House of Reckoning by John Saul

To be honest, I expected more of this book. It seemed pretty interesting and as a teenager, I enjoyed John Saul. I remember reading Nathaniel and loving it (although if asked what it was about now, I’d be hard pressed to answer).

House of Reckoning was underwhelming at best. Basically, it’s the story of a fourteen year old girl named Sarah Crane who is the biggest Mary Sue that I’ve ever seen in a published fiction. Ever. Sarah’s mother died of cancer half a year ago and her daddy hasn’t been the same. He spends all of his time getting drunk and letting their farm fall into ruin. One night, he goes out drinking and he kills a man in his drunken rage. Driving back home–still drunk–he hits his own daughter with his truck, crippling her. Doesn’t this already sound ridiculous? I mean, this is stuff a newbie writer comes up with. I know I’m supposed to feel sorry for Sarah, but all I did was roll my eyes repeatedly. It only gets better.

So, daddy gets arrested and thrown into prison and poor little Sarah is pushed into the foster care system. I’m sure you can already see where this is going. Yep. Sarah gets stuck with a horrible, terrible, no good, awful family called the Garveys. The dad is an ass, the mom is a bitch, the kids are spoiled brats. They only want Sarah for the county money and they treat her like Cinderella. She has to cook and clean and barely gets any food and she has to feel “grateful” for everything they give her. Yeah. Seriously.

School is torture, where everybody makes fun of her being a cripple and as you’d expect, she makes friends with the other outcasts of the town; an art teacher everybody calls a witch and a crazy boy who hears voices (only they stop whenever he’s around her). The three of them are all tied together and it has to do with the house the art teacher lives in. Which was once a penitentiary for the criminally insane. As you can expect from a Saul book, it features troubled kids with issues who can use an ability. Well, the girl draws things that the boy sees. I’m not even really sure how the three tie in together with the house, other than the fact that it was always owned by the art teacher’s family and a sordid secret later divulged in the book.

The book was written well enough. A few times the POV shifted to somebody who wasn’t currently narrating, which was slightly annoying. But other than that, it wasn’t a badly written book. It was just the fact that the plot was contrived and the characters didn’t elicit any real attachment from me. All in all, I’d say this book was dull, as the whole first half of it read like a pre-teen’s roleplay character history and the second half was actually somewhat rushed and didn’t quite make sense (to me, anyway). I wouldn’t recommend this book to anybody but previous Saul fans and people like my mother, who eat this sort of thing up.

Read more here!

Boys Night Out – Trainwreck

urlBoys Night Out is a Post-Hardcore/Screamo band from Canada. They haven’t been around in a while, but I just rediscovered them a short while ago.

Now, a few years ago, my brother and sister were obsessed with them, particularly the album Trainwreck. At the time, I was very resistant to any music with screaming in it–even the tasteful, emotional screaming you’ll find on this album. I actually remember sitting in my sister’s old Mercedes (backseat) while they sang loudly to this album. I was pretty annoyed–partly because I didn’t know the songs and partly because I really wasn’t into the screamo scene at the time.

Now, several years later, I’ve embraced this band wholeheartedly.

I downloaded their discography some time ago and have had it sitting on my computer for a while. I added songs “It Won’t Be Long” and “Hey, Thanks” to my favorites playlist and listened to them quite a bit, but I got to wondering about Trainwreck. Now, I haven’t listened to a hell of a lot of concept albums, but the ones I have listened to were, frankly, confusing and incoherent. My old favorite was Silverstein’s A Shipwreck in the Sand. If you’ve listened to it, you’ll know what I mean by confusing. I’m not even sure what story they’re trying to tell, especially since there seems to be two going on at once and I don’t understand how they connect. (If somebody does understand, feel free to let me know.)

Trainwreck came out in 2005 and is the band’s second full-length album after Make Yourself Sick. They released a couple of EPs before that, but I won’t get into that. It’s obviously been a while since this album has been out, but it still carries with it a haunting and gripping message.

The story is easy to follow: it’s the descent of a man into madness after the murder of his wife. However, it can be argued that the man was already a little nuts to begin with. Now, I know many music fans don’t like track by track reviews, but I personally prefer them, so that’s how I’ll format this review. Also, as an aside, I greatly encourage all listeners to lie down or sit and close your eyes and listen to this entire album in one sitting. It will enhance the impact of the story as you spiral into madness with the Patient. Pick and choose favorite tracks later, but for best results, listen to the entire album at once–you’ll get what I mean once you experience it.

