Bloodsong Trilogy by Asa Drake (aka C. Dean Andersson)

I’ve always been an avid reader; a quiet moment to me means a chance to get a chapter or two in.  Back in the 80s while I was in the Marine Corps we had lots of down time on weekends, and thankfully a lot of Marines were into AD&D, so there was that.  Heck- once we even brought our books with us on a week-long field deployment so we could finish a module featuring a vampire named Strahd von Zarovich.  Good times.

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I always wonder how much this one would be worth without all my notes marking it up…

One slow Saturday I went to the PX to find something to read.  I’m a longtime fantasy fan (who isn’t these days, but I’m old so I can stake my claim!) who loves a good hack-n-slash featuring a female protagonist.  Back in the 80s that type of novel was in woefully short supply.  That day I came across two titles that seemed to fit the bill: The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon (also a former Marine- Semper Fi!) & Werebeasts of Hel by Asa Drake (aka C. Dean Andersson- a former Airman, but I won’t hold that against him).

 

Now, as much as I tried to like Moon’s book, I couldn’t.  The titular character was female practically in name only- she was asexual to the point of almost becoming her defining trait and the story plodded along like a broke down mule in knee deep mud.  Even back then I understood the issues with female leads in SF/F and making her a fully-fleshed person with loves, hates, needs & desires would’ve been tricky at best, but it didn’t even seem like there was an effort made there.

Then I read Werebeasts of Hel.

Even though it was the third book of the trilogy, there was enough backstory involved so it wasn’t hard to follow.  Most importantly, I was now dying to read the first two.

Built from Norse mythology & history and billed as the “Heavy Metal of Fantasy” by Publisher’s Weekly, all three books even featured cover art by Boris Vallejo!  In the 80s that was pretty much the Seal of Approval!

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Starting with Warrior Witch of Hel, the story arc centers upon a woman named Freyadis whose village was raided by the evil sorcerer, King Nidhug, who served Hel, Goddess of Death.   With her husband and infant son killed & her daughter Guthrun taken captive, Freyadis was subjected to various abuses, bound to a tree and left to die, her infant son’s corpse tied to her breast.  Never passing up an opportunity, Hel offered Freyadis a chance to return as an undead Hel warrior if she would pray to her as she died.

Nidhug, of course, has betrayed Hel by stealing a relic of her power called the War Skull for his own ends.  After enduring even more of Nidhug’s depravities- including in gladiatorial combat- and finding her daughter in Helheim, Freyadis- now known as Bloodsong from her arena fights- is tasked by Hel to recover the War Skull and bring Nidhug down in exchange for freedom.  Must’ve been a Tuesday.

Along the way Bloodsong finds allies like Huld- an elf-blooded witch in service to Freya, Jalna- a slave unfortunate enough to catch Nidhug’s attention & Tyrulf- the warrior in Nidhug’s army who’s attracted to Jalna.  Bloodsong also has a very nasty surprise waiting for her when she reaches Nidhug’s fortress.

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The second book, Death Riders of Hel, picks up a few years later: Guthrun is discovered to be a witch and studies with Huld while Bloodsong and her friends have forged a life in the aftermath.  A new threat arises from Thokk- a Hel-witch determined to both finish what Nidhug started and convert Guthrun to the dark side.  Thanks to her mistress, Thokk has a way of striking at Bloodsong where it’ll hurt her the most.  Bloodsong forms an alliance with a tribe of shapeshifting berserkers and is willing to pay any price to save Guthrun from becoming a Hel-witch.  But will the lure of darkness be too great for Gudrun to overcome, especially when being lured by a familiar presence?

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Werebeasts of Hel takes place years later, but unfolds much the same way.  Years of peace after defeating Hel, life goes on, friends & lovers… then, BOOM!  Third time’s the charm, eh?  An old adversary returns to lead Hel’s armies- one who knows her weaknesses and Bloodsong is hard pressed to stand against him alone.  This time Odin himself provides a little divine assistance and Bloodsong has to forge an alliance with an altogether new breed of creatures to help stop Hel from conquering them all.

