BOOK REVIEW: ANGELIC- by Kelley Armstrong

BLURB: As a half-demon master of the dark arts, Eve Levine isn’t what anyone would call angelic. That’s exactly why the Fates chose her for the job. She’s their secret weapon against the forces of evil.

However after five years, Eve is tired of being the designated rebel of the angel corps, expected to break the rules, then penalized for it. When the leaderless djinn stage an uprising, Eve sees the perfect chance to get herself fired. As she plunges deeper into the demon world, though, she realizes she’s in danger of losing a lot more than her job.- Kelleyarmstrong.com

REVIEW: Eve has always been my favorite character from  Women of The Otherworld , and ever since Haunted, I’ve been dying to read another Eve book which never came. When I found out about this short story, I was ecstatic and downloaded it instantly. I couldn’t wait to read about another mission with Eve kicking ass as an angel of justice with a giant sword. I liked Angelic, it was an enjoyable read, but it was essentially Haunted Abridged, as it follows a similar formula and doesn’t really progress the meta story, change the characters particularly or give us any new information.

Eve is summoned by the fates, she’s sent on a mission after a rogue supernatural, she reluctantly agrees, is assisted by Kris, meets Dantalion, figures out how to stop the threat and is back to her starting position. We have the fates, some old friends, the library (I love the concept of that library and the cerberus- but they were mostly the same people and places that were featured in Haunted.

But that’s not to say that this book was bad by any means. It still had all the heart and passion of the other books that Armstrong’s written; it was fast paced, had the classic Armstrong wit that makes all her books great reads . I loved Eve’s arguments with the Fates, I loved how she got one over them in the end, and I found it amusing how she was planning to (mis)use her epically cool magic angel sword as a cosplaying accessory for her pirate costume.

Her relationship with Kris was nice as well- my favourite in the entire Otherworld series- and there is a genuine sense of warmth and camaraderie that makes it feel like a great long term relationship.

It had a great structure, and it was good, I just don’t think Armstrong has anywhere left to go with Eve and the ghost world.

The story only really struggled from the length when we got to the action sequences. Kelley Armstrong is the master of action, and in Haunted some of the action sequences had me gripping the edge of the book and rushing to see what happened. Here, a fight or conflict would be set up, and we would get what felt like the wikipedia summary of the fight. One of the most intense, heart wrenching conflicts was… kind of conveniently dropped thanks to deus ex machina.

I don’t know if Armstrong’s word limit was set in stone, but I’d have been up for it being a few thousand words longer in exchange for a few of her characteristically awesome fight sequences. Hell, I’d have gotten rid of the plot twist, gone for a more simple but intense plot that focused on the action. But alas, for what we got, we had a very well paced story with a satisfying conclusion that possessed all the charm of the main series.

Sadly, this is still a very white series with no LGBT people and no POC except the Djinn (who briefly appear, get defeated and are very briefly are described as being copper skinned), Jeremy is half Japanese, which you’d only know if you read Men Of The Otherworld- (and how that was handled is a whole other can of worms), and Katsuo. Katsuo is an angel who was a Samurai in life. Though he barely had a role in this story at all, he was handled pretty decently. One mercy was that Armstrong avoided the exotic Asian stereotype by having him appear in modern dress, as opposed to Marius who wore the clothes of a gladiator. However, Eve does use his Samurai nature to handwave and explain his motivations- relying on a shallow Asian stereotype to characterise him  isn’t great. But still, compared to what we got in Men Of The Otherworld, its a definite step up.

It’s a shame, because with all the interesting characters and supernaturals Kelley Armstrong creates, she isn’t too hot when it comes to including any kind of human diversity, and most of the characters feel very samey when it comes to their social/ cultural background and a lot of the leading ladies have a very similar voice.

Verdict: Because Kelley Armstrong is such a strong writer, for the flaws of the novella, its still better than 90% of what you would find out there. It doesn’t really add anything to the main series, and if you’re not a great Eve fan, there’s no reason why you have to read it. If you are an Eve fan, and would like a quick enjoyable read to kill a couple of hours, I’d definately give this a shot.

RATING: 4 good girls gone bad/ 5

REVIEW: THE PACK VOL.2- by Paul Louise Julie

First we had werewolves mixed with Ancient Egyptian mythology, centering around Nubian characters. Here, we get introduced to were crocodiles, Akhenatan, and a potential new female lead.

In my last review of the Pack (which is here), I said that the artwork was astounding, but the story was unnecessarily disjointed and it was extremely difficult to tell the characters apart due to them constantly being obscured by light and shadow. Well, I’m happy to report that the story has improved around the board.

