting in his own right. It felt a bit pale for me where character was concerned.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Volume 3 by Hiroyuki Asada

Lag Seeing lives in the world of Amberground, a land of perpetual night lit only by a false, amber-colored sun. In the wilds, creatures known as Gaichuu roam, insectile creatures with metal exoskeletons that make any kind of travel extremely dangerous. So, the people keep in touch with letters, carried by brave messengers known as Letter Bees. Their weapons, powered by the same kind of amber that forms the sun, are the only ones that can affect the Gaichuu and keep people's hearts connected.

Lag has just passed his test to become a letter bee, and with nearly record time, also. The only person to deliver a letter faster than he did was his hero, Gauche Suede. All his life, Lag has only wanted to become a letter bee like his idol, and now he learns, much to his shock, that Gauche is no longer a letter bee. Even his sister, Sylvette Suede, has no idea where Gauche has gone. All she has left of him is sadness and his letter bee weapon. She is still in a wheelchair, trying to make a living making dolls and clothing and selling them.

When Lag arrives, she thinks he is one of her creditors, looking for payment, but when Lag asks if she is Sylvette, she recognizes him for who he is and serves him and Niche, his Dingo, some milk tea. Niche is jealous of Sylvette for her body, and even though she is very sensitive to heat and hates milk, she gulps her milk tea when Sylvette tells her she will never grow without drinking milk. Lag tells her he saw into Gauche's heart when he delivered Lag's letter, and saw Sylvette crying. Sylvette is unhappy with the memory, but tells Lag that she only discovered Gauche had gone when he received a letter of dismissal from the Letter Bees, revoking all his privileges and passes for not showing up to work.

Sylvette has concluded that her brother lost his heart and died, and that is why he disappeared and never came back to her. She can't stand that Lag reminds her of her brother and asks him to go, and he does, crying. On the way back to the Akatsuki, he asks Lag what would happen if he lost his heart and forgot her. She tells him that she would bite him and drop him, but even if he forgot her, she would never forget him. That makes him cry again, and he returns to Sylvette's home and promises her that he will find her brother. As he does, his spirit eye activates, and he aims the beam at Lag's old Gun, reviving the memories inside it. He sees Gauche meeting himself, and of Lag's last job as a letter bee, buying a new gun, and the fact that he was being followed by an anti-government group calling itself "Reverse". And then him speaking with Sylvette, asking her to promise to give Lag his gun.

Sylvette gives Lag the gun, telling him she wanted him to go because she was afraid her memories would hurt, but at the same time, she really wanted to meet him. Lag takes the gun and is accepted into the service of the Letter Bees, and tells the council that he wants to be Head Bee because he wants to connect the hearts of the people separated by distance, and to reach the hearts of everyone. He wants to become the best kind of bee, like Gauche Suede. One of them, the Assistant Director, Aria, is surprised that Lag knew Gauche, and Lag gets a room with Sylvette, taking over Gauche's old room, and paying her rent. But he will only stay until he finds her brother.

A few days later, Assistant Director Aria comes to visit Lag. She takes him to Prayer Hill, the closest point to the man-made sun and the closest point to the Empress, there, she tells him that she and Gauche used to go there every morning to pray, and that she saw the day that Gauche lost part of his heart, the day his mother died, and the light of the sun flickered. And somehow, Gauche Suede lost all the memories of his mother when the Sun flickered and died and the Government Airship crashed. It was as if he didn't even remember her at all. Conflicting stories came about why the sun flickered and the airship crashed, but no one knows what really happened, except maybe the government, and they aren't talking.

Since he didn't remember his mother, Gauche put everything into making sure his sister was happy. So when he disappeared... The two of them are interrupted by Connor, who tells Lag and the Director that Zazie needs help with some Gaichuu. Lag goes to help, but before he leaves, he tells Aria that he was born on the same day as the Flicker, and the same day as Sylvette Suede, and from her words that she still cares for Gauche, and that he's happy she still cares for and loves him. Then he goes off to help Zazie.

Soon, Lag is given his first package to deliver. The Director, Largo, asks him to deliver a package and two amulets to a woman named Elena and her brother Bran. But the Bees want him to take a guide on named Darwin, because the path is so dangerous. Darwin, however, turns out to be an old, decrepit dog, practically on his last legs. And Lag discovers that the woman he is supposed to deliver the letter to died ten years ago. Darwin was her Dingo, and he's old and senile now, but Largo wants to reunite the two while there is still time. But when Lag and Niche come across a huge Gaichuu, can they save Darwin from becoming just another statistic? Or will Lag and Niche join Elena in the grave?

