Reviews

DREADFUL COMPANY (Dr. Greta Helsing #2), by Vivian Shaw – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in Vivan Shaw’s Urban Fantasy series, and did not wait long to add this second volume to my reading queue: Dreadful Company proved to be an even faster and more entertaining read, adding further depth to the characters I already knew and presenting a few new ones that spiced up the mix in a very interesting way.

The story opens with Greta traveling to Paris for a symposium of supernatural medicine in the company of her vampire friend Lord Ruthven. What could have been a pleasant, if slightly boring, diversion from her work in London becomes first a puzzle when Greta finds not one but two weird critters in her room – beings that are magically summoned rather than being born – and then turns into a harrowing experience as she is kidnapped by a local vampire coven whose ruler, the dangerously capricious Corvin, intends to use her as bait to exact vengeance on Ruthven, with whom he clashed, and lost, in the past.

The situation is further complicated by some weird ghostly manifestations pointing toward a lessening of the barrier between the mundane plane and the afterworld, which require the summoning of two licensed psychopomps and the intervention of a demonic overseer in the person of Greta’s special friend Fastitocalon, who had been recuperating his health in Hell.  As it becomes clear that the critters found by Dr. Helsing and the vampire coven are tied into these “reality hiccups”, the guardian of Paris, werewolf St. Germain, joins forces with Ruthven, Varney and the rest of Greta’s friends in what turns into a mixed rescue & restoration enterprise that kept me turning the pages with highly amused enthusiasm.

Not unlike what happened in Strange Practice, Greta often cedes the limelight to the other players and while this might look somewhat odd, it also allows them to gain more substance and provides a welcome balance to the story. Still, the distressing situation in which she finds herself here puts Greta’s personality into sharper focus and we see how it’s made out of equal measures of kindness, dedication and common sense: being a prisoner does not exempt her from being a doctor first and foremost, so that she has no reservations in treating one of her captors’ wounds, or in feeling deep pity for the youngest member of the coven once she realizes that the girl has been turned without permission and then left to her own devices to face the transformation into a vampire.  If I wrote, in my review of the first book, that Greta looked less substantial than the other characters, I have come to understand that her reserved attitude hides a core of strength and cleverness that comes to light when need arises, and which in this particular circumstance leads her to take matters in her own hands without waiting for rescue to come her way.

It is of course interesting to see Lord Ruthven shaken out of his usual aplomb as he realizes that Greta is in danger at the hands of an old adversary, or to witness the blossoming closeness between Varney and the doctor – while not a fan of romantic entanglements, I’m quite curious to see how this vampire/human relationship will progress – but this time around I truly enjoyed getting to know the new characters on the scene. The overseer of the Parisian supernatural population, Alceste St. Germain, is one of my favorites: a werewolf with a penchant for historical studies, he’s gruff but hospitable – I loved seeing how he turned his house into a command center for the rescuers without batting an eyelash; the two psychopomps are a source for tongue-in-cheek humor and oblique references to horror and gothic themes, their names also an indication of the main facets of their personality – where Gervase Brightside was fun, Crepusculus Dammerung was downright hilarious.

The vampire Grisaille is an interesting study of the bloodsucker mentality from a different perspective than that offered so far by Ruthven and Varney, while the other members of the coven – particularly their vile leader Corvin – manage to appear dangerous and ludicrous at the same time: lacking the kind of moral foundations at the roots of Ruthven’s psychological makeup, for example, they seem more inclined to follow a behavioral template taken from folklore and so tend to dress with flamboyant bad taste and cover themselves with body glitter, in a pathetic – if weirdly entertaining – imitation of a certain vampire saga. Still, they are nonetheless dangerous: partly in fear and partly in devotion of their leader, they prey on hapless humans that are drained and discarded as nothing more than… food rations, and the scenes of their blood-and-drugs orgies represent the more serious and shocking side of the story.