The artwork is still achingly beautiful, and by God, some of the scenery. I mean check this out and tell me that’s not one of the most beautiful background images you’ve ever seen:

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This spread is dizzyingly beautiful and although this is by far the most impressive piece of artwork in the book, the rest of it looks great. Louise-Julie’s artwork is far better utilised than before. He’s lost his aversion to drawing faces and I can tell everyone apart now. Although the faces aren’t exactly beautiful to look at, they’re still very human and expressive, and really do fit in with the art work.

The panel organisation is a lot better now as there’s more rhyme and reason to their placement. Before, the placement was a bit chaotic and the action sequences felt cluttered. Here, the action sequences are more linear and you can tell what’s going on. Not only that, but we’ll also have the light and space used to the story’s advantage, like we can see below with the eerie unnatural blue being used to create a spooky, almost nightmarish atmosphere for our werewolf fight sequence.

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The story telling is also far more polished than it was in the last issue. Gone was the nonsensical jumping between beginning and end, and no longer is it defined by the ludicrous plot point that the brothers split up for no apparent reason. Now, we’re at a point where the brothers have met up, the younger brother Khenti, and they’re planning to escape to Nubia, but are attacked by Egyptians and Khenti is forced to go full werewolf on them, as can be seen above.

There’s actually some nice bonding going on between the brothers, and it’s good to see them developed more now that the story’s slowed down. Not only that, but we’re also introduced to what looks like is going to be our big bad: historical pharaoh Akhenatan, the man who was to Ancient Egyptian religion what Henry VIII was to Christianity. We get a bit about a pivotal moment in his life- when his father was a complete badass and saved him from a crocodile, telling him everything submits to the Pharoah. Considering that his only actions in this comic seem to be tyrannical, it looks like we might be heading for a chaotic evil villain with a God Complex, and an ‘even a God King can bleed’ 300 style take down, but it’s still too early to say.

We’re introduced to the idea of an Anubis Cult- which wasn’t surprising, considering we have human/ wolf monsters in ancient Egypt, and jackal headed Anubis is the closest yo get to a werewolf myth. Not only that, but we have another shifter- evil crocodile shifter, Gharis, who works for the Pharoah and may be ‘the dragon’ (basically a really powerful minion of the main villain- what Darth Vader is to The Emporor and what Princess Azula was to The Fire Lord in ATLA.)

The storytelling is still extremely straight forward and simple, but it works and it allows the art work to shine.

VERDICT: Second issue in and already Paul Louise-Julie has improved by leaps and bounds in terms of storytelling and the way he uses his layout and artwork to maximum effect. I look forward to seeing where this story will go.

 

 

REVIEW: MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR ISSUES 1

Moon Girl is revolutionary in not only is it trying to appeal to POC and female readers, but it’s also a comic book… aimed at children.

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Yes, I know it’s shocking, but Moon Girl and The Devil Dinosaur is perfect for its age group as it’s got so much going for it: a relatable child genius who’s capable but held back by the Big Bad Adults, bright and colorful artwork and most important of all: a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex. What ten year old wouldn’t want to read about that?

The art looks good and has a very cute aesthetic; lots of very soft, round faces, very bright colors and a look that makes it look like a very well drawn after school cartoon as can be seen below.screenshot_2016-10-22-00-32-58

But what this comic really has as its real asset is the heroine, Lunella. Lunella is a child genius who loves science. Because she lives in the Marvel Universe, that means no boring titration experiments and waiting to see if the test paper changes colour: we can skip all those hypothesis and get straight to the ‘science’ that  instantly give you superpowers ! As such, Lunella spends her days holed away in her room working on her most recent science project… a cool glowy orb with science fiction rings. And if fiction and video games has taught us anything, there’s nothing more powerful than glowy jewels.

Lunella is a really great child genius- .for a start, she actually comes across as a gifted child rather than a child who’s ‘gifted’ to compensate for the fact that she sounds too much like an adult because writing children is hard. She is smart, but she definitely still sounds like a kid.

What makes Lunella really fascinating because of her difficulties fitting in. Because she’s so advanced for her age, she has difficulty fitting into her age group, and struggles with the fact she doesn’t find school challenging. She’s dismissed by adults who just want her to conform, or won’t take her seriously because she’s a child.

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Feeling isolated from their peers is definitely something that the more nerdy kids that are likely to buy this comic can relate to (I say that as a former child nerd), and what child doesn’t hate being treated like a kid? And also, wow, actual scientific talk in a comic- and not just techno babble to justify the existence of an earthquake machine or whatever madhat device the plot wants to justify. That’s something unique right there!