(There’s a reason people call out for this album to be made into a musical–it would make a much better one than ABBA’s shit.)

Introducing is the album’s first track. It is, no surprise, the introduction to the story. It comes in the form of a recording made by the Doctor. He tells us about the Patient and what he did: he murdered his wife while they both slept. I like how real the Doctor sounds, he even clears his throat and pauses as he speaks of the Patient’s lack of appendages (later explained during the story line). One of my favorite lines come from this track: “It’s loneliness in its most crippling form, the kind that no amount of love or human contact could ever mend.” That line alone fills me with emotion, gives me the chills. What would it be like, to be that lonely? I don’t think any of us want to find out. The music starts with the chant: “The lines I wear around my wrist are there to prove that I exist.” This line is threaded throughout the album and is very poignant.

Dreaming is the second track. It details the Patient’s habitual nightmares, some of which are worse than others. On this particular night, his nightmares are at their worst. He is wrapped up in her–they are inseparable–and what starts out as making love becomes the Patient suffocating his wife. It is indicated that these nightmares have been reoccurring–he wakes shaking or worse–but this night is “worse”. Nightmare and reality are now inseparable–just as he and his wife once were, because this time he wakes to realize that “something’s not right.” He calls the ambulance. This song has a fast tempo and definitely follows the Patient through his nightmarish landscape. It starts off with a menacing tone and a shouting verse that romps through the details of his nightmare–and grows softer when he awakes to his wife no longer breathing.

Waking is the third track, in which the patient is slowly waking from the remnants of his nightmare and starting to realize that what happened in the nightmare really happened. Shaking, he begins to imagine what it must have been like, his lover’s last moments of life. He tears through the house, breaking bottles of her perfume against the walls. He breaks down into a catatonic state–numb–as the paramedics and police finally enter the home. Though this song is probably the most pop-styled song on the album, the bouncy riffs are reflecting his denial and disbelief with sad lyrics. “Make this a dream because I really can’t believe that she’s gone. I’m not here and this isn’t happening. I’ll wake up and she’ll be next to me.” The Patient is desperately hoping that this is just an extension of his previous nightmares, hoping that he’ll wake to find everything back to normal again. This song is one of the catchiest songs and one of my favorites.

Sentencing is the fourth track, where the Patient is taken to trial for his crimes. He knows that he committed murder and that he should be thrown into prison, but as he sits there, remote and unresponsive, he hears the defense pleading insanity. He can’t believe it; there’s irrefutable evidence that he committed this crime, but he’s going to be let off to go to a hospital just because he can’t accept this evil act as a part of his sentient will. He was asleep, after all. “Nothing makes sense anymore, when murder’s just a mistake that you have made.” This song starts off ghostly–reflecting his catatonic state–but quickly becomes another catchy pop-style song. This is also a favorite of mine. Try not to sing along with the part I quoted a few lines ago. 😉

Medicating is the fifth track, in which the Patient is prescribed medication by the Doctor and begins to act more normally. The Patient believes that the sterile environment of the hospital is only making him sicker, so he begins to beg the Doctor to let him go. He doesn’t deserve to be here, it’s obvious that he’s no threat at all. The Doctor finally concedes and allows the patient to go. This song starts out with a catchy start, but a wistful tone by the lead singer. You can really feel the patient’s longing to get out. The chorus is sung with a powerful conviction. The music is lilting and hopeful, and you want to believe–as the Doctor wants to believe–that the Patient is harmless and repentant. This was actually the first song on this album that I liked.

Purging, the sixth track (we’re halfway there), is where the Patient has been released back into society. The Patient is unable to get any real sleep, so he instead wanders into the kitchen and draws lines around his wrists. His guilt is consuming him from the inside, so he simply has to get rid of what caused his wife’s death. So he dresses and goes to work like normal, passing by his disbelieving co-workers and to his buzz-saw. Here, he cuts off his hands so that he’ll never kill again. The music at the beginning reflects his growing insanity with discordant music and the chaotic singing of bleak lyrics. However, it takes on a soft, dreamlike quality as he cuts off his hands. Then it goes back into violent screaming, a descent into pain and madness as he falls…

Relapsing is the seventh track, where the Patient is back inside the hospital, having relapsed back into madness. One of THE most beautiful songs on the track, this song makes my hair stand on end and gives me the chills and it makes me want to cry. The lilting sadness in the girl’s soft voice at the beginning, joined by the male’s tired, jaded voice just gets me every time. He wants her to be with him again so badly, yet he cruelly separated them with his own two hands, the hands he thought cutting off would somehow, some way, bring her back to him. (Fueled by the irrational thoughts of a mad man.) The Patient sadly confesses to the Doctor that he doesn’t know how it all happened, that it’s something that runs deeper than even he realized. However, he knows there is a song in his head that needs to be let out and he believes it’s her. If he can let it out, he can bring her back. Slowly, he grows convinced that the song is the key, not cutting off his hands. You can hear the conviction in his voice, he will bring that song about. Now he feels he has a purpose.

