Chosen, by K.F. Breene

Literary rating: starstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2action2

Shanti is a bad-ass. Not that you’d know it when we first encounter her, staggering through the wilderness on the edge of death, after an ill-considered choice of route as she escapes from… Something. We’ll get back to that. Fortunately, she is found by Sanders, a career soldier from a nearby city, out on a training mission with a band of raw recruits. They take her back to their town, where she’s nursed back to health – then the awkward questions begin, concerning where she was going and precisely why she was carrying weapons. But the key turns out to be Captain Cayan, who possesses the same psionic warfare capabilities as Shanti; except, he’s all but unaware of it, a sharp contrast to her finely-honed and practiced expertise.

When the city comes under attack, it appears initially just to be another raid by the Mugdock, a barbarian tribe who have caused trouble for years. However, it turns out they aren’t alone, and have partnered up with others who pose a bigger threat. While her adroitness, with both mind and sword, are key in fending off the enemy, it offers only temporary relief, because Sanders is then captured while out on a mission, and tortured to reveal the city’s secrets. Cayan, together with Shanti, lead the expedition to rescue him, but the resulting conflict brings her presence in the area to the attention of the very people she least wants to find out.

I enjoyed reading this – after a couple of fairly lackluster entries in the genre, it was refreshing to find something where you wanted to keep turning pages, to find out what would happen next. Shanti is an excellent heroine: smart, fiercely loyal to those who have earned her trust, takes no shit from anyone, with a sardonic wit and possessing copious back-story, some of which is filled in over the course of this book. But woe betide you get on the wrong side of her, for she can kill you quickly with her sword – or very slowly with her mind. As we see near the end of the book, you’d better pray you get the former fate. Speaking of which, her talents are showcased particularly well in the following passage, depicting her defense against the Mugdock attackers:

Words could not describe how thoroughly Sanders had underestimated her. How they all had. She moved as if in some elaborate dance. Every nuance of her body was in perfect harmony as she glided through her fighting postures, slicing and cutting, weaving in and out. Even her sword was part of the dance, moving like an extension of her arm. She was breathtaking. And extremely deadly. Her pile was larger than her male counterpart’s. It was neater, too. One cut, maybe two, and they were brought down. Appendages sliced off, heads, limbs, incapacitated, then she moved on. Every so often she would throw a knife, hitting someone in their head, heart, or, most often, their neck. He had never seen anything like it.

Damn. It’s a bit of a shame that there isn’t more action, because it’s described so evocatively when it comes along, you’re left feeling as if you were there, and wanting more. To her credit, Breene also does a good job of Shanti’s psychic abilities; I’ve seen books where that kind of thing turns into clunky and ineffective prose, not the case here. A couple of other points worthy of praise. While there’s obvious unresolved sexual tension between the heroine and the Captain, this provokes a lot less eye-rolling than usual; indeed, it makes sense, given their mental bond. It’s also a fully-formed story – Shanti’s saga goes on, obviously (there are six books in The Warrior Chronicles to date), yet this finishes at a point that feels complete, not an obvious “Continued in Volume 2!”

There were occasional passages which I did find myself having to re-read, because the intent or meaning of them seemed rather confused. But that’s a small quibble, for an engrossing story in a universe a bit reminiscent of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle (albeit with fewer dragons… at least, so far!). My rule of thumb for deciding whether a book is good or not, is whether I watch it unfold cinematically in my mind’s eye as I read. That wasn’t just the case here, I was also actively casting it. What do we want?! Cecily Fay for Shanti. When do we want it? As soon as someone gets the budget. :)

Author: K.F. Breene
Publisher: Through Amazon, both as an e-book and in a printed edition.

Prophecy of Eve

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“Puts the ‘eve’ in dry heave.”

This will be a slightly shorter review than usual. For there’s not much to say about a film which runs only 77 minutes, yet still somehow managed to feels both confused and full of unnecessary padding. “Well done”, maybe? Certainly, as a model of what not to do, this hits all the necessary marks. It seems be set in Los Angeles, renamed Angel City, for no particularly good reason. There is a struggle between demons and those they possess – whose eyes flash red at dramatic or necessary to the plot moments – and those on the side of good, whose eyes flash green. Leading the latter side are the Order, and two of their members have, in defiance of the rules, have a child, Eve. Her parents are attacked and apparently killed by the demon-possessed, and Eve is left to fend for herself on the streets, while the Order try to locate her.