To balance these dreadful narrative elements there are the delightful callbacks to several gothic myths, mainly that of the Phantom of the Opera, one of my all-time favorites, and the appearance of these furry critters, summoned from a different plane of reality, who are unabashedly cute and offer a few rays of light in the darkest sections of the story, without forgetting the intangible entity that Greta summons at some point and can become visible only while covered in cloth – try to imagine a helpful, cuddly ghost as an improbable but precious ally…

At the end of this second novel in the series much has changed for the main characters and they seem destined to walk some different paths than the ones they were traveling when we met them for the first time: given the entertaining mix of adventure, drama and humor that’s typical of these books I know I can look forward to the next one with great anticipation.

 

My Rating:

 

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Reviews

FOUNDRYSIDE (Founders #1), by Robert Jackson Bennett – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

While I’ve been aware of this novel, and of its success among my fellow bloggers, for quite some time, I did not manage to add it to my reading queue until I started seeing several posts of people looking forward to its sequel, at which point I decided it was high time for me to download Foundryside on my e-reader. What I found, once I started this long-delayed reading experience, was a compelling story filled with memorable characters, and a very intriguing, very peculiar world.

Tevanne is a city split in two wildly different halves: on one side there are the campos, the walled enclaves where the four ruling merchant companies and their operatives dwell in security and comfort; on the other the commons, the slums where the rest of the population ekes a meager existence threatened by poor living conditions and rampant crime.  Sancia Grado is a skillful thief gifted with some uncanny abilities, and as we meet her she’s in the middle of a risky but lucrative heist that will get her the money she desperately needs to remove the metal plate implanted in her head, the one that allows her to “commune” with inanimate objects but also inhibits any normal human contact.

The theft is successful, but there are some details in the whole operation that Sancia finds suspicious, and so she decides, against all common sense, to take a look into the box she stole – a choice with unforeseen and dangerous consequences, but also one leading her toward an unexpected path that will gain her a weird but precious friend as she finds herself enmeshed in a long-planned strategy for upheaval and dominance.

The most striking element in Foundryside is the magic system permeating this world: it was discovered long ago that through scriving – i.e. the engraving of simple or complex symbols upon any given object – it was possible to change the properties of matter and the way it interacts with reality.  In other words, a well-conceived scriving could for example convince a piece of wood that it possesses the softness of clay, thus making it easier to carve it in the desired shape. Applied to any substance or item, scriving turns this apparently low-tech society, which seems loosely based on 16th Century Europe, into a more modern world, with driverless carriages needing no dray animals, arrows that behave like ballistic missiles, floating self-powered lights and so on.

What’s fascinating about scriving is that it does not alter the fundamental attributes of things, it just “persuades” them to accept a change in perception and therefore to perform beyond the limits of their nature: more than once I was reminded of the lines of code that build a computer program and lead the machine to execute certain tasks, and in this parallel resides the distinctive feeling of modernity that permeates this world, lending it a steampunk quality that sets it aside from other works in the genre, and maybe places it in a genre of its own. Another intriguing angle of this premise is that a scriver can ‘fool’ objects, which in turn would lead to the assumption that inanimate objects possess a sort of awareness of their existence and function – either normal or modified – which can be detected as some kind of inner, obsessive monologue that at times can be quite disturbing…

There is an exception to this, however, and it’s Clef: I’m thorn between the desire to talk at length about the joys of this character and the need to refrain from spoilers, and I reluctantly have to take the latter road, because Clef and his delightful interactions with Sancia are indeed the highlights of this story and should be enjoyed as the surprise they are.  I want to share one thought, however: having read Foundryside shortly after The Book of Koli I could not avoid making comparisons between Clef and Monono, and even though I’m aware it’s like comparing apples and oranges I can’t avoid thinking that my enjoyment of her personality must have prepared the way for my appreciation of Clef and his tongue-in-cheek peculiar brand of humor.