Recovering, the eighth track, details the Patient following his ordered regime by taking his pills–often times too many–and pretending to be all right by the Doctor’s standards so that he can get out again. This song is urgent and fast–the Patient has a goal and he can’t accomplish it until everybody thinks he’s normal again. He lies through his teeth, acts the part of a better man, knowing what he’s doing is wrong, but serene in his choice when he remembers the song that needs to be composed and shared so that his wife can come back. Near the end, the song goes back into insanity, discordant, slow, and violent–it’s obvious that the Patient isn’t well at all. This song has a catchy chorus and a rather shocking thought as we think about how easy it is for the insane to come back to society.

Composing is the ninth track (we’re almost to our grand finale!), is where the Patient is allowed out, and allowed visitors in his home. He invites friends and family to his home, where he poisons them, killing them in order to gain that dead audience that he needs to hear his song. This song starts with the slow, softly song line “It’s all about the song in my head, the one where the audience is all dead.” Then it quickly flies into a fast, optimistic song as the Patient gleefully awaits the fruition of the song; composing that song that he needs in order to see his wife again. There’s some controversy over this song. Some say that the band claims the events of Composing never actually happened, and only happened in his head, but I have yet to find an official source, just hearsay. So take it how you will. This song is chilling, nonetheless. It’s so hopeful and happy, but it’s such a grim realization that he feels he needs to kill in order to gain what he wants so badly. “Only through death our voices will join together.”

Disintegrating is the tenth track. As you can guess, this is where the Patient really breaks apart. This song starts out slow, but it quickly gains speed and desperation before mellowing again. The Patient feels her, smells her, but knows that they are forever separated and all because of him. Through an out-of-body experience, he says to his wife everything he would have said if he had been allowed to attend her funeral. Now he hears her, and she says to him “The Doctor has to go.” So when he comes back to himself, to his body, he decides that she’s right. The Doctor has to go. To fix everything, the Doctor has to go.

Healing is the eleventh track, where he realizes as he wakes up that the Doctor has to go. His nightmares, his wife, everything comes together and he feels that he’s finally hit on the true solution. He believes he’s about to taste what he’s been wanting all along, so he calls the Doctor to come to him so he can end his life, to finish the song, to end it all and finally, finally see his beloved wife yet again. This song is heavy, dark, and violent, filled with screaming. We know the Patient thinks he’s healing, but we know the reality; he’s fallen so far that he’s beyond rescue.

Dying is the final, chilling track on Trainwreck. It begins with the chaotic, broken, tired vocals and discordant music. We can feel the patient finally hitting the end, we can sense that he’s no longer with us and never will be. There’s an almost drunken quality to this part of the song, almost incoherent. Then the Doctor enters the building and narrates for us what’s happening. The Doctor regrets letting him out and observes a disgusting smell of rotten food and something worse (likely the dead friends and family, unless they were never killed). He smells the perfume that’s been splashed on the walls, sees the torn up home. The haunting melody of faint singing is heard behind his matter-of-fact narration, lending to the song a chilling quality that gives me goosebumps. The Patient is dying, bleeding from his mouth, nose, and ears, emaciated and smiling up at the Doctor. The Doctor observes that he’s whispering, and then realizes that the Patient is singing to him his final song, the one where he might meet his wife again, if only he had the strength and willpower to do what he called the Doctor for. “The lines I wear around my wrist are there to prove that I exist” is repeated and in the background, several different lines are repeated, chilling and melancholy beyond belief. This is the decaying mind and body of a man gripped by sadness and guilt and grief so great that he finally lost it and died. Softly, “We were inseparable” is spoken low and forlorn, so sad that it makes me cry. Dying is by far my favorite because it’s so gripping and emotional. A beautifully bitter end to a sad story.

So, over-all, Trainwreck is the best concept album I’ve ever listened to, and I encourage those of you who haven’t given it a chance to listen in. It’s a journey through a decaying mind, tortured and riddled with the guilt of his own sins. He never comes to grips with what he’s done and like real life tragedies, we never truly know why he did it.

A beautiful story if you enjoy sadness. Everybody should give this album at least one full listen-through. Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.

