Anticipation for Fall 2014

Fall 2014 has got a lot going on at the TV stage. I’m going to be trying a lot of things–I anticipate dropping a lot of shows quickly, and keeping a solid few. Some of the shows I intend to watch at least one episode of:

Agents of SHIELD

Borrowed from media.comicbook.com

Premise: In the first season, our protagonists were one team in a huge organization, until [huge spoiler for season 1 that everyone probably already knows about]. Now SHIELD is in pieces, and it’s up to Coulson and his team to rebuild it (despite their illegal status as an organization).

Genre: Action/Sci-fi/Superhero

My Thoughts: Presumably with all the set-up stuff out of the way in the first season, there’ll be a lot more interesting things going on now. Especially with assorted new SHIELD agents joining the cast, including Lucy Lawless. Whatever happened to Fitz is liable to make for a good story, too. Oh, and Ward’s back.

Chances I’ll Stick with It: Guaranteed

Ascension

Premise: In this new miniseries from Syfy, a spaceship was launched with 600 people during the Cold War, not to return for a hundred years. There’s a murder, and that’s all I know about the plot.

Genre: Sci-fi/Alternate history

My Thoughts: Syfy’s programming has been getting much better recently, and Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica is in it. That’s pretty much all I know, so I have no idea what to expect.

Constantine

Premise: Magician John Constantine is an exorcist, who’s going to get up in the dark supernatural drama going down whether he wants to or not.

Genre: Supernatural/Horror

My Thoughts: I’ve been hearing really good things about the Hellblazer comics for a long time now, though I’ve never actually gotten around to reading them. I really do hope this is good, though there’s already been one odd thing–Constantine won’t be portrayed as bisexual, and creator David S. Goyer’s comment on the topic left his stance kind of ambiguous. In the comics, most of his romantic involvements are with women, but he has them with men as well. Hopefully, someone will change their minds at some point and at the very least verbalize it.

Fate/stay night

Borrowed from crunchyroll.com

Premise: High school student Shirō ends up drafted in the Holy Grail War, a recurring fight-to-the-death between powerful magicians (usually from legacy families) and the spirits of historical/mythological figures. The winner gets a wish. One wish, that could be anything at all.

Genre: Supernatural

My Thoughts: I’m excited for this one (though not nearly as much as I am for Psycho-Pass). Mostly because of the fantastic (if at times horrific) Fate/zero anime, whose story is a prequel to this one (also the work of Gen Urobuchi, though he doesn’t seem to be personally involved in this one).

Flash

Borrowed from moviepilot.com

Premise: A forensic scientist gets superpowers (speed), and uses them to combat others who also gained powers, but decided to misuse them. Meanwhile, the case of his mother’s murder in his past continues to haunt him.

Genre: Superhero

My Thoughts: It’s genre, I’ll at least try out the premiere. Though who knows, maybe I’ll drop it as fast as I dropped Arrow (which was before the first episode even ended). Or maybe not.

Also, forensic scientist, huh? Am I gonna have more bad science to complain about?

Gotham

Borrowed from oyster.ignimgs.com

Premise: This show will follow the early days of Detective James Gordon, and little Bruce Wayne, in addition to addressing origin stories for Batman villains.

Genre: Superhero

My Thoughts: We’ll have to see if the show finds a good balance between storytelling and fanservice. But it is a superhero show, so I’m in for at least the pilot.

How to Get Away with Murder

Borrowed from awardswatch.com

Premise: A defense attorney teaching at a law school finds herself and her students involved in a murder.

Genre: Mystery/Drama

My Thoughts: Not my usual genre, and hype (no matter how substantial) by itself is never enough to convince me of anything. But it does feature a non-white female lead, so I’m at least going to try it initially. If I like it, great, but it’s possible it might not be my thing.

Legend of Korra: Book 4

Premise: Avatar Korra is tasked with bringing balance back into the world, and last season, she restored the airbending nation. However, she has also failed to recover from the action of the last season, and the new airbenders have decided to pick up the slack.

Genre: Fantasy/Steampunk

My Thoughts: I haven’t even reviewed Book 3! Korra is always really good, even when it goes in a direction I didn’t see coming. Seriously, the team behind this is amazing.

Chances I’ll Stick with It: Guaranteed

Mushishi

Borrowed from ogeeku.com

Premise: Ginko has the ability to see supernatural like creatures that most people can’t, and he spends his time resolving issues relating they create for the people around them.