Back to Sancia, she is an intriguing, multilayered character: on the surface she appears like your classic street urchin, hustling a living as a thief in the dilapidated section of Tevanne, but as we get to know her better we learn of her past as a slave on the far-off plantation islands and of her ghastly experience as the subject of medical experiments that awarded her the talent to learn the inner workings of anything she touches, but also the related curse of being unable to be physically close to anyone. Sancia’s condition gives loneliness a whole new shade of meaning, and if she appears to have adapted to it, it’s easy to perceive her burning desire for normality, for the kind of life she has been denied since birth, just as it’s easy to cheer for her as we witness her daring exploits and her stunning transformation.

On the other side of the social scale we find another interesting character, Gregor Dandolo, scion of one of the dominant merchant families: in theory he has everything – power, money, prestige, but there is something deep inside him that makes him strive for justice in a city where this word is almost unknown. Once we get to know him better we learn of a tragic event in his past that might be shaping his present attitude, but it’s only toward the end that the truth about that past is revealed, and it’s far worse than humanly imaginable…  Previous tragedies might be the link subconsciously connecting him to Sancia despite their profound differences, because they are both deeply damaged people, but in the end I’m glad this connection was not explored through the conventional path of emotional entanglement, leaving room for something different that I hope will offer some compelling narrative threads in the next book.

If Sancia’s journey is the focus of the story, there is ample space for other characters as well, and the other two that shine here are those of master scriver Orso Ignacio and of his unflappable assistant Berenice: his scathing, irritable disposition and his appearance as a foul-tempered mad scientist offer the perfect foil for Berenice’s unruffled, almost amused approach to her employer’s tantrums, which coupled with her endless supply of scrived devices for any foreseeable necessity makes her a delightful addition to the whole cast.

Where it would be difficult to categorize Foundryside in the genre, because of its unique blend of diverse narrative themes, it’s easy to acknowledge its intriguing analysis of subjects like power and the way it affects those who wield it; or freedom and survival and how the latter becomes meaningless without the former; or again the limits in the research and application of science, and which kind of ethics should be observed. I enjoyed very much how the novel started as a run-of-the-mill heist and then transformed into an exciting race against time and human greed while the world was subjected to profound changes, and if at times the explanations about the workings of the magic/science of scriving became a little too intrusive, it still turned out into a stunning reading experience that I hope to replicate with the next book.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

LOCKE & KEY – Season 1 (spoiler-free review) – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

Even with a lot of time on one’s hands – and recently we all have more of it than we thought possible – it’s not easy to find interesting shows or movies on the various streaming services: partly because the so-called algorithms that should learn from the users’ choices are far from perfect, and partly because the blurbs for any given offering are rarely worded in an appealing way. For these reasons I might have missed this show, based on a series of graphic novels created by Gabriel Rodriguez and Joe Hill, if not for the mention of a fellow blogger (thanks Lashaan!!), which prompted me to learn more and to take a look at this intriguing and entertaining series.

In short, after the murder of Rendell Locke his widow Nina and their three children – Tyler, Kinsey and Bode – move back to Rendell’s old hometown of Matheson and relocate in the family home, an old mansion called Keyhouse.  If younger Bode is entranced by the big house and the possibility to explore it, the teenaged Tyler and Kinsey are far less sanguine about being uprooted from everything familiar: on top of the trauma for their father’s death they are starting over in a new school and have to deal with the dynamics of a small town and the gossipy hints of a past involving Rendell and his friends – events that no one seems inclined to openly talk about.  Still, these problems go on the back burner once Bode starts finding some strangely-shaped keys all over the house, keys that exhibit weird properties and set in motion unsettling and even scary events that will require all of their wits to be handled.

Where at first this show looked like your classic teen drama, something that almost drove me to stop watching there and then, it soon became clear that there was much more to it and that’s when I became invested in the story and was able to sit down and enjoy the ride. The first element that drew my attention was the house itself and I have to compliment the show’s creators for bestowing on the Keyhouse set a fascinating blend of haunted house and treasure trove and giving it its own personality, almost turning it into a character. I was fascinated by the mystery of the appearing keys that seemed to become visible only when it was the time to manifest themselves and I was strongly reminded of those online “hidden object” games where you have to find a certain number of items, some of them plainly visible while others are disguised in the background and require a sort of… viewing gymnastics to be found.