The best thing about these books is they are what they are.  Nothing fancy or elaborate- it’s all straightforward, fast-paced, in-your-face adventure: here’s the situation, now let’s do something about it!  It’s a gloriously grim & gory Nordic hack-n-slash with good doses of horror and a few splashes of romance tossed in for variety.  This is a bleak, icy world teetering on the edge of apocalypse.  Death lurks around every turn, defeat is all but certain, friends are lost, sacrifices appear pointless and at times it takes all the heroes have just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s fucking great!!!  My copies of these are lovingly well-worn for good reason.  I’m glad I found ebook copies to help save them even more wear and tear.

Now I’ll admit the omnibus edition doesn’t thrill me at all.  Though the alterations fleshed a lot of things out it was also watered down and a lot of things were added that just flat out confused me.  But it’ll probably do for you if you haven’t read the originals.  If you can find the originals or individual ebooks, get ‘em!  You won’t be sorry!

4.5/5 stars

Review: Scarlet (Scarlet #1) by A.C. Gaughen

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Will Scarlet is good at two things: stealing from the rich and keeping secrets – skills that are in high demand in Robin Hood’s band of thieves, who protect the people of Nottingham from the evil sheriff. Scarlet’s biggest secret of all is one only Robin and his men know…that she is posing as a thief; that the slip of a boy who is fast with sharp knives is really a girl.

The terrible events in her past that led Scarlet to hide her real identity are in danger of being exposed when the thief taker Lord Gisbourne arrives in town to rid Nottingham of the Hood and his men once and for all. As Gisbourne closes in and puts innocent lives at risk, Scarlet must decide how much the people of Nottingham mean to her, especially John Little, a flirtatious fellow outlaw, and Robin, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. There is real honor among these thieves and so much more – making this a fight worth dying for.

Continue reading “Review: Scarlet (Scarlet #1) by A.C. Gaughen”

Review: Seasons of the Moon #1- Six Moon Summer by S.M. Reine

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Packed off to summer camp while her parents get divorced, Rylie is determined to see it through and hope for the best- until that one night where it all changes and she’s attacked by something she can’t identify. Almost immediately she notices herself changing both physically and psychologically, yet as understanding blooms she doesn’t understand how she survived the attack. An enigmatic boy at the camp, Seth, has the answers she seeks and offers to help her, but as the summer wanes and the wolf in her grows stronger, Rylie fights to maintain her self-control and hopes for a cure even as she searches for clues about the one who did this to her.

What’s Good: The premise is intriguing- going from being a nobody to a monster and all things that happen in between. Rylie’s teen angsting about her parent’s divorce is what you’d expect. There’s also some good secondary characters- I especially liked Louise, one of the camp counselors. I actually had more empathy for her than Rylie.

What’s Bad: The MarySue/Speshul Snoflakiness of it all. At the wise old age of fifteen Rylie wants nothing more than to spend the summer in the art district of this nameless city sipping chai tea in coffee shops while reading and going to exhibits and summer festivals, just like the typical teenage girl she’s supposed to be. Oh, and she doesn’t have any female friends because they’re too catty yet wonders if all her male buddies’ girlfriends hate her because she’s blonde and slender. Any of this sounding familiar, yet?

For someone who’s life’s been destroyed by becoming a legendary monster, Rylie’s pretty blasé about it. It’s all “Dear Diary: Mean girls at camp are bothering me… met a cute boy by the lake… I’m a werewolf now.” Her biggest concern about it is her distaste for her insatiable cravings for meat, what with being a vegetarian. At least until the fateful night when she rips apart a fawn, then she has an emotional breakdown. She’s actually more upset about eating Bambi than becoming a rampaging monster that’ll want to slaughter things to begin with. But hey, we got veggie vampires nowadays so why not tofu werewolves? Plus the mysterious yet cute boy she meets knows a whole lot about what’s happening to her yet she barely bothers to ask him more than a couple of questions at a time. And some of his answers don’t make a lot of sense. When Rylie asks Seth what’s happening to her, he responds, “The new & full moons are different. You change on the new moon because it makes the human weak, so the wolf emerges. On the full moon the wolf becomes strong. It dominates you.” You kinda see what the author’s trying to get at, but it doesn’t come across very well. Like a friend of mine said: Heads, I win; Tails, you lose.