They are apparently a bit crap at the locating thing. For 15 years later (!), Eve (Villatuya) is still roaming the streets taking out bad guys with her sword. Meanwhile, demonic possessions have increased dramatically, and it appears to be connected to a certain company and its headquarters downtown. Fortunately, the Order have managed to infiltrate the place, and their operative, Esther (Maxali) has just escaped with footage showing exactly what the company are up to. Eve may be the only thing standing between the world and disaster. Or maybe not. Because the film may not even bother with anything approaching a coherent ending, opting instead to finish just when the film should be ramping up to an exciting climax.

Admittedly, any excitement would likely be a large improvement over what the movie provided to that point. Which would be a string of B-grade martial arts fights and C-grade performances. At first, I thought it was refreshingly ambitious of a Filipino production to attempt to make a movie set in Los Angeles, and quite brave of them to do so in English, when it clearly wasn’t the native tongue of the lead actors. Then, I realized my mistake: this is actually American. Oh, dear. I’m struggling to find many positives, but have to say, the look of the film is rather better than you’d expect from the reported $15,000 budget. It has a nicely drenched sheen of wet neon, that appears to have strayed in from a much bigger production. The poster, too, looks slick, and promises much: unfortunately, these positive aspects only stand in sharp contrast to what the film can actually deliver.

Dir: Ron Santiano
Star: Ia Villatuya, Michelle Laurent, Nicole Maxali, Roberto Divina

Getting Wilde, by Jenn Stark

Literary rating: starstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2

I initially thought I had a fairly good handle on where the first book in the Immortal Vegas series (currently at six entries, plus a prequel) was going, with a Lara Croft-esque lead, who specializes in locating and recovering ancient artifacts. You can also throw in fragments of The Da Vinci Code, since she is hired to retrieve a relic from the secret basement beneath the Vatican, and is going up against a cult of religious, Catholic fanatics. But it somehow ends up taking a sharp right-turn, ending up in a version of Las Vegas where, just out of phase with the casinos and hotels, lurks a hidden dimension of other venues, populated by…

Well, probably best to rewind a bit. For in this universe, magic is real, albeit not apparent to the vast majority of the population. Some, particularly sensitive types, have an affinity for it, in one way or another, giving them abilities such are remote viewing or precognition. These are the Connected, and our heroine Sara Wilde is one of them. She started before she was even a teenager, using a talent for locating missing things to help her local police. But after a tragic incident, she was forced out on her own, and now wields her skill in the pursuit of material objects.

Meanwhile, the Arcana Council – largely formed of characters out of the tarot deck, e.g. the High Priestess, the Magician and the Devil – are based in that alternate Vegas strip. They seek to maintain the balance between good and evil, preventing either from prevailing, and that’s becoming a problem. For the increasing intersection of technology and magic is being exploited by those who want to benefit from the resulting synergy – they don’t care how many lives have to be destroyed in that process. Which is where Sara comes in, as exposure to a psychoactive drug turns her into a seer, and she unwillingly takes on that mantle, to protect the innocent alternatives.

If it sounds rather complex and confusing, that’s about right. You’d expect the first book in a series to set out the universe and its rules fairly clearly. But here, you’re largely dropped in to the middle of things, then have to try and figure out what’s going on, from nuggets dropped by Sara almost in passing. Maybe previous knowledge of Tarot might help? It also suffers from incompleteness, a sadly common trait in e-books; Stark sets up the characters and plot, then more or less ends in “Buy volume 2!” rather than offering any resolution. The book’s attitude to sex is kinda weird as well. Wilde doesn’t actually have any, but comes perilously close on multiple occasions, to the extent this seems like some kind of edging fetish.

But you shouldn’t take the above to mean it’s all negative. In particular, Wilde is a very well-formed character. She’s clearly a heroine, willing to put herself in harm’s way (both physically and psychically) to protect others, out of genuine concern for their well-being. Yet she’s far from flawless, carrying her own share of historical baggage, and has a sarcastic wit to which I can easily relate. Stark has a good eye for her settings too – having been to Las Vegas, it would be the perfect location for a supernatural governing body to set up their operations, just out of sight behind the lurid facades.