The keys that the Locke siblings find are hidden in a similar way, and they reveal themselves slowly, masked by other items of furniture or decoration, which gives the story its game-like quality, where each new level brings the players closer to the goal.  These keys also offer the first elements of dread in the story, because where some of them are used in the conventional way, others are inserted in the body of the person wielding them, and if there is no evidence of pain in such act, it does nonetheless elicit a shiver of apprehension in the watchers: you don’t need blood and gore to experience body horror, after all…  Visuals – eerie, disturbing and sometimes downright ghastly visuals – are one of the best elements of this series, establishing its overall tone that goes from the purely magical to the dreamlike, and to the totally chilling as well.

The characters form an interesting mix, starting from the two older kids, Tyler and Kelsey, who have to deal with many difficult emotions on top of the natural transition toward adulthood: they are often at odds with each other but at the same time it’s easy to see the bonds of love and care underlying the surface animosity; I like the way they have to be more adult and responsible than their age warrants because their mother seems absent at times (and along the way we see the reason why), and they feel the need to protect her from further worries. Nina is indeed a character that annoyed me at times: if I could sympathize with her pain for the tragic loss of her husband, I could not condone her obliviousness to what was going on literally under her nose, or the fact that she often left her children to fend for themselves while she was out searching for clues on her late husbands’ past.  Bode is portrayed as a smart child, and I liked the mix of innocence and wisdom he projects, but at times he’s too… perfect, for want of a better word – not “childlike” enough, and that seems contrived rather than natural, but I want to reserve my judgement for now. And then there is Dodge, the supernatural villain of the story, trying with every means to gather all the keys in the house for some as-yet-unrevealed purpose: the actress portraying her possesses a great interpretative range and moves from friendly to deadly with terrifying speed, while appearing to have the time of her life as she’s doing it.

The story alternates between the present and the flashbacks to the past, slowly uncovering the events that changed the life of Rendell Locke – and ultimately must have driven him to leave his home – and that brought on his early demise: in the end I thought I saw some sort of parallel between what happened to him and his circle of friends and what the three siblings, and their newfound friends, are facing in the present, which lays the foundations for what will probably be the continuation of the story. Still, the mystery and the uncanny situations that involve the Locke family, while important, don’t overshadow the themes of coming-of-age and dealing with loss that are at the roots of the story, together with the strengthening under pressure of the family bonds that acts as its core subject.

This first season of Locke & Key might not be perfect, but it’s an intriguing beginning which will surely drive me to see how the story progresses in the next seasons.

 

 

My Rating:

 

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Reviews

THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WHEEL, by R.S. Belcher – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

I’ve had this book in my reading queue for quite a while, and despite my curiosity to sample another work from R.S. Belcher, whose Six-Gun Tarot made a good impression on me, I kept postponing it in favor of other titles, but once I started it I made up for my endless procrastination by reading it in the short space of two days, which for me and my limited free time is something of a record.

The premise for this delightfully horrific story is that the legendary Knights Templar did not disappear with time, but remodeled themselves as guardians of the roads and highways of the world, protecting travelers from the ordinary and supernatural predators roaming in search of easy prey. The operative arm of the Brotherhood is drawn from the people who make their living on such roads – truck drivers, patrolmen, road workers – and there is also a number of affiliates or sympathizers in law enforcement who make the task of these modern knights easier.