And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great it is to finally see a cool black girl taking the lead.  It’s rare to see a black person being portrayed as a genius (see the new Ghost Busters, with the black woman being the token non scientist), and when we do see a smart black woman she’s often… kind of boring and a little too perfect- as if the writers were so concerned with making her a role model that they forgot to make her a character. Here, not only is Lunella smart, but also memorable and well rounded character. With her and the likes of Katara, Princess Moana and Connie from Steven Universe, it’s good there are more strong WOC in media who get to be more than ‘token black girl in the group’, though there’s still a lot of work to be done.

When the story focuses on Lunella and her life, it’s really engaging. But the few pages where we’re introduced to Devil Dinosaur were… kind of boring. Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur follows on from an already existing series, Moon Boy and The Devil Dinosaur- which I haven’t read- but apparently it involves Devil Dinosaur and a neanderthal.

I wasn’t such a fan of the neanderthals’ design in this comic, as they just looked like people wearing monkey costumes. Some gang of mean neanderthals seem to be trying to steal the glowy device, but are stopped by Moon Boy and Devil dinosaur.

The weird glowy orb device our heroine’s found apparently allows time travel and Devil Dinosaur and the villainous gang of neanderthals were taken through the portal and are running amok in the town.I found those parts a trial to get through, as I really didn’t care about any of it and would rather get back to Lunella, although I guess that part was necessary to set up the story. Where it will go, I’ll find out with the next issue, but we’re off to a strong start.

VERDICT: Although aimed at a younger audience and the more… surreal… storyline will probably make it harder for an adult to get into, there’s a lot to like. Lunella is an excellent heroine with a lot of potential, the dynamic between her and the adults around her was well written and the art looks great. I’d definitely recommend this to any child, or anyone who wants to read about a strong WOC.

SPOOKTACULAR BOOK REVIEW: COME CLOSER- by Sara Gran

The Halloween season is upon us, and what’s the best way to celebrate? Well, there’s getting stupidly drunk and sexifying a character that should never be sexified, but in second place there’s reading a creepy psychological novel about demonic possession!

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Why did something like this happen?

Come Closer tells the tale of a woman under demonic possession from the victim’s point of view. There’s no spinning heads or ‘I see dead people’ or earth shattering superpowers, but we a fascinating psychological descent into anarchy as our heroine sabotages her life in what could either be a straight up demonic possession or an analogy for a psychological break down.

It starts out subtle- with nothing worse than a few bitchy comments and some random tapping in the house- and it remains fairly mundane throughout- right until the end when it gets amped up with our protagonist’s actions becoming far more dangerous and her visions even more eerie.

It’s incredibly well written. I don’t get scared or creeped out by horror, especially the supernatural stuff ( the infamous Shining had no effect on me), but the end scenes were brutal, bleak, disturbing (yet never gratuitous), and as awful as the heroine had been throughout the novel, you genuinely felt for her desperate final struggle to hold on to her humanity. The end was completely fitting, and the final analysis- who Namaah was and how she fitted into the heroine’s story- was really good.

And it’s the psychological themes that raise this novel to the next level. Traditionally, demons have been portrayed as psychological tempters, so it makes sense that her actions should come from within her. There’s a whole lot about how the expectations of womanhood are constraining, and how some men can’t bear to see women as fully flawed and messy. Though even better, its not a simple ‘you go gurrrl’ case of ‘poor oppressed woman against big bad man’- it’s more complex than that. Her husband- the main other presence in this novel besides our narrator and the demon Namaah- comes across as a decent person. He really puts up with a lot and does try to help her. She also contradicts herself, telling us how reliable he is and then going crazy telling us how he’s always late, suggesting some of his ‘flaws’ are in her head and that she’s just using it as an excuse to justify lashing out at him when her real problems are her own repressed issues.

I got the impression that the real confining chains in her life didn’t come from any  man, but her own internalized expectations of what a woman should be that grows more suffocating each day. That’s some pretty nuanced stuff and a great use of the unreliable narrator.

Come Closer was so good, so well paced, so well written that it could have been the perfect novella. But there was one little problem… one slight, small, planet swallowing black hole of an issue that only consisted of a few sentences, but my God did it create an awful blight that tainted the whole novella. I am of course, for those of you who have already read it, referring to…

CASUAL HOMOPHOBIA!!