Genre: Fantasy/Supernatural

My Thoughts: I have needed to start watching this show for a long time, and I’m putting my foot down. I probably won’t be able to watch the earlier seasons in time to prep for this, but whatever, I’ll catch up as I go along.

The Originals

Premise: New Orleans is teetering on the edge of a witch/vampire/werewolf war for control of the city. The presence of the powerful Mikaelson family, the original vampires, complicates things–they’re not exactly a pacifying force, and no one ever really knows what side they’re on. The only thing that matters to the (incredibly messed up) Mikaelsons is family. (Okay, power comes in a close second.)

Genre: Supernatural

My Thoughts: Let’s be honest. A supernatural drama about family, and failing family, and loyalty as a matter of principle rather than genuine belief in a person. About broken people living as best as they can, even when their best really sucks. I’m obviously going to keep watching this, even though I miss Rebekah as the female lead (and Hayley isn’t exactly capable of filling her shoes).

Chances I’ll Stick with It: Good

Psycho-Pass 

Borrowed from pinimg.com

Premise: Everyone’s psychological state is constantly monitored, to catch the potential for violence before it happens. Unhealthy psychological profiles are met with therapy, incarceration, or execution depending on the circumstances. Last season, we got to know the world, how it affected people, and what the system really meant. We saw several perspectives on how to handle the situation, short-term and long-term. We saw where the system failed. I have no idea what we’re going to see this season, but it’ll be awesome.

Genre: Dystopia/Seinen

My Thoughts: Psycho-Pass is back! Yes, Gen Urobuchi’s dark cyberpunk dystopia’s second season is on, and I’m going to be watching it in broad daylight with all the curtains open while at least one person or dog is in the house.

Whoa, this puts me in agreement with the majority when it comes to this fall’s most anticipated anime. When does that ever happen? Psycho-Pass wins, though it only places second with men–which is kind of funny given that dystopian cyberpunk isn’t the stereotypical preference for female audiences. (Could it be because the female characters don’t suck?)

Chances I’ll Stick with It: Guarenteed

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja

Borrowed from dramaticreviews.files.wordpress.com

Premise: Ronja is the daughter of a bandit leader, and spends her time having adventures in the forest or in a castle.

Genre: Adventure

My Thoughts: It’s Studio Ghibli, oh my god, it’s Studio Ghibli! (For those who’ve been living under a rock, that’s Hayao Miyazaki’s studio, renowned even in the Western world for movies like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle). Guys, there’s no way I’m not watching this if it’s Studio Ghibli. And look, no princesses.

Chances I’ll Stick with It: Good

Anyone else know what shows they’re planning on giving a chance?

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Terrier, Bloodhound, Mastiff: Tamora Pierce’s Tortall

Eventually, I’m going to get around to all of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books. They’re just so satisfying.

Borrowed from tamorapierce.com

Genre: YA Fantasy

Synopsis: Beka Cooper comes from a poor family in the Lower City that got lucky–the Lord Provast of the city’s guardsmen took them in. Since then, Beka has been in training to be a guardswoman, or Dog.

Terrier follows Beka as she first becomes a Puppy, or a Dog in training. There are two serial killers in the Lower City, and Beka cares very much about stopping them. Luckily for her, her informants are capable of bringing in special information to help bring them in. That is, if Beka survives her first year patrolling the streets of the dangerous Lower City.

Bloodhound follows Beka as a new Dog, on a hunt for counterfeiters. The counterfeiters are threatening to collapse the country’s economy, so much bad money are they dumping into the market.

In Mastiff, Beka goes on the most important Hunt of her life. A kidnapped child of no small importance must be found, and very powerful enemies want to prevent that from happening. Beka, her team, and her scent hound will track the scent over the country until they find the kid is found, or until they’re all killed in the attempt.

Series: Three books, each following a standalone plot at different points of Beka’s life.

POV: First person, journal-style.

Romance: The novels cover sweeping sections of Beka’s life, and so sometimes she’ll be in relationships. But the emphasis of each book is very much the current Hunt that Beka’s on.

Preview: Here.

Borrowed from tamorapierce.com

These are great. They follow Beka as she investigates, as she patrols the city keeping order, and in her personal life. Each of the investigations is very different, too.

Terrier has Beka in her local district, where she knows how things work, but against big and secretive enemies. In Bloodhound, Beka is more out of her element, having to follow the leads for the counterfeiting enterprise. She even needs to do some undercover work and playacting, things that make her uncomfortable. Mastiff has Beka on a tracking mission, where she needs to find a child being trucked about the country, and play nice with nobles trying to get top secret information out of her, or hinder her investigation. (Playing nice with nobles is hard when you’re a commoner and they have all the power. You can’t even investigate them properly.)

The plots themselves are a lot of fun, and I love the supporting characters. Beka’s training dogs, Goodwin and Tunstall, are good at their jobs in different ways, balancing each other. Beka’s breakfast friends are a steadfast group with great chemistry, even as they avoid certain topics of conversation so as not to upset each other. Sabine, the lady-knight who doesn’t mind slumming around in the Lower City and doesn’t care much for rank, is a good addition to the eclectic cast. Pounce, Achoo, and Slapper–the animal companions of the story–are compelling in completely different ways.

Beka herself, I loved. She takes her job very seriously. She’s shy in company, and it takes her a while to connect with people. But when she’s working, she’s much more able to interact with people to get the job done. She doesn’t generally seek people out but ends up with a nice core group of people around her anyway.

Borrowed from wikia.nocookie.net

Compared to other Tamora Pierce heroines, she’s almost as good as Keladry from the Protector of the Small quartet. Alanna from Song of the Lioness, who started it all, is more temperamental. She’s a good character, but of the three Pierce heroines I’ve read about, has to be my least favorite just because the other two are so good and so much more personally compelling, for me.

Keladry is my ideal person. She stands up for people who need it, without taking rank into account. She knows who she is, and her biggest problem is other people refusing to accept that. She doesn’t have the same kind of turmoil about her gender as Alanna has (though that turmoil is understandable and realistic)–she even takes to wearing a dress on her off-time during squire training, so that her guy classmates wouldn’t forget that she was a girl and unashamed of it. She amasses a group around her by being loyal, brave, caring. And she doesn’t have much of a temper.

Beka is very relatable to me. Her introversion, her adherence to the rules. I love how much she cares about what she’s doing. And how much she loves doing it.

Another nice thing that crops up constantly in Tamora Pierce books is the idea that the protagonist, usually starting out young and ending still fairly young by the end of the series, isn’t necessarily going to end up with her first boyfriend. Relationships end. Some people might have passionate romances that may or may not end. Some might have steady relationships. Some might not even end up in relationships at all. Others might take a while to find someone who works for them. It’s different for all of these girls.

I’m writing about all three books in the Legend of Beka Cooper series all in one post, because I couldn’t stop reading in between books long enough to write a review. This is always the case with Tamora Pierce books. I can never stop reading until I’ve finished the series. All of the books I’ve read by her so far have been fantastic.

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Science in Media: Multiple PhDs

Borrowed from wikia.nocookie.net

In Agents of SHIELD, Coulson informs us that Simmons has two PhDs in fields he can’t even pronounce. In another example, Tess from Eureka has three PhDs (why would anyone do that to themselves?) I’m sure there are more.

For some reason, there’s this ideas that the more PhDs you have, the smarter you must be.

Um, no.

You don’t need multiple PhDs unless you’re doing a radical career change. It’s like getting a bachelors degree, then going back to school for another four years to get a second one.

You don’t hit a ceiling when you get a PhD. PhD students are not at the top of the hierarchy. When you get your degree, you’re ready to move on to the next step in your natural career progression, which is to become a postdoc.

If you chose to go back and do another PhD, that’s a career change. For one, you would never get a PhD in, for instance, molecular biology then go back and do another one in chemistry. You would do a PhD in either molecular biology or chemistry, and incorporate both interests into your project. It doesn’t matter what the name of your specific PhD is–it matters what you’ve been working on, while you attained the PhD.

Furthermore, if you don’t become a postdoc in, say, chemistry, and instead go work on an astronomy degree, you’re leaving chemistry for astronomy.

Borrowed from museumvictoria.com.au

Now, if you wanted to study the chemistry of meteorites, or something, you might get a degree in one or the other and find a lab interested in astrochemistry. Or, you could find a lab that is interested in pursuing your project, but has no previous experience with astrochemistry, and set up a collaboration between labs where the two labs can each fill gaps in each others’ knowledge.

The point is, a PhD program is there to teach you how to do research. Once you learn how to do that, you don’t need to go back and be a graduate student again (and if you do, you probably shouldn’t have graduated in the first place).

Multiple PhDs is for drastic career changes, when you can’t get the job you want with what you’ve studied. Otherwise, you get a job, and maybe even make strides towards having your own lab one day.

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Outlander, and Claire’s Surprisingly Good Balance of Competence and Vulnerability

Genre: Historical/Drama/Romance (based on a novel I haven’t read, but is reputedly very good)

Synopsis: A WWII nurse gets mysteriously transported to 18th century Scotland.

Series: 1 season of 8 episodes; there will be a season 2

I’ve Watched: The first 4 episodes.

Verdict: Enjoyable

I’m really warming up to this show, fast. Instead of using the girl-out-of-her-element trope to make Claire helpless (as I usually see it used), this show is using it to make her competent. Claire is unusually well-prepared for spontaneous time travel, and it’s actually quite lucky that she in particular is sent to this time period. (I mean, let’s be honest–most of us would be doomed.)

Borrowed from edgecastcdn.net

The war created the type of environment that allowed Claire to develop medical skills in the field as a nurse, which would come in useful in any time period in the past. The biggest problem is the lack of equipment and materials, but being a combat nurse probably helps her there. And even better, Claire recently acquired the convenient  hobby of botany, extending to plants local to Scotland. Which is nice, given that she also studied up on what medicinal uses the plants have.

Claire’s husband was a historian, most recently interested in 18th century Scotland, which is exactly where his wife ends up. In addition to that, he had his own experiences in WWII including work in an intelligence agency. And fortunately, Claire appears to be a very good listener.

I’m totally okay with all these coincidences, because though Claire is an outsider, these things mitigate some of her disadvantages and even give her unique strengths that no one else in this time period could possibly have. And guess what? I like it when my protagonists aren’t completely hapless. She’s scared and she makes mistakes, yes, but she pulls through on her own merits, instead of by hiding behind someone else.

Borrowed from outlandertvnews.com

Another nice thing is that a main protagonist has a disability, that in no way stops him from being the lord (Laird) of the castle with the loyalty of his subjects. And he’s completely unashamed of it.

I’m hearing Outlander lauded as a feminist Game of Thrones, and personally, I wouldn’t have thought to compare the two on my own. Other than the fact that they both require costumes, they’re very different shows. One’s an epic fantasy and the other’s a historical (not to mention that they’re based on different time periods and cultures). Outlander is also slower paced, and more anchored to one location with a smaller number of characters. The shows definetly have different feels to them.

That said, I do understand that with the weird way HBO’s staging some scenes and adding in others not in the book, there’s a need for something that doesn’t fetishize abuse.

I’m finding Outlander has a unique charm, due to its environment and characters. The tighter focus lets it do some subtle character work, and that allows the characters to feel deeper. There’s something broiling beneath the surface of most of the protagonists, that isn’t as simple as an archetype.

Normally, by this point in the story, I’m wanting more things to actually happen, but for some reason, in this show, it works. Claire is failing to get home and becoming more integrated into this new life. She’s failing to accomplish her goal because the point of the plot is to lock her in, instead of to break her out. The slow pace could have been dangerous, if the show didn’t have so much personality.

The point is, this show requires skillful execution to work, and it’s getting it. My earlier reservations appear to be unfounded. I’m definitely going to keep watching Outlander.

Borrowed from blogspot.com

Favorite quotes:

“This is backwards. I should be the one leaving for the front lines.”
“Welcome to the 20th century.”

“I’m free. Can do whatever I please.”

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The Last Stormlord: Struggle for Agency

Borrowed from glendalarke.com

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Synopsis: Everyone relies on Cloudmasters to supply water. Unfortunately, the last Cloudmaster is old and his power is failing. People are already in danger of thirst, and there are no Cloudmasters to help him or take over for him–his own son, Nealrith, was unfortunately born without the power.

Shale is born poor, in an village far from the cities where Rainlords and Cloudmasters dwell. He hides his own water abilities, because in his village, it’s considered an insult to the Cloudmasters to work with their element. Out of desperation, Nealrith and other Rainlords go even to the place Shale lives, looking for potential Cloudmasters. But someone isn’t interested in letting Nealrith find and train a Cloudmaster to take over for the old one…

Terelle was sold to a snuggery (like a brothel) at a young age, and she’s been trying to find a way out before she grows up. A way out finds her, but it isn’t what she thinks it is, and it is more relevant to the problems of the land than she could possibly imagine.

Series: First in a trilogy.

POV: Third person multiple

Romance: Two of the secondary characters have a small subplot going here.

Preview: Here.

Dark fantasy, no fluffy puppies here. (Although there are some adorable giant insects.)

Ostensibly, this series follows multiple characters, but let’s face it. Shale is the star of this show. It looks like Terelle is being set up to be more important in future books, but for this one? Shale is the character that matters most.

And Shale is fun to follow. He loves his siblings, and has a core of compassion. He has a sense of loyalty and responsibility. He’s intelligent enough to figure out some ways to influence his life, despite the machinations around him. But he has to use all he has to fight against the people or circumstances constraining him. It’s interesting how his isolation makes it hard for him to communicate with people sometimes, and how he comes off as reserved to other people. Especially in the face of how much he cares, and how emotional he feels when reading from his perspective.

Most of our protagonists are maneuvered into situations that trap them–this seems to be a theme for the book. As soon as they break free, they’re lead into another kind of trap. There’s a constant struggle for agency, for the power and ability to do what they want to, or need to, do.

I spent a lot of this book wishing Nealrith would do what he wanted to do, instead of what he was supposed to do. The poor man tried his best to do right by everyone, and ends up as this book’s punching bag. A lot of the people in his life fail him, and that’s not the worst of it. There were times when I wished he’d stepped up and he didn’t. But now I just think it’s sad when someone with such good intentions went through what he did.

Terelle’s story was interesting, while hinting at things to come in the future. The concept of her powers and how she’s trapped by the powers of her mentor make for an intriguing idea, and could be used in all kinds of varied ways. It also creates a huge character dilemma. She has this power, but she knows what it’s like to have it used on herself, and she knows the potential it has for hurting people.

Book one of the trilogy sets up the action by moving the players into position, and going through the lives of our main protagonists. Shale and Terelle start out young, and powerless. They fight back against the forces that try to control them, and it’s a constant struggle. They do make small progresses, but they have to keep fighting.

I like Shale and Terelle, and I do want to see them develop into their own people. I’m also developing a taste for Glenda Larke’s writing (having already read another book by her), and will be catching up on the rest of her works.

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TV Round-up: The Musketeers, Doctor Who, and Outlander

The Musketeers

Borrowed from withanaccent.com

Genre: Historical/Action

Synopsis: Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, this series follows D’Artagnan, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos, as they go about the King’s business.

Series: 1 season of 10 episodes; there will be a season 2

I’ve Watched: The entire first season, go me.

The pilot was nice and smooth. The show has a fun feel to it, although our protagonists do go through women like tissue paper. It’s episodic, but the show’s good about making most episodes fairly personal to at least one of the main protagonists.

That said, the status quo is going to wear on me sooner or later, even with 10 episode seasons. Something needs to change to keep the story interesting.

I love watching the King’s character. He’s essentially just an ordinary man who’s been raised to believe that he is a de facto extraordinary person. His unintentional dry humor is just the icing on the cake. Half of his lines are hilarious, and it’s mostly his delivery that make them so funny. The actor is very personable, taking a character who could be hated for his childishness and stupidity and playing him as someone just shy of adorable.

Some scenes messed with my suspension of disbelief, but such is the nature of TV.

Also, yay, diversity! We have non-white main protagonists. However, there is a noticeable lack of women from racial minorities, which is especially glaring given the diversity present for men–all the women we’ve seen were white. The info I’ve heard about season 2 states that least one non-white female will be incorporated, so maybe they’re getting on top of this.

Favorite quotes:

“If we damage her husband, my sister is going to be very upset.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have weapons?”
“One musket, and some charges. For shooting rabbits…and Protestants.”

Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor

Borrowed from imageserver.moviepilot.com

Genre: Sci-fi

Synopsis: A time-traveling alien has made it his mission to protect humanity through time and space.

Series: This is the special between seasons 7 and 8 (of the modern part of the series, there’s way more old Doctor Who).

Yes, I am reviewing the Christmas special over half a year after it aired. All in preparation for season 8.

This episode had some good ideas, but the execution was not so interesting. This show still can’t do action, but that should surprise no one–what surprises me, is that they keep trying. That’s not what makes this show stand out! In the end, there were a few great moments, but the story was told in a way that was just okay and some of the plot points were too gimmicky. I did enjoy the Eleventh Doctor’s ending speech, though.

I think that having the end of the 10th and now 11th Doctor happen during the Christmas specials might not have been the best ideas, as it separates the stories so far from the rest of the season and constricts how much room the story has to be told. The endings should be big stories, but they’re trapped in singular, lone episodes. Christmas specials feel like a better way to introduce new Doctors, than to say goodbye to old ones.

Favorite quotes from this episode:

“Every life I save is a victory.”

“I died in this room, screaming your name.”

“You have been fighting the psychopath inside you all your life. Shut up and win.”

