The Prophecy Con: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Magic Crystals

prophecy con

Every time a trilogy’s Book Two is better than its Book One, an angel gets its wings. One of my early posts on this blog was a somewhat scientific (and pretentious, but hey, that’s what most of my early posts seem to sound like) study of what I called Second Book Syndrome, the curse that afflicts sequels and mid-point novels in trilogies that makes them… just not great comparatively, for a variety of reasons to do with both author heebie-jeebies and narrative structure. Well, my younger self would be pleasantly surprised to learn that I’ve found a series where Book Two is both better constructed and more enjoyable than Book One. It’s a Christmas miracle! It’s a rollicking fantasy action adventure! It’s Rogues of the Republic: The Prophecy Con!

If this sounds intriguing but you haven’t read my review of Book One and/or Book One itself, I would do that first—this review will naturally contain a few spoilers for its predecessor, since discussing the plot of The Prophecy Con will naturally involve discussing what happens in and after The Palace Job. Honestly, this book does a wonderful job both following on from the previous book and feeling like its own individual, fresh story, and perhaps it’s striking this delicate balance that helps it avoid Second Book Syndrome. It’s also a big improvement in terms of craft: the chaotic nature of the writing itself that threw me off about The Palace Job has mostly been ironed out, and the plot is much cleaner-cut into arcs that make a Three Act Structure more discernible. The prose on a page-to-page level, as well as the plot itself, are much easier to follow, and you get swept up in the adventure and intrigue with even more vigour than before. Also, this is the book where things get gay. Consider these your vague, non-spoiler recommendations, and proceed from here if you want more details. Continue reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Alex Reads

Bananice: September ’18 Roundup

tumblr_pcxwmowarx1t0lt8go1_500

Seasonal anime is an efficient, yet deeply frightening, method of measuring time. Suddenly all these shows are up to their tenth and eleventh episodes when, you swear, you were reading all the premiere reviews only last week. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a part of seasonal discussions and having my finger on the pop cultural pulse (I’m now the most in-the-know and up-to-date about what’s coming out and what the goss around it is in my friendship circle, which is a strange but powerful feeling), but it also gives me cause to lie down and curl up in a little cosy exisential crisis now and then. What do you mean the swashbuckling time-travel theatre anime is finishing in a minute? And, ergo, what do you mean I’m one month closer to having to present my Confirmation Seminar??

September comes to a close, and it’s time to see what I, and others, have been writing about this month:

On the blog:

The Palace Job: A High Fantasy Heist Fantasy (a review of a rollicking fantasy novel with a lovable and diverse cast)

Once More, With Feeling: Teens and Time Loops in Revue Starlight (a bonus post, because I had an unreasonable amount of emotions about Nana “Banana” Daiba, unexpectedly the most relatable character in Revue Starlight, and wanted to get them out while they were timely)

Hyouka and the Jerk-Genius Detective Trope (an analysis of my favourite arc of the high school mystery series, and what it says about the genre overall and about its main character)

Cool web content:

Free! is airing again, which means it’s time to dust off the discussions of “manservice” and “pandering” that have followed it since it was announced. So Free! panders to women, and maybe even panders to slash fans, does it? Does that make it bad simply on that merit? A certain chunk of the population thinks so, and Zeria makes an attempt here to unpack the tricky boundary between personal taste and dudes writing something off just because it’s obviously aimed at women. With the ever-important fact reiterated that everything panders to someone, because that’s how marketing works–you’re probably just not used to things not pandering to you, and so it stands out. The video transcript can also be found here!

Fantasies and Nightmares in the Reverse Harem Genre — a post which nicely sums up the ups and downs of the “reverse harem” (female protagonist surrounded by male love interests) genre, and how it can equally offer icky disasters full of romanticised abuse or stories of female empowerment and true love, depending on what you pick up.

The Expendable Disabled Heroes of Marvel’s Infinity War — adding to the long list of things Infinity War didn’t do great at is this perspective on the way the disabled characters–Bucky, Nebula, Thor, and Rhodey–are treated in the film, and how this shines light on the various unhappy tropes that disabled characters fall into into media.

Hope, Change, and Monsters: The Legacy of Digimon Adventure — you know what was my absolute jam as a kid? Digimon. This article explores some of the reasons the series was so resonant and has stuck so powerfully in the minds of so many people.

Demons at the Dinner Table: How Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family Glosses Over Domestic Abuse — I have recently sung the praises of The Fate Cooking Show, but it’s also important to acknowledge that there have been some issues with transferring the franchise to a slice-of-life setting. Namely, as examined here, how Sakura and Shinji’s canonically abusive relationship is given the fluffy “everything is fine” treatment. It was something that bothered me about their episode, and it’s articulated very well here.

Don’t Let Telltale Milk Your Fandom Until They Pay the Workers They Screwed — so… Telltale Games is shutting down. This has been big news this month, and this article sums up the whole kerfuffle pretty neatly, from the sudden layoff of nearly all of the company’s staff to the fandom reaction, which has been, in some places, not in good taste. Fandom entitlement is a hell of a thing. I’m sad that Telltale won’t be making any more games too, but the mentality that fans are “owed” a satisfying ending to their favourite story, and that receiving that is more important than the livelihoods of the people who made it, is all kinds of awful.

And to finish, the Revue Starlight analysis on Atelier Emily continues to be top notch, so I’m linking it again!

And that’s a wrap. Take care everyone!

Leave a comment

Filed under Monthly Roundups

Hyouka and the Jerk-Genius Detective Trope

Hyouka (36)

Hyouka is a series about solving mysteries, but it’s also a story world where mystery novels exist, so naturally they come up in conversation. Protagonist Oreki shows little interest in whodunnit books like those by Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, but this is understandable because Oreki doesn’t show much interest in anything—in fact, his motto in life is “If I don’t have to do it, I won’t. If I do have to do it, I will do it while expending as little energy as possible.” His best friend Satoshi, by comparison, is much more engaged with the world and with things generally, and in this particular case, is vocally interested in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Oreki asks him if he’d call himself a “Sherlockian”. Satoshi looks a little awkward and says no, he wouldn’t.

Now, this is Satoshi being humble because he’s not as much of a superfan as he could be, but because my main association with the phrase “Sherlockian” is the fandom for the BBC series Sherlock, my first thought was that he was actually embarrassed about having a blog and an AO3 account dedicated to the Steven Moffat show. And that funny little thought inspired me to rewatch this video essay about the many pitfalls of Sherlock—one of which is the show’s utter unflinching reverence for Sherlock Holmes himself, in all his glowing embodiment of the “emotionally detached, logical, and actually a real jerk, but we all love him because of his mega-genius detective skills” trope. And that got me thinking about Oreki, who is very much the Holmes of Hyouka. Yes, Oreki, mister “I don’t care about anything, but I’m good at solving puzzles so people admire me, especially that cute girl over there” himself.

By all rights he could have been just one more obnoxious example of the jerk-genius archetype that has evolved from Holmes, but interestingly Hyouka’s narrative makes a conscious effort to steer him away from it. That same arc with the “Sherlockian” conversation takes a wonderfully meta dip into mystery stories and their revered problem-solving protagonists, and in the end points out that this is nothing worth aspiring to—which ends up being a fun bit of genre play as well as great step in Oreki’s character development. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Archetypes and Genre

Once More, With Feeling: Teens and Time Loops in Revue Starlight

Revue Starlight (58)

Never trust anyone who says high school is “the best years of your life”.

That said, of course, it can feel that way at the time, especially in comparison to the looming threat of adulthood and all the scary responsibilities and realities it contains. While I knew even back then that year ten was not the peak of my existence, the passage of time and its implications of change struck me with deep apprehension. After a rocky beginning to my teen years, I’d finally settled in with a group of good friends, and the thought that we might have to separate due to something as mundane as graduating was terrifying and wrought with injustice. Things were good. I didn’t want to lose anyone, didn’t want anything to change, wanted to hang onto that little slice of fun carefree (ish) existence.

Would I have trapped us all in a time loop to preserve the ties of our friendship group and avoid the pressures of adulthood? A magical cryptic theatre giraffe never asked me, so I suppose we’ll never know. But a little part of me would, you know, see where you were coming from if you decided to do that.

Spoilers ahead for Revue Starlight episodes seven, eight, and nine! Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings

The Palace Job: A High Fantasy Heist Fantasy

PalaceJob_cover_xll8ld

Sometimes a family is a thief with a plot for revenge, a soldier, a safecracker, an acrobat, an unqualified wizard, a unicorn, a death priestess, an orphan with a grand destiny, and a talking warhammer with the soul of an ancient king inside it. And sometimes they steal stuff together.

The Palace Job is the first novel in Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic trilogy, and the very definition of “a rollicking good time”. It blends genres by planting an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist caper in a high fantasy setting, following a rag-tag group of lovable criminals (and you know I have a soft spot for those) as they band together to rob a powerful politician in a floating city. It’s a chaotic adventure in both content and sometimes in storytelling, but it absolutely hooked me with its diverse and delightful cast of characters. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Alex Reads

A Revue of Reviews: August ’18 Roundup

Butterfly Soup (68)

What’s hype this month? YA, that’s what. If it wasn’t obvious from the two big posts about coming-of-age stories I put out this August, it’s a set of narrative tropes that I find myself constantly drawn back to. Following sites like Gay YA, Book Riot, and YA Pride helps a lot too, since they’re giving me an unending influx of news and recommendations and I’m more aware than ever of all the amazing stories out there, especially in the field of queer YA. I think I’m especially intrigued by that area since I didn’t have a particularly queer YA-hood myself, and only started thinking about these things in my early twenties. Even without taking that into account, that period of my life flew by so fast and so crazily that I feel like I need to consume many, many novels (and other media) ruminating on it to put it in perspective and figure out what even happened.

More than that, though, there are just so many cool, varied, and genuinely good stories happening in this field at the moment. Just this month I read Alice Oseman’s I Was Born For This, a moving look at fame, friendship, and fandom that I finished in two sittings; I reread Malinda Lo’s A Line in the Dark, a psychological thriller that features a murder mystery but no dead lesbians; and I started Kathryn Ormsbee’s Tash Hearts Tolstoy, which promises a delightfully intertextual tale about storytelling with an ace main character. My ‘want to read’ list is overflowing, but I’m sneaking these in when I can and they’re so darn good.

I’ve also been reading some very fun fantasy novels, reviews of which will start going up in September. But what did I publish this month?

On the Blog:

Butterfly Soup: Queer Romance, Geek Humour, and the Authentic Teen Experience (a review of a visual novel about the trials and troubles of growing up, with plenty of loving nods to late ’00s anime fandom and a very sweet romance)

Revue Starlight and the Unreality of the Stage (and Why It Works) (a look at Revue Starlight‘s use of magic, theatre, and magic theatre)

Country Roads, Take Me to Hell: The Spooky Small Town, the “Returning Home” Plot, and the Coming-of-Age Story (a dive into what makes the spooky, spooky settings of Life is Strange, Night in the Woods, and Oxenfree so effective and so relevant to their character stories)

Internet Content:

Speaking of YA! PBS is putting out a series of great bite-sized videos about the history and evolution of various genres, from sci-fi to romance to everything in between. The evolution of YA is always fascinating to get into, so I’ll leave this one here as a start and would encourage you to check the rest of them out if you’re interested (whoops, it’s more Linday Ellis! I know, I know. She’s just good).

Why Does Marvel Hate New Readers? – what’s the most daunting numerical-based task known to humanity in our modern world? Complex physics? No, it’s trying to get into comics. This article goes into the weirdness of comic issue numbering, as well as other staples like crossover events and spinoffs, and how they alienate and confuse prospective readers instead of drawing them in.

By Returning to Their Roots, Dark Magical Girls Could Provide Hope – the Dark Magical Girl is not a new thing, despite its popularity as a genre of its own in our post-Madoka world. As this article outlines, it’s also not necessarily a bad thing, citing some historical MG shows that have featured tragedy and suffering, only for it to be overcome by those values of hope and love in the end, leading to valuable catharsis and inspiration.

A Perspective on the Intersection of Intimacy, Romance, and Fandom — we’ve all seen this before: a pair of fictional characters are canonically Just Good Friends, but the fandom does not see it that way and they become a romantic ‘ship. And hey, that’s fine, but this article raises the interesting and important point that this attitude–the assumption that two people who are close can surely only be so close because their love is romantic/sexual rather than platonic–speaks to a bigger issue about how society sees intimacy, and can cut people on the aromantic and/or asexual spectrums out of the discussion.

Steven Universe‘s Creator Has Done More for LGBTQ Visibility Than You Might Know – an interview with Rebecca Sugar where she talks passionately about her work and her drive to provide representation for children.

In Defense of Romantic Comedies — given that I recently stayed up late watching Notting Hill and blubbering, a post that speaks for the power and positive potential (despite some of its negative tropes) of the humble rom-com seems pertinent. Plus, the opening suggestion that rom-coms are a form of speculative fiction is very intriguing and, the more I think about it, true.

For Those Who Remain Behind: The Third Wheel in Revue Starlight and Revolutionary Girl Utena — both these shows star swashbuckling schoolgirls, and both have plotlines that deal with jealousy and self-doubt in their side characters. Natasha breaks down how they do them differently, and why she felt one was more effective than the other.

And, if you’re also watching Revue Starlight, you should check out Atelier Emily’s episodic reviews and analysis! They’re a delight every week, and get into a lot of visual symbolism and historical context that I find really valuable.

And that’s it for now I think! As always, thanks for stopping by, and take care out there.

3 Comments

Filed under Monthly Roundups

Country Roads, Take Me to Hell: The Spooky Small Town, the “Returning Home” Plot, and the Coming-of-Age Story

oxenfree-review-hero-0-0

Life is Strange, Night in the Woods, and Oxenfree form sort of a holy triangle of “young woman returns to a place from her childhood, has a complicated growing-up adventure, and has to fight a frightening supernatural force” game stories. They have common ground not just in their themes but in their wonderfully gothic small-town settings, all three of which serve as fantastic landscapes not just for the player to explore, but to heighten the tension and atmosphere and make the characters’ journey more vivid. Each protagonist is in a liminal time of their lives, caught between childhood and adulthood—Alex of Oxenfree and Max of Life is Strange being in their final year of high school, Mae of Night in the Woods being in her early twenties—and what better way to reflect this unsettling in-between-ness than placing these characters in an equally unsettling setting, where the past and the future symbolically collide alongside night terrors that are decidedly more literal?

A lot of love and work has gone into creating three-dimensional settings for these stories, places with history, complexities, and an effective dark undercurrent… almost making Arcadia Bay, Possum Springs, and Edwards Island main characters in their own right alongside the heroes navigating them. So what makes these settings work? What exactly makes them so spooky? And what makes them such good arenas for these stories about the terrors of growing up to take place? Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Archetypes and Genre