Yep, it just comes out and punches you in the face. I’m not talking about the usual patronizing  gay stereotypes or ‘that’s so gay’ being carelessly thrown around to describe anything that’s generally shit. No, this novel goes full f-bomb nucleur. In the very first chapter we have our protagonist writing a letter to her boss calling him the gay f-bomb. And not just in a generic ‘that’s just a word I use to insult people’ way, its perfectly clear that she’s degrading him by insinuating he’s one of dem icky gays by compounding it with a few other choice insults that make that perfectly clear. Sure, the letter writing incident was framed as nasty and something she did under demon control, but then our heroine emphatically agrees with the statement.

It was so jarring, so malicious and came so out of no where that I pondered for a while that whether it was meant to be the demon controlling her mind, or as a way of showing just how repugnant our heroine is. But, at that stage of the story Naamah hadn’t really begun to control our heroine’s thoughts yet. Later in the book she describes a young man as a ‘flaming queer’- not out of anger, not in a stage when she was implied to be under the demon’s  thrall, but casually as just as a generic description- like how you might describe someone’s dress. So yeah, clearly the author’s trying too hard to sound ‘edgy’ or she thinks homophobia is totes okay.

I really enjoyed this novel, but I just can’t really get down with a novel that throws around such blatant homophobia.

VERDICT: I don’t know. It’s a really well written story and explored fascinating themes of female agency with some great use of Judaic myth, but by God, did the pointless, virulent homophobia put a downer on the whole thing.

THE PACK- by Paul Louise Julie

I’ve read  a lot of vampire and werewolf fiction in my time, and the tropes and conventions sometimes get a little bit monotonous after a while. So when I heard of this- a werewolf story set in Ancient Africa, centring around the attempt of two brothers to escape Alavert and to get to Nubia, I was sold. How cool is that? Especially since in any book set in the ancient world, Nubias often little more than a kingdom that’s invaded by Egypt.

First and foremost, I absolutely have to mention the art work, and it is truly worth the price of admission. It has this really gorgeous way of rendering spaces, and its art style gives a feel for the time. I mean take a look at this:

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The watercolour, the bright colours, the reflections on the marble and the detail on the plant life really bring to life the opulence of the Egyptian palace. It’s not just this page- the entire book Is this well drawn and it’s an astounding experience. Clearly a lot of hard work and research has gone into creating an authentic looking ancient North Africa. As for the werewolves, they look a great. Take a look at the one below.

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The harsh black lines against the lush green forest really do lend it a primal, ancient nightmarish feel. The author said that because werewolves aren’t really part of ancient African mythology, he combined the wolf with some other creatures to make it more fitting, and it looks intimidating. Its build is strong like a lion, and its little mane and tail remind me a bit of a hyena- but either way, it’s all predator and  truly is the monster that frightened us as children.

So many different styles and colors have been experimented with in this issue, and it’s an artistic marvel. Because of this, I would strongly recommend it to absolutely anything, as this artwork you won’t see anywhere else.

As for the story telling, it’s okay, and Paul Louise Julie has the talent but is still coming into his own. The story of this issue is pretty simple- two brothers are part of a group of Nubian assassins who are slaves (albeit highly exulted ones who get to live in a beautiful palace and are given a lot of wine, women and privilege), and they want to escape. It’s a pretty decent start, and introduces us to the world and gives us a basic outline of the two brothers- ones more serious and wants to escape, the other’s more on the fence but gets thrown into things- but its downfall is it’s told in a needlessly convoluted way.

For some weird reason, we start off not at the beginning, but at events which take place near the end of the first issue, which is still close to the beginning of the saga. Worse still, we constantly cut between the two events. All it means is that what’s a pretty simple story becomes harder to follow and we’re constantly pulled out of the action of both events- the brother’s escape or Khenti’s capture- when things start to heat up, and it’s harder to get caught up in either of them.

There is no good reason for this. I mean, the whole point of this technique is usually as a way of giving it a feel of inevitability and tragic foreshadowing- like with Blood Brothers, where we’re shown that the story’s going to end in tragedy so that even during the happier scenes, an air of ominousness hangs around and we’re watching carefully to see how they build up to the tragedy. The same is true with Madoka Magica, and even Moulin Rouge, which used whiny one’s (I forget his name even though I’ve been forced to watch it so many times) retrospective narration to tell us that this is going to be a tragic love story.

Here, there’s absolutely no point of this- what is it meant to foreshadow? That there’s going to be conflict and werewolves in it? Well, it’s called The Pack and it tells us it’s about werewolves in the description on the site, so there’s no need to tell us that. Is it because the writer feels they need a way to hook us? It begins (chronologically) with an assassination attempt- that’s action enough.