The first Brother we meet is Jimmie Aussapile, a trucker – the kind of person one might not so easily associate with a hero: middle-aged, paunchy, balding on top but growing long, greying hair down his nape, and with a very nasty habit of chewing tobacco, which stains his teeth. And let’s not go into his dressing style… But looks can be deceptive, and Jimmie is soon revealed for a big-hearted, staunch defender of the weak as he hunts a predator with a huge number of victims on his record: to capture the monster, Aussapile ends up being late for the delivery of his cargo, thus endangering his already shaky financial situation – and with a wife and daughter depending on him, plus a new baby on the way, this is the kind of problem he hardly needs.  Still, when he picks up a ghostly hitchhiker who sets him on the trail of a long list of disappeared teenagers, Jimmie is unable to look the other way, and he will soon find himself enmeshed in a dangerous quest that might cost him much more than financial stability.

Jimmie soon joins forces with Lovina, a New Orleans police officer investigating a case of missing kids that soon reveals its connections with Aussapile’s new expedition, and with Heck, member of a biker gang loosely associated with the Brotherhood and tasked with becoming Jimmie’s squire to fight the good fight. The three of them will come face to face with an ancient evil that has been long preying on the land and established its center of power in the isolated town of Four Houses, a place people can’t leave and that doesn’t seem to exist on the maps or in the common knowledge.

The Brotherhood of the Wheel is the kind of book that makes it hard to put it down, and I begrudged every instance in which I had to do so: it’s not only fast-paced and compelling, it makes you root for the good guys to succeed, and to hate the villains with a passion – which means that the characters are indeed drawn in a compelling way. Jimmie is nothing short of adorable – that is, apart from the tobacco-chewing 😀 – because it’s clear from the start that he puts his heart and soul in what he does, and even if he’s conflicted about the possible repercussions this duty could have on his family, he knows he’s trying to make the world a better place for them and for all the families on Earth. Speaking of which, the sections devoted to Jimmie as a family man are wonderful interludes in the breathless, horror-infused narrative, and it’s thanks to them that this unlikely hero is revealed in all his humanity – as a loving husband and father, as a man who wants to strike fearful respect in the heart of the young boy dating his daughter, as an honest worker worrying for the financial future of his growing household – and giving a firm background to his dedication to the Brotherhood’s goals.

Heck and Lovina, on the other hand, are somehow both scarred by life: the former is a war vet dealing with PTSD by drinking himself into oblivion, the latter saddled by the disappearance and death of her younger sister, which gives her an added incentive in the quest that will bring the three of them together.  While I liked Lovina immediately, thanks to her intense, fearless focus on getting to the heart of the matter, despite logistical difficulties and a ghastly encounter with some evil minions, it took me some time to appreciate Heck, because his overall attitude was a good cover for the pain of his past experiences, and his teetering between nihilism and brashness was not endearing at all.  The way these unlikely allies come together, however, and grow into a formidable team, makes for quite interesting reading and shows Mr. Belcher’s skills in handling his characters.

The world-building is just as intriguing as the people inhabiting it, and it’s a fascinating mesh of mundane and uncanny, of modern urban legends and ancient tales with roots in pagan lore: the horror does not come only from the supernatural elements, although they are quite blood-chilling, but from the assumption that evil is just around the corner, that what we perceive as ordinary life might hide appalling dangers. The story starts with the chase for a sexual predator, which is an awful enough reality, and then moves to less conventional threats, passing through revisited and adapted urban myths to create a situation that keeps the readers on the proverbial edge of their seats until the resolution.

In the end, I quite enjoyed The Brotherhood of the Wheel, although I would have liked it much better if the author had not indulged in the detailed physical description of each character as it appeared on the scene, complete with the accurate list of their items of clothing; or the digressions on internet memes or again the appearance of a supposedly dead musical icon – which to me seemed totally unnecessary to the overall plot.  But these felt like mere “hiccups” anyway, and easily forgotten in the long run, to the point that I’m more than ready to sink my teeth into the second book of the series and to renew my acquaintance with Jimmie & Co.