The mystery of the identities of the werewolves attacking the camp is nothing special. One’s a bit of a surprise and the other one isn’t, but what makes it bad is the ham-handedness of the whole situation. Rylie has questions (naturally) and is clearly a danger to herself and everyone else during her furry nights, yet the alpha wolf who bit her lets her flounder until the climax of the story. And their actions and motives are ridiculous- without going too far into it, how does this individual expect to keep the massacre of an entire summer camp secret? The second person’s identity discloses more ridiculous plot holes: they’ve been a werewolf for a year yet apparently still lives in the city. Clearly this person was brought into the fold immediately but again, why wasn’t Rylie? And how has this person been managing on their wild nights and why can’t Rylie do the same?

And speaking of ‘the city’… Wondering why I called it that? Because everyone in the book does. Rylie, Louise, Cassidy, Amber- everyone comes from ‘the city’. The summer camp has a name, the mountain is located on has a name as do the river and lake around the camp, but the city, county and state they’re all in don’t, even though ‘the city’ has a North End and East Side with an art district.

The final showdown is a cartoon. Werewolves in human form can heal at an amazing rate- Rylie breaks her ankle yet it’s well enough in a matter of moments for her to run full tilt along a mountain trail. Somehow none of this translates onto any other werewolves but her: in the final battle Rylie gets her throat ripped out but can keep on fighting since she’s young and strong, which enables her to eviscerate her opponent- alpha were described as the size of a horse- to the point that he’s on the verge of bleeding out. Really.

What’s Left: There’s flashes of good storytelling, especially the little insights into Rylie psyche before and after her transformations, but they’re scattered and almost lost in all the MarySue-ism and silliness. Too many parts of the story feel slapped together because too much space is wasted showing how speshul Rylie is to help justify her being chosen becoming a werewolf in the first place. Which didn’t make any sense, either.

A couple of minor twists in the story will keep you entertained but all the fudging to keep our girl the centerpiece of the story drags it all down.

The romance between Rylie and Seth is forced. Rylie knows he knows more than he’s letting on yet she never asks him more than a couple of questions at a time- she’s too preoccupied with flirting with him to remember why they’re sneaking her away from camp during full moons.

There’s a good premise here but it’s bogged down by some absolute nonsense. The old adage of keeping it simple applies here, and simply put the series needs to be what it says it is: the story of a girl who gets turned into a werewolf.

3/5 Stars

Review: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin

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‘Please Look After Mom’ by Kyung-sook Shin is an intriguing, if sometimes difficult, book to read. A best-seller in her native Korea, it’s the chronicle of the dynamics within a family after their elderly mother goes missing in Seoul. Told in four segments- each from POV- a daughter, an eldest son, her husband, and a conjecture about the missing woman, each person struggles to come to terms with what it meant to be the mother of their family, and what it may have cost her.

The difficulty comes not from the shifting perspectives, but from the narrative. Often slow and ponderous, their memories, emotions and angst are the meat of the story as you’d expect. But without a true sense of urgency to push it forward, it frequently gets bogged down by weight of everyone’s personal baggage as they reflect upon their personal moments with her, finally beginning to understand what her life was like and what she gave up for her family’s sake. But that’s where it often shines- long buried insights and sudden revelations combine to reveal much about the woman they knew so intimately and yet not at all while also providing a vivid picture of the demands of life in a rural Korean community.

There’s not much more to add that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll end with this: W.E.B. Dubois once wrote a book titled ‘The Souls of Black Folks’. This one could well be called The Souls of Koreans.

3.5/5 Stars

Review: Hua Mulan (2011)

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Hua Mulan finally gives the subject the treatment it deserves. It’s a gritty, stark film that chronicles the well known story of a woman who defies both convention and the law by disguising herself as a man to fight in the campaign against the Rouran Confederation, an earlier version of the classic Mongolian raiders.

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Not much is known about the Mulan fable other than the basics. Here it opens in the Rouran camp as Mendu (Hu Jun), son of the Danyou- leader of the tribes- is executing prisoners instead of releasing them as his father wished. The looming presence of the Rouran forces a nationwide conscription to repel the invaders. Already a veteran, Mulan’s ailing father is called to serve again, but she steals his armor and sword and reports in his place. She meets new comrades as well as reuniting with a friend from her village, Tiger (Jaycee Chan), who agrees to help her. She also befriends Wentai (Chen Kun) a lieutenant in their unit who also uncovers her secret but agrees to maintain the deception, seeing no real value in outing her. When the Rourans invade their camp Mulan distinguishes herself; with the commander killed in the battle she and Wentai earn promotions. They achieve an impressive record, fueling some jealousy among their superiors. As the war continues and many of her friends fall, Mulan tires of it all and admits her feelings for Wentai, who though he feels the same, is forced to teach her some severe lessons about what it means be in command as well as the dangers of having personal attachments during war. In response to Mulan’s string of victories Mendu seizes control of the Rouran tribes from his father and pushes north. A war council forms a plan to bait the Rouran into a canyon to destroy them and Mulan volunteers to draw them in. This confrontation leads to developments that will affect the course of the war and change the lives of the survivors in unforeseen ways, even as it draws their destinies together.

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The strongest part of the movie is script. It’s engaging with lots of little touches, rooted in themes of love, honor, loyalty and patriotism- starting with her father’s desire to serve beyond his capabilities and the love and respect for him that drives Mulan. Even the idea that a woman could serve in the military for twelve years, rising to the rank of a senior commanding officer and no one noticing anything gets a little of this treatment. You get the impression the troops know but she’s long since earned their respect and admiration. The most sentimental moments are a recurring ideal of the stars as spirits looking down upon their loved ones. Unfortunately all the good stuff is saved for Mulan and the fellas; the Rouran characters are all second-stringers, though Mendu has a couple of good lines.

Zhao Wei as Mulan demands your attention and not because she’s the star of the movie. She has a great dramatic presence and portrays Mulan’s personal struggles and conflicts with conviction through her expressions and small gestures- in short, good acting. From the horror of her first kill to wondering about the reasons why they fight, Mulan is a person questioning herself and searching for answers… and like anyone else doesn’t always receive them well. Her best scene comes when a soldier’s jade pendant goes missing and his uncle, the commander, orders everyone strip-searched to find it. The tension plays out well and as she’s forced to make a decision her eyes and facial expressions say it all. Many of the more dramatic scenes evolve this way, and no one in the cast is ashamed to shed a few tears to show how much they care. Jaycee Chan- Jackie’s son- is a standout in his supporting role, with some truly poignant moments in the desert sequence.

Another strength of the film lies in its production. The cinematography plays up the contrast between the slight dullness of the colors in military life to the crisper tones and gleaming trinkets under the high sun for the Rouran nomads as well as the bleakness of the desert before and after a devastating sandstorm. Like all sweeping dramas the pacing gets a little slow sometimes, but the editing is excellent. Fadeout transitions occur at just the right moments and like with all well-told stories, you understand what’s happening without having it all spelled out for you- something Hollywood studios should keep in mind. Though the film sort of rushes through its final scenes, you won’t feel too cheated by it. Even the soundtrack works- it’s evocative, moody and boosts the melodrama even higher.

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Hua Mulan is a well-crafted, well-acted film that’s absolutely worthy of your time and attention. And being so reasonably priced on dvd and blu-ray there’s no reason not to give it.

Review: Jude Magdalyn 1- Shades of Gray by L.M. Pruitt

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Shades Of Gray is the debut UF novel by L.M. Pruitt that stands out more for its ridiculous scenarios and inane characterization than anything else. Virtually every trope and cliché is displayed in full unpolished glory and drags the whole thing down into head-shaking wonder.

