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Tag: Media Monday

Media Monday: You know, not every German was a member of the resistance

Media MondayThe book: Every single book I’ve read that portrays the protagonist as hating those mean Nazis

The music: “Stripped” by Rammstein

Today’s post is more of a rant than a book review, especially in light of the recent US election where 70 million Americans voted for a guy who said about neo-Nazis and white supremacists, “There are good people on both sides.”

I started reading a historical/lit fiction book this week that I ended up shelving about 10% in because the MCs, who we meet in Germany in 1939, are very convinced that Hitler is bad and the Nazis are bad and Jewish people are good and oh no, we have to fight back. I’ve read several books in this vein in the last couple years, and I’m going to declare that while yes, people like this did exist, most of these stories are liberal revisionist propaganda aimed at making current moderates feel better about their own complicit silence.

If you’re an American, when you were in school you learned all about the Holocaust, how Hitler was a dictator and the Americans liberated the concentration camps and were appalled because no one knew that was happening. But then you grow up and learn that actually, people in the US hated Jewish people too, and we had all kinda of quotas to keep them from coming here in the early 1900s, quotas that directly led to deaths in Europe.

But no one wants to talk about that.

We Americans also like to tell ourselves, “If I’d lived during slavery, I would’ve helped to free slaves! If I’d lived in 1940s Europe, I would’ve joined the resistance!” Yet right now we have a government putting immigrant children in cages on the US-Mexico border, and how many people are silent about this? We have cops murdering BIPOC, and how many people are silent about this? Not to mention a hundred other societal ills, and everyone’s keeping pretty quiet about that too.

So when I read a book set in Germany where of course the MC opposes Hitler and loves freedom, I get pretty upset. The way to prevent fascism from taking over isn’t to pretend that no one supported it; it’s to understand why they supported it, then learn from that and apply it the next time this happens.

(As an aside, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg has a great exhibit on the rise of Nazism and how ordinary people were affected. IF the borders ever open up again, it’s definitely worth a visit. Also, Winnipeg is awesome with great food and you should visit just because of that.)

The song for today, “Stripped” by Rammstein, is more because of the video than the lyrics. It’s a cover of a Depeche Mode song, found on For the Masses which is one of the best compilation CDs of the 90s. The video got them in some trouble in Germany because it uses footage from the 1936 Olympics shot by Leni Riefenstahl, a filmmaker who made propaganda videos for Hitler. Looking at the faces of the athletes, there’s no way you can argue that they all thought Hitler was horrible. There were a number of people who agreed with him, that Jewish people were bad and he alone could fix everything for them. No revisionist novel is going to change that.

As a bonus, I also suggest watching Rammstein’s video for “Deutschland,” followed by the commentary by Three Arrows explaining the complicated relationship Germany has with its past. And then getting Rammstein’s new self-titled album and playing it loudly on repeat for the next month because it’s awesome.

Media Monday: Urban fantasy trilogy Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Media MondayThe books: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters

The music: “Who You Say You Are” by Eels

Book 1 in this series was recommended to me at a writing conference I was at lat month. I don’t remember why, other than it had something to do with my new series of fairy tales maybe? Some aspect of storytelling or craft I was supposed to use as an example. Regardless, I’m always looking for something new to read, so I picked this up.

The first book definitely falls into urban fantasy. The main character, Karou, is a teenage girl living in Prague, with a vague backstory that’s slowly revealed to readers in little drips. We find out that she was raised by a family of chimeras, and she does tasks for the head guy, Brimstone. Then everything falls apart when some angels appear and destroy everything.

Book 1 is great. Great characters, great pacing, great job of giving us bits and pieces of backstory that fit with how Karou finds out things. It ends with this heartwrenching cliffhanger that propels us straight into book 2.

Book 2 is not really urban fantasy. It’s more dark fantasy that’s still clinging to being urban fantasy. And at this point, the little drips of backstory are getting annoying, as is the foreshadowing comments the author has started throwing in. “Karou wanted this to be the best night ever. It wouldn’t be.” “Akiva wanted this moment to last forever. Little did he know, all hell was about to break loose.”

Book 2 blurs into book 3, which was a bit better in that it wrapped things up, but it introduced a whole new subplot that wasn’t necessary. And again, there’s all this stuff thrown at us that the characters know, yet we the readers don’t. It reminds me of the movie Oceans 11. Remember the ending? The audience thinks they know what’s happening with the heist, but then we’re shown the sleights of hand that allowed them to pull it all off. Well, that works in a movie, but not in a book where we have a close 3rd person POV. We should know all the characters thoughts and memories and actions, but I felt like we were left in the dark just for big reveal moments.

There’s also a standalone novella, Night of Cake and Puppets, about how one of the side characters met her boyfriend, but I only read the first few pages because it’s written in first person present tense POV and is tonally much different than the rest of the series, and I just couldn’t get into it.

Overall, it’s not a bad series. I love the characters, especially Akiva, who’s that perfect broken hero who just needs a hug to help him through his redemption arc. Karou is great too, as a spunky female heroine in way over her head. The plot goes off the rails, but I still recommend the series.

The music for this series is “Who You Say You Are” by Eels. Not only do the lyrics fit with the series, especially the relationship between Akiva and Karou, but Eels are a great band that more people should listen to.

If you’ve read this series, what are your thoughts on it? Share in the comments below!

Media Monday: Game of Thrones

Media MondayThe book: Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire book 1) by George RR Martin

The song: “I Hate My Life” by Theory of a Deadman

I know I’m late to the party with this. I’ve never actually watched the show, but I’ve seen enough clips and analysis to know the basics of it, along with all the spoilers. I’m trying to read more, so I thought I’d give this a shot.

Overall, the writing is really good. Martin does a great job of building a very complex world, without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary details a la Robert Jordan. But that complexity is what made me decide to stop after book 1: there’s too many characters, and too many plot lines, and overall too much politics that I just don’t care about.

And maybe it’s the school social worker in me, I don’t know, but so many of the characters’ problems could be avoided if they just let kids be kids! “I’m 8, so I’m a grown ass man now!” Bran exclaims. “I’m 12, so I can be a grown ass king now!” Joffrey exclaims. No. These kids, and Sansa and Dany too, need to be at home playing with GI Joes and Barbies instead of getting married and starting wars. You know what happens when you let someone with the mentality of a kid rule you? He starts a major war when he beheads his political rival, and before you know if you have armed military members putting Portland protesters in unmarked vans while we all die of a containable plague.

The accompanying song doesn’t have much to do with the books, but the singer is pretty whiny in this song and it reminded me of the characters.

If you’ve read any of the Song of Ice and Fire books, or seen the show, what are your thoughts on it? Share in the comments below!

Media Monday: Superheroes

Media MondayThe books: Reformed: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project #1 by HL Burke and The Superhero Publicist by Janeen Ippolito

The song: “Holding out for a Hero” by Jennifer Saunders and Frou Frou and Bonnie Tyler

I’m not a big superhero person. I like Batman but haven’t seen any of the new Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman (why is that two words but Superman isn’t??) movies or any of the Marvel universe ones. That said, I still enjoyed these superhero stories.

The first one, Reformed: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project #1 by HL Burke, is set in a world that reminds me of The Incredibles. Superpowers are common enough, and the heroes work with the government to thwart the villains. It’s a bit too black-and-white – there aren’t many sables, as they’re called, who reject either side – but it still works. The MC, Prism, reboots a government program aimed at reforming villains, and she sets her sights on the worst of the worst: Fade, who is accused of betraying her father’s trust when he ran the program before, and of killing a bunch of people. There’s some romance thrown in, of course, as Prism tries to convince Fade he really is a good person inside. As someone who has no qualms about straddling the line between chaotic good and chaotic neutral, I don’t necessarily agree with this – why can’t people just be evil because they want to be evil? – but otherwise, it’s a nice story and a quick read. The characters are similar to those in other books by the author, but that’s not a bad thing either.

The second book, The Superhero Publicist by Janeen Ippolito, is a short about, as the title aptly describes, a publicist for superheroes. She’s working with a new client, a reformed villain now trying to be on the right side of the law for a very specific reason that twists the story around. Definitely worth reading as well.

The song is one of my favorites. When I was 5 or 6, my parents, for whatever reason, got me the Footloose soundtrack for Christmas (and The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat, also for reasons beyond me because both had already been out for many years and my parents didn’t even really listen to this kind of music but whatever). I listened to it a TON and still have a soft spot for most of the songs. This is one of my favorites, and so of course I was thrilled when it showed up at the end of the best Shrek movie, Shrek II. Frou Frou, a band I love, also threw in a version for the end credits.

I’m not sure I’d hold out for a hero from either of these two books, but it’s still fitting.

Which version of the song do you like best? What are your thoughts on superheros, heroes vs villains, and superpowers in general? Tell me in the comments below!

Media Monday: Adapting Etgar Keret

Media MondayThe book: The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God by Etgar Keret

The move: Wristcutters: A Love Story

The song:Through the Roof ‘n’ Underground” by Gogol Bordello

Wristcutters has been one of my favorite movies since the first time I saw it about a decade or so ago. I think Netflix recommended it to me, one of those movies in the “Quirky yet depressing indies” category that I love so much. Basically, this guy Zia kills himself and ends up in a place that’s just like here “but worse.” When he finds out his ex-girlfriend Desiree also killed herself and ended up there too, he goes on a roadtrip with his Russian buddy Eugene and this random hitchhiker girl, Mikal, to try to reunite with his lost love. Along the way Tom Waits shows up, as does Will Arnett. I’m not gonna give away too much about the plot because it’s weird and awesome and currently free on Prime, so just go watch it. Right now.

Based on the awesomeness of the movie, I got a copy of Etgar Keret’s short story collection The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God, which contains the short story the movie’s based on, “Kneller’s Happy Campers.” There are a bunch of differences between the two – all the names have been changed, for example – and overall I think I like the movie better. I prefer the movie’s tone; Zia (or Mordy) is more likeable in the movie, but maybe that’s just because in Keret’s story, written in first person, we get his asshole thoughts that we don’t get in the movie. I also prefer how the movie adds details to flesh out the story, which makes sense because the story is only about 40 pages – although it does pack in a lot. Another big change is that the movie is made for American audiences, while Etgar Keret’s story is heavily Israeli, so a lot of references and details from the story are left out or changed (except when they’re not and you have a random Arabic suicide bomber show up in the movie with no context).

But the main difference is the ending. I personally like the book’s ending better; you could chop the last 4 minutes off the movie and I think it would be a lot better. But I prefer that with most movies, actually. Again, no spoilers. And there’s nothing wrong with the movie’s ending necessarily; it just seems like they wanted to wrap things up nicely. Which is stupid for a dark comedy, but whatever.

The song is actually from the movie. Eugene was rewritten for the movie so that he was a failed rockstar loser rather than just the failed loser that he was in the story. The difference is mainly just his backstory and method of suicide. I’m pretty sure the only reason they did it was to have a reason to put this song on the soundtrack, but that’s okay because it’s a good song.

If you’ve seen the movie and/or read the story, or any stuff by Keret, what are your thoughts on it? Do you generally prefer the book or the movie? What do you like or not like about adaptations? Share your thoughts below!

 

Media Monday: the political dynasty of Richard Robbins

Media MondayThe book: Panicles by Richard Robbins

The music: “Running up that Hill” by Placebo

Panicles is a novel that follows two families, the Waxes and the Murnanes, as they weave in and out of each other’s lives. The Waxes are blue collar and the Murnanes are old money, yet Matthew Wax and Emily Murnane form a lifelong friendship that carries them through death, war, and politics. So much politics.

The story reads like an episode of Law and Order, and I’m not sure if the author intended it that way to translate well to a screen because that’s what we get. The story is very dialogue driven; the characters are aware of their feelings and motivations and voice them and backstory to each other in every interaction, rather than presenting these in the narrative. The story is also chronologically fast-paced, in that we get a brief scene of the important events in their lives, covering 30+ years of the characters’ fortunes and misfortunes.

I think the author could easily have split this book into three or more separate books, due to the wide cast of characters and the richness of their lives that we only get brief glimpses of. That said, there’s a second book coming down the pipeline and hopefully it’ll give us the chance to savor the characters we’ve gotten to know throughout book 1.

I picked this accompanying song for two reasons. First, the Meg Myers version of this song is all over the radio right now and the Placebo version is better so I want people to know that. Second, and more relevantly, there are a lot of missed opportunities for the characters, some of their own making and some handed over by fate. Regardless, the characters try to make the best of it.

Also, Placebo has been one of my favorite bands for 25 years now. I feel old.

Media Monday: Reading my way around the world #1

Reading Around the WorldThe books: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Under the Banners of Melancholy: Collected Literary Works by Migjeni, Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel, and The Teacher of Cheops by Albert Salvadó

The music: “Earth” by Lil Dicky

I love lists. I love making them, and I love using them as a guide for what to do, especially when it comes to reading. A while back I read about a woman who read a book from every country, and I thought to myself, hey, maybe I should do that too. I tend to mostly read books by American, British, and other English-speaking country writers, and I’m always looking for new perspectives.

A quick Google search gave me a list of 266 countries, so obviously I’m not going to finish this challenge anytime soon. I’ll be updating my progress as I finish a handful or two of books.

Afghanistan

For my first book, I went with one I’d been meaning to read for a while: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I debated on whether this actually counts as an Afghani book – the author was born in Afghanistan but now lives and writes in the US – but eventually decided just to go with it.

I wasn’t super impressed with this book. It felt like Hosseini was trying too hard to push his theme of redemption, and all the characters served only to help the main character grow. On some level this is good – you don’t want a bunch of superfluous characters – but the way it was done was very transparent.

Albania

I found a great series, 20+ books on Albanian Studies by Robert Elsie. I’d love to read all of them someday, but for this list I chose Under the Banners of Melancholy: Collected Literary Works by Albanian poet and prosist Migjeni.

I’ve read a lot of Russian stuff and figured an early 20th century rural Albanian would write in a similar vein. The guy studied to be a priest and then taught school in a rural village before dying of tuberculosis at the age of 26. His poems and stories are filled with cynicism and longing for romantic relationships he never received.

From the back cover: “The main theme of his literary work was misery and despair. Previous generations of Albanian writers had sung the beauties of the Albanian mountains and the sacred traditions of the nation, whereas Migjeni now opened his eyes to the harsh realities of life, to the appalling level of misery, disease and poverty he discovered all around him. He was a writer of despair who saw no way out, who cherished no hope that anything but death could put an end to his suffering.”

But through it all, there’s a faint vein of hopeful optimism for his country and for the people around him.

I’m not a huge poetry person, and some of the works became repetitive after a while. He also had a lot of purple prose, although this book was an English translation so I’m not sure how accurate this book was. Overall, though, I enjoyed this, especially some of the short stories. It’s a shame he died so young, because he would’ve had a lot to contribute to Albanian literature.

American Samoa

Believe it or not, there aren’t a lot of American Samoan authors out there. I cheated a bit for this one and went with a Samoan author who lives in American Samoa. I ended up reading Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel, a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in Samoa.

At least, that’s what the description said. But this book was a lot more than that. It was as much about Samoan culture – regarding family, community, and views towards the rest of the world – as it was about what the main character Alofa went through. This book was very skillfully written, conveying just as much in what it didn’t say as it did with its descriptions. My favorite that I’ve read so far.

Andorra

As you’ll learn if you try this challenge yourself, there’s really only one book by an Andorran author that’s been translated into English: The Teacher of Cheops by Albert Salvadó. And it’s about ancient Egypt.

The story itself wasn’t bad. It’s about a slave, Sedum, who gains his freedom and then works his way up to become treasurer to the pharaoh. But the characters aren’t fleshed out. There’s lots of pages on this made-up “path in the stars” philosophy stuff which is probably way too Eastern for ancient Egypt. Lots of details that don’t matter, especially in the very clinical sex scenes.

It was definitely a slog to finish, and if I hadn’t been reading it for this challenge I would’ve put it down after just a couple chapters.

Up next:

Algeria, Angola, Anguilla, Antarctica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Argentina

The music

Today’s song is quite possibly one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard, but in a juvenile, amusing way. I heard it on the radio and didn’t believe it was a real thing – that’s how stupid it is. I suggest everyone should listen to it at least once (although warning: it’s definitely NSFW).

If you’re doing or have done this challenge, what did you read for each of these countries? Have you read any of these books and, if so, what did you think of them?

Media Monday: The book equivalent of CSI: SVU

Media MondayThe books: The Collector series by Dot Hutchison

The music: “My Muse” by Red Sun Rising

(Okay, so disclaimer: there might actually by a book equivalent of CSI: SVU.)

Last week, blogger and fellow author Corinne Morier reviewed The Butterfly Garden on her blog. I was home with the flu and couldn’t get out of bed, so I bought it on Amazon (just $1.99) and read it. And then Amazon told me it was a series, so I bought and read the next two as well.

The first book, The Butterfly Garden, tells the story of Maya, a teenage girl kidnapped by a sadistic man known only as the Gardener. He collects girls, tattoos butterfly wings on their backs, and forces them to live as part of his harem in his backyard botanical garden, until they turn 21 and he kills them, preserving their bodies in resin. The story alternates between an FBI agent, Vic, listening to Maya tell her story, and the story itself. Although the premise is beyond horrific, the abuse isn’t very graphic, and the book instead focuses on what makes Maya such a survivor.

The second book, The Roses of May, switches from Agent Vic and Maya to Agent Edderson, his partner, who’s working another serial killer case. This time, someone is killing a girl every spring and leaving her body in a church. He suspects that this time the victim will be Priya, a teenage girl whose sister was murdered by the serial killer five years ago. Again, the book isn’t so much about the horrific details, as it is Priya’s story about surviving trauma.

The third book, The Summer Children, again switches from Agent Edderson to his partner, Agent Ramirez. Someone is killing abusive parents and leaving the unharmed children on Ramirez’s porch. Throughout this book, the focus is again on overcoming trauma – in this case, Ramirez’s recollections of her own childhood abuse.

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the FBI agents’ methods in each case; I get most of my criminal investigation knowledge from the crime dramas I watch with my dad. But I can comment on the response to the trauma that Maya, Priya, and Ramirez endured, and it’s pretty accurate.

First, the Butterflies as a whole. More than a few people remarked in their reviews that, “If I were in their situation, I would just escape. Twenty-two girls against one man – how hard could it be?” But most people, when thinking about a threat, inaccurately think of just two responses: fight or flight. Either the girls gang up on the Gardener (fight) or they run away as soon as they have the chance (flight). There’s actually a third response, which is the most common response when people encounter trauma, especially when it’s ongoing: freeze. Think of it as learned helplessness, and not necessarily learned directly. This guy has been taking girls for twenty-plus years, and all their bodies are on display. The Butterflies know that if they try to fight back, there’s a good chance they’ll be killed. Die immediately, or die eventually? So, they freeze.

(Relatedly, many women freeze when sexually assaulted. Their assailants, and a lot of the community as a whole, take this for consent since they don’t try to fight back or escape. This leads to horrible victim-blaming, especially of the women towards themselves.)

But what happens when you’ve escaped or been rescued or otherwise survived? That brings us to the themes explored in books 2 and 3, which include survivor’s guilt. Everyone expresses it differently: Priya binges, her mom is a workaholic, her dad kills himself, and Ramirez becomes an agent investigating the types of crimes that were once committed against her. Is any method more effective than another (except suicide, obviously)? Sometimes it changes from day to day, experience to experience.

Overall, I highly recommend this series. They’re each only $1.99, so really, there’s no reason not to check them out.

The song is one of my favorites by Red Sun Rising. Maybe it’s about relationships, but I think in a broader sense it’s about not moving on from a bad situation, even though you know you should, and how the people we surround ourselves with can make it easier or harder to move on.

If you’ve read these books, please share your thoughts. And share your thoughts on the song as well!

Media Monday: Portraying Roma people in literature and art

Media MondayThe book: Snow Gypsy by Lyndsay Jayne Ashford

The music: Carmen by Bizet

My January choice for Amazon’s free prime book was Snow Gypsy, a story set in 1940’s Spain. I love For Whom the Bell Tolls, so I went with a book heavily influenced by the Spanish Civil War. Snow Gypsy tells the story of two women: Rose, a veterinarian who’s searching for her soldier brother who went missing in Spain during the war, and Lola, a Roma whose family was murdered during the war.

Rose travels to the annual Roma pow-wow in Stes.-Marie-Sur-la-Mer, in the Camargue of southern France, to try to find someone who might be able to lead her to where her brother fought, because only Roma can do that? Also, she’s kind of obsessed with Roma culture because they’re all carefree and herby, and she uses their knowledge to write a book on natural cures.

Lola is a dancer, because of course she is. She adopted a baby whose mother was killed alongside Lola’s family, and she’s dedicated to providing a good life for her daughter. She loves her culture but wants more from life, and she doesn’t want to be tied down to a husband.

Rose and Lola travel to Lola’s home in Granada, and before Lola or anyone can take Rose to the village her brother was last at, Lola is imprisoned. Fearing her daughter will be taken away from her and given to white people, Lola sends Rose and the kid to where she grew up. Rose settles into village life pretty well and even falls in love with a guy, before the gripping climax wraps everything up.

Carmen is the story of a Roma woman, Carmen. Duh. Carmen is self-assured and sexy, so all the women hate her and all the guys want her. All, that is, except Don Jose, a soldier who’s in love with his adopted sister, Micaëla. So when Carmen knifes a coworker in the face and his brought to the jail with Don Jose, she seduces him into letting her go. He forgets all about Micaëla and goes to prison for awhile. Meanwhile, Carmen’s living up the smuggler’s life prés les ramparts de Seville, chez son ami Lillas Pastia (in her friend’s tavern in Seville). Don Jose gets out of jail and comes looking for her. Conveniently, she and her smuggler friends need more laborers in their band, so she seduces him again and he’s out after curfew and ends up pulling a gun on his lieutenant. Oops. He has no choice but to join them, but he hates it and starts to hate Carmen. Carmen, of course, no longer has a use for him and moves on, but Don Jose is really jealous so he tells her they’ll only be apart in death. Micaëla shows up and tells Don Jose that his mom’s dying. He leaves but vows it’s not over. Carmen hooks up with Escamillo, a famous toreador, and tells Don Jose to f off, so he kills her. The end.

Although the two stories are very distinct, they share a common thread, and that is romanticizing the Roma culture. For Snow Gypsy, although it does show the prejudice against them, it still paints them as noble savages. And for Carmen (which was written in the 1880s, I think), Roma people are seen as violent, as lawbreakers, as unwilling to do honest work.

This year, I’d like to try to not only read books about different cultures and places, but read them by authors from those cultures. For example, I’ve started reading through all the books I picked up last year when I was in India. Even though I’ve been to the country three times, it’s still eye-opening to read books by people from that country. Even when I’ve been to the places they talk about, they have a completely different perspective than mine, and it’s a pleasant change of pace.

It makes me wonder what Carmen would be like if it had been written by a Roma person in the 1880s, or how they’d write it today. Same with Snow Gypsy; how different would it be if it were written by someone who’s Roma or even just Spanish?

Especially for my own writing, I need to sometimes take a step back and remember that even though I’m writing about a culture or place to the best of my ability, I still don’t have that insider perspective.

This is from the Metropolitan’s 2010 production of Carmen, with Elīna Garanča as Carmen. She is the best Carmen, hands down.

Media Monday: Yarnsworld by Benedict Patrick and The Cure

Media MondayThe books: The Yarnsworld series by Benedict Patrick

The song: “Burn” by The Cure

Today’s books are the four novels that (so far) make up Yarnsworld, a series of mostly standalone stories set in a weird world of dark fairy tales and vengeful protector spirits.

Each book follows the same format: A main chapter about a central character, followed by a legend or tale from the main characters’ people, that relates in some way to the central plot at that moment. It’s a great way to provide worldbuilding without bogging readers down in infodumps, but it also requires readers to be intelligent and read between the lines to make connections between the tale, the characters, and the plot.

These are not fluff books, and based on reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. It also seems that the people who read the first book and loved it, also read and loved the rest of the series.

The first book, They Mostly Come Out at Night, introduces us to the Corvae, a forest-dwelling people who are protected from the terrible creatures in the woods by the Magpie King. Except the Magpie King isn’t as present as the people need him to be. A young villager, Lonan, dreams of the Magpie King, and realizes he needs to step up to become the protector his people need, despite the horrible price he will have to pay.

The second book, Where the Waters Turn Black, tells the story of Kaimana, an ocarina player who lives on the islands of the Crescent Atoll. When she befriends a taniwha, a huge monster, she at first does so as a way to write an epic song that will bring her fame. But when she has to seek help from her capricious gods to save her new friend, she must decide what really matters to her.

The third book, Those Brave, Foolish Souls From the City of Swords, takes us to the lands of the Muridae as we meet Arturo, a young man who wants to be a Bravadori: a brave, respected swordsman who helps those in need. But when he realizes that the Bravadori aren’t who he thought they were, he embarks on a journey with two disgraced Bravadori to rediscover the original meaning of the Bravadori.

The fourth book, From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court, takes us back to the forests of the Corvae, where court servant Nascha has fled after a nobleman threatens to kill her for bastard royal blood. She’s aided by Vippon, a Gentleman Fox who isn’t who he seems to be, and Bradan, a young man desperate to get out of his father’s shadow.

Each of these books is dark, full of murder and violence and betrayal. They’re also filled with old, dark magic that requires blood sacrifice in order to appease the Spirits, who don’t really care one way or the other about their human subjects, as long as they’re worshiped sufficiently.

And the characters themselves aren’t full of rainbow and sunshine either. The main characters especially are seflish, each questing for power and fame, even at the expense of those around them. But in each book, there’s a definite arc for the characters, as they come to realize that there’s a greater good out there, and that they have to do what’s best for their world and their people, despite the cost to themselves.

And dear lord but is there a cost. Not to give too many spoilers, but these books don’t have happy endings. They do, however, have endings that are appropriate for the story and the world, and that’s one of the things I liked about these books. Not many authors are willing to give their stories an unhappy ending, even when that’s the only ending there can be.

The song that I paired with this is “Burn” by The Cure. Yes, I know there’s the obvious connection between the movie this was in, The Crow, and magpies, but it’s also a song about what lurks in the shadows, about losing someone you care about and then trying in vain to recover what you’ve lost. Especially for the first and fourth books, this song is a great companion. And it’s one of my favorite Cure songs.

 

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