I found this series both moving and heart-wrenching. The letter bees are something like the Pony Express and something like doctors, bringing both love, hope and memories to the world they inhabit. Unlike many other manga I have read, some of the stories in this book made me cry at the end, like the story of Darwin, which was so sad, and yet so beautiful at the same time.

The character desgins are unique, and so is the world, composed of some parts medieval/renaissance, and some parts industrial revolution, and while a character tearing up rarely causes me to cry, even when a story is sad, this series really touches your heart with a mix of poeticism, outright emotion and beauty. The stories really get you feeling something, even if its a dim warmth deep in your heart. The last story felt like myth, and like poetry, and it was just beautiful. This is one you are going to want to read for yourself.

Needless to say, I find stories like this very hard to find. I'm not generally a weepy or overly emotional person, so when I find that rare story that does touch me, I value it very highly indeed. There are many interesting stories to come that I can see, and I want to find out more about Niche and Lag and the rest of the letter bees, and to read some more of this pretty amazing world. It's an adventure story almost as pure as can be found, and touching as well. Highly recommended.

Shaman King, Volume 30 by Hiroyuki Takei

The Shaman Fight is over and Hao has won, but another Shaman Fight is scheduled on a far away and mythical island. Yoh's team relaxes in the hot springs, and as Yoh enjoys himself, he reflects on the amazing events of the last few days. And then Hao shows up and offers to tell them the answers to a few questions they are having. But first he talks about the events on the West Beach of the Island, and how those who showed up there must not be allowed to interfere with the battle on the lost Continent of Mu.

The others act like he is crazy, but that is where the next part of the contest will be held. Also, that now, Yoh's team also represents the five elemental spirits. Yoh is metal, Lyserg fire, Joco Air, Tao Ren Lightning, and Horohoro Water. But Hao wants Yoh to help him clean up the bodies and to hold back a fleet of human warships that are seeking the information on Mu for themselves. And Manta Oyamada's father, Mansumi, is in charge of the fleet. Therefore, Hao says, because Yoh brought Manta to the Shaman Fight, Yoh is responsible for the problem and must fix it.

Manta is horrified. He hasn't spent much time talking about his family because he absolutely loathes them. He wants to try and talk to his father's butler and try to defuse the situation, but Anna forestalls them. She, in turn, has partly been responsible for this situation as well. Manta's father's butler planted a bug in Manta's luggage. She knew it was there but didn't do anything about it because she wanted Yoh to have one more fight before the final fight- one more chance to learn and grow stronger. You see, while Manta's father is a non-shaman, he has brought shamans with him, including Hans Lihite, the X-Blades Armorer, and he has brought his armory with him.

Anna has made it so that no one can talk about it and no one can back down. And fighting humans is harder than fighting Shamans. Humans are worse than shamans because they never asked for it. Fighting them will make Yoh and his team harder. So both Yoh and Hao's teams meet on the beach to turn back the assault. They have only two hours before the sub will leave for Mu, with or without them. The healers of the teams stand ready to heal wounds and resurrect the dead. With so many combatants coming, this will be a kind of battle for them as well. Hao promises to try and kill as few people as possible.

He takes out much of the attacking force, and when Hans Lihite tries to kill him, Hao breaks his oversoul, killing Lihite. Teruko, a Voodoo Witch, attempts to kill Hao with a death curse, but he turns it back on her, killing her. Without having killed Mansumi Oyamada or his military advisor, he tells Yoh he is done and leaves the rest to him. Afterwards, he goes to speak with Anna. Anna tells Anahol that it would be suicide for Yoh and his allies to fight Hao. He is too powerful for them as a Shaman, but they have a power he does not in that they are following their paths. Yoh and his allies have also come to the conclusion that Hao's power is a sad power, as it arises from death, torture and pain. It's as sad for him as for those who face him. Hao also didn't destroy Manta's father because even he hesitates to deprive someone of a parent.