Jude Magdalyn Jeffries has been on her own since she was fifteen; now twenty-five she’s an accomplished street hustler in New Orleans with a touch of magical power- she can feel it on the edges of her perception, like intuition, but can’t manage it. But it does come in handy for the occasional scam. A tarot reading for some wealthy clients goes wrong when she feels an instinctive loathing for a man at the party and she leaves, only to discover him following her. The man, Hart, is revealed to be a vampire but Jude is rescued by a mysterious group of people called the Covenant- an alliance of magical families and of late, vampires- whose existence was only whispered about. Jude is revealed to be the Prophecy- her coming foretold centuries ago- and is the last descendant of those who ruled the Covenant. They need her to finally win the war against Hart, who has his own ties to and designs upon the Covenant. Jude quickly assimilates the lessons and skills required of her, making both enemies and friends and even gets embroiled in a love triangle with Williams- a vampire who rescued her from Hart, and Theo- a worldly priest. Hart maintains the pressure, always waiting to strike, and lands a decisive blow that threatens both individuals and factions within the Covenant. Now vulnerable, Jude must find a way to stop Hart before he can achieve his ends.

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This book goes wrong in so many places it’s hard to know where to start. In the pdf copy I read the text was improperly formatted and riddled with typos and misspellings- copyediting was sorely lacking here. Unfortunately, that’s the least of my concerns. Jude herself is a complete mess of a protagonist, just all over the place. She starts out as Stock UF Heroine #43: Twenty-Something Edgy But Caring Orphaned Loner What Had It Rough, until it’s revealed that she ran away from the orphanage and the nuns who raised her so she could live on the streets stealing, selling drugs and even whoring herself out. Because it makes more sense to lose your virginity in a back alley to some sleazebag than to get a solid education and forge a decent life for yourself. And she never misses an opportunity to get Smart & Sassy with everyone, even when there’s no reason to- except just to be annoying. Yet Jude constantly falls back upon all the things the nuns taught her- like archery (good for hunting vamps) and quoting Shakespeare (nice for those romantic moments), which makes it even harder to understand why she ran away. None of this makes her seem like a flawed hero so much as a stupid, self-centered bimbo.

This is underscored by her ironclad status as a MarySue. As the leader of the Covenant, Jude is elevated from hustler to trust fund baby, with millions at her disposal and a magically reinforced mansion to dwell in, complete with enchanted training room. Within a week of being brought into the Covenant Jude can cast magic spells by synonym instead of incantation, mix heretofore unknown compounds, stop time, heal people, astral project, alter the genus of plants… do I need to go on? The magic and mixing is particularly grating; the compound she puts together could’ve been done by anyone in junior high, yet is a revelation to the most learned members of the Covenant. And instead of reciting the entire tract of a magic spell to conjure gale winds she simply substitutes the word ‘hurricane’- and voila! Did I mention this all happens within a week? One of the characters sums it up best: “Well, it looks like the Prophecy can do any little thing she sets her mind to. How lucky we all are.” Too bad half the time she never seems to know what to do with any of them.

And what would a MarySue be without her utter sex appeal and complete lack of common sense? In one scene, Jude awakens to find a vampiric assassin in her room watching (instead of killing) her. She distracts him with snappy banter, cleavage and come-hither looks until he decides to put his weapon down (!) and get some, but still tells her he’ll kill her after. One guess how this all turns out. Then in spite of making out with Williams at every opportunity she has what amounts to polite small talk with Theo and immediately wonders about him naked. After that Jude decides to leave the mansion- alone,but during daylight. While she wanders the streets trying to sort things out she starts to get the feeling that something’s not right. It takes her a full TEN MINUTES while standing next to the Mississippi River to understand that the sun’s gone down and Hart will be coming for her. Yes- the Prophecy is too stupid to realize when night falls. It takes four days to recover from the beating she gets- during which she’s assured that’s she totally worth the trouble and not an utter moron. At this point she uses Paris Hilton logic to decide which man she wants: since Theo stayed to hold her hand while Williams was out hunting for Hart, he’s clearly the man for her. Afterwards the happy couple leaves the safety of the mansion and goes out on a date… at night. Because that’s just what Chosen Ones do when vampires are hunting them.