I’d probably have liked to have seen more action out of Sara. Her first excursion, into the depths beneath of the Pope’s palace in Rome, is almost an occult Indiana Jones escapade, and she clearly is capable with more than just her mind. But after that, there is a lot more talk than walk, save perhaps for her helping bust loose some unwilling participants from behind a sleazy casino, in an even sleazier back-room. Hopefully, future entries will have more of this, and she won’t be stuck doing remote viewing for the High Priestess, which is where she ends this volume. I’d probably be interested in another adventure, given the potential here; yet there are enough flaws, it could all end up being thoroughly wasted.

Author: Jenn Stark
Publisher: Elewyn Publishing, available through Amazon in both printed and e-book versions.

Double-Sided Magic, by McKenzie Hunter

Literary rating: starstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2

This is set in a world where various kinds of magic exist, alongside humans. The former include shapeshifters, vampires, faes (fairies), mages and the despised “Legacies”. The last-named cover the heroine, Levy Michaels, and that’s a bit of a problem. The reason for the hate, is because some of her kind were responsible, in previous generations, for a very nasty bit of spellcasting called “The Cleanse”; it was basically intended to cause occult genocide, and only narrowly avoided. Since then, Legacies have been harried and hunted by the other kinds. Levy’s late parents taught her to hide her abilities and pass as human, and she does so now, albeit occasionally having to handle those who track her down.

This mostly quiet, largely undercover existence is rudely ended when she suffers a blackout, only to regain consciousness standing over several very dead bodies, with absolutely no recollection of how she got there. Almost simultaneously, a relic called the NecroSpear, with which she was involved in a professional role, goes missing. This all brings her to the attention of Gareth, who heads the Supernatural Guild that are responsible for policing crimes involving magic. Again, a bit of a problem, since attention is the last thing an incognito and persona non grata creature like Levy needs. But it eventually becomes clear that someone equally powerful is out there, and she may be the only thing standing between humanity and an even bigger calamity than The Cleanse.

This is the first book in Hunter’s second series; her first, the Sky Brooks series, is about a werewolf who also has the unique (for her type) ability to do magic. This seems more like a slightly different variation on the same recipe, rather than a different meal, but a sai wielding heroine is always going to get my attention. Having her an uber-powered magic-user does initially seem a bit of a “Mary Sue”, but the constraints of Levy’s situation mean she has to survive as far as possible without using those skills. That said, she’s not exactly as reticent with them as I would have expected, and it’s fortunate everyone else appears to have a blind-spot with regard to her. She does wield those sais effectively; just not enough for my tastes.

It’s not exactly a finished story either, ending in a neo-cliffhanger way that appears largely designed to get the reader to part with their shekels for the upcoming book two. My other main qualm was Gareth: I rolled my eyes at the initial description of him as “sexy and dangerous” [which seems an archetype for Hunter, based on synopses from her other works, as well as some of the characters here] – and yeah, the sexual tension between him and Levy ran the entire gamut, from tiresome to cringeworthy. That’s a shame as Levy actually worked nicely as a standalone character, with a self-deprecating sense of wit that is quite appealing. But it appears almost obligatory to shoehorn in a romantic angle to this kind of book, whether it is necessary or not.

Hunter has put some obvious thought into the universe and its rules, making it certainly one with scope for development, though some additional exposition would have helped with certain aspects. I’m also not certain this is the best place to have started. Hearing about The Cleanse in a “previously, on…” kinda way, seems like a waste of an epic opportunity. There’s an origin story for Levy, which could well have been more interesting than the one actually told. Still, I wouldn’t be entirely averse to reading more of her adventures, though it would likely be a case of waiting for a 99-cent sale on Amazon, rather than paying full-price.

Author: McKenzie Hunter
Publisher: Through Amazon, only as an e-book.

Wolf Devil Woman

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“No rabbits were har… Er, never mind.”

wolfdevilwomanThis 1982 Taiwanese flick proves that, if you can’t afford to go big, you might as well go… Actually, you might as well go on regardless, because with enough enthusiasm, the surreal results can sometimes be thoroughly entertaining, albeit certainly not in a way any normal viewer would call “good”. I was still thoroughly amused, albeit more often at the film than with it, for this is sheer lunacy – yet lunacy of a fascinatingly off the wall kind. It begins with a couple suddenly deciding that they don’t want anything to do with their erstwhile master, the Blue Devil. Maybe the human sacrifice was the giveaway. They head off, with their newborn baby, only to be caught by his minions. Everyone gets buried in an avalanche and killed, except the baby, who is brought up by wolves (!) in an ice-cave, and fed a magical ginseng root by them (!!) that gives her amazing superpowers (!!!).