Also, there’s the bizarre plot hole that although the older brother keeps on saying that he wants his younger brother, when they escape the palace he splits up with him for no reason and says ‘see you in three weeks’. Why do they split up to go to the port to take them to Nubia? I know, story wise, why it was necessary to have them separated (so the younger brother-Khenti- can meet the wolf) but there’s no good reason for them to. They were both together and were both going to the same place, and splitting up would just increase the risk of losing one another. It was contrived.

What really needed to happen, storywise ,  was for the older brother- Nekhet-to give his younger brother instructions on what to do if they got separated, and for them to be put under pressure by pursuing Egyptians and for them to lose each other in the chaos. This is an important plot beat that was skipped, and as a result that moment just left me scratching my head.

The other problem is the character designs; they work fine and the simplicity makes them more reminiscent of ancient art, but most of the time the characters are heavily obscured by dazzling light or dark shadows.

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Can you really tell any of them apart? I can’t. It could get really difficult  figuring out who was speaking, and I had to reread and reread certain parts to figure out who’s saying what. Also, I thought the person narrating at the beginning was the older brother when in fact it was the younger brother.

Honestly, the story’s there, the writing has promise, and the art and concept are both absolutely perfect, but it’s not quite there yet thanks to some shakey execution. However, one of the big problems- the needless and convoluted framing device- is going to be out of the window in the next issue, and from what I’ve seen with his later work on Yohance, his skill at the craft does improve, so I have hope for future issues and am definitely down for the ride.

VERDICT: This graphic novel is absolutely worth checking out. The concept of a werewolf story in Ancient North Africa is utterly original, the art work is one of a kind and worth the price of admission alone. The execution of the story so far is a little shakey, but it’s the first issue of the author’s debut series, so there’s plenty of potential for it to get better as the author settles into the writing.

For a look at The Pack Part 1, click here.

SPOOKTACULAR BOOK REVIEW: OKINAWA HAUNTINGS- by Ron L. Dutcher

Beware fellow readers, this is not your ordinary book of ghost stories: not only does this book contain a collection of genuine (or believed to be genuine) tales of hauntings from Japan, this book also contains a spell to summon a ghost. Apparently, if you sit in a darkened room with 14 large lit candles, snuff  one out after every chapter and, upon completion of the book, say ‘Au nowa wakari no hajimari’ before you put out the final candle, you’ll summon a ghost. Well, either that or set off the fire alarm- and since I live in accomodation where one fire alarm will cause the whole building to be evacuated, I decided to give the ghost summoning part a miss.

I admit initially I was a bit disappointed when I opened this; I thought it was going to be a collection of Japanese ghost stories, but instead I got a collection of paranormal sightings and the myths behind them from Okinawa Japan- and most of them pretty similar to sightings and ghost stories we find in the West.

In one story, a cab driver named Mr Miyagi- no, not that Mr Miyagi- comes across a ghostly passenger, who spooks him with her flashing eyes before disappearing into thin air- leaving a puddle of water behind; another is about the victim of an English sailor who drowned during a ship wreck in 1840 and whose screams can still be heard on a stormy night in August; another is about a marine on an American military base who still appears to people asking for a light. There’s 14 in all and they’re all in that vein.

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But wouldn’t that be awesome?

While I was disappointed by the lack of Kage Onna and the fascinating creatures found in The Hour Of Meeting Evil Spirits, it was pretty interesting for what it was (plus it had some Shisha statues in there, which cheered me up).  The ghost stories are recounted in a very unbiased, matter of fact way and each story comes with a picture of the location that where the tale took place.

According to the author, in the original version there were maps to the locations given which were removed, but given the photos and descriptions, its unlikely that any of these places will be hard to find if you go to Okinawa .

The tales themselves are not the only thing this book has going for it;  we also have some snippets from two ghost hunters- Jack Fletcher and Junko Yamaguchi- who went to visit some of the haunted locations at night.

Their part certainly adds some atmosphere and some creepy fun to the proceedings: they bring the place to life with their descriptions and their description of the Shah Bay resort is definitely enough to send chills up your spine. However, a google search told me the Shah Bay resort has been torn down, so it the ghosts there have been defeated by the power of industrialization.

Apparently they also heard strange voices in the other locations, which they caught on tape,  but since as of the time the book was written, they are using the footage as a bargaining tool for a television series, whether the footage is truthful or whether its a fake to make money is up to the reader to decide. The optimist in me who would love to believe in life after death hopes the former, but the realist in me suspects the latter.