 

My Rating:

 

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Reviews

THE QUEEN OF NOTHING (Folks of the Air #3), by Holly Black – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

When we left Jude Duarte at the end of the previous book, she had been tricked into exile from Elfhame by her own husband, King Cardan: back in the mortal world, she deals with heartbreak and anger by taking odd jobs from fae who live hidden among humans and by biding her time until she can achieve a comeback and reclaim the throne.  This chance comes, quite unexpectedly, in the form of her sister Taryn and her plea for help: I want to avoid any spoilers here, because The Queen of Nothing offers many surprises that are best enjoyed with no previous knowledge, and all I can safely say is that Taryn’s revelation puts an intriguing spin both on the situation and her own character, while offering Jude the means of going back and setting her long-nurtured plans into motion.

This final novel in the Folks of the Air series turned into a very quick read for me, because events occurred at a fast pace and because I happened to start the book on a weekend and for once I could enjoy the rare occurrence of an almost uninterrupted read. If the story itself did prove at times problematic – but not enough to turn me away from it – the characters and the themes were more than enough to make up for what felt like a hurried conclusion marred by a few too-convenient events.

To get the negatives out of the way first, it seems to me that there were some avenues left unexplored, like the changes in the dynamic between the two twin sisters and the balance shifts between Jude and Cardan: in both cases the evolution of both kinds of relationship seemed to occur far too quickly, as if some important evolutionary steps had been kept off-stage, so to speak, which led me to wonder if I had not missed something along the way. This problem also concerns the narrative, particularly toward the end, where a highly dramatic situation is resolved far too quickly and in a way that felt “telegraphed” from its very inception: I could not get rid of the conviction that the author was in a hurry to end the story and therefore cut some corners to reach her goal, which is unfortunate, since the buildup of the previous two books deserved a much more articulated conclusion.

Still, as I said, the characters abundantly make up for this particular issue: Jude especially keeps being an intriguing creature, one saddled with many liabilities but also gifted with great strength and an enviable willpower carrying her beyond many obstacles and a lot of pain – physical and emotional. She can be ruthless with foes and incredibly gentle with friends or her young brother Oak, and there is no dichotomy here, both sides of her personality are equally valid and an integral part of her psychological makeup.  Much as her relationship with Cardan can be fascinating – the attraction/repulsion dynamic is one of the defining points of their very convoluted exchanges – it’s not the one that best defines her, since this is left to her bond with Madoc, her adopted father.

Both of them love – crave – power and are determined to grasp it no matter the cost, which makes them at the same time potential allies and bitter enemies: for Jude, Madoc is the father who raised her, granted, the one who taught her sword skills and encouraged her dreams of knighthood, but he’s also the one who brutally killed her real father, and her mother, and wrenched Jude and Taryn from the only life they had known to throw them into an alien world in which they would always be outcasts.   And for Madoc, Jude is the daughter that most resembles him, the child of his heart if not of his blood, but she’s also a contender for that power he covets, and his repeated offers of alliance look more like the desire to keep one’s enemies close rather than the need to have a like-minded partner.

And speaking of characters, there are a few minor ones that shine here, like the “new entry” Grima Mog, former fae general, exiled to the mortal world and with a penchant for cannibalistic murders: I know this description sounds far from appealing, but Grima’s personality – and scathing remarks – are a joy to behold and act as facetious interludes in the overall grimness of the main story. Weird as it might seem, her appearance on the scene always brought a delighted grin on my face…

Another thought-provoking angle comes from Vivi, Jude’s older, full-blood fae sister, and her human partner Heather and the latter’s desire to establish their relationship on a more equal footing, making the decision to move past previous misunderstandings and magic tricks but with the acknowledgement that whatever wounds she suffered are forgiven but not forgotten.  And the human world gains more space in this third novel, not only because a good part of the action happens there, but also because there is a hint that the separation between the two realms might become thinner, more easily crossed in the future.

When all is said and done, I enjoyed this trilogy very much, and if its ending did not entirely meet my approval, I can assign this third book a slightly higher rating on the strength of its two predecessors.  Whatever Holly Black will write next will no doubt end up on my radar because of these novels.

