Monday, 20 June 2016

Game of Thrones: Bastard vs Bastard

Game of Thrones post. SPOILERS ARE COMING.

Seriously. SPOILERS!!!

So everyone is talking about the latest Game of Thrones episode and saying things like:

I loved it.” - Eddie “Old Bear” Skelson

There's something broken inside you if this isn't a top three episode.” - Adrian “High Heels” Collins.

Wow!”- People.

Usually when this happens I am called upon by the Gods of justice and good taste to refute these claims and bash the shit out of the piss poor dialogue and plot holes that could swallow up all of Westeros... But today...

Nah, I'm still gonna do it.

Let's start with the beginning and Dany's continual cultural genocide. Some of you will probably know by now just how much I hate Danaerys Stormborne. She's a bully and a murderer with no respect for people or their cultures. Now I'm not saying slavery or degradation of women is right (because it isn't), but neither is straight up murdering folk who have a different world view than you. Religion might not enter into it, but Dany is basically reliving the Crusades... only with dragons.

That being said... I liked a couple of things about Dany's little storyline this week. First off was she actually listened to one of her advisors... I'm gonna take a moment. It's needed.

Dany has made a habit throughout the story (both books and TV) of ignoring pretty much anything and everything her advisors have to say. Her subsequent decisions usually lead to bad things and lots of death. Here we see her listen to Tyrion of house Wine and... well... there's still a little bit of death but overall not much. Hats off to her for finally taking her head out of arse.

Perhaps this is the start of a new Dany. Probably not. She'll just sail away now and we'll pretend Mereen and all the other cities are fine. No more problems there. All hail the glorious... Is she gone? Across the ocean, you say? Back to slaving it is.

I did like the scene of the dragons finally pulling their weight (though I'm wondering about her telepathic(?) ability to communicate with them). It was a bit like: Ahh, bless. They brought little wooden boats to a dragon fight. And they knew she had dragons... they didn't think this siege through, did they?

Oh, and what about that horde of 1 million Dothraki charging into the city? Let's just pretend that goes without incident...

Enough about Dany. No wait. One more thing. What was with that scene with her and Asha? (I don't care if you want to call her Yara. You're wrong.) They might as well have just kept winking at each other and licking their lips. It played out like a scene from a Carry On movie.

We're really done with Dany now. Onto the real meat and potatoes. Bastard vs Bastard. Jon “Version 2.0” Snow vs Joffrey “Version 2.0” Bolton...
Lets ignore Jon's awesome expression for a moment and concentrate on the straightness of Sansa's back! Built to Queen!

I liked the build up. The scene of Jon and Sansa arguing to set up the dramatic twist later on. The Onion Knight and Giant's Bane having a bit of a chat. Davos finding the site of the pyre was a bit eye-rolling.

I'm gonna call a spade a spade here. Jonny boy deserved to lose the fight. He should have lost the battle. That whole bit with Rickon was a joke and someone should really have told the boy to zig and most certainly zag. Dumbass! It kinda felt like the Martells (don't get me started), in that the TV show folk had no idea what to do with Rickon so they just murderised him. And then Jon got angry and committed suicide... or at least he really should have. There was no way his cavalry were catching up to him in time.

Then came the drunken stumble through a green screen. Maybe not, maybe it was filmed in location. SO MUCH CGI. Hey, it looked quite impressive with all the horses smashing into each other and everything. Fun. But SO MUCH CGI.

Taking a break for a pet peeve. I honestly get angry with how easy TV folk seem to think it is to chop a head off. Just... no!

So the battle was good actually. Lots of over the top gore and a couple of “Bro! You found me in all the chaos!” moments, but for the most part it did feel like chaos and I liked that.

BUT. What the fuck was with the piles of bodies? They were very neatly stacked in a sort of barrier to hem the good guys in. This just made me laugh. It was utter bullshit designed to create a specific set piece.

Then the wall of infantry happened and... I think Jon's boys need to learn how to properly utilise a giant. Give the bastard a club, a tree. Something to swing and break the enemy lines. ALSO, he's a thirty feet tall slab of brutish muscles and none of Bolton's boys broke and ran. I've played Warhammer. Terror checks are an arse and once one man turns tail and flees, others soon join in. Jon needs to learn to giant better.... which probably won't happen now because there aren't any more of them.
There is no way that wouldn't thing coming at you wouldn't cause spontaneous defecation.

So Littlefinger ex machina happens and saves the day and... well done, I guess. What a terrible end to a dramatic build up and a good battle scene to boot. Just a whole heap of meh right at the end.
For all the Overwatch players. I love this so much!

Not much more to say other than the Bastard's end. So Jon Snow is probably fairly built, I reckon he's got a bit of strength to him, probably knows how to swing a punch. Ramsay is down, head on the ground and... he takes about twenty punches to the face maybe. I think they might be underestimating the sort of damage twenty unprotected punches to the face can do. Bit of blood will do it? Sure. Why not?

Then we have feeding time with the dogs. I'm a little torn with this bit. I'd have liked to see a little bit of a ghost of who Sansa used to be. No matter what the man had done, she still watched a dood torn apart and eaten. I think she probably could have thrown up at the sight. I probably would have. Then she could have walked away with that little smile at the corner of her mouth and fuck yeah!

Sansa for queen!

Rob J. Hayes is the author of the acclaimed The Ties that Bind trilogy and the upcoming Best Laid Plans duology. You can find out more on his website here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Book Review: Jacked by Kirk Dougal

Jacked by Kirk Dougal is a YA sci-fi thriller with a very interesting concept. The idea is that almost all electronics (or tech) has shut down after the Crash. At the same time, the majority of the population either died or went brain dead. A bunch of religious zealots (Black Shirts) are now in charge and they have pretty much criminalized the use or fixing of any technology. Then along come the Fixers. Individuals who can bring electronics back to life with nothing but a touch. Tar is one of these Fixers and the story is about his struggle against the Black Shirts.

The concept is what is really interesting here. Not the dystopian future or the lack of tech, but the idea that these religious fanatics have taken over and are running something a lot like a dictatorship. The Fixers themselves are the other real interest and (without any spoilers) I liked the way Dougal explains their mysterious powers.

It was clear a lot of work has gone into the world building and the characters use of internet-age related slang was a good way to show it. The characters say 404 instead of lost and fragged instead of the more popular f-word. It was quite fun even if I couldn't quite figure out what book meant as it seemed to have multiple different meanings.

The characters were interesting and none more so than the baddies. In fact I'd have liked a bit more of an exploration into their lives. Our main character of Tar felt a little like every other YA hero. He was strong willed but not very strong, had a mysterious ability that puts him front and center, and he just wants to help everyone. He was a bit bland to be honest, but not enough to be a distraction.

The biggest problem the book faced was its pacing. It feels like nothing is happening for a lot of it as the characters are chased, captured, escape, chased, captured, escape. And the main character doesn't make a decision until the final 20%. Until then the story happens to him rather than him happening to the story. There were a few times I was growling at Tar to take control of his life even for just a moment.

The world feels a little small because everything that is happening is happening in such a small area of it. This Crash was a worldwide event but all the major players appear to be in one city. It seems a little odd. I like to find out what was going on in other areas of the world and how the Crash was affecting them.

In the end, Jacked was a fun take on the YA dystopian thriller. Fans of Hunger Games and Divergent will probably love it, but it wasn't really my cup of tea.

Rob J. Hayes is the author of the acclaimed The Ties that Bind trilogy and the upcoming Best Laid Plans duology. You can find out more on his website here.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Review Blog - Emperor of Thorns (And the Broken Empire Trilogy) by Mark Lawrence

OK. What a ride. Mark Lawrence appears to be able to write good.

Where to start? Without spoilers. In this third book we complete the story of Jorg growing up. In Prince he felt very much like a child trying to fill big boots. In King felt like a defiant (often petulant) teen. Here we see him growing into adulthood and he does feel a lot more grownup. Many of his hard edges have been worn off by time, experience, and maturity. But he still has some pretty damned sharp edges.

I'm not going to lie. I'm going to struggle to review Emperor without reviewing the whole trilogy at the same time. On it's own I give Emperor 4.5 stars (rounding up as always). Like the other two it's a slow start and some of the more horrific acts are contained within that slow start and that made it a little difficult at times. But when the book picks up it goes full throttle and doesn't stop.

In Emperor we're again set across 2 different time lines, one of which is set before the culmination of events in King. It's a masterpiece of planning and works very well despite the fact that we know how everything turns out. The present timeline takes place just before congression where Jorg plans to finally claim the throne of empire and deals with the mounting threat of the Dead King.

We also get to see a new point of view in Emperor. We get a welcome few chapters from Chella's perspective and those are some of the most interesting in the book as we get to see just how she is dealing with being... well.. alive.

OK. So. Without spoilers. Emperor is awesome, as both Prince and King were awesome. It's a worthy finale to a series that treads new ground and doesn't shy away from being an arse and also shoving that arse in your face.

But I want to talk about the trilogy as a whole because that's really where the series stands out. Individually I give the books 4.5 each, but as a whole I happily give them a 5.

Mark does such a good job of subverting the 'hero' trope. The Broken Empire isn't just a story about an arsehole kid growing up to be a bit of an arsehole adult. It's the story of antagonist. Jorg is the bad guy. He's the villain. In any other story he would be the big bad that we hate and want our hero to take down. But in this story we find him to be insidiously charming even when he's murdering the p***... actually, especially when he's murdering the p***.

We see Jorg commit atrocious acts, hideous things that make him a horrible person. But we also see Jorg grow. Over the course of the trilogy we see him all throughout his years and you actually chart him growing up and we experience it. We actually ride along as he grows from a callous, damaged youth into a tempered, even more damaged adult.

AND we see this villainous hero of ours save the world and he certainly doesn't do it by being good. Jorg Ancrath is Dr Doom. He's a villain who honestly believes the world is better in his care than anyone else's. And he's right. And all of that just makes the ending even more poignant.

Of the trilogy, Emperor is the best, but King is my favourite. It's my favourite because it empathises so well that Jorg is the villain by facing him off against a character who in most stories would be the hero. Yet their roles are reversed because of how attached we become to Jorg and his evil ways.

The Broken Empire has easily claimed a spot in one of my favourite fantasy series ever. EVER! It's epic fantasy. It's grimdark. Hells, in some ways it's even YA, though the type of YA that would see Katniss hung by her own entrails within the first act.

So in summary: Damn you, Mark Lawrence! You made me love a true villain. Also, thanks for writing such an awesome story.

Rob J. Hayes is the author of the acclaimed The Ties that Bind trilogy and the upcoming Best Laid Plans duology. You can find out more on his website here.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Review Blog: Warcraft the Movie

Even the poster is reminiscent of an old school fantasy flick.

Let me start by saying this: I went to see this film with my girlfriend. I am an ex-hardcore World of Warcraft(WoW) raider. She knows nothing of the world/game other than my occasional fond reminiscing... which she pretty much just nods along to and fazes me out.

We both really enjoyed it.

The visual effects were good, the battles were fun and not in the slightest bit realistic (we'll get to that), the story was... a little confusing in places, it had a ton of little easter eggs for us WoW players, and Travis Fimmel was Ragnar Lothbrok and that's OK because we love him for it.

I'm not about to say this film is the next epic of our times. I'm not about to tell Lord of the Rings to move over for the new king. What I will say is that the film was fun. It was good, clean fantasy fun the likes of which I used to watch as a child when Willow came on. This isn't the sort of film you expect to turn into a long-running franchise (although part of me would love it to), it's a stand alone fantasy yarn with epic battles, fantastic creatures, and some very shoddy accents.

I want to talk about the battles for a bit. They're not realistic. Not in the slightest. But that's good. It's how it should be in Warcraft. Let's compare it to WoW for a moment. WoW isn't about legions squaring off against legions, it's about heroes. It's about warriors and mages and priests and dirty dirty rogues all decked out in epic armour. It's about 1 hero worth a hundred soldiers. We don't want the realistic push/pull of a shield wall punctuated by the odd Willhelm scream. We want loose pockets of generic troops battering the shit out of each other while the hero and villain of the piece make loving eye contact over the throng and push through the hordes to face each other in glorious combat. And that's what we get. We get over-the-top fun battles. We also get a hippogriff going to town on a bunch of orcs and that's awesome! Oh, and the frost wolf carrying a soldier off between its jaws into the woods! I loved that bit.
Say what you want, but riding a flying eagle-lion down into a horde is both epic and badass.

The story was complicated. Honestly, I think it tried to do too much with a relatively short amount of time. This isn't entirely the WoW history you buffs out there might know. The players are the same but their roles have been tweaked here and there. It makes sense when you think about it. The lore of WoW is so tightly interwoven with itself that it would be near impossible to tell it that way without completely confusing the issue. This is a simplified version of what some among us might know. The problem is it tries to fit in too much.
Durotan is pensive. Garona is strong. Llane is heroic. Ragnar is having a bit of a sad.

There's a love story included that just feels rushed and pointless. There's a shit ton of time spent setting up Thrall just in case there's a sequel set 30 odd years down the timeline. There's a bit with Glenn Close that... kinda feels like it was included just to show us all Dalaran and to get one of the main characters away from the action for a bit. It's too much time spent on pointless little bits and not enough time spent on the Dwarves of Ironforge, the Night Elves of... I forget what their city is called because no one ever went there. We all just hung around outside Ironforge in my day and duelled each other. Good times!
Needs Moar Dorf.

It really is my biggest gripe at the film. It spent a lot of time on pointless aspects and didn't give us a lot of what we all probably wanted to see. There was next to no time spent on the Dwarves. The Elves had even less of a part. The Gnomes were no where to be seen along with the Taurens and the Trolls. And where the hell was Uther? I would have loved to have seen the old palladin knocking some heads or at the very least looking cool in his Valour armour.

But this is digressing a bit because it's a gripe from the point of view of an ex-WoW player who wanted to see everything brought to life on the big screen rather than just a snippet of the world and its rich history.

That being said there were enough easter eggs to keep me smiling throughout. From the shot of a Murloc hiding underneath a bridge and giving the old “Murarawawalwawlalwagh” to beautifully rendered shots of Goldshire and Stormwind. There was enough to make me nostalgic for the old days and the film really played on that fact.

So there we go. I liked the film. A lot. I would happily recommend it to people who want a bit of a high-fantasy jaunt, and even more so to anyone who has played WoW.
Ragnar does not need shoes to slay orcs.

One other thing I'd like to mention. The existence of this film got me wondering a little. They chose the period of time where Orcs first came to Azeroth. The first war. It's an important event in the history of the world and I can see why they chose it. But! I do wonder if they might have been better served choosing something like Arthas' story as he succumbs to darkness and eventually becomes the lich king. That might have been more exciting and may possibly have been done without quite so much exposition.

Then I started thinking a bit more and thought: Why do they need to set it at a point in the world's history? Instead of telling that story, couldn't they tell the story of Molten Core? An entire film about an intrepid raid of adventurers overcoming Ragnaros the Firelord and all his minions.

The world is so rich and so large that there is a shit ton of possible stories they could tell within the universe. And personally, I hope that they tell some more of them.

Rob J. Hayes is the author of the acclaimed The Ties that Bind trilogy and the upcoming Best Laid Plans duology. You can find out more on his website here.