VERDICT: Whether you’ll enjoy this depends on whether you’re interested in paranormal sightings and shows like ‘Britain’s Most Haunted’ interest you. If they do, then this is as good as it gets. This is a series of well researched, evenhandedly told collection of tales, which while resembling paranormal sightings from the West, do also offer a bit of an Eastern variety. If you’re going to write a ghost story set in Japan, these stories also provide a good authentic base to build upon.

TOP 7 VAMPIRE AND WEREWOLF TROPES THAT NEED TO BE STAKED TO DEATH

Vampires have changed a lot since their soulless bloodsucking days of Camilla, Dracula and Varney. No longer a shrivelled menace, but a sexy, sexy protagonist with a dark, brutal past .. washboard abs… and the pain of centuries of loss and denial and longing carried on their big, muscular hunky shoulders… (did I mention abs?) Yeah, goodbye evil demon and hello brooding sex God, vampires are totally teenage fap material now, while werewolves, though  less popular (the bestiality thing is kind of a boner killer), are the cool macho alternative; they can transform at will, are the natural rivals of vampires, and provide a caveman alternative to the metrosexual, refined seducers that are the vampires.

But while change is not bad (and as a woman I admit I actually love the sexy vampires and werewolves as action leads), there are some new annoying patterns that are beginning to emerge again and again. And there are some conventions that just need to be staked to death…

1) The ridiculous homophobia and racism analogies

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Damn those bigots and their intolerance against beings who frequently kill people!

There’s fantastic racism , but ever since the X-men became mainstream, comparing ‘discrimination’ against your supernatural creatures  to homophobia (while not actually including any actual gay people  as anything more than sassy comic relief or victims) has become the new trend to make a story more ‘edgy’ and ‘relevant’. But comparing the prejudice against a typically harmless minority to a justified fear against a supernatural  whose means of survival regularly ends in murder and torture is ridiculous.

Vampires  are feared  and hated because they’re extremely powerful with absurd wealth, often contacts in high position and have superpowers which they tend to use to kill people on a regular basis.

Fearing vampires/ witches/ werewolves isn’t discrimination- it’s is an entirely reasonable reaction to the threat they pose and the only reason it’s portrayed as prejudice is because vampires and wolves are super hot. If vampires looked less like David ‘putting the Buff in Buffy’ Boreanaz and more like Uncle Lurch, we would still be calling them monsters and no one would call it prejudice. And speaking of sexy vampires….

2) The  whining about the curse of being a super powered sparkly sex God

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Look at my monstrousness!

Ah, the trope that began with Louis, became mainstream with Angel and reached its horrifying pinacle with Edward Cullen: the vampire who is Just. So. Tortured. About being this super special immortal sex God…

Look, there is nothing terrible about being a modern vampire. Nothing.Sure, in the days of Dracula, when people were superstitious and vampires were actual monsters, becoming an evil hell beast would have been a serious downer. But not any more.

In pretty much every modern vampire series, vampires are the ultimate wish fulfillment. They’re eternally young, super sexy, super powered and in many versions they don’t even need to kill people to survive. When they do, there’s usually a way to only kill bad people- like Lestat’s mind reading in the vampire chronicles. Hell, half of them can even go out in the frickin’ sun.

Sure, you can’t have kids (well in some versions you can have little Dhampir babies), but that is pittance compared to all the benefits. There is no downside, and their plight is about as sympathetic as those characters from 90s who whined about how empty it was to have a great job and a nice car.

Lestat here sums up exactly how I feel whenever this trope comes up…

3) The Female Werewolf as the only one, an aberration or an anomaly

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Elena the lone female werewolf. Leah the only werewolf in Quilette history. Even in Wolf’s Rain, which has by far the best portrayal of wolves I’ve seen, SPOILER Blue the lone main female wolf in the series doesn’t count and can’t SPOILER enter paradise with the rest of the pack because of her  half dog status and is always the outsider in the pack.Female werewolves in the Mercy Thompson series are rare, and though Mercy herself is a skin walker (though I think that was retconned in later books), she is similar to this trope as she’s a rare canine shifter and is desirable to the males because she’s one of the only females whom they can breed with . And for that matter, the werecats in the shifter series operate on a similar basis. Female werewolves are always extremely rare and a HUGE emphasis is often placed on their fertility.

This makes NO sense. This makes no sense whatsoever. What kind of species operates like this? Not real wolves, which has a pretty even gender split. Moreover, in a wolf pack only the Alpha couple will breed, meaning that the fertility of the rest of the females aren’t a big issue.