 

My Rating:

 

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Reviews

THE WITCHER – Season 1 (spoiler-free review) – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

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It took me some time to unravel my feelings about the first season of this Netflix series, because they are as complicated as the story shown on screen. Certainly it did not help that my attempt at reading what is considered the prequel book, The Last Wish, ended in a DNF since I found this collection of stories to be somewhat oblivious of the “show, don’t tell” rule I prefer to encounter in my reading material, and leaning heavily on long-winded, exhausting exposition –  not to mention what I perceived as the strong whiff of sexism that is apparent from the very beginning of the first story…

Still, I was curious about this saga, and the enthusiasm of an acquaintance, who read the books, played the games based on them and encouraged me to give the series a chance, fueled that curiosity: after all, I reasoned, it would not be the first time in which a failed reading experience turned into an entertaining visual one. Now that I’ve watched the first season I can see the potential in this story, while being still on the fence about the way it will turn out: only time will tell, of course, but that initial curiosity is still driving me to keep watching.

 

 

In short, and trying to avoid any kind of spoiler, the saga revolves around Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher – a cross between a bounty hunter for monsters and a wizard, a man of gruff disposition, long silences and a distinctive moral code. Other main players are the sorceress Yennefer, who is introduced as a deformed pariah whose unforeseen magical skills will gain her access to the magical academy of Aretuza and the fullness of her powers; and young princess Cirilla, last survivor of the ruling dynasty of Cintra, who is on the run from the invaders who ravaged her realm and looking for Geralt on the strength of her grandmother’s dying plea.

What struck me from the beginning was the feeling of disconnect between these narrative threads, not to mention my lack of understanding about how they were linked, and it was only through some web search that I understood they happen in different timelines that manage to merge only at the end of the last episode. I’m never bothered by the need to “work” through a complex story, gathering the various pieces of the puzzle, but The Witcher requires the keenest concentration from its viewers and gives the distinct impression that it does not care for stragglers: one either manages to go with the flow, or is left behind.  Well, if that’s a challenge, I’m more than ready to accept it  😉

Once understanding about the different timelines dawned on me, the progress became easier, and I could concentrate more on the characters, which are always the strongest element in any story, no matter the medium they live in. Geralt is indeed an intriguing character, especially because he’s introduced in medias res, with almost no background offered: he’s taciturn, blunt, uncaring of the scorn mixed with fear that follows him – on the contrary he seems to welcome being spurned by the rest of humanity because he does not look very keen on company. As a monster killer for hire, he should be callous and unscrupulous, but he soon reveals a personal form of integrity that compensates for the ferocity and brusqueness he wears as a coat of armor.

Princess Cirilla, on the other hand, looks like a piece of floatsam at the mercy of the tides, spending the good part of this first season being hunted and running away in fright, which does not help much in forming a connection to her – much of it is due to her youth, inexperience and the chain of events that destroyed her somewhat sheltered life, so I have great hopes that she might come into her own and turn into a character to root for. The few hints about something special about her, something that might place her on a different path than that of the victim, make me look forward to her future development.

Still, it’s Yennefer the one that most intrigued me and who holds the highest promise of turning into the kind of character I enjoy watching or reading about: when first she appears she is deformed, mistreated, shunned by her own family and even the enrollment in the magical academy of Aretuza does not seem to greatly change her status – that is, until she comes into the fullness of her talents and the transformation, mental and physical, begins. There is an intriguing duality in Yennefer, a powerless and unloved creature who comes into amazing, unearthly skills but at her core still retains part of that wretch who only wanted to be loved: the later Yennefer is not an entirely likable person, but when glimpses of her heartbreak become visible it’s impossibile not to feel for her and to forget that she can be a villain as well.

Where these characters drive the story, especially once it appears that they are fated to meet and – probably – to form some sort of alliance, the story itself could have been a little clearer, a little more… viewer-friendly in my opinion: granted, going into it with no previous notions gained either from books or video games might have made my journey more difficult in terms of understanding, but also much easier since I had no expectations of any sort.  What I can see, so far, is that this TV series calls out to viewers who are not afraid of making an effort in concentration and attention, promising to lay the whole picture along the way and doing it with a leisurely but steady pace.