20 years later, the Blue Devil has become a bigger problem, so Lee (Fung) and his comic-relief sidekick Wong (Pa Gwoh) have headed up the mountain in search of the only thing capable of defeating the Blue Devil. Which just happens to be the magical ginseng root eaten by our heroine. She is now bouncing round the mountain in her fur costumes, rending innocent bunny rabbits and chickens limb from limb. And, as the tagline above makes clear, I’m pretty sure those weren’t stunt bunnies. Lee fixes her busted spine with a bit of impromptu chiropractic care, befriends her and teaches her to speak. They then go their separate ways. Lee turning to the dark side and becoming a minion of the Red Devil, while Snowflower (as she has been named) swings around from trees for a bit – as wolves apparently do in Taiwan – then gets drunk in a village tavern and is thrown into a well by irate locals.

This is part of her heroic journey, with the eventual goal of taking revenge on the man who killed her parents. To get there, she’ll also have to go through a number of battles, get some semi-useful information from a white-haired guy with really long eyebrows, and there will be a not-very stunning revelation about who the Blue Devil actually is. Let’s just say, I think Ling might have been a fan of the original Star Wars movies. One of her preferred tactics for dealing with opponents is to grab them firmly, then yank off their heads or tear them in half, so it appears those animals did not die in vain, and were simply practice. But perhaps the maddest moment is when one of her allies is set on fire: Snowflower tears into her own arm and uses the arterial spray to put the flames out. That’s hardcore.

wdw00Dull, it ain’t, and was clearly a work of love for Ling, who wrote, directed and starred in the movie, playing the heroine as well as her mother. Which is quite surprisingly, since women are generally more… sensible than this. It’s quite possibly one of the most insane films ever created by a female director. The luridly cheap execution, for example on the visual effects, only enhances the feeling you’ve wandered into someone else’s drug-propelled nightmare. This, mind you, was all based on a viewing of the subtitled version. There’s a dubbed one which adds an extra level of surrealness, if Wikipedia is to be believed, calling it “notable for its bizarre vocal performances,” and saying the Blue Devil “speaks like American cartoon character Yosemite Sam.” It’s almost enough to make me wish I’d seen that version.

Even without it, this remains jaw-droppingly bizarre, and there’s almost no written description that can possibly hope to do it justice. Fortunately, YouTube exists, and you can now appreciate this cinematic treat directly – complete with the dubbing! – rather than through the poor approximation of my second-hand words. I’d suggest having a few alcoholic beverages to hand, because you’re going to need them. For you will not have seen anything quite like this before…

Dir: Ling Chang
Star: Ling Chang, Sek Fung, Pa Gwoh

Iconoclast

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“Does ANYONE know what’s going on?”

iconoclastLadies and gentlemen, we have finally found it: the Plan 9 From Outer Space of action heroine films, which manages to combine shoddy production values and pretentious nonsense to devastating effect, with the result being a completely incoherent mess. I knew I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake inside the first five minutes, which consisted of utterly overlong shots of a beach, into which a woman strolls, apparently coming directly from a clearance sale at Hot Topic, and performs an interpretive dance routine. She then wanders aimlessly round the woods, and menaces another woman, who is tied to a tree, while endlessly repeating, “Blood for blood. A life for a life. The wheel upon which we must all be broken.” It didn’t get any better, or any more comprehensible, thereafter.

For the closest thing you’re going to get to an explanation, I turn to the official synopsis, as written by the director: “Iconoclast is the story of a lone warrior who is resurrected by a dark goddess and sent into the wilderness to slay all of the old gods and take their power, so that she can craft him into a powerful weapon to wield against the crusading knights that sweep across the land.” Ooh. Sounds quite good. I wouldn’t actually mind watching that film. However, it bears absolutely no resemblance to what was delivered, and even less to the sleeve. I should have realized that any production with an obviously “artistic” cover is not going to live up to it. I remember first learning that particular lesson at the video store in the late 80’s, with any number of sub-Frazetta covers that concealed badly dubbed Italian B-movies.