It is an absolutely annoying trope which often reduces females to commodities to be fought over because of their gender, or treats them as a bizarre anomaly. And speaking of werewolves…

4) ‘Of course they’re like that- they’re werewolves’ as an excuse for the male lead’s douchey behaviour

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Paranormal Romance: making this guy look like the paragon of progressive gender roles

Clay Danvers. Adam Hauptmann. The literal alpha male. He’s  possessive and controlling. He makes decisions for our heroine ‘for her own good’.Not because he’s a co-dependent dick with no boundaries, oh no. It’s because he’s a werewolf, not a human, and of course they’re like that. Okaaayy now…

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First off, werewolves don’t exist and therefore  they don’t have to be anything. If they’re sexist dicks, then they’re sexist dicks because the writer chose to write them that way and that’s a really terrible thing to make your romantic lead. If vampires can stop being hideous chaotic evil monsters and go out in the sunlight sunbathing (which is wrong on so many levels), then werewolves can not be completely terrible too.

Second off, this has nothing to do with actual wolf behaviour. Compared with primates, wolves are fairly egalitarian, as they have an alpha couple, and a parallel rank structure for each gender- the males compete with the males while the females compete with the females. The curse of the werewolf should make men less patriarchal compared with humans if anything.

And finally, even if being a werewolf meant he had to be a controlling dick, for reasons, then there’s still no reason why any woman should put up with this. I don’t care if they’re mate bonded/ pinkie promised whatever  and he just can’t help himself- no.  That’s his problem and his responsibility. No heroine should have to put up with this.

There are plenty of human men out there, and If he wants to be with her that badly, because they’re SOULMATES, and IF SHE SAYS NO  it will cause A WHOLE PACK RIFT and HE CAN NEVER LOVE ANOTHER WOMAN AGAIN, then he needs to get his shit together. Just because he’s a werewolf doesn’t mean he’s not sentient and can’t control his actions- which are nothing like any real wolf. And if it does mean that, then he is a monster who needs a silver bullet not sympathy.

This trope is like Beauty and the Beast if Belle loved Beast BECAUSE of his shitty behavior and she didn’t make him change.Sounds fucked up? Well, welcome to paranormal romance.

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See this? This is Belle’s ‘I’m not impressed by your Alpha male shit’ face.

 

5) The Stupid Amount Of Money That’s Always Brushed Over

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This is more a trope I want to see explored rather than wiped out. Most vampires and often werewolves are insanely wealthy and it’s never really explained how. But it really should. How do they do that? I mean, when you can’t go out in daylight, can’t age and therefore can’t stay in the same job long enough to build a business empire.

I mean, think of the possibilities: maybe they gain money by offering the rich and powerful money in exchange for their business know how, creating a rather privilidged class of dangerous aristocrats (like Dracula). Or they could constantly have to make human contacts to look after their money? This trope is something that began with Dracula and continued with The Vampire Chronicles, and should really be something that’s explored.

6) The Generic Sexed Up Vampire Babe

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Vampires aren’t nearly as male dominated as werewolves, but when you think of all the prominent pop culture vampires: Dracula, Louis, Lestat, Jean Claude, Alucard, Blade, Angel, Spike, Bill, Damon, and many more, they’re all men. Honestly, the highest profile female vampires in pop culture I can think of are Marceline from Adventure Time, Claudia from Interview with the Vampire, those strippers from Dusk Till Dawn and that little girl whose name nobody remembers from let the right one in.

Vampires in fiction are very male dominated, And when females do appear? It’s usually not good. While male vampires can be heroes and villains, sexual and well rounded, vampire women are usually always evil and are relegated to the laziest of all female villain tropes: the evil sexy women. No ‘complex’ brooding for you, you are just evil and like sex, and use sex to get your way. And it is boring. These characters are comparatively shallower, less memorable than their male counterparts.

It’s a shame, because while Camille and Elizabeth Bathory provide some great precedents for cool female vampires, who are sexual but also powerful, Instead they seem to always use the overdone Bride of Dracula route with a bit of vampire queen Akasha from Queen of the Damned mixed in, as often vampires will have a female Queen or leader.

In short, we need more Francines and Claudias in our life, and less of these vampire succubus.(although Claudia is the mother of the creepy child female vampire trope which while enjoyable, is still a role that women get relegated to.)

7) The Ridiculously Old Vampire That Acts Like A 12 Year Old- and the Immortal Teenager

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Ever since The Vampire Chronicles introduces the ‘children of Millenia’ and the idea that a vampire’s strength increases with age, we’ve had a litany of vampires who are just stupidly old and it really has no bearing on their character. Especially the goddamned immortal teenagers.I mean, age just seems like a status symbol in vampire fiction, like a rolex watch.

