The Grisha Trilogy

I’ve been on a bit of a Russian kick recently. And completely unintentionally. Not a problem though, since I don’t know nearly as much about Russian mythology as I would like. I’m currently reading Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (review to come! (Edit: Review is here!)) and I’ve finished books 1 and 2 of The Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.

Shadowandbone

Book 1, Shadow and Bone, was published in 2012 and book 2, Siege and Storm, was published earlier this year. Overall, I like this series enough to look forward to the third book and recommend it to other people but there are several issues I have so far with the series.

Like I said, I don’t really know that much about Russian mythology. Or, which I suppose is more accurate in this case, Russian history. But this story clearly bases the ruling government (and its excesses) on the Russian tsars. Even their enemies seem to have basis in real history.

So here’s the story: Alina and Mal grew up together and have been best friends since they first met. They are now soldiers in the Ravkan army fighting in the seemingly interminable border wars. Alina is sickly and weak and works making maps for the army. Mal is good looking, friends with everyone, and an excellent tracker. There is also a second army made up of the Grisha. The Grisha have magical powers and are treated like royalty because of it. They are led by the Darkling, the most powerful Grisha. Cutting through the middle of Ravka is the Fold, a swath of darkness created by the first Darkling that is filled with monsters.

When Mal and Alina are required to cross the Fold with their regiment (a fairly common occurrence yet still incredibly dangerous and deadly), Alina displays a tremendous power that she never knew she had. Whisked away by the Grisha and the Darkling to the royal palace, Alina is thrust into the life of the magical elite.

So far, so good. But I’m about to get spoiler heavy here so you’ve been warned.

Alina is a Sun Summoner and the Darkling has been waiting for her to help him destroy the Fold for years and years. Alina blossoms under his tutelage, gaining strength, control, and power. The two develop a relationship and everything seems to be going so well until the night of a ball. We then learn (from his mother!) that the Darkling is not who he says he is and his intentions for Alina are not what he claimed. She escapes back to Mal and, after thinking that she has destroyed the Darkling in the Fold, they catch a ship to a distant country, and then the story ends.

My problems with the first book: I liked Alina and the Darkling together. I did not, and do not, like Mal and Alina together. Mal only seemed to be interested in Alina once she became powerful and out of his reach and they just seem so unsuitable for each other. The reveal of the Darkling as the bad guy was so sudden it was slightly ridiculous. Lastly, Grisha magic doesn’t seem nearly as cool as it could be. Only Alina and the Darkling have interesting powers; the others just seem to have amplified healing/fighting/creating skills.

siegeandstorm

Siege and Storm, book two, opens with the Darkling discovering Alina and Mal’s location and forcing them back to Ravka aboard a ship. This ship is manned partly the Darkling and his Grisha but is really led by the war hero Sturmhond and his crew. Sturmhond is, of course, not who he seems to be and this reveal sets off the plot  for the book.

At the end of it, I still didn’t like Alina and Mal together so hopefully that “romance” will end in the next book. There’s a lot going for this series because there is a lot about it that is original but there are a lot of things, particularly the characters, that get on my nerve.

Ultimately, I’m not sure whether I want to gush wildly about this series or toss it indifferently on the floor. I’m still looking forward to the third book coming out, probably next year, so I suppose that book will be the deciding factor for this series.

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Pacific Rim

This movie was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Was this the best movie I’ve ever seen? No. Is it even the best movie I’ve seen this summer? Well… maybe. Granted, there’s a lot that’s predictable about this movie but there are two main reasons why I love this movie.

1) Guillermo del Toro. His Hellboy movies were beautiful, Pan’s Labryinth was a masterpiece and his horror movies are two of my favorites because they actually have a plot. (Have you seen The Devil’s Backbone yet? WHY NOT?) I’m getting to the point where I will watch anything simply because it has his name attached to it.

2) Mecha Anime. When I was in college, I somehow fell into watching Big O. It was a Japanese anime about a Bruce Wayne type character who used a large robot to fight injustice. I think. It’s been a while since I last saw it and honestly, I’m not really sure I understood it all that well as I was watching it. Regardless, it holds a special place in my heart. (And research gods forgive me but I’m linking to a wikipedia article on mecha if you’re interested in more information.)

I’ve heard a lot of criticism that Pacific Rim is just Transformers redone and therefore just another example of the dearth of creativity in Hollywood. But really, Transformers? Ugh. It’s much better than that.

Here’s the story: monster aliens, called kaiju, have been appearing periodically from an opening at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. These massively destructive creatures have been repelled only by the creation of large robots (Jaegers) manned by two pilots. Our story really starts about 15-20 years after the appearance of the first kaiju. At this point the Jaegers and their pilots have fallen out of favor with governments who have decided that a huge wall would be just as effective. So the machines have been gradually removed from service until only four are left. And unfortunately, the wall fails to keep the kaiju out. So it’s up to the remaining Jaeger pilots and their huge robots to make a last ditch effort to destroy the kaiju and their entryway once and for all.

It’s a fairly predictable story and we know it’s going to end happily. We know who will make the sacrificial hero deaths. We have the cliched characters: the egotistical jerk of a pilot, the rookie, the scrappy hero, the tough as nails military leader, the brilliant and wildly eccentric researchers. But these same characters also veer wildly from what we expect. Our rookie? She’s not some cocky arrogant kid just dying to prove herself. She is incredibly skilled as a pilot and she knows this, but she is also incredibly respectful towards the decisions of her commanding officer. And the egotistical jerk? Well, he kind of has every right to be. He actually is one of the best Jaeger pilots. And while he and our hero should develop some sort of working relationship where they set set aside their differences to overcome the aliens together, well … they don’t. Not really.

And I think the most interesting thing here is that even though Pacific Rim 2 is already official, Pacific Rim is not really a standard origin movie. If it was, this movie would be about the first kaiju/Jaeger battle or at least our hero’s ascent to Jaeger pilot status. But we breeze past all that history in about 10 minutes allowing us to jump right into a fully developed…well, I wouldn’t say world, but maybe a parallel future?

If you are at all interested in this movie (which I think you should be), I suggest cultivating the appropriate mindset before going to see it. If you just keep in mind that this is del Toro’s homage to old monster movies and mecha, while understanding that this movie has no intention of being Oscar worthy, you should be able to enjoy the movie as much as I did.

The 10th Kingdom

Part of my job involves selecting new A/V materials for the library system I work for. I’m part of the committee that chooses new CDs, audiobooks, DVDs, etc. and I love that it gives me a heads up about new things coming out and specifically what’s coming to our library. As I was looking through one of our supplier’s catalogs, I happened to notice this one: The 10th Kingdom.

Oh my goodness. Guys. I love The 10th Kingdom. I’ve been thinking a lot about it for the past year or two, probably due to the influence of watching Once Upon A Time, but I’ve been unable to find it. Netflix was not carrying it, copies on Amazon were exorbitantly expensive, and our old VHS copies from home were not even an option (I don’t own a TV, much less a VCR!). But it has recently been re-released on DVD and Amazon copies are now an entirely affordable $6. Or check your local Target! They’re not selling it online but they do have some copies available in store for a dollar less and the benefit of immediate gratification! (Or if you’re super cheap and lazy, apparently the whole thing is available on youtube. Did I know this before? Maybe. But somehow the idea of sitting in front of a computer to watch a 7 hour miniseries seems horribly unappealing.)

Basically, here’s the story: Virginia and her father Tony share an apartment in the building he takes care of. Virginia’s mother left them some years before and they have not heard from her since. They discover a magic mirror that transports them to the fairy tale kingdoms we have all heard so much about. We meet all kinds of fairy tale characters like trolls, charming princes, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Bo-Peep, Snow White, and so on. It’s probably been 10 years since I last saw the show but I still remember how much fun it was and what a good story it had to tell. So tonight? I’m heading to the store. I’ve got a long (rainy) weekend coming up and this seems like a pretty good way to spend it.

Happy Independence Day, American friends!

Safety Not Guaranteed Review

I was really taken aback with how much I enjoyed this movie. It seemed like it would be just another quirky indie offering that was entertaining but not really that much different than the other quirky indie movies already made.

It all starts with an ad in the paper, “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke.” And oddly enough, the ad ends with, “I have only done this once before.” The ad is seen by a magazine writer who takes two interns and heads off to write a piece on the guy who placed the ad.

For most of the movie, it seems pretty clear that Kenneth, the time traveler, is a little off balanced. He claims to be followed and the reason he gives to one of the interns about why he wants to go back in time turns out to not be true. Or is it? Because midway through the movie, we discover that maybe Kenneth is telling the truth. And all of a sudden, this sweet story about relationships and healing turns into a potential sci-fi movie. So does Kenneth travel back in time? Well, I don’t want to ruin the movie for you but if you haven’t seen it already, it’s well worth searching out.