It pains me to skewer this as utterly irredeemable, since it was obviously an effort of love for Argo.Based on the Kickstarter page, he appears to have gone out to New Zealand and begged WETA for some leftover bits and pieces of armour and weapons from Lord of the Rings, and shot their footage there. I’ve no idea why they bothered, because unlike LotR, this is not in the slightest bit epic. Indeed, there is nothing to indicate this wasn’t shot in the forest behind Argo’s house, never mind New Zealand. What narrative there is (as opposed to droning pseudo-philosophical nonsense, vaguely derived from Celtic mythology 1.0.1) , gets delivered entirely in voice-over, by completely different people to those performing on screen. The fight scenes are staggeringly inept, and the storyline is flat out baffling, with no clear expression of even the most basic of ideas.

About the only positive thing I can say is that Ms. Hot Topic, a.k.a. “The Black Goddess of the South Gates” (Kristel) is kinda hot, if you like chicks who have angel wing tattoos on their bac. Otherwise, how bad was this? By the end of it, I was devoting more attention to arguing with 9/11 Truthers on Reddit. That’s pretty frickin’ terrible.

Dir: Sean-Michael Argo
Star: Stellar Kristel, Sean-Michael Argo, Petra Grace, Penny Walker

Blood Redd

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“What big secrets you have, Grandma…”

bloodreddLauren Redd (Huller) really doesn’t want to spend the weekend at Grandma’s house. Like most teenage girls, she has a million things she’d rather be doing than visit an elderly relation. On arriving, she meets Albert (Widener), a flamboyant caregiver – but one who turns out to be a serial killer with a wolf fetish. Fortunately, the threat – along with a little something slipped into Lauren’s drink – awakens her own inner wolf – and it’s not just a fetish, but true lycanthropy, passed down in maternal genes through her family. When Lauren wakes the next morning, she finds herself covered in blood, a severely-injured Albert not far away, and her mother (Hassett) with some serious ‘xplaining to do. However, pathologist Mortimer Clarke (Frainza) is piecing together the clues, even if no-one in the police force will take his belief in werewolves seriously, for obvious reasons.

It’s a bit of a fractured item this, with about three different stories going on, almost feeling like they come from entirely different films. First, there’s the obvious Little Red Riding Hood adaptation, focusing on the Lauren/Albert relationship, up to and immediately after her transformation. Then, there’s Lauren, coming to terms with her new talents, which are both a help and a hindrance at high-school. Finally, there’s also Clarke’s investigation, as he tries to figure out what happened at Grandma’s, and whether the supposed “dog attack” actually took place as claimed. Not all of these work equally well: the first is certainly overlong, especially given it is just not very interesting, in particular with Widener overplaying the “gay” thing like a drag queen on meth. I’d much rather have seen more of the high-school aspects, which are effectively played, reminding me somewhat of the truly awesome Ginger Snaps, or the familial history, also not dissimilar to the recently-reviewed When Animals Dream.

This is, let’s be honest, done on a much smaller budget than either, and there are aspects which make the limited resources painfully obvious, such as the actual transformation – they probably shouldn’t have bothered. On the other hand, some are well done: Hassett gives a convincing portrayal of a mother willing to do anything for her daughter, and the ending ties up the loose ends in a way that makes sense and is also emotionally satisfying. You may find, as I did, that the early going here is more than a bit of a slog, and you’ll need to persevere to reach the more interesting aspects that follow. Palmer has found some original twists for the genre, and it’s only a shame he didn’t concentrate more fully on these, instead of the less successful elements that bog things down considerably in the first half.

Dir: Brad Palmer
Star: Stephanie Hullar, Julie Marie Hassett, Christopher Frainza, Torey Widener

The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom

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“Pretty, vacant.”