Even if a vampire is old enough to have seen kingdoms rise and fall, or at least old enough to have seen the horrors of both world wars, their biggest priority is getting that 17 year old to go prom, or the decor or whatever childish problem they have…

It shouldn’t be that way. Having an ancient vampire that has lived through God knows how many tragedies should change the character and make them extremely different from the rest of us. Say what you will about Anne Rice and her purple prose, at least she made their immortality mean something, at least we felt the impact of the years on them and they felt different from everyone else around them. In many modern works, the immortality means nothing and doesn’t has lost so much of its impact.

 

Those were my top 7 biggest gripes with the werewolf and vampire mythologies, and if you have your own I’d love to hear about them.

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE GEOGRAPHY CLUB- BRENT HARTINGER

SUMMARY: Russel Middlebrook is convinced he’s the only gay kid at Goodkind High School. Then his online gay chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school’s baseball team. Soon Russel meets other gay students, too. There’s his best friend Min, who reveals that she is bisexual, and her soccer-playing girlfriend Terese. Then there’s Terese’s politically active friend, Ike. But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves?

“We just choose a club that’s so boring, that nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call it Geography Club!”

Brent Hartinger’s debut novel, what became first of a series about Russel Middlebrook, is a fast-paced, funny, and trenchant portrait of contemporary teenagers who may not learn any actual geography in their latest club, but who learn plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart. This is Book 1 in the Russel Middlebrook Series.

THE PLOT: As far as the plot goes, this is your typical High School novel with an LGBT spin on it. We have the different clicks- the jocks, the girl jocks, the nerds, the lefty liberals, the outcasts- and all the drama that goes with this hierachy . We have the main character, our Fool, our Pilgrim, who travels to the lofty heights of popularity, and struggles to maintain his integrity in an environment where conformity is everything and bullying the weak is a sign of power.

It is everything you expect from a high school novel, but it works. It’s fast paced, flowing and every plot point is perfectly timed and  sincere. When Russel is under pressure, you feel that struggle, and you are routing for him every step of the way.

CHARACTERS: The thing that really makes this novel is the characters, and all of them are absolutely great.

Our main character is Russ Middlebrook, an adorkable gay nerd who’s dealing with being closeted in the homophobic American High School environment. Unlike a lot of teenage gay protagonists, he’s not self loathing or angsty (which would be understandable), but he’s pretty confident in who he is and just beginning to discover his sexual identity and explore his feelings for the first time, including milestones such as his first love and his first kiss.

He is optimistic, funny and tries to do the right thing but often falls short. He’s also prone to caving to peer pressure and getting swept away by his feelings, which is very realistic for someone his age and only serves to make him more relatable. I really enjoyed his narrative, which is light and humerous, although there was the odd occasion when he blatantly spelt out the obvious themes. I mean, sure teenagers are reading crap like House of Night and Twilight, but they also popularized The Hunger Games; they are able to understand what irony is without having forced Jesus references!

As for the rest of the cast, they are all winners. The book centers around the Geography Club- a group of friends who happen to be gay and who offer each other support and camaraderie . While LGBT relationships without fanfare are becoming more common in mainstream media, LGBT friendships are still uncommon so it was great to read about one. One of Hartinger’s biggest strengths as a writer is that he is very good at painting vivid characters very quickly, and in one well placed scene he can make his charaters feel more real than many other novelists do in an entire novel.Kimberley, for instance, is the gobby comic relief and all the scenes with her were really funny to read.

Special props have to go to our two main supporting characters: Min, Russel’s geeky best friend, and Kevin, the jock heart throb. Min is the ‘Lisa Simpson’ of this book, in that she is very smart, mature, left wing and has high moral standards to the point of being insufferable, and yet she is extremely likable. Her friendship with Russel is a definite high point and feels warm and genuine, without falling into the ‘gay guy and his gal pal’ trope.

Kevin is a compelling romantic lead, and even if ‘the hot jock is actually gay and falls in love with our every man gay protagonist’ is a cliche fantasy, this is done well. Their relationship is sweet and believable and every step and misstep feels natural.

The only weak point is Gunnar. Gunnar is Russel’s other best friend, he manipulates Russel into going on a double date with this girl, so that her best friend will go out with him. In order to do this, he essentially blackmails Russel into getting with a woman.

Look, I know that Gunnar is meant to have aspergers or something, but how he treats Russel is still reprehensible. He clearly has an idea that Russel is gay, but he tricks Russel into a situation where he would be forced to get intimate with a woman. This is really, really bad, and basically sexual coersion and is way too easily forgiven.

THE VERDICT: The Geography Club is a really enjoyable read and one I’ve read multiple times. Sure, sