Tag Archives: adventure

Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara (Aster Wood #1)

Title: Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara

Author: J.B. Cantwell

Series: Aster Wood #1

Aster Wood is devastated about spending the summer with his grandmother in the middle of nowhere. But his boring isolation becomes far too interesting when he accidentally travels to another world. Now if he wants to get back, he’s got to track down an ancient group who once traveled between the worlds looking for the cure to a sickness that’s suspiciously similar to what’s happening on Earth . . .

This was excellent. Aster is an engaging protagonist—a kid who wants to be typical. But his heart defect means he’s unable to do anything really active, and it’s made him cautious about anything that looks more strenuous than a walk. Which his adventure definitely requires. And when he stumbles over a possible cure, it complicates his decision about finding his way back home. Thankfully, he does have the ability to be physically active after he gets cured (which in itself comes with some interesting wrinkles).

I liked the way multiple worlds show up, and how they’re handled. I liked the mystery of the links and how I’m still not certain Aster made the right choice with one of them. And the wolf is amazing and needs to show up in some future book.

Besides all that, the pace is snappy. Aster never stays in one place long enough to get bogged down. The plot lingers just long enough over his initial transport and shock to really ground him in the new world, but he hasn’t got anything like all the answers. Which is really funny when he determines to destroy a certain rock.

Overall this is a great adventure, and I look forward to seeing how the story develops. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Sword of the Stranger (Movie)

Title: Sword of the Stranger

Content warning: There’s a ton of blood, but not really any gore. Also a few brief scenes of someone under torture.

Kotaro is a young boy on the run. With only his faithful canine companion, Tobimaru, he struggles to avoid the soldiers after him. Then a chance encounter with a nameless samurai offers him hope of returning to a place of safety.

I watched this streaming, and liked it so much I immediately ordered a copy. This isn’t a particularly deep movie, but it’s a lot of fun. Kotaro is stubborn and a bit high and mighty, but he’s also frightened of the soldiers and loves his dog very deeply. Tobimaru alternates between being cute and rising up to defend his master however the situation requires (the scene of him riding in a sling was just adorable). And the nameless man is an excellent swordsman who struggles with the memories of the war he left behind. The journey changes all of them.

On the enemy side, we have the native Japanese who are suspicious (but supportive, for now) of a group of Chinese who are building some grand project. Of particular note is a blond-haired, blue-eyed man the Chinese brought with them, who hungers to fight a worthy opponent. (The comments about him being a barbarian and a demon are perhaps not intended to be jokes, but I found them very funny. No assumption of blond-haired, blue-eyed innocence here.)

Also the hostage situation is one of my favorite parts of the film.  I love when these kinds of things go sideways since so many stories play it straight.

Because the Funimation stream doesn’t offer the Japanese, I can only comment on the English dub, which was very good. Aside from one secondary character whose introductory lines were a weird monotone, everyone had top-notch voice acting. I was especially impressed with Kotaro and the nameless samurai. Kids in anime can sometimes sound a bit weird, but Aiden Drummond really nailed Kotaro. And Michael Adamthwaite did a great job breathing life into No-Name. I also really liked that the dub kept the Chinese portions intact (Funimation’s stream, at least, shows subtitles on these parts). Since the Japanese don’t understand what the Chinese are muttering to themselves, it’s nice to have the foreign language to reinforce that.

Overall this is perhaps a bit too eager to throw around lots of blood splatters, but is otherwise a movie I plan to show my friends. I rate this Recommended.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1)

Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan. Unlike the stories, he’s not expecting a grand destiny or secret power to claim him. He knows where he is, who he is, and what his future is likely to hold. Then an aunt he never suspected he had shows up to claim him—and he encounters creatures of a darkness beyond this world who would destroy him . . .

This was fun on so many levels.

First, it’s incredibly self-aware of the various genre tropes that tend to crop up in books like these, and there are often little winks skewering concepts even while embracing some of them. Orphaned children discovering secret societies and great power—where have we heard that before? Right. But the fact that the story knows well enough where it’s going, and where others have gone, to poke fun at things lends an air of amusement to the whole thing. Even when it’s uncovering the fact that most of the secret world is really nasty and populated with extremely competent and deadly people who exist to stamp out the really nasty bits.

“Right,” Denizen said. “I thought this place was actually haunted or something.”
“Oh, not at all,” Darcie said brightly. “It’s just in constant danger of falling into the dark end of the universe.”
She frowned. “That’s not better, is it?”

Or bits like:

Three. Three near-death experiences. Was that a lot? How did they ever get anything done?

The horror and the humor work really well together. I can’t really read horror unless it’s screamingly funny, because something about the darkness sharpens the jokes. I loved the Tenebrae and the various bits of it that Denizen encounters. I loved the power and the Cost, and the deeper implications of it may be unstated for now but like Denizen is warned early on, there’s clearly a limit to what they can do.

“Rescue you,” Denizen said again in the same annoyed tone. “I’m here to save you from the Clockwork Three. Not”—he kicked some files out of the way—“that I’m expecting a thank-you or anything. With the kind of day I’ve been having, I expect you’ll try to kill me when I free you. Everyone else has. It won’t even be difficult. I’ve had about”—he half slid down another drift of folders, barely catching himself from pitching headlong into the circle—“ten minutes’ training since this whole debacle started.”


And the characters are so good. I liked Simon a lot, and how he proves so unexpectedly resourceful. I like his friendship with Denizen and how the two of them compliment each other. I loved Denizen’s caution, skepticism, sarcasm, and attachment to having things familiar and predictable. All of the Order that he meets is awesome in his or her own way.

It’s also well-written at a sentence level. The language is often playful, often beautiful. But the book isn’t so in love with turning a phrase that it doesn’t read swiftly. I chewed through it in one day but I think I’m going to read it again, to better appreciate the little details.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see how Denizen’s last choices change things going forward, and what happens with certain other characters I liked quite a bit. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Boy Who Knew Everything (Piper McCloud #2)

Title: The Boy Who Knew Everything

Author: Victoria Forester

Series: Piper McCloud #2

Conrad and Piper have escaped the school that held them prisoner and tried to force them to be normal. But life in the outside world can’t exactly go back to the way it used to be. Conrad has no family anymore—or none he can trust. So Piper offers hers, and for a little while, the two of them start building a home where they can use their extraordinary gifts. But an ugly mystery has been lurking, and Conrad and Piper have been destined to confront it . . .

I really enjoyed The Girl Who Could Fly, and it’s taken me far too long to actually sit down and read this. It’s equal parts hilarity and heartbreak. Conrad is far too smart to live a dull and ordinary life, but he’s also susceptible to the usual human ailments of loneliness and a hunger for love. Piper has plenty of heart, which makes her a perfect partner, but Conrad gets most of the narrative here.

And it’s so quotable. I have to skip the quotes that spoil too much, but I LOVED these:

Conrad stiffened and made no move to come closer. “Uh, Dad, you just tried to kill me, so I’m not really feeling this whole father-son thing at the moment.”

Another favorite:

“It takes talent to lose the President of the United States. Sorry, dude, can’t help you with that one.”

Conrad might be much better at head knowledge, but I love how he’s able to cut right through certain attempts at emotional manipulation and put the situation in plain language. He knows what has to be done, once he understands the situation. And in the end, he has a lot more courage than anyone except perhaps Piper expects of him.

The end leaves enough open that there’s a potential for another book, but it also wraps things up well enough that if it ended here I wouldn’t feel too sorry. (I suspect Conrad, though, is the only person capable of figuring out a way around the villain in question, and it would be interesting to see him succeed and actually kill that person.)

Overall this was a lot of fun. I’d recommend reading The Girl Who Could Fly first to get a proper background to some of the characters and the general situation, and then dive into this. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Audiobook Roundup – Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday

Title: Mister Monday

Author: Garth Nix

Series: Keys to the Kingdom #1

(Also Grim Tuesday, which is the second book in the series)

I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook versions of Mister Monday and Grim Tuesday recently. Both of them are narrated by the same reader and generally very well done. I wasn’t too fond of Suzy’s dialogue as she’s read in a bit of a whiny tone, but the variation in voices was good (so you could tell who was talking before you got to the dialog tags) and there was a lot of emotion in the actual lines.

I still find Grim Tuesday less interesting than Mister Monday, mostly because the Will doesn’t show up until basically the end, and doesn’t do anything much. And the Second Key also isn’t in Arthur’s possession until basically the last chapter. But it helps that Nix’s stories make very good audiobooks—he doesn’t have wasted prose, the plots are tight and energetic, and his characters are well drawn.

Check out my reviews on the books if you want farther thoughts on the plot. The story is good in either case, but you won’t go wrong with the audiobook.

Further Thoughts – Yona of the Dawn

I wanted to jot down a few further thoughts on Yona, since I had a chance to review the dub, and I wanted to mention a few things in a bit more depth about the manga.

The dub is serviceable, but most of the characters didn’t feel great in their roles. Gija is a major exception, as his voice actor absolutely nails his bug-related freakouts, but others like Jaeha don’t have any transition between their comedy portions and their regular voices, which made Jaeha sound more monotone than his Japanese voice. Or there are odd moments like Yun using his obviously male voice when talking to Yona during a period when he’s disguising himself as a girl—and none of the other girls figure this out until so much later it feels really stupid. In addition his attempts to sound feminine are still gravelly.

As an added annoyance, this disk is the first anime I’ve watched that didn’t allow me to put subtitles on when I was watching the English, which is how I prefer to view dubs. That allows me to more easily evaluate where the dub changed the script, or catch lines that might be muttered or in the background.

Jeno/Zeno is still my favorite. (Looks like he’s officially Jeno, but it sounds like Zeno in the Japanese, and we already have Jaeha, so I prefer Zeno.) His little “we can totally storm the castle” speech in the last ep is the first big hint that he’s more than he appears—why the massive amount of confidence when he’s previously described himself as basically powerless?

And when the manga finally shows his ability in chapters 99-100, Zeno demonstrates he could probably storm the entire castle by himself. And win.

**MANGA SPOILERS**

I love how Zeno’s backstory is basically: the other three dragons never let him fight because he was weak, and then when they got old and retired, he went out and did everything by himself. He’s unkillable but not invincible, as Shin-Ah demonstrates by tying him up. So despite having massive powers, he doesn’t unbalance the plot because his personality isn’t suited for fighting, and because in order to trigger those powers he’s first got to take deadly levels of injury.

I adore his initial battle, as his ineffectual resistance slowly transforms into complete invincibility. And all his friends are shell-shocked from the moment he first gets stabbed through the heart . . . and he’ll take way more damage than that before he’s done. One of my favorite frames is the panel after he’s been stabbed multiple times, dismembered, and beheaded, and is standing there with ruined clothes but a whole body and taunting the enemy: “What will you do? Unlike you, I have no limits. I can go on fighting for hundreds of years. Come at me. I have all the time in the world.”

And then they find out that he’s not only unkillable, but after a certain point he can’t even take injuries anymore, and they’re now fighting a dragon just as ferocious as Gija and Jaeha combined.

It really is a shame it’s going to take so long to get volumes 17-18 in English.

I like how the dragons are becoming more and more a group of friends. Zeno admits the original four never really meshed that well, as the thread of competitiveness disrupted the sense of being a team. But the current group demonstrates again and again their willingness to support each other, which is perhaps a reflection of Yona being weak where King Hiryuu was strong. Yona can’t pull her own weight in fights the way he did. And Zeno isn’t volunteering to hurt himself as long as the other three can  handle things without his help, but if the situation calls for it, he’ll cheerfully offer to undergo hideous pain because he knows he can take it.

I also like how the manga has generally moved towards longer plot arcs. Su-won turns his attention to the surrounding kingdoms, and Yona for one reason or another is in the middle of things, which means plenty of time to explore the other nations. It raises some interesting questions about Su-won’s ultimate goal, as his short-term aspirations are building up Kouka and reducing his neighbors so they won’t face external threats. He doesn’t seem like he wants to invade, so I do wonder what he’ll get up to once the last neighbor has either submitted or lost a war with him.

At any rate, it’s a shame that the anime doesn’t look likely to go any farther. The plot continues to improve, the characters have a lot of interesting revelations, and the surprises keep on coming.

Yona of the Dawn (anime)

Yona of the Dawn

Episodes 1-24

Yona is a pampered princess with a peace-loving father. She’s in love with her cousin, Su-won—but when Su-won kills her father and usurps the throne, Yona becomes a fugitive, with only a single guard, Hak, to protect her. In order to survive, she’ll need allies. So begins her quest to gather the four legendary dragon warriors.

I was hoping for something similar to the excellent 12 Kingdoms, and in that regard was disappointed. Yona is very solidly a shoujo with a dash of reverse harem, and the show focuses a lot on the string of guys she accumulates and the various semi-romantic hijinks that occur between them. That said, there’s a fair amount of action as well, and even if I didn’t like Yona, the guys tended to be a lot more interesting.

Hak, for all that he isn’t a dragon (officially, at least) can rampage just as well as any of them. He’s also in love with Yona, although his position as her servant won’t allow him to admit it (and Yona is extremely clueless). The dragons themselves are a fun lot. Each of the dragon warriors has a specific power, and generally very different relationships with that power depending on how their villages viewed it. The one major exception in the anime is the Yellow Dragon, mostly because he shows up in just the last episode, but presumably the manga digs into his character more. I like Jaeha’s power the best, and his stubborn insistence not to let dragon-blood-destiny run his life (although he ends up coming anyway, of course). Rounding out the group is Yun, whose competence with everything not fighting makes him a vital support.

(I did read the manga and once we FINALLY get Jeno/Zeno’s backstory and get to see his powers, he easily became my favorite. I like his casual, happy attitude, rumpled appearance, the moments of surprising insight or wisdom that shows he’s not an idiot, the spirit of self-sacrifice that says, “This may be all I can do, but I will do it.” He’s really not a fighter the way the other three are, and his approach to battles horrifies everyone who watches him because of how much he has to suffer to use his abilities, but he never complains, and even volunteers his own suffering to save them pain. And his powers are SO MUCH FUN. Even if, far more than the other three, his could honestly be called a curse.)

Yona, though, is almost unbearable in the beginning. I’m glad the anime beginning included a flash forward, because I don’t think I would’ve stuck around long enough to get there otherwise. Eventually she realizes the depths of her helplessness and determines to get better, but it’s a long journey to even marginal usefulness. She’s almost more of a mascot, whose job is to keep everyone else happy and willing to fight. This is starting to turn around by the end of the anime, and I can only hope the manga grows her up more.

The plot can also suffer from some bizarre moments, particularly early on. Like the snakes that show up out of nowhere, at night, and are chasing Yona and Hak through a forest. Because . . . cold blooded creatures with no legs can run as fast as two humans? Yeah. Although I ended up liking the show, especially once I read the manga and got to see some of the later ways things play out, the beginning is just hard for me to watch.

Overall whether or not you like this is going to depend on how much you like the shoujo aspects of it. It does have a good amount of action, humor, and depth of character, so there is enough to enjoy if the presence of some of the tropes doesn’t ruin it. One of the more surprising aspects, to me, is that the usurper Su-won is actually a remarkably good king—and so much better than Yona’s father that it’s arguable if it would even be a good thing for Yona and the dragons to go against him. Certainly Yona’s not ready to sit on a throne. But neither the anime nor the manga treats that question much. It’s more about Yona being able to survive in a desperate and dangerous world. I rate this series Recommended.