After the death of a Covenant member, Jude and Williams find themselves alone together and end up having Insanely Awesome Sex While Emotionally Vulnerable. Yet Jude not only feels guilty for betraying Theo she resents Williams for using her solely to soothe his own pain (at least that’s how it seemed to her). But wait- after she confesses it to Theo he rationalizes she was raped despite the fact that she let Williams finger her, they undressed each other and she willingly laid down for him simply because she never verbally said yes. Like any true hero, Jude eagerly seizes upon this foolishness so she can push Williams away and have a guilt-free relationship with her true love… that she just met last week.

The other characters were supplied through Central Casting- Gruff Yet Wise Terminally Ill Mentor, Hot-N-Sexy Man O’ Mystery, Ebil Blonde Haterz, Big Bad Guy Who Always Avoids Killing The Heroine, etc. As bad as this is, some of the names are worse- a Blonde Hater named Wily has twin girls named Lies and Guile. Seriously. Williams is always referred to as such, and no one ever bothers to ask what his given name is. God only knows why.

The plot points are so implausible they’re almost a parody. The world is apparently full of magic yet it never seems to impact daily life. Jude herself heard whispers about the Covenant on the streets, so how do law enforcement and government bodies deal with it? At the funeral representatives from virtually every local governing body are paying their respects, yet none of these agencies ever impact the story. What’s all their influence for when it’s never used in the war against the vampires? And why wasn’t it used to help Jude while she was on the streets? Heck, why was Jude not with the Covenant in the first place?

Hart has several opportunities to simply kill Jude outright, yet doesn’t. And what’s his connection to and interest in their group? Why are Williams and his followers all good vampires? Several members of the Covenant harbor an intense hatred against Jude- particularly the blonde members, since blondes are always up to no good- but there’s not even a hint as to why. Even as answers get dumped into your lap in the last few chapters via villainous monologues not only are half of them more clichéd nonsense, you’re probably not even reading it anymore. It all wraps up in a half-baked casserole of overused tropes including- but not limited to- a magical weapon convenient for literally any occasion, some blatant disregard for vampire mythology only to insert it when necessary, and a little magical martyrdom throw in for seasoning.

And if you think this all sounds silly here, imagine over 400 pages of it.

Shades of Gray is a disastrous UF novel. Sorry to pile upon a new author, but there’s nothing to recommend about it other than blowing it up and starting over.

1.5/5 Stars

Review: Reign of Assassins starring Michelle Yeoh

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The remains of a legendary Buddhist monk are reputed to have mystical powers, including healing any type of injury. The body has been split in half with the Dark Stone Assassins, led by the Wheel King (Wang Xuqei), possessing one portion and have located the other belonging to Prime Minister Zhang. The Wheel King’s top assassins, The Magician (Leon Dai), Lei Bin (Shawn Yue) and Drizzle (Kelly Lin) murder the entire family, including the eldest son Renfeng. Drizzle, named for her martial arts style that ‘bleeds opponents like rain’, steals the remains and hides in the company of a monk named Wisdom. Wisdom explains there are flaws in Drizzle’s technique that a master can exploit, and sacrifices himself to try to teach her enlightenment. A disillusioned Drizzle is challenged by Renfeng, who survived the slaughter, but is again defeated. Drizzle undergoes plastic surgery from a renowned doctor and emerges as Zeng Jing (a slightly digitized Michelle Yeoh) and relocates to a new town where she meets Ah-Sheng (Jung Woo-Sung), a courier, whom she eventually marries.

To replace Drizzle, the Wheel King recruits Turquoise (Barbie Hsu), a sociopath and nymphomaniac who killed her husband and his family on her wedding night because he couldn’t perform. Turquoise is teamed with the Magician and Lei Bin as they hunt for their former associate. A chance encounter leads the Dark Stone Assassins to Zeng/Drizzle and she tries to negotiate her freedom for the remains. But the lure of power proves there’s no honor among thieves as long-standing grudges resurface and the assassins battle both her and each other. The Wheel King makes off with the prize while Lei Bin and Turquoise follow the wounded Zeng to her home only to be met by Ah-Sheng, who has a few surprises of his own up his sleeve. Mindful of Wisdom’s final lessons to her, Zeng is determined to find redemption, regardless of what it may cost her.

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This wuxia-style kung fu films lets its pedigree shine through. John Woo lends his name to the proceedings and there’s touches of his influence present. Anything with Michelle Yeoh is a treat, and Jung Woo-Sung comes through in his role, especially when he’s trying to woo his lady. Barbie Hsu’s Turquoise is much like Go-Go Mubari from ‘Kill Bill’. Even Wang Xuqei as the Wheel King was clearly having a good time.

The cinematography is a little grainy but the action is as fast and furious as you’d expect. Even after a lifelong diet of this stuff, it never gets old. My only complaint was the way the swords curved and bent during the fights; though it was deliberate, it just looked cheesy.

The biggest problem lies in the script. Written by Su Chao-Pin, duality is a recurring theme in the story- with each character possessing secrets and often living two lives. Stories are always important, but when this one tries to be clever it comes off as convoluted. There are many different layers built into it and though they flesh out the story they still feel like filler. The plot twists are like taking an off-ramp instead of sign posts to distract you for a minute while still pointing in the right direction. Events spring up out of nowhere and I had to rewind a couple times to make sure I had it all straight. It has a ‘Usual Suspects’-style approach to it but never quite gets there, coming off as bloated. There’s just too much stuff crammed into it.

Ultimately Reign of Assassins is a movie that sometimes takes itself too seriously but is still fun to watch. But it’s a good way to spend an afternoon and that’s what kung-fu movies are all about.

4/5 stars

Review: The 100 Best African American Poems- Edited by Nikki Giovanni

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‘The 100 Best African-American Poems’ compiled by Nikki Giovanni is a very fine work, a kaleidoscope of images, emotions and observations of the Black Experience in America. It’s an anthology of some of the works by various poets including titans like Amiri Baraka, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sonia Sanchez, Langston Hughes and Giovanni herself.

 

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I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
the tears from my birth pains
created the nile
I am a beautiful woman

I gazed on the forest and burned
out the sahara desert
with a packet of goat’s meat
and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
so swift you can’t catch me

For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
He gave me rome for mother’s day
My strength flows ever on

My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
jesus
men intone my loving name
All praises All praises
I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
the filings from my fingernails are
semi-precious jewels
On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
the earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
across three continents

I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission

I mean…I…can fly
like a bird in the sky…

Such collections are always subjective- you’ll always wonder why something was left out, and I noticed a couple of absences myself- but that’s part of the fun, and I discovered a few gems I’d never seen before such as Old Lem, Mercy Killing, Freedom Candy and those Winter Sundays, as well as the immortal standards Harlem, Nikki-Rosa, Lift Every Voice and Sing and of course Giovanni’s own magnum opus- Ego Tripping (There May Be A Reason Why), which I will always consider to be one of the finest examples of not only African-American but American culture ever created. The cd is a treat- readings of about a third of the selections done by the authors themselves and notables like Ruby Dee and of course, Giovanni.

It’s an excellent collection of poetry and very much a time travel device, taking you for a look back to those days when… though sometimes they don’t seem all that distant. This would be a wonderful gift for anyone of any age or race but especially to African-Americans. Like singing in the cotton fields it’s a chorus of bright, strong voices from our past to lighten the load a little and help guide the way as you ease on down the road.

5/5 Stars

 

Reblog: The Last Puerto Rican Social Club in Brooklyn

Social clubs were once the glue that held the Puerto Rican diaspora together. Today, there’s only one left in Brooklyn.

via The Last Puerto Rican Social Club in Brooklyn — Longreads