Buy the album on Amazon or iTunes!

Other by Karen Kincy

Other is a book about a half-pooka girl who finds herself being hunted by a killer. In this world, it’s the modern world with a “what if” twist; what if otherworldly creatures existed? What if the rest of the world didn’t like them? (Which would certainly be the case.)

This book was interesting on a few levels. It reminds me of something I would write, in terms of dialogue and unflowery descriptions. That part was a plus. Some of the characters were interesting; Randall was the most interesting to me. But a lot of things in this book irritated me.

The main character is, of course, a red-haired girl who feels different. I have a vendetta against red-headed girls in fiction as it is (although there are a select few I do like) because authors seem to go “Ooh, redhead! How exotic!” The idea of golden eyes with red hair was a little iffy for me, but that’s just aesthetics, so who cares? The thing that bothered me the most was that I didn’t really connect with or especially like the main character. Even now, I can’t define any super outstanding personality traits. She was a bit too bland for me. I suppose realistic, but I recall reading that a character in fiction should be a little above ordinary so that they stand out a little more. If nobody’s said that and I just made it up, I still like it better than just having a bland main character.

Even more annoying was the way the boyfriend was handled. I knew instantly when Tavian was introduced (even when he was just the Asian boy who draws anime) that he was going to be the real love interest and for some reason, that irked me. Maybe because it was transparent, maybe because I’m tired of seeing this story hashed out a thousand times. I mean, seriously, go check out some stories on fiction.press and you’ll see what I mean. Especially the YA or Manga sections. Red-haired girls falling for Japanese boys everywhere. I kid you not. Plus, I knew he’d be kitsune the moment I knew he was Japanese and drew anime. It just sort of screamed obvious.

Now, the boyfriend bit. I felt like the break up was contrived. It didn’t feel real to me. Maybe because I knew it was a plot convention to get Tavian and the main girl hooked up or something. Whatever the case, it’s like watching a movie and seeing the strings. I don’t want to see the strings. I want to be transported wholly into your world! Rawr! Even worse, near the end, when we find out who the real killer is, the boyfriend’s reactions are completely stupid and unreasonable. Nobody chooses the girl they dated for a year over their brother. Just… nobody. What bullshit.

Other than all those glaring problems, a few things were likable. Tavian turned out to be likable, though my favorite character was Randall. The writing style was quite enjoyable, too. Very fresh and easy to digest. If only the main character was more, I don’t know, main character material? Give her some interesting attributes please! She bored me and I couldn’t help thinking the romance moved much too quickly. Yuck. In the writer’s defense, though, it’s hard to write a good, believable romance when you’re trying to write a mystery, too.

That’s another thing. I bought the book because I thought it was a mystery, but it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It just felt like a paranormal romance in a mystery disguise. Like the mystery was on the side. All in all, I’m curious to see what else this author has to offer, despite a few hiccups in Other.

Check more out here!

Sengoku Basara Samurai Kings Review

Sengoku Basara Samurai Kings is an anime based on the Capcom video game Devil Kings. The game has much in common with the Dynasty/Samurai/Orochi Warriors series, and many of those elements are in the anime, too. They even have that weird ass horn that plays whenever you’re supposed to be doing a mission. The English dub by Funimation is fairly decent, although there were a few characters with WTF voices, like the crazy old man with the impossible beard. But he was so out there as it was, I’m pretty sure they actually meant for him to sound like a circus freak.

The historical accuracy of this anime is questionable, but I don’t think it really cares. One of the characters has a horse that is obviously emulating the look of a motorcycle. Yes, you read right. A motorcycle. It has handlebars and even an exhaust pipe. I’m not sure what’s coming out of it, but I can safely say that I don’t think horses had handlebars or exhaust pipes during the Sengoku period. And don’t get me started on the guy with the mech suit.

Gross inaccuracies aside, the characters are way over the top, and if you ask me, made up mostly of gay guys. I mean, just listen to practically anything Yukimura says. This guy is all over his Master, and then he becomes obsessed with one Date Masamune–he even goes so far as to say there’s a deep burning in his heart after his first interaction with him. “Does he light your fire?” asks the team ninja. Well? Does he, Yukimura?