“We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay. That’s good. You’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”

Outlander (Pilot)

Borrowed from cdn.hitfix.com

Genre: Historical/Drama/Romance (based on a novel I haven’t read, but is reputedly very good)

Synopsis: A WWII nurse gets mysteriously transported to 18th century Scotland.

Series: 1 season of 8 episodes; there will be a season 2 (the series has barely started airing!)

I’ve Watched: Just the pilot so far.

The pilot episode stars off slow, but then, it has to. We need to get a sense of the world Claire comes from before she gets thrust into another. The fact that Claire comes from another historical period and not the present helps–it’s as interesting to see the atmosphere of post-war Europe as it 17th century Scotland.

Not much has happened, and so far the plot is straightforward. As a first episode, it’s solid, which is already a feat. I personally prefer more going on, and tend to dislike plots where a heroine is thrust into a completely new world (it usually serves as a perfectly understandable excuse for making her helpless and heavily dependent on the characters around her). However, the pace might yet pick up, and Claire has the potential to hold her own, as she’s in possession of unique skills (field medicine). So in her case, being from the future might be good for something other than philosophy.

I’ll give this a few more episodes, before I make up my mind. I am partial to historicals, but it depends on where the plot goes and how the characters are handled.

 

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Death Sworn, Magical Assassins Living in a Cave

Borrowed from leahcypess.com

Genre: YA Fantasy

Synopsis: Ileni, like all Renegai, was tested for magic at an early age–all children have magic, but it fades as they reach adulthood. She passed her Test, and was trained as one of the most promising students. Now seventeen, her magic is fading away, and it turns out that a mistake has been made. She should never have passed her test, never have received training for magic all those years, because her magic was not permanent. Her life had been spent training to use a skill she would no longer have access to.

Bitter at this turn of events, Ileni accepts a dangerous mission assigned to her only because she is now considered expendable. The Renegai have an agreement with a prominent group of assassins–they teach rising assassins the use of magic in return for being left alone. But the two past teachers sent by the Renegai are dead, and this bodes badly for the next one. Ileni is asked to go to the assassins’ caves as the next teacher. She isn’t expected to survive so much as buy time.

Series: There’s going to be a sequel, which is good because this is clearly only part of the story.

POV: Third person, one POV (for 99 of the book).

Romance: Yep.

Complicated vs. Straightforward: Straightforward–I’m adding a new segment here, because I want to distinguish between whether a plot is fairly simple or has tons of twists and turns. Epic fantasy generally has many things going on at once, leading to an intricate plot and many characters. A lot of YA instead focuses heavily on one character and one character goal.

Of course, the breakdowns aren’t always determined by genre. And neither is necessarily better than the other, as both can be the best fit for a particular story. But it does make for a different feel when reading, and a lot of people prefer one over the other, so it’s a fair category.

For Death Sworn in particular, Ileni’s the only person really trying to make something happen at this particular moment, so she’s the only one with an urgent character goal. Everyone else can afford to wait. It makes the story feel straightforward.

Preview: Here.

For most of the book, Ileni is playing a bluffing game. She has to convince the assassins around her that she’s still a powerful sorceress despite having an increasingly diminishing supply of magic. It’s interesting to watch her keep up the pretense, buoyed only by the expectations of the men around her. Meanwhile, she has to decide what moral lines to draw when the stakes are high and she’s confronted with a completely different kind of lifestyle.

Life in the caves is very self-contained, but pieces of the outside world keep drifting in. And of course, the plans that have put Ileni in such a compromising position, and that drive the entire assassination plot, revolve around shaping events in the outside world. Most of the book has Ileni coming to terms with the world inside the caves and with her own new-found limitations. But the closing of the book is based on the big picture, and Ileni’s place in the big picture.

Everything she’s learned about herself and the world around her coalesces in her decision as to what her next step will be. And it’s an intriguing decision. It’s not often a character recognizes how much they don’t know like this. I’m interested to see how this plays out in future books. It’s certainly the kind of decision that proves an author is unafraid to move on, to keep the plot turning instead of sticking to a status quo.

The relationship between Ileni and her love interest is interesting in that, despite how they care about each other, they remain very different people with very different goals. Very different goals that matter to them more than anything else. And that’s certainly refreshing in our modern love-before-all society. They don’t suddenly lose all the beliefs and loyalties they’ve had up until this moment. Ileni doesn’t do something she disagrees with just because her boyfriend tells her to. How this will work out in future books, I don’t know, but it’s a promising start. I’m quite surprised, actually.

Anyway, fun YA fantasy.

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