Review of Dragon Knight

Disclosure: I am related to the author of this novel, and thus may be biased in favour of this story. I also have some nostalgia for this book in more ways than one. If you think that after this statement that I can give a fair review then continue to read, if not please read and judge my work.

Corsender (a.k.a. Cor) is a magical red dragon who has a problem; he’s bored. So he sets out to become a knight with his princess, Espreta, as his cultural guide to the human world. When word reaches Cor that there is a dragon’s bane killing his brethren, he makes it his knightly quest to put an end to the villainous knight. Complications arise as other knights join the party, baby dragons imprint on Cor, and everyone involved gets a romance path as well as have their names reduced to three letters. And to help add to the confusion of remembering names and nicknames, we also have Espreta, dubbed Esp, shares a name with another side character named Espreta who later gets called Preta and has the same nickname as Cor’s mother, Esperanza.

I’m not going to lie this is not the greatest thing to be self-published. The characters are pretty two-dimensional, the villain, Jeareth, is a non-threat to Cor, and… actually, the biggest problems I have are with the Cor-Jeareth dynamic. Cor is built up to be nigh unbeatable while transformed as a human and straight up invisible against anything a human can throw at him. And Jeareth is proven to be inferior to Cor in both categories of brawn and brains. Lex Luthor is a great villain because he can challenge Superman; Jeareth just cannot contend with Corsender. Yes, he tries to use hostages to his advantage, but each time he does, it’s as useful as grabbing a snake by the tail. Cor either says “new rules”, or the hostage actively undermines Jeareth’s advantage. As it turns out villains are a detriment to their story if they don’t pose a challenge to the hero in some meaningful way. Jeareth’s presence acts as a speed bump rather than a blockade to Cor’s ultimate objective.

In the end, things get tied up too easily and quickly. It doesn’t help that the story hasn’t been paced well enough up to this point for a proper conclusion to unfold in a timely manner. It is odd sometimes you get a couple of excellent chapters and then other times you get a few chapters just exist to throw exposition at you, and all of this is nestled in the bulk of the rest of the story that is more half-baked and not quite so fleshed out.

I still have a soft spot for this novel, but looking at it more objectively I can’t say that it’s good.

Review of The Guardians of Ga’hoole Book One: The Capture

This is the first book the series of Guardians of Ga’hoole, and by the end, it shows. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s start at the beginning.

Soren is a young barn owl from the forest kingdom of Tyto. He’s only been alive for a few weeks in the tender care of his parents when he falls out of the nest and is snatched by the owls of St. Aegolius, what can only be described as an owl cult with eyes on conquering the other owl kingdoms. Along with an elf owl named Gylfie, Soren makes his attempt to escape and reunite with his parents, Kludd his older brother, and Eglantine his younger sister. On their journey, they meet Twilight, a great grey, and a burrowing owl named Digger; they even find Soren’s family’s nest-maid snake, Mrs Plithiver (Mrs P for short). Together the decision is made to find the Great Tree of Ga’hoole and get help from the Guardians that legends speak of.

It’s an okay enough plot that is, unfortunately, left unresolved by the end. The primary focus on escaping and then the forming of the team is fine enough, and the strings that have been left untied allow for future instalments to weave seamlessly into the story. It doesn’t feel wrong for the book to end where it does; there’s a good enough sense of resolution that your not going to be lying awake at night wondering what will happen next and enough left open that you don’t have to worry about how the next one will fit in either.

The main characters, Soren and Gylfie, are under-owls from the start; both were too young to learn how to fly when they were taken. And them being young, inexperienced owls looking for a way out is the cream of the story. Gylfie is the clever brains of the two coming up with most of the plans to learn more about their situation in order to escape. Soren is the heart of the duo; displaying glimpses of leadership and the ability to inspire others. The narrative mostly focuses on him, so we also get to see more of his doubts than Gylfie, but that does serve more to build on him as the heart of the team.

When it comes to discussing side characters in this story we have two pronounced divisions: secondary and tertiary characters. You can argue that most stories have this, but here I say it is more noticeable than a lot of stories I have covered so far. The secondary characters I would say are Twilight, Digger, and Mrs P because they are the ones being carried most prominently forward with our main characters Soren and Gylfie. Mrs P and Digger are pretty standard for the roles they occupy while I found Twilight an absolute delight. He’s the loyal, boisterous type that I love who will claw and sing his way to victory and celebrate the loudest afterwards.

There are a few good tertiary characters as well that I enjoyed, but Grimble stands out as one of the best characters of the book for me. I like the complexity of his character; he understands that he is assisting evil, but initially, sees it as the only way to keep his family safe and later does it solely out of grudging duty till the opportunity to betray his oppressors presents itself. He is the tragic hero of his story and an inspiration to our young main characters and myself.

There’s a certain charm to the story; it’s made for kids but not at the expense of children. It’s a well-done concept that doesn’t sacrifice good storytelling just cause the audience isn’t targeted at adults. The ideal audience for this book is certainly kids age 8 to 12, but I’m in my mid-twenties, and I enjoyed myself enough.

Review of The Ocean of Secrets

The Ocean of Secrets, now I’m going to preface this review with the statement that I particularly wanted to like this, I really did. I’ve probably read this more times than I usually do when I decide to review something. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I can see a good story just below the surface and out of reach. I not here to review the story I wish I got, I here to review the story I actually got. Without further delay on with the review.

Nina and her adopted sister, Lia, decide to have a day at the beach, and despite the weather warnings, the two girls go out on their uncle’s boat. The weather does prove to be dangerous, and Lia is lost at sea. However, fortune smiles on Lia and she is picked up by a magical ship with just two crew members, Moria and Albert. With no way to get back, Lia joins them as they continue hiding from the floating Kingdom of Lyronaz. But they can’t hide forever.

Now, as awesome of a summary as that is the actual execution leaves something to be desired. The pacing to start is just a little too quick for me to get an idea of who Lia and Nina are. This is the only part that Nina is in so I can let that slide, but Lia is the main character, and this really should have been the time to get to know who she is before she gets pulled out of her life. This does make character growth difficult to find for her by the time you reach the end. And this may just be me, but I think the beginning is a better-told story than the rest of the actual story.

The artwork is very nice, and most of the time following a situation is easy enough, but sometimes it is hard to follow; like panels or pages are missing which doesn’t help the pacing. A couple of times the words go right into the spine making it hard to read at all. It can be done without ripping the book in half, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Occasionally a phrase pops up that reminds you that English isn’t the first language of the author, but it’s not too distracting.

The real problems with the story start showing up when Lia is rescued by Moria. The problems are not because of Moria and Albert bring Lia into their magical world, but more of the result of trying to present too much too fast. This results in a metric tonne of information being dumped on the reader; nearly the whole of chapter 2 is just an exposition dump with very, very little character being introduced for Moria and Albert.

Chapter 3 starts by remedy the lack of characterization for Moria and Albert; giving they something a little more to their characters. But another problem becomes far more pronounced; the lack of a sense of time. Things start happening and move on far too quickly. On one page for example, in one panel they start doing something that would take a good bit of time and the next they’re done.

The rest of the story more or less just coasts on what chapter 3 built for it, and the story ends with a nice little bow and room for a sequel. Not really improving on any of its previous problems, and not introducing any new problems or bringing other problems to the forefront.

Review of Star Wars: The Rise of the Empire

Alright, it is time for a mega super review of Star Wars: The Rise of the Empire. We have three short stories (Mercy Mission, Bottleneck, and The Levers of Power) and two novels (Tarkin and A New Dawn) making up this Star Wars collection. I’ve already covered the novels, so I’ll address them again briefly at the end. This review has been a long time coming, but it’s finally here.

Starting with the short stories:

#1. Mercy Mission

This story acts as a nice little prologue/flashback for Hera that I would recommend reading either before you read A New Dawn or after the first chapter of A New Dawn. It’s heart pumping and ties nicely in between Lords of the Sith and A New Dawn.

Hera is a co-pilot on the freighter Eclipse making a smuggling run to get medical supplies to her home planet of Ryloth which is under the heel of Moff Mors after the misadventure that was the plot of Lords of the Sith. There’s some real suspense as your reading this; the stakes are simple but high. The characters have natural motivations to grasp, and yet a couple of them feel like there is a bit more below the surface. It is an excellent addition that kept my undivided attention.

#2. Bottleneck

Bottleneck is just about the best story to go in between Tarkin and A New Dawn. It is placed in between the two novels both physically in the book and chronologically. The principle characters are Tarkin and Vidian performing an inspection of the production facilities of Gilvaanen, facilities that produce stormtrooper armour. It’s a tale of corporate espionage and rebel scheming that Tarkin and Vidian are tasked with sniffing out. The atmosphere is much calmer than Mercy Mission, and with it being placed right after Tarkin I think it is a good tone shift to prepare you for the feel of A New Dawn.

The characters here are solid well defined, and each one is memorable. Thanks in large part to the much smaller cast. One thing that gets me though, and this is starting to seem like a running pattern, is that alien species are not adequately described. If you asked me what the Ithorian looked like, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what basic shape they have compared to a human.

#3. The Levers of Power

This story revolves around Rae Sloane during the battle of Endor. Sloane was the captain of the Star Destroyer in A New Dawn under Vidian, and here she has gotten to the rank of admiral. The whole story takes place on the bridge of the Star Destroyer she commands, with the focus on her reactions to the progression of the battle. If you’ve seen Star Wars: Return of the Jedi then you know how that goes, and see the response solely from one continuous perspective.

Personally, I think this story is fine but out of place in this collection of stories. Yes, Sloane has been featured in Bottleneck, and yes, she had a prominent role in A New Dawn. However, this story takes place over a decade after the events of A New Dawn and aside from a couple of common elements has nothing to do with the rest of the collection.
#4. Tarkin

I gave my thoughts on this first novel a little while ago, so I think I’m going to link that review here. Fear not though I shall give a brief version of my thoughts here as well.

Tarkin is a good story where the title character is absolutely brilliant. Tarkin certainly has the presence to carry his own story; everyone else feels like a side character even Darth Vader. Couple that with a pair of intriguing stories woven together expertly, and you have a very solid story centred around a villain you are simultaneously rooting for and against.
#5. A New Dawn

Similarly, I’ve also done a previous review for A New Dawn and will be giving my quick thought on this novel.

If you couldn’t tell from comments in previous sections, I particularly like this story and love it when the short stories tie into it. Kannan has a fantastic arc, Vidian is cruelly efficient with a reason you can almost understand, and some of the side characters are simple but enjoyable. If you were to take away the Star Wars aesthetic, I think you would still find an excellent story.

Overall, I believe that this is a worthwhile collection to pick up; particularly if you haven’t already gotten Tarkin and/or A New Dawn. The short stories are nice, but I think I would need maybe another pair of good stories before I would recommend it solely for the short stories. I think that this is certainly worth having if you’re a Star Wars fan but only if you don’t already have both Tarkin and A New Dawn. If you’re not a Star Wars fan then first I would have to find out specifically what it is you don’t like before making my recommendation, but in general, I would say go to your local library and read either Tarkin or A New Dawn and if you like either one of those then I would say get this, if not save your money.

Review of Star Wars: Tarkin

Governor Tarkin sees the Galatic Empire as a machine that needs more centralised oversight. As insurgents perform hit and run attacks against the Empire, Emperor Palpatine orders Tarkin and his apprentice, Darth Vader, to investigate and put a stop to the rebel attacks. It’s a story full of twists and turns, and if you’re familiar with Star Wars, then you know that this is a story told from the perspective of the classic villains of Star Wars: A New Hope. In addition to the main plot, we also get to see important moments in Tarkin’s life that made him into the man that he is. We see his early life that gave him his outlook on life, parts of his early military career, his first meeting with the future Emperor Palpatine, etc. This really is a book about Tarkin, and it is glorious. A proper story for a classic villain; not at all a disappointment.

Tarkin as the main character is a brilliant character because as you learn more about him the more, you understand him, and in understanding him, you are almost convinced by him. He has a very pragmatic outlook on life, and his life is built on maximising his ability to the best utility he can have. Unfortunately, this focus on Tarkin doesn’t come with a compliment of equally interesting support characters. The support characters are good—Vader has a few good moments—but they don’t have the same presence on the page as Tarkin.

The antagonists of the story are a group of rebels that would normally be the protagonists of another Star Wars story. Most of the rebel crew is the usual crew you might expect, but their leader, Captain Teller, has a great moment with Tarkin at the end that I won’t spoil. Teller stands as a fine foil for Tarkin at that moment and serves as a good comparison between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.

I’m not sure how to go on in this review without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say that if you enjoyed Star Wars: Darth Plagueis then you’ll enjoy this just fine. As for me, this was a fantastic read, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading a real villain centred book. Star Wars: Tarkin isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best books in the new canon that I have read so far.

Review of Brody’s Ghost (Collected Edition)

This has been on the back burner for a while, but I’m getting to it now. And this is going to be a running theme in my reviews for the next two months. Now, this is a collection of all six books in the series, four bonus short comics, and concept art.

Now, this is a collection of all six books in the series, four bonus short comics, and concept art. I’m the kind of guy who loves seeing the creative process so the concept art is a feature that I love. The addition of the bonus comics I thought enhanced the overall experience, but I understand why they weren’t included since they are not necessary for the overall story. The rest of the review will be on the main six books that make up the majority of the collection.

Starting with a brief, non-spoiler plot summary: Brody is a down on his luck kind of guy who has his life turned on its head when Talia, a ghost, phases into his world. He’s a ghostseer, capable of interacting with ghosts and exactly what Talia needs. She is a ghost on the hunt for a murderer and she needs someone to do the physical work.

This is a simple, solid story. It’s more of a thriller than a mystery, but I think that allows the story to focus more on its small cast of characters. It gets intense at the end of each book, and when the series as a whole reaches its climax it feels like a movie and the final resolution at the end is paced very well.

Brody and Talia are a pair of solid main characters. Brody changes from a lethargic jerk to a determined vigilante who you certainly could classify as a superhero, and Talia constantly has protective layers peeled back revealing more of her character. Brody is a good example of a character that changes throughout the story, while Talia is a good example of a character that changes through revelation in the story. Their dynamic together is stellar. Because of their different personalities and motivations, humour and conflict feels natural between them when it happens, but you also still understand why they work together.

There are some good side characters that help move the plot forward, but there are just three that contribute to the whole story. We have Gabriel, Brody’s best friend and one of the few straight cops left in the city, he supplies humour and needed help in the investigation for Brody. Kagemura is a samurai ghost that Talia finds to help Brody unlock his ghostseer powers and train him for the task at hand. Kagemura has his moments that make me smile and he’s used very utilitarianly for the sake of needed explanations. The third character I want to touch on is Nicole. She is Brody’s ex-girlfriend and a motivating factor in his life. I don’t want to go to much into detail with her, but she is very plot relevant. Personally, I don’t think she is featured quite enough for the important role she holds.

Antagonistic forces in the series provide three levels of conflict: physical, emotional, and moral. The L47s, for example, are a gang that assault Brody early in the story and serve as a test later in the story for Brody to show his physical improvement. It’s also fun to see them get beat down from their high tower. Nicole also has a boyfriend, Landon, that makes life hard for Brody and because of his interference almost ends the investigation early for Brody. And then we have the Penny Murderer; the villain that is always alluded to in the background and Talia’s only focus. The Penny Murderer’s lack of presence and the threat of him entering the picture drives some of the best tension in the story.

If it hasn’t been obvious at this point, I really enjoyed this collection. The characters are dynamic and fun to read. Some are similar then maybe I would like considering the depth the main characters have and the importance they hold in the story. The end is heart pumping, but a couple of elements feel like loose threads blowing in the wind. By the time I had read from cover to cover I was thoroughly entertained.

Review of Star Wars: Rogue One

Ah Star Wars, we meet again. Last time I was reviewing a novel now you’re in the form of a movie. I won’t lie I was a little nervous going in; the trailers were good, but trailer quality isn’t a sign of quality. I’m looking at you Attack of the Clones.

I got to see this a few times in theatres and am basing this review off my memory of that experience. I will say right from the start that I was certainly the target audience for this movie, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have problems with it.

Now for those who don’t know the plot is a simple one; the rebels steal the plans for the Death Star, and this shows the days leading to that mission. And it is honestly a fun time, once the mission starts. The beginning and middle aren’t bad, but they feel like they’ve been cut down a lot to save on time. Mainly because there are a lot of characters that all seem to have interesting back stories, and they’re suppose to be a close-knit team, but we don’t get a sense of why that is. We pinball from planet to planet at the beginning, getting a few good moments and some exposition about different characters, but nothing makes these characters quite as memorable as other Star Wars characters. Aside from K-2SO and Director Orson Krennic of course, but K-2SO is just a funny droid, and Krennic isn’t fighting as much for scene presence when he’s on with most of the other characters.

There are three main villains in this film: Krennic is the main antagonist for most of the movie with Grand Moff Tarkin acting as an antagonist to him and Darth Vader stealing a couple of brief scenes. Krennic is almost sympathetic, and I found myself wanting to root for him when he was butting heads with Tarkin. Vader was there for fan service I have to admit, but it was good fan service.

Going off of that, there is actually a lot of fan service and easter eggs to find for Star Wars fans.

The look of the film is also a magnificent visual of what the Original Trilogy (OT) would have looked like if they were made today. The style of the old blended with new technology works incredibly well. I feel here I should make mention that a couple of characters have been recreated with CGI, and some people have said that it was bad and distracting, but I thought it was one of the best CGI effects I have ever seen.

This film isn’t the best Star Wars movie to come out, I’d say it isn’t close to that, but it certainly isn’t the worst by a long shot. If you love Star Wars, you’ll enjoy this, if your not a fan I’d say this is fine as long as you see or have seen at least Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope.

Review of Doctor Strange

Well, better late than never, and boy am I late. I saw this in theatres and am basing my review off of what I remember, but I have a good memory, and this movie did leave a  strong impression on me (for what it’s worth).

I found Doctor Strange to be a very enjoyable, and before I get into the story, I have to first talk about the visuals. This is probably the best looking movie Marvel has ever made. The colours seemed to pop out more, and the aesthetics were unique. And the 3D was gorgeous. This is also probably the first movie that made me feel like it was 3D for the whole experience. Yes, I saw How To Train Your Dragon, and in my opinion, only parts of that movie were in 3D; Doctor Strange is 3D the whole time. Shots fired! Fight me on Twitter.

Before I get into characters and plot, I want to talk briefly about the magic itself. I like how straightforward and elegant it is presented. It does let the viewer get a handle on the basics right alongside Strange and provides a good base for expansion in future movies.

Okay, getting into the plot. Doctor Stephen Strange is a famous and successful surgeon who experiences a car crash that puts an end to his career. In desperation, he travels to Nepal to find a way to restore his life to how it was but discovers a power
and responsibility to protect the world.

Now a lot of people have drawn comparisons between Doctor Strange and Iron Man, but I would have to say that it is only true on a superficial level. Once you get into character motivations and the details, they’re different and distinct movies. I, personally, found it to be an excellent origins story and a good stand alone entry that doesn’t require any knowledge of previous Marvel films. A robust and straightforward plot is sometimes all you need for your story.

To talk about the villains in this film is like talking about paint in a house; they exist to give our hero something to do. They’re very flat and not that memorable like most Marvel villains before them. I could look up their names, but I’m not going to because no one cares. It’s a shame since Kaecilius has some hints of a deeper character.

Lastly, touching on our heroes, Stephen Strange goes through a substantial change over the course of the story. Changing from an arrogant man with everything to a more humbled man who’s lost it all but has a deeper appreciation of people in his life. It’s a tried and true character arc, and a favourite one of my when done right which it is here.

Christine is a friend of Strange’s and fellow surgeon. She stands as an anchor point in the story for the viewer as one of the few characters in the story who does not use magic in the climax. I’m not going to act like her role was a standout one, but I thought she was the best female character Marvel has put on screen. Yes, even better than Black Widow.

Wong and Mordo both bring a serious tone the story. Each one has his lighter moments (Wong provides the best laughs of the film), but a good bit of the presence in the story helps remind the viewers of the gravity of the situation. Mordo has a particular depth to him that may lead him to be one of the best characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Now, the Ancient One had some controversy in the real world by being a white woman cast in a role fans expected to be Asian. Personally, I don’t have a horse in the race, but I find it odd that a white woman casting in a role that is Asian stirs controversy when a black man cast in a white man’s role does not (a.k.a. Mordo). But I don’t judge a performance based on race, I judge it by the actual performance. And to the Ancient One was serviceable. She was more memorable than the villains by a long shot, compared to the other characters around her, she was more of a plot device than anything else. I do remember a couple of scenes with her in them, but it generally was what she was affecting in those scenes that had my attention. In other words, she was a good supporting character.