The story is all over the place. First, Shingen and Kenshin want to do epic battle against one another. Then Masamune steps in to ambush them–this guy is hardcore. He wants to fight both teams at once and rule the land under the One Eyed Dragon of Oshu. He’s pretty interesting, but his resolve isn’t that obvious–not enough to make Yukimura’s obsession make real sense. And then, we have the Devil King himself, Oda Nobunaga. I’m sure you’ve heard of this guy. He’s pretty famous, and he’s all over Japanese historical fiction. He’s a charismatic, evil douchebag who wants everything and everyone. He’s usually depicted as seductive, too, and it doesn’t matter what gender you are, he’ll somehow try to get you under his thrall.

All that aside, the designs for this show are really interesting. Some of the characters look pretty cool, others look half-assed. There’s actually one girl ninja who looks like she should be in an S&M anime. Her boobs are hanging out and her outfit is so low cut that it goes all the way down to her crotch. My guess was, they needed something to keep the guys’ attention, what with all the sausages running around flirting with one another. There’s also this really weird running gag where Yukimura and Shingen punch each other over and over again. I mean, these guys are doing this even in the middle of a serious conversation. I guess they don’t know how else to handle the sexual tension between them.

All in all, I thought this anime was entertaining enough, but I wouldn’t purchase it for my home library and I’ll probably never watch it again. It was more amusing to poke fun at it than to take it seriously, and believe me, if you try to take this seriously, you won’t enjoy this anime at all. I wouldn’t recommend Sengoku Basara Samurai Kings to anybody other than diehard fans of the video game or somebody who has some time to kill and nothing better to do with it.

Darker Than Black Review

There goes our hero.

Darker Than Black is a short 25 episode series (with a little OVA episode at the end, rounding it out to 26) about a mostly modern world with a very strange twist: due to an event 10 years ago, there is this enormous gate around Japan called Hell’s Gate. A matching gate called Heaven’s Gate resides in South America, where a terrible tragedy took place five years ago. That tragedy is believed to have killed many, taking a chunk of the world with it–but they really just don’t know what the hell is going on in there. In this world, people began to change. There are still normal human beings who make up the majority of the world, and these people have no idea what’s going on around them. Oh, they know about the Gates, and they’ve heard rumors, but that’s about it.

The warped people come in a few different classes. First off, there are the Contractors. These guys possess very rational minds and are said to be nothing but killing machines. They all have supernatural abilities, like teleportation, gravity nullification, and blowing shit up. But, in order to use these oh-so-awesome abilities, they have to pay a price! Now, some of these prices aren’t so bad. You’ve got this one chick who just has to kiss people. There’s another guy who has to eat hard boiled eggs, and yet another who must leave shoes standing upside down. But some of these people are stuck with really cruel prices; drinking children’s blood, breaking one’s own fingers, even eating something and having to regurgitate it back up. These prices are really very random and have very little to do with the skill; one character’s ability is ice-based but he has to smoke a cigarette as his price.

Darker Than Black starts out with some weird guy throwing people around with his mind. He’s being chased by this mysterious dude in a mask who happens to always be carrying wire with him and wears a bulletproof trenchcoat. So basically, he’s stylish and practical at the same time. Bad ass. Anyway, once the masked man catches up with Mr. Contractor, he spews some exposition stuff–“Where’s the girl and the stuff, man?“–and then kills the Contractor by placing his hand over his face and electrocuting him: telling us that he, too, is a Contractor. Whoa, a Contractor hunting Contractors?! WHAT? The scene transitions to a loser that we already know is Masked Man, as he moves into a crappy apartment building run by a cranky old woman. As he’s entering his apartment for the first time, the girl next door comes out and the old lady tries very obviously to push them together. However, it doesn’t really work, since the girl is totally apathetic and the guy, going by the name Lee, is acting like a bashful loser.

Well, we skip on over to our other main character, the Chief of Police, Kirihara. She’s got two hapless idiots on her team, and they’re hanging out a strip club called Club Pinky. There, they’re spending quality time with the lady next door to Lee! Dun dun dun! She’s all smiles and flirts, but when she gets up, she whispers something to the club owners. The owners come over, threatening to call the police since they’re allegedly harassing their girl, but one of them whips out his badge shouting, “We are the police!” Off they go to chase the girl down. She ends up running into our boy “Lee,” who is star-gazing. Here we learn the stars in the sky are “fake.” They actually represent the Contractors–every time a star falls, it signifies that a Contractor has died. Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee come looking for the girl, but Lee acts fast and starts making out with her and the cops move on. Then the girl runs off, too, because she’s a total idiot.

After a series of Lee bumping into the girl “coincidentally,” we find out that he’s with an organization himself, and he’s looking for the same thing the cops and a group of Contractors are looking for. The girl has it: information. Lee gets duped, the girl turns out to be a fake, and Lee gets a tongue thrashing from his boss, of sorts, an old warty-faced man named Huang.

Most of the episodes deal with “Lee”–who is known as Hei amongst his group–taking odd jobs so he can watch a target, then move in and retrieve some item or piece of information. There’s a couple of episodes where he goes into the Pandorum research program and works as a janitor, hiding his own Contractor-like abilities for most of his stay. The spy aspect, with several organizations vying for the same objects or information, was seriously interesting and the characters were all entertaining. I especially loved the black kitty with the communicator/radio masking as a bell around his collar. And yep, he’s a Contractor, too.

I personally found the ability system to be quite intriguing. I loved learning the prices people had to pay for their abilities, and I loved the way the abilities worked. There’s one character whose price is to cut himself. It actually does tie in with his ability, too. In order to use his ability, he must splash blood on the surface of his choice, and then he snaps his finger and BOOM, that shit is gone. So yes, if you have a bit of his blood on your face, say goodbye to your face. One of my favorites was this kid who needed to touch the surface of the objects he wanted to blow up; it’s sort of the same as the blood guy, but a little different–and holy crap! This kid’s ability was much more destructive. Where blood guy’s ability only effected the area where the blood touched, the kid’s handprints only acted as a detonator. He could blow up entire buildings just by wiping his hand on a wall!

All in all, I’d say that Darker Than Black is definitely worth a watch. If you like spies, infiltration, various organizations, a dash of mystery, and the supernatural, it’s the anime for you. It’s a little gory, and pretty much half the cast goes missing or dead, but that’s what I liked about it; I’m getting tired of watching the heroes die and then come back to life through the salty, sentimental tears of children. I watched the English dub by Funimation and was quite impressed with the voice work. The old men sounded old, the young men sounded young, the girls like girls, the women like women, and the children like children (with the exception of one–I’m not a huge fan of women playing little boys). Although there was one old man on the police force who constantly sounded as if he was choking on baloney.

If you have the time and haven’t already watched it, I definitely recommend Darker Than Black.

Knight In A Dress

The last thing any self-respecting knight wanted to do was don a dress and play the pretty princess. Malrion was one such knight. Yet there he stood, outfitted in a glittering ensemble of pastel pink and yellow. He felt very much like a decorative doll on display in a lady’s hutch.

His hands went to his clean-shaven face, to his hair, which fell in loose brown curls around his shoulders in a perfumed mass. Small braids had been plaited with tiny white flowers and his face had been painted to a mockery of an elegant woman. He didn’t know why he had been chosen over all else. Surely the scrawny Lord Adrian would have served a far better maiden than Malrion.

He stood in the midst of the four dragon rocks, feeling naked despite his get-up. He had no sword on him, no weapons save for a slender dagger laced up his thigh. Normally, he wouldn’t be caught dead without his beloved blade, Bernadine, yet here he stood now, bereft of her protection. His hands itched and ached to tear the dress from his body—he would rather go naked than stand in such frippery.

A shadow fell over him, massive enough to blot the light of the waning sun. Malrion’s heart flipped and he stared up. His hand went instantly to his hip, useless. No sword. He could see the dragon now, flying overhead. If it had looked enormous from the sky, it was nothing to the size of it as it drew closer. He told himself he wouldn’t feel such fear if only he had Bernadine in hand.

Steeling himself as the dragon landed, Malrion licked his lips and tried not to give away the fact that his fingers twitched for at least the concealed blade strapped to his leg. He raised up an arm as dust was kicked up from its vicious wingbeats.

The dragon was actually a rather small one, he saw—now that it stood before him—no bigger than a pony, really, but still equipped with dangerous claws and spikes. Bright red scales glittered like fresh blood in the sun, slit-pupiled eyes of deep orange —almost amber—studied him as it dropped down to all fours. It sniffed and stepped cautiously forward, reminding Malrion of his dear sister’s cat when it came upon a mouse. Somehow, that didn’t make him feel any better.

“G-good dragon,” Malrion said, as if to a dog. He tried not to step back, though he leaned as far away as possible when its nostrils came a hand’s breadth away from him. Pale smoke plumed from its nostrils, forming spirals in the air that ghosted into oblivion. Malrion laughed nervously, his hands up, as another breath brought a wisp of smoke to his face. “Please…”

The dragon snorted, spraying Malrion with a fine mist. His face twisted into brief disgust—which he quickly traded in for indignation when the dragon turned away from him.

“Excuse me?” His fists clenched and he took a step after the dragon. “Hey! Where are you going?”

The dragon kept on moving, spaded tail drifting through the air like a slithering snake through the desert lands. Malrion took hold of it. That seemed to catch the dragon’s attention—although he couldn’t be certain that it was necessarily a good thing. It turned around, baring its incredibly long teeth and letting out a sound much like a hiss. Startled, Malrion almost dropped its tail. Liquid gold eyes bore into him and he tightened his grip, setting his jaw.

“I’m not afraid of some overgrown lizard! Come on, dragon! Take me!” He yanked the dragon’s tail, pulling it closer. Big mistake. It opened its mouth and let out a torrent of thick, stinking smoke that stung his eyes and made him cough. Oh gods, it’s going to breathe fire on me! Not in the mood to become fried knight, Malrion let go of the tail and kicked it square in the chest.

The dragon looked down at his slippered foot. For a moment, they remained that way, with Malrion’s foot upon the dragon’s chest and the dragon staring at it. Then the dragon let out a husky sound suspiciously like a laugh. Malrion tried to lower his leg for another attempt, but the dragon leaned back on its haunches and took his leg between its claws. With one tug, Malrion was on the ground, on his back, with the breath knocked from him. The dragon crawled over his prone body.

There was no way that Malrion was going down like this, so he dragged his hands over his pink skirts and clawed at them. Where was that damned dagger when he needed it? Oh, there it was. He grabbed hold of it and let out a cry of triumph. Now who had the upper hand?

Still the dragon it seemed, as it let out another puff of smoke. While Malrion coughed, it raked its front claw over his chest, splitting the dress down the middle. With little regard for the state of the silk dress, Malrion lunged up with his dagger aimed at the dragon’s heart.

The Last Songmaker

“I think you should become a Songmaker, Ezel,” Oaley said, picking twigs out of his thick black hair. His eyebrows were massive and twitchy, which only called more attention to them. They had lives all their own, each movement independent of the rest of Oaley’s face. Ezel lowered his head, lips quirking as he reached up and plucked a leaf out of his own hair.

“There is no such thing as Songmakers anymore, Oaley.” The leaf in his hand was crisp and brown. It would be easy to crush it into dust, but Ezel let it drift away on the soft breeze instead. “Besides, if somebody caught me singing, they would…”

“They can’t stone you. They couldn’t, if they heard you sing.”

“If they heard me sing, I’d be stoned.” Ezel stood, brushing a hand over his coarse breeches. Light brown hair fell over his eyes. It was so easy for Oaley to say; he wasn’t the one who would be tied to a stake while the villagers hurled stones at him. Oaley had the voice of a frog, and he couldn’t even drum his fingers into a tune. But Ezel, despite living in a world with no music, couldn’t seem to escape it.

Music was everywhere. It was in the brook, it was in the trees, in the wind, in the mew of a newly born kitten. Everything inspired Ezel. When nobody was looking, he skipped, he danced, he sang. When Oaley caught him at it a few weeks ago, Ezel was certain that it was the death of him. Yet Oaley had kept his secret. Now he was urging him to come forward and show all the villagers his skill.

“Have you ever seen anybody stoned for singing?” Oaley asked as he gripped the nearby willow trunk for support.

“No.”

“See? They won’t stone you, Ez. They’ll celebrate. Maybe you’ll bring song back to Peribia Down.”

“Just because we haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.” Ezel could only imagine what it felt like to be pelted continuously with rocks. He knew some of the villagers already didn’t like him—he didn’t want to test their hatred with a true reason for it.

A pirate playing a gentleman

He was surprised. He had waited for the sure slap to the face–unsure which hand it would come from–and yet, she didn’t slap him. Her voice didn’t even take a sharp tone with him, though when he looked at her, he could see a definite less than pleased glint to her eyes. Why did she doubt he was a gentleman? A fine question indeed. He couldn’t help it then. A slow smile spread across his face. Caught in the act, it seemed. He had never been very good at playing roles.

“Did I say gentleman?” he asked, sounding amused that she should call him one. Or rather, question his integrity as one. He knew he didn’t look the part. He could have done with a better combing, probably should have bothered tying back his hair, at least. Maybe even wear one of those prissy wigs. Hah. I’d rather be dead than powder my face and wear a damned wig!

“I meant to say poor hard working man with no manners, but ‘gentleman’ came out easier. Not nearly so long.” He looked her over again, the pale, silvery hair, the pretty eyes set in a porcelain face. She was not his typical quarry–she was far out of his typical reach, looking for all the world like a delicate doll. A lady, not the kind he would find in Tortuga. Still, she hadn’t slapped him, and that was already a positive start. He was nothing if not positive.

“Maybe,” he suggested, leaning forward slightly. “Your feet wouldn’t suffer. If I can lie about one thing, who’s to say I’m not lying about the other?” After all, the only things she knew about him based on his words alone were that he was a gentleman and a clumsy dancer. Now that she had guessed at his first lie, who was to say the second wasn’t a lie as well?

Originally posted on Before The Mast.

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice by Robin McKinley is a fantasy novel about Mirasol, a beekeeper who suddenly finds herself in the prestigious position of Chalice. In the realm of this fantasy world, Chalice is second only to the Master of the demesne. As for the Master, he’s a Priest of the Fire, which means that he gives his life over to the element of Fire. Once a Priest passes the third level, they are said to be unable to live amongst humans. When the Master is called back from the Fire, he has just crossed the third level, and he is unable to fully control himself. He is described as having blackened skin and red fingertips and eyes. He scares most of the people in his demesne, even Mirasol at first.

The book’s story revolves mostly around Mirasol and the Master learning to work together and how they combat the Overlord and the man he staked as the demesne’s Heir. This man fully intends on marrying Mirasol and forcing her to have children with him to solidify his position, and most of the people of the Circle–which works as their governing body–agree with having this outblood Heir to take the place of their dangerous Fire Priest Master. Only one appears to side with the Master, and the Master himself doesn’t even believe he’s right for the place until he realizes that Mirasol believes in him.

I love Mirasol as a character. She isn’t all peppy and plucky. She’s shy and smart and confused. She spends most of her time with her bees or reading. She reminds me a lot of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. To be honest, this entire story reminded me of Beauty and the Beast. Book smart farming girl falling in love with misunderstood scary looking dude with meanie trying to marry her? Yep. Sounds like Beauty and the Beast.

My absolute favorite scene in the entire book was when the Master came down to Mirasol’s home for the first time and requests honey. She brings it out and she is staring at his eyes and blurts out the question: “Do you see any differently?” His response is that he sees colors, but he sees in heat. He describes it as human or pony shapes with little life forces within. Mirasol wonders what her bees look like and he tells her that they look like hundreds of tiny golden sparks glittering in the sun. She replies that it sounds beautiful and she wistfully tells him that she wishes she could see them the way he does. There is a moment where she feels embarrassed for saying as much, but when she looks over at the Master, he is wearing a surprised expression on his face. This scene endeared both characters to me and though it was in the middle of the book, it still stands out the brightest to me.

I think the writing was done brilliantly. It was poetic without being too much and I like that she goes ahead and turns those dusty rules on their heads. She sprinkles the story with no-nos like contractions at the start of a sentence, ellipses, sentence breaks, fragments, and adverbs. It comes across as easy to digest, but definitely not overly simple. She’s also highly skilled at evoking a scene without going into boring detail.

All in all, I’d say I loved Chalice by Robin McKinley and will continue to read her books in the future.

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Modern Language In A Fantasy Setting

Sometimes I think critiques can be more detrimental than helpful. I appreciate the time people put into my work and I appreciate their aid. Every single critique I’ve ever received is helpful in its own way. I’m not here to get angry at that. What gets to me is that I constantly get the same complaint/comment and it’s really starting to wear thin on me.

What’s that complaint? Modern language in a fantasy setting.

Where in the fantasy molding does it say that I’m not allowed to use language we use today in my own fantasy worlds? Maybe I don’t want to be another boring, stuffy, hard to understand fantasy. I could, arguably, write more modern fantasy but what if I want to play around in a new setting or world? Apparently, you can’t have the best of both worlds, because I get the feeling that very few fantasy fans would pick up my work based on the modern language I tend to use. It’s not hard to come to that conclusion when practically every reader of my work has to point out to me that my modern language is jarring.

A good rule of thumb in writing: when you get the same comments, you’re obviously doing it wrong, but this is something that I really don’t want to budge on. I don’t want to write fantasy the way everybody else does. I love fantasy settings, I love new and alien worlds with different concepts and characters. What I don’t love is all the archaic lingo.

I try to compare my work to a video game. When you play Tales of the Abyss, clearly a fantasy, in a fantasy setting with fantastical characters, you don’t get all up in arms about their language not being right, that it sounds too modern, do you? This is why I market myself as “light fantasy” because it’s not Medieval and it’s not meant to be heavy and hard to follow. It’s supposed to be a fun romp through a new world, like a fantasy style video game is.

But I can’t seem to get people to see it the way I see it.