Based on the same novel which previously inspired The Bride With White Hair, this is a lovely-looking, but entirely empty production. The hero is Zhuo Yihang  (Huang), one of the top members of a martial-arts clan, who is instructed to deliver some red pills to the reigning emperor. When the monarch keels over shortly thereafter, Zhuo gets the blame. However, he’s able to team up with Jade (Fan) and her sister Coral (Shera Lee), who run a rebel outpost buried deep in the heart of the titular mountain, forming an utterly impregnable fortress. Zhuo and Jade, naturally, fall in love – at least, until he gets word that she was responsible for the murder of his grandfather, a local governor. However, we already know she’s innocent of that crime too, part of the myriad of political shenanigans which are swirling around our love-struck couple.

whitehairedIt’s clear the aim here is some kind of sweeping epic. Unfortunately, the emotion more likely to be generated is “confused apathy.” Perhaps it makes more sense if you’re intimately informed on 17th-century Chinese politics. That’s unlikely to be the case for many Western eyes, although there’s no denying the lush nature of the visuals to be found here. Having Tsui Hark on board as a consultant has likely helped that aspect, because the film looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s a large box of gooey, top-shelf chocolate for the eyeballs. The problem is, it also has about as much nutritional content for the heart. Who are these people? Why should we care? Cheung appears to have forgotten this, very basic, aspect of storytelling, and what’s left is as about as soulless as any entry in the Transformers franchise.

Fan looks the part, make no mistake, and there are occasional moments, such as her hair changing shade [you’ll spend the first half wondering who the heck the titular witch is, since Jade’s hair is pitch-black], where the visual effects are used for the advancement of the story, not just for whizz-bang effect. It’s the exception instead of the rule, and before long, you’ll be back to wondering who half these people are, and why they are so upset with each other. This climaxes with the film ending in a way that is not so much satisfying, as entirely baffling. As it does so, a song from the earlier Bride With White Hair is played. Presumably, the aim was as a nod to the predecessor; the effect is actually to remind you of the ways in which the earlier film was superior.

One of the major McGuffins here is a magic “Scroll of Apathy,” giving its master incredible powers, albeit at terrible cost. That’s ironically appropriate, since most viewers will also be feeling pretty damn apathetic by the time the credits roll. Guess it proves the scroll worked. I await the arrival of my powers. Any day now, I’m sure.

Dir: Jacob Cheung
Star: Fan Bingbing, Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Zhao, Wang Xuebing

Blood Cross, by Faith Hunter

Literary rating: starstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2action2

bloodcrossThe first book of this series was one of the best supernatural fiction reads, and best action heroine books, that I’ve ever read. It had me fully prepared to continue reading every installment of the series. This second novel picks up just a few days after the end of the first; the denouement of the latter was only the beginning in cleaning up some dark skullduggery afoot in the vampire community of Hunter’s slightly alternate New Orleans. As expected, this one thrust Jane into even more high-risk action and deeper into the mysterious secrets of the Undead race. But even though I gave it just one star less than the previous book, it was ultimately a disappointment, and I won’t keep on reading the series.

To be sure, the four stars are earned; this book has many of the same strengths as the previous one. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really like most of it, and almost to the very end, I fully intended to continue with the series. Hunter’s prose is as compelling and her plotting as strong as ever. The vivid sense of place, and the masterful evocation of the author’s world that draws you in for a complete immersion, is here too. Nor has her genius for characterization, skill at depicting human interactions, and ability to evoke emotional reactions from the reader deserted her. Her deft handling of the vampire mythos, and the exploration of the relationship of Jane and Beast, still fascinates. The serious exploration of Cherokee spirituality is a plus, and I appreciate Hunter’s continued restraint in the use of bad language. As always, she writes action scenes really well; I admire Jane’s prowess as a fighter and willingness to risk her life for things worth fighting for, and I continue to honestly like her as a person. (I did have an issue with the casual drug use of her occasional allies from the projects; in real life, I wouldn’t trust stoned or half-stoned fighters with automatic weapons anywhere near me. But that wasn’t my biggest problem with the book.)

As a person of faith myself, one thing that drew me to the series and to Jane’s character is the fact that she’s depicted as a professing, church-attending Christian. While she wasn’t pictured as a plaster saint (and I wouldn’t expect her, or anybody else in fiction or real life, to be one), the character portrayal in the first book was consistent with who she claimed to be. So nothing prepared me for being blindsided in this book by sexual behavior on Jane’s part (including unmarried sex, engaged in without any moral questioning) that’s totally inconsistent with her claimed Christianity, and which makes her seem, in places, as hormone-driven as the least responsible members of the adolescent community. The sexual content isn’t very explicit; and not in itself anything that would be all that shocking from a secular heroine (such as Modesty Blaise) who doesn’t base her sexual ethics on Christian beliefs, and doesn’t claim to. Coming from one who supposedly does, though, it’s feels like an exercise in false advertising, as if the author wanted to have it both ways to sell more books, with a heroine whose talk can bring in the religious readers and whose actions will appeal to the secular ones. I felt gypped and betrayed by that kind of cynicism, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Despite my disappointment with that aspect of the novel, it was a thought-provoking read in some ways, raising the question of what it means to be “human.” Because she’s a shapeshifter, Jane is told by one person, and thinks herself, that she isn’t human. But she’s a full-blooded Cherokee (which, if she’s not human, is a contradiction in terms!), and she’s physically, mentally and spiritually just as human as you and I are –she just happens to be differently abled in one respect. In my estimation, that doesn’t make her any more non-human than other people who are differently abled compared to me, like the majority of people who, for instance, can hear tonal differences in music that I can’t, or the small number of people who can guide themselves in the dark by echolocation (and yes, I thought that was strictly fictitious, too, until I learned that it isn’t). Related to this, I’ve often said that I don’t like super-hero stories, because I prefer heroes and heroines with human limitations and vulnerabilities. But I like supernatural yarns about vampires, werewolves, etc. –and the thought struck me, in reading this book, that the difference is less real than one might suppose. In a very real sense, Jane could be called a super-heroine, since she has abilities normal humans don’t. But she’s not SO super-enabled that she’s immortal and above human vulnerability. In the future, I think I might look at super-hero tales with a more nuanced perspective because of that insight!

Author: Faith Hunter
Publisher: Roc, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

Mythica: The Iron Crown

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“Mythica makes its mark.”

mythica4While this fourth entry in the Mythica series is certainly flawed, I have to confess, I found it hugely entertaining. There’s a very strange Mad Max vibe present here, and no small amount of steampunk influence. But despite (or, perhaps, because of?) this, I still enjoyed the most of the series to date. It’s basically a feature length chase sequence, beginning with heroine Marek (Stone) and her two sidekicks ambushing a powered wagon, on which is being transported the fourth part of the DarkSpore. This must be kept, at all costs, from falling into the hands of the evil Szorlok, as he already has the other three. They succeed, picking up a zombie princess in the process. However, they then have to transport it to a secure location, while under attack from:

  • Szorlok’s trio of undead warrior minions. Fortunately,  Szorlok himself is otherwise engaged, having been yanked through a portal into another dimension by Obi-Wan Gojun Pye (Kevin Sorbo), where the two duel using their magic.
  • Owner of the wagon, Admiral Borlund Hess (Eva Mauro), is miffed at the hijack, and ambushed them from her airship and squadron of attack hang-gliders (like I said: Mad Max meets steam-punk).
  • A mercenary crew is also after the DarkSpore. Their employer wants to barter it with Szorlok, who currently has the titular headwear, which allows the owner to rule over the dwarfs.

Oh, and we also hear about the Hammer of Tek, a legendary, long-lost weapon that can destroy anything… even the DarkSpore. File this away for future reference, it may be important later, and should be quicker than a trip to Mordor, anyway. So plenty going on, and it’s more or less non-stop, beginning with a 20-minute action sequence which sets a fast-paced tone, that barely lets up thereafter. It’s largely a light-hearted contrast to the darker, almost brooding, atmosphere hovering over part three; not entirely a bad thing, since even the most serious of legendary sagas benefits from a slice of levity. It’s perhaps not the kind of style on which you could found an entire, mythic universe (unless your name was Terry Pratchett), yet as a one-off, I haven’t enjoyed a fantasy film this much in quite a while.

There are still a couple of mis-steps, such as a woeful attempt to depict pilots from the attack hang-gliders dropping into a shallow lake. I’m also concerned about how death appears to be not much more than a minor inconvenience. People are returning from the grave rather too often – frankly, once is too much, for a loophole I’ve hated since the episode where Buffy Summers came back to life. I know fans and creators get attached to characters, but if you kill someone off, then bring them back, what’s left in the way of threat? On the other hand, you can argue it’s not entirely out of character in an entry that’s likely a bit of palate-cleansing before the grand finale of The Godslayer. Suspect there’s not going to be much amusement to be found with that title.

Dir: John Lyde
Star: Melanie Stone, Jake Stormoen, Adam Johnson, Ashley Santos