I can’t say that I liked this first handful of episodes, but on the other hand I did not dislike it: I’m intrigued, and this might be enough to carry me forward to the next seasons.

 

My Rating for Season 1:

Reviews

RESISTANCE (ST: TNG – the Second Decade #2), by J.M. Dillard

 

After my successful encounter with the tie-in book acting as a prequel to the new Picard TV series on Amazon, and feeling some nostalgia for the world of TNG I enjoyed during its run, I went in search of books that might bring back some of that old “magic” and also fill the hiatus between the last TNG movie Nemesis and the current TV show. My search brought me to this novel that was indicated as focused on that time period and also on the most interesting adversary ever created in the Star Trek universe: the Borg. The book promised to bring the old enemy back, so I decided to take the plunge in the hope of connecting once again with a narrative arc that, highs and lows notwithstanding, had managed to capture my imagination in the past.

In Resistance we encounter a Captain Picard having to adjust to a series of changes in his command staff: Riker, the former first officer now promoted to captain, and his wife Counselor Troi, have moved to their own ship; Worf, the best candidate for the position of XO is reluctant to take the post; a new Vulcan counselor has been assigned to the Enterprise; and the loss of Data, whose sacrifice saved them all, still feels very painful.  On top of all this, Picard hears again his connection to the Borg and the voice of the collective, which was not completely vanquished and is now working toward the creation of a new queen and the resurgence of the assimilation program.

Compelled to act quickly, Picard contravenes Starfleet’s orders and heads to intercept the Borg cube before the queen can be activated, and when the first attempt at destroying her fails, chooses a dangerous path to prevent the possibility of a new, devastating invasion.

While the main theme for this novel looked promising, this story unfortunately did not completely deliver on that promise, mostly because it did not add anything new to the concept of this detached enemy following directives like a computer, without personal or emotional motivations. Worse, the plot seems like a mere rewrite of the script for First Contact, with the addition of some outlandish notions bordering on the absurd, like the premise that to build a new queen a male drone is subjected to a special treatment that turns it from male to female. I’m still puzzling over this, since it’s established in canon that Borg drones are captured and assimilated beings – both male and female – and that their inclusion in the collective does not change their gender and at most makes it irrelevant to the hive mind’s goals.

If the writing is good enough and the pacing adequately sustained, the story falters in the plentiful descriptions of characters’ thoughts and feelings with an abundance of telling vs. showing that soon becomes tedious and spoils the overall effect.  Not to mention that some of the characters’ decisions feel out of place, namely Picard’s disturbing solution for boarding the cube without raising the alarm: in consideration of his past trauma at the hands of the Borg, it goes against everything we have seen so far about his PTSD.

There are however some positive elements in Resistance, the most significant being the look into Worf’s personality as he still labors under the weight of guilt for the failure of a previous mission: the reasons for not wanting to accept the position of first officer come straight from his psychological makeup and past history, and help to shed more light into what makes him tick.  And the newly-minted Counselor T’Lana is a promising addition to the team – should she remain as a canon character and be further developed, of course – because her nature as a Vulcan and her posting as a counselor dealing with the crew’s emotions could lead to interesting developments.

When all is said and done, Resistance ended up being something of a letdown after my successful experience with The Last Best Hope, even though I acknowledge that at least the action scenes held my attention and the book was a fast, diverting read. Still, it had a little “paint by the numbers” flavor that did not completely agree with me, although it did not stop my search for more interesting and promising books: as this “quest” is undergoing during a difficult moment in everyone’s life, I feel in great need of some optimistic stories and I have to admit that Star Trek, even in its direst visions, always had the power to offer at least a glimmer of hope. And a vision, no matter how idealistic, of a better future is exactly what everyone needs when finding themselves in dire straits…

So, can anyone advise me on some good titles to read in the Star Trek tie-in universe?  😉

 

 

My Rating: