Tag Archives: horror

Vault of Shadows (The Nightsiders #2)

Title: Vault of Shadows

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Series: The Nightsiders #2

Milo is not having a good week. Milo somehow not only outsmarted the deadly Huntsman, an evil human made worse by the alien Bugs modifying him to be a supersoldier, but stole the egg containing all the Bug’s DNA and technology patterns. And the Nightsiders who helped with that—a tree spirit, a fire salamander, a rock boy, and a werewolf—are now part of the uneasy alliance with the last of humanity to take back the Earth.

But the Huntsman isn’t about to forget Milo. He’s determined to retrieve the stolen egg. And he’s got an entire race of aliens ready to support his every plan.

I still wonder if these aren’t a bit too dark for the age range, or if maybe this would work better for me if Milo wasn’t 11. On the one hand, the book doesn’t flinch away from the fact that when the Earth gets overrun by alien invaders, not even kids get a free pass. On the other, we’re not only dealing with people Milo knows dying, but it goes beyond that to human sacrifice (although this does at least happen completely offscreen).

The stakes go even higher, too. This time around a villain from the Nightsiders appears, someone who would prefer humanity to go extinct and will even join with the Huntsman to do it (parallels to the Wild Huntsman are likely intentional).

Milo’s dreams provide the only real edge his group has. Glimpses of past, present, and future warn and guide them. I did like the library, and the ghost who reads there. I also really appreciated the book pointing out that although Milo can only see his own group of resistance fighters, there is still fighting in the rest of the world, and all of them are contributing towards the hope of success.

Overall this is still a strong followup to the first book, although something about it still doesn’t quite click with me. Still, as long as the horror aspects aren’t too bothersome for the reader, it’s a good read. I rate this book Recommended.

Attack on Titan (Anime)

Title: Attack on Titan

Episodes: 1-25

Content warning: People die in somewhat graphic ways pretty much every episode. Eaten, stepped on, ripped apart, etc. It doesn’t go much for gore, though, just blood splatters.

Humanity has nearly gone extinct under the assault of the grotesque Titans. These giant humanoids only attack humans, so to defend against them humanity built three walls each 50 meters tall. But the area those walls enclose is the only safe space left for humanity. Eren is a young man frustrated by the necessity of living in such a small part of the world, and after the wall near his home is breached, he vows to slaughter all the Titans and take back the world for humanity.

I was late to this show for several reasons, most of which still hold true now that I’ve seen it. I don’t like the Titans themselves (ugly and naked giant humans, bleagh). And Eren isn’t as compelling as a lot of other leads, because he spends most of his time angry and juvenile, and even 25 episodes doesn’t grow him up much (actually, it doesn’t grow him up at all). It’s pretty hard to care about any of the characters, because the cast is massive and the story spends most of its time killing most of them off.

But, they have zipline belts (aka Maneuver Gear in the Crunchyroll subs and ODM in the official disks). And I am shallow enough to enjoy the show solely based on watching people zip around pulling crazy stunts. And the music can be really good too, which makes those action scenes stand out even more.

Animation-wise it can be a mixed bag. There are a ton of still frames used to compensate for good-looking action scenes. This was really noticeable in the first few episodes. I also wasn’t that fond of the really thick outlines used on characters. However, I did like the towns, houses, and backgrounds.

The characters are by and large forgettable, because most of them die too fast to have any kind of arc. It was interesting to see most people’s responses to war are basically to break down in fear, and struggle to overcome their reluctance to actually go against an enemy very likely to kill them. And I liked Armin, who unlike Eren can’t just use the magical power of “I want this really badly” to get himself out of trouble. Misaka is too dull, as her role appears to be “silently menace anything that harms Eren”, although I do like watching her fight. (Although I will admit the flashback to how she met Eren had me laughing hysterically. He was ALREADY screwed up as a nine-year-old.)

The plot is a little better, but where the first 13 eps are throwing out twists and revelations, the second half of the season feels more like aftermath. The female Titan there is a single obstacle they have to survive, and the end of the season doesn’t provide a lot of new information or a good sense of closure. It’s also really frustrating to see Armin’s big encouragement to Eren is “the bigger monster wins”—those who can abandon their humanity the most will triumph. I think that misses the point in a big way, although at least Armin seems aware he might be inviting in more trouble than the Titans themselves if this philosophy actually wins.

Overall, I don’t regret watching this (zipline belts!!) because I did enjoy the action sequences (and that first opening song in particular is worth listening to; the first ending is also good). That said, since the zipline belts and the music are the only two things I really LIKED, I’m not going to bother with the manga. I will probably watch the currently-airing second season after it’s over, since this series has a penchant for really long multi-part arcs. Recommended if the slick action/horror combination appeals to you, otherwise Neutral.

The Capture (Guardians of Ga’Hoole #1)

Title: The Capture

Author: Kathryn Lasky

Series: Guardians of Ga’Hoole #1

Soren is a young barn owl with loving parents, a cute little sister, and a terrifying older brother. When he prematurely leaves the nest, he’s snatched up by owls who take him to their home. St. Aegolius has its own ideas about what an owl should be: numbered, unthinking, obedient. Above all, don’t ask questions. But Soren refuses to succumb, and with the help of Gylfie, an elf owl, he makes plans to escape . . .

I liked Soren, and the various owl kingdoms, and the little details of their lives. Especially the flying. The various types of owls have their own abilities according to their species, which shows up more towards the end when those abilities come into play. And Soren and Gylfie are both very cute characters. I like Gylfie’s faculty with language, and Soren’s sensitivity. I liked how the stories of bravery kept them going and inspired them to break free.

I am, however, tired of extremely dysfunctional societies. It’s just not fun to have the constant terror of brainwashing, monitors, and slavery drowning out all the possible moments of joy. The book being a clear first in the series means that the end doesn’t really wrap anything up, either.

Overall this isn’t a bad start. I found it a bit too depressing to be a favorite, but it was a decent read, and I’ll likely go on with the next book. I rate this book Recommended.

Tokyo Ghoul (anime)

Tokyo Ghoul

Episodes 1-12

WARNING: MATURE CONTENT
– minor amounts of nudity, ghouls eating human flesh (mostly not shown), and an intense torture scene (the main reason to stay away if this will bother you)

Ken Kaneki is an ordinary human in a city where ghouls lurk. Ghouls eat people, and a special task force hunts them down. But it’s all distant from his everyday life—until a date gone bad leaves him no longer quite human himself. And even if he wants to live a quiet life, people from both sides have taken an interest in him . . .

This was far less of a horror story than I initially expected, although by the end it does go quite deeply into some hard things. I doubt I’ll watch the last episode or two again, as sitting through someone being tortured while chained to a chair was bad enough the first time. So I want to reiterate up front that this is NOT a children’s show and the Mature rating is for a reason.

On the more positive side, though, the characters are really strong. Although the whole “must eat people” bit would make it easy to characterize ghouls as monsters, both sides have a lot of gradations. There are members of the CCG (the anti-ghoul force) that have far crossed the line with their obsession to wipe out all ghouls. Similarly, some ghouls don’t see the point of giving humans any dignity, or restraining their own excesses. Ken isn’t the only character caught in between those two sides. He falls in with a group of ghouls who only want to be left alone, and try to exist in ways that minimally impact the general human population.

This comes to a head in tragic scenes like the confrontation in episode 8, where the person giving the speech about ghouls having the same right to live as any ordinary person is telling the one person who can’t be convinced, and the one who might be convinced is fighting someone who can’t figure out how to say the same thing. And it probably wouldn’t be as easy as winning that one man over to the ghoul’s side, but that would have been a start. A start that never happened, and might never happen, which leaves the world stuck in the same struggle it’s always been, where ghouls and humans mischaracterize and kill each other.

Some threads might be better in the manga, as, for instance, Ken’s best human friend, who is a major character early on, disappears from the story for no obvious reason. It would have been interesting seeing the two of them interact more after Ken was turned. However, the heart of the story is Ken and his relationship to the group of oddball ghouls who dare to believe they can coexist quietly with humans, and find ways to take the nourishment they need without becoming monsters.

Oh, and although this can be a dark and serious show, the space after the credits where the preview would normally go tend to be lighthearted side stories told in about 30 seconds, and are well worth watching.

Overall this is nothing like what I expected, and I enjoyed it a lot. I watched it in Japanese because I streamed most of it, so I’m not really sure how the English cast performed. I haven’t read the manga yet so I can’t say how faithful or not it was as an adaptation, but I understand a great deal of manga was condensed into these episodes, which may explain why some characters don’t get as much time as I thought they should. I rate this show Recommended.

(As a side note, regardless of what you think about the second season, episode 13 does make a much better ending than episode 12, as it finishes that fight and gives a better sense of an ending. But the box set will only come with episodes 1-12.)

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1)

Title: Storm Front

Author: Jim Butcher

Series: Dresden Files #1

Harry Dresden is a wizard and PI in Chicago. When a pair of people are found dead—and the method looks like magic—he’s pulled into the case. But even figuring out that kind of black magic is going to get him on the bad side of the White Council, if not outright pegged for the murder himself. Still, he’s the only one who could help. Except now everyone seems to want him dead too . . .

I generally like urban fantasy like this, but Dresden Files never clicked for me. Frankly, I found Harry’s bits of backstory more compelling than the present-day story. The magic and creatures tends to only get introduced as they comes up, which makes for a better story, perhaps, but a rather haphazard magic system. I would’ve much rather read a book about Harry’s younger days, when he was first introduced to real magic, and the sequence of events that led to him having all the baggage he starts this story with.

The murder mystery isn’t the strongest. It was fairly easy to guess early on who would be involved, and Harry burns a lot of bridges with people he should be respectful of as contacts (or employers). I also wasn’t a fan of the sheer volume of nasty stuff that worked its way into this. Blowing up hearts, fine. Demons, fine. But I’d rather skip the people blown up in the middle of sex, and the orgies, and all the naked bodies (including, actually, Harry, who has a shower scene that goes bad). It just felt like mystery by shock factor rather than actual puzzle.

Overall, even though I’ve been told the series gets stronger, this book confirmed my disinterest in reading the rest of it. (Sorry, friends-who-recommended; I gave it a shot but I’m not going to keep going.) I rate this book Neutral.

Black Dog Short Stories II (Black Dog #2.5)

Title: Black Dog Short Stories II

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2.5

This collection of short stories expands on a few more pieces of the Black Dog universe. The book contains four short stories and a short essay on how witches, vampires, and black dogs all fit into the universe.

The first story, Mothers and Daughters (although the interior text had it titled Mothers and Sisters) is Keziah’s backstory. As might be expected, it explains where she grew up and how her sister got her scar, and how and why they went to Dimilioc. This is the only story set before both Black Dog and Pure Magic.

Unlikely Allies follows Ezekiel as he’s out on a mission to clear up some strays. Bank Job is an amusing story about Ethan and Thaddeus as they’re out on a routine cleanup that ends up rather sideways. And the last story, A Family Visit, has Justin finally heading out to visit his grandmother.

I like all these little glimpses into the various characters, particularly Ethan and Justin. Ethan’s been in a bad place for a while, but as this story shows, he’s got a lot of skills that the strength-worshipping black dog society may not find noticeable. I particularly liked his interactions with Thaddeus, who is not at all what Ethan expects him to be.

Justin, of course, is trying to get more answers about himself and his family. And he finds them. Sort of. But I suspect the conversation that’s hinted at the end is going to be the start of the next novel, and I wish that story had run longer to cover it, as this seems the sort of event that could be the first chapter of a novel.

All in all, if you’ve been following the Black Dog universe this is a good addition. If you haven’t, it might be better to start with one of the novels, as some of the short stories will otherwise spoil a few revelations. I rate this book Recommended.

Goldenhand (Abhorsen #5)

Title: Goldenhand

Author: Garth Nix

Series: Abhorsen #5

When an urgent telegram sends Lirael across the Wall, she’s not expecting to run into Nicholas Sayre, or a highly-dangerous Free Magic creature. Nick said no to her, to the Old Kingdom, after they defeated Orannis several months back, choosing instead to live in Ancelstierre. Now that Nick’s changed his mind, she can’t stop thinking about him, or the wild blend of magic inside him that might be a catastrophe waiting to happen. But they may not have time to figure anything out, because a new threat is lurking . . .

This would get five stars just for Nick, but the rest of the story is quite compelling too. I like seeing an older Sabriel and Touchstone, finally in their own home (although their attempt to take a vacation ends as amusingly as one might expect). I liked Ferin, and her hard, bold ways. She makes a good contrast to Lirael, especially near the end. I liked seeing Lireal grown up in her role as Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and how that changes her relationship with the people she grew up with. (Now I’m really wanting to re-read the original trilogy to get caught up with all these people again.)

But, Nick. I love what the story does with him, and although I wish more neat stuff related to his power had come out, it’s impossible for me not to like him as a character. He’s still got a bit of his old self-assurance and charm, but he’s been humbled a lot, both from being taken over by Orannis and because he’s finally in the Old Kingdom and realizing that what the Old Kingdom lacks in mechanical technology it makes up for in magic. He’s also falling head-over-heels for Lireal (and the feeling is mutual), but he keeps getting caught in the awkwardness of new love and the much funnier awkwardness of being a total cultural outsider (the clothes bit had me laughing so hard). One minute he can be suave and then he’ll say something that totally kills the mood, or some accident will happen. And then, of course, he who did not believe at all in magic is trying to come to grips with the various flavors of it. (The bit with the bespelled sword was also amazingly funny.)

I love the worldbuilding, and the way that the characters come out through what they do. They’re all so real, so human, and the world itself is fantastic. Nick’s so new to the Old Kingdom that even the familiar bits like the Paperwings feel fresh (his reaction to riding in a plane made out of paper is great). It’s been years since Sabriel first came out, but the stories feel solid and interconnected, pulling bits from each other and shaping them in new ways. This book will work best if you’ve read most of the previous material, especially Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case, but I think there are enough light reminders of previous plot points to adequately clue in new readers.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier that Garth Nix is returning to the Old Kingdom once again, and this is a very solid followup to Abhorsen (chronologically, although Clariel was published later, it’s a prequel to Sabriel). Although everything more or less ties up, I would still love more books to come. I rate this book Highly Recommended.