In Mu, the others decline to fight Hao, leading to him being declared winner of the Shaman Fight and led to the Great Spirit to be joined to it. But the others have another option. The Great King sleeps, and if they can fight their way to him first, there is a chance that the world can be saved from Hao's wanting to destroy it all. They must fight their way past the ten Patch tribe members to reach the Great Spirit first. But the Patch Tribe are all powerful Shamans and must be overcome if the Shaman teams want to win. Can they overcome both the Patch and then Hao before time runs out?

Okay, with only thirty two volumes in the series, we are coming down to the end. It's do or die time, and I feel a big clue has been planted with Hao's admission that he doesn't like depriving someone of a parent. Is it because something of the same happened to him? It was certainly enough to make him want to destroy the rest of the world because of it. He may have inadvertently given Anna the information that will be enough to defeat him. But even if he is defeated, who will be the final winner of the Shaman Fight?

At this point, so much battling has gone on that it is pointless to speculate. We as readers hope it is Yoh, but he seems destined to be one of the Five Elementals instead, along with Joco, Horohoro, Tao Ren and Lyserg. And I can't imagine Big Sword Ryu winning if one of the others doesn't. I can only wait and see.

Events in this book seem curiously unfinished. We don't see what happens to Manta's father, the battle abruptly cuts out after Hao leaves and the other characters don't talk about what happened, which seems rather strange after all that has gone on so far. But I do recommend this volume and I have decided I will read the last two, come what may. So Recommended, as the final fights near.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pokémon Gold and Silver Adventures, Volume 8 by Hidenori Kusaka, Art by Mato

Gold is a young man whose family consists of himself, his mother, and a passel of Pokémon, who all live in the same house and help each other out. One night, when he's playing pool with his Aipom, Gold sees someone sneaking into his backyard. He confronts the intruder, a boy named Joey, who is trying to get his backpack back from the Murkrow who stole it. Gold shoots the pokéball containing his Aipom (who he calls Aibo) up to the Murkrow, and it grabs back not only the bag, but the Antenna that it stole off the house.

Inside the bag are a bunch of pokéballs that Professor Oak was sending to Professor Elm at the Poké center, and the next day, Joey and Gold get up early to deliver them. In the nearby town, everyone seems to know Gold, and Joey can see why- Gold routs a cheater using a Hoothoot to trick people out of their money. But as Gold is taking the Cheater down, someone steals Gold's backpack, with all his Pokémon inside, thinking it is Joey's bag instead.

Gold wants his Pokémon back, so they hurry to Professor Elm's place, only to find that one of Professor Elm's Pokemon, a Totodile, has also been stolen, this time by a young man. However, he isn't the one who stole Gold's backpack, and the two team up to find the real thieves, who just happen to be members of Team Rocket. But they soon realize that they took the wrong backpack and toss it to find the one they were actually supposed to steal.

Meanwhile, Gold and the thief fight, are confronted by Team Rocket, and end up defeating them, but Gold is knocked out and the other boy escapes. The Police request Gold's help, but he gives them a false description. He wants to catch the thief himself! Then Professor Oak shows up and tells Gold that the same thief stole his latest Pokédex, and he wants Gold to get it back for him. Gold wants the other Pokédex, but it takes a near-tragedy before Professor Oak will give it to him. And he only does so after Gold tells him that he considers his Pokémon to be partners.

Oak has also found the backpack that Gold lost, and he sends the rest of his Pokémon home to be with his mother. However, one of them is missing, Polibo, the Poliwag. Gold sets aside searching for Silver (whose name he found out from a glove the other boy left behind) and searches the river for Polibo, but is unable to find it.

Moving on, Gold goes to Violet town and learns that Silver has been seen near Sprout Tower, a tower supposedly constructed around a 100 foot tall Bellsprout. Breaking into the tower, he discovers that it is inhabited by a set of Pokémon trainers who all use Bellsprouts and shave their hair. They assume that Gold is there to join them, and tell him they will give him a new name and shave him.

Gold declines, and ends up defeating their Bellsprouts with his Cyndaquil, Exbo. From there, he ascends to the top of the tower, where he and Silver fight another battle against each other, then team up to destroy a huge ball that dropped from the top of the Tower as part of the monk training the group of trainers here undergo. Silver tells Gold that the reason why he fails as a trainer is because he doesn't do so as part of a team, and then he disappears. Gold is left to ponder the truth of his words as Silver's Totodile evolves into a Croconaw.

Outside the town limits, Gold runs into Falkner, the Policeman who asked for his help. Falkner has a dream of his own, training his own Pokémon, a Pidgeot and a Noctowl, to take over his father's place as Violet Town Gym Leader. But there is something else going on. a Bird-like Pokémon with a body hard as metal is chasing the Sunkern all over the placem, making a hazard. Using his brain and his Pokémon as a team, Gold uses his Pokémon along with Falkner's to defeat the Bird-creature and capture it in a Pokéball, ending the threat. Falkner offers to help train Gold, but Gold can't take him up on his offer just now, he still has too many things to do and a thief to catch.

Gold's path takes him to an area of ruins, where he finds a very cute girl- except that this "girl" is actually a guy, Bugsy from Azalea Town. Bugsy is looking for his friends, who disappeared the day before in the ruins. Gold hears something under the stone and blasts away the stairs to find a chamber hidden beneath the ground, covered in strange symbols. Bugsy is fascinated by the symbols, and theorizes that they may be describing a new of Pokémon, lost to the ages. But when Team Rocket show up, it turns out that the symbols *are* Pokémon, known as the Unown. with the help of his Pokémon, Gold puts Team Rocket to flight and helps rescue Bugsy's friends.

Then, at the river, Gold discovers one of the Pokémon thieves, which is actually a Pokémon itself. The Grambull has an injured jaw and needed help, so it stole Pokéballs to draw attention to itself. The Poké trainer offers to be friends with Gold, and thinks that his friend, Yellow, would be interested in this new guy. After that, Gold finds the man who makes Silver his hand-made Pokéballs, and helps the man's granddaughter catch a Teddiursa in the Mountains. At the same time, Silver uses a Heavy Ball to catch the evolved form of TeddiUrsa, Usaring, which he uses to punish a group of Team Rocket members who have attacked a group of Slowpokes simply to cut off their tails as a delicacy. This gives Gold his first clue that Silver isn't a bad person- he left the Team Rocket members tied up among their victims, who then heal themselves. And Professor Elm awards Gold with a strange Poké Egg, which needs to be kept with Gold's Pokémon to hatch.

But when Gold follows Silver's trail into the Ilex forest, will the mist, inhabited by a Ghastly, Delibird, Ariados and Houndour, be able to defeat him and chase him from the path? And what will happen to the charcoal burner and his Farfetch'd who Gold found passed out in the mist if he runs away?

Well, it's a Pokémon book, so I wasn't expecting much of a story, but I must admit that this one certainly gives readers far better of a story than most of the Pokémon manga and comics that you can find on the shelves. Unlike most Pokémon trainers, Gold isn't going on this journey out of selfish reasons, like wanting to win a Pokémon tournament or to become a gym leader, he's doing it mostly out of a desire to help (his little bit of selfishness is in wanting to meet Professor Oak's assistant, Mary and maybe impress her). He doesn't treat his Pokémon like pets or tools, but like members of his family and, as the manga tells us, Partners. In all honesty, this doesn't mean that his behavior is any different than Ash or Red- but it does make Professor Oak trust him.

One of my big problems with the series as a whole is that so much of it feels the same- the Pokémon battles, and now we have the Egg, which bears a remarkable resemblance to Togepi that Misty hatched on the original TV series. I'm not really sure what could be done to do away with the sameyness of all the Pokémon battles. Even coming up with new Pokémon doesn't really change things all that much. Maybe if they focussed less on the battles and more the mystery of the Pokémon themselves, like the Unown.

This is one of the better Pokémon stories, with a reason for Gold to be out there rather than just being another Pokémon trainer, and using past characters in new ways. On the other hand, that isn't saying much, and the battles are very samey-samey, which, if you are older than the target age of eight to twelve, quickly causes boredom and the feeling of having seen it all before. Nevertheless, kids of the target age will love this series, especially if they have played the games, and HeartGold and SoulSilver in particular. Recommended for Pokémon fans, not recommended for anyone else.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Immortal Prince by Jennifer Fallon

The Tide Lords are immortals that came into being long ago, tied to the tides of magic that ebb and flow across the world. When the Tides crest, they rule like Gods over the land, but when the tides ebb, they are little better than humans with insanely long lives.

So when a man is hanged and refuses to die, he claims to be a Tide Lord. Specifically, a man named Cayal, also known as the Immortal Prince. Luckily, or Unluckily for him, the local Duchess, a woman named Arkady Desean, is a scholar and an expert on the legends of the Tide Lords. She hopes that by questioning him, she can discover the source of his delusions and help him to recover.

But not everyone wants her to succeed. Chief among them is Declan Hawkes, the King's Chief Spymaster. Long ago, he and Arkady were children, friends growing up together in the slums. But when her father was arrested for treason, she sneaked into the palace to try and free him, encountering Count Stellan, the man who eventually became her husband. She married him soon after that night, and Declan has held a grudge about it ever since, for he was in love with Arkady and wished to marry her himself. When she married Stellan, he viewed it as a betrayal of their friendship, and even though they are still openly friendly, he bears a grudge towards her husband.

But Arkady didn't marry her husband for the reasons everyone thinks she did. Yes, he freed her father as part of their marriage contract, but she stays married to him for other reasons that would mean death for her husband if they were noised abroad, and she views her husband as enough of a friend to want to see and keep him safe from his enemies.

But as she speaks to the man who claims to be Cayal, he decides to tell her the story of his past and how he came to be a Tide Lord. For he was once as human as she is. And Arkady is alternately thrilled and confused by his story- thrilled at hearing it, but confused because she can't point to any inconsistencies in it as a reason not to believe him. The story hangs together perfectly, but her logical and unbelieving mind halt her from actually believing in a people as strong as Gods. Even when he claims that the Cainii, Dog-like humans who many families keep as servants, were actually created by the Tide Lords, she cannot say that he is obviously lying.

But she comes to sympathize with him, even as her own life threatens to unravel. As she tries to save him from the men meant to kill him, the other Tide Lords are awakening, made more powerful by the strengthening tide. Cayal kidnaps her as he flees the soldiers sent by another one of the Tide Lords to kill her and imprison him, and then Arkady can no longer prevent herself from believing, and her entire intellectual world comes crashing down upon her. With nowhere else to turn, and falling in love with Cayal, she must attach her fate to his if she stand any hope of surviving the swelling of the tide. But other forces simply won't let them be alone, and for Cayal's crimes against his fellow Tide Lords, they seek to bring him to heel and make him pay. But can Cayal and Arkady keep far enough ahead of them, and survive the coming tide?

Someone returned the third book in this series to the library, and I found it interesting enough to try and order this book, which is the first in the series,and I ended up liking it very much indeed. The Tide Lords may seem like Gods, but they are very much like the Greek Gods, with several deep character flaws that make them seem chaotic and often downright evil. But it's not that they are really evil, just that they don't care about anyone but themselves. And when you are as strong as a god and wield incredible magic powers, that's not really healthy for the ordinary humans around you.

Cayal is almost unique among the immortal Tide Lords in that, at the beginning of the novel, he really wants to die. In fact, the whole reason why he is hung at the beginning of the novel is that he hoped that with magic at a low ebb, he hoped it would be possible to kill himself. In the end, it isn't, but magic is already beginning to rise, so maybe it wasn't a really fair test. In part, its because he is tired of living for so long, and the rest of it is his fellow immortals. To become one of the Tide Lords, you have to be really sure that you wanted to live while your mortality burned away in a flame, and the sort of people capable of that sort of certainty aren't very comfortable to be around. Most of them have very severe personality disorders, which are only exacerbated by thinking of themselves as Gods.

And the ones who are "good" to other humans are only wrapped up in their own concerns. Like the woman who mines for precious metals, living in a shack in the middle of nowhere, in squalor, because all she is interested in is mining more metal. Those who do intervene in human affairs rarely have the best interests of those humans at heart, and even when they do, stuff happens, and its never good for those who hang around with the Tide Lords. Which leads to the question of what is going to happen to Arkady during the course of the novel? Will she end up being like the little girl Frankenstein accidentally kills in the movie, not knowing his own strength? Or will her death be a deliberate act on the part of the other Tide Lords?

I found this novel fascinating. All the characters, even the human ones, are flawed in some way. Arkady by her refusal to see and believe what is right before her eyes, and her martyr complex, sacrificing herself in a loveless marriage to save her father, and then remaining faithful to the man she was married to because she was grateful to him for freeing her father. The other characters are just as flawed and that makes them interesting to read about. I remain very interested in seeing where the story is going and what is going to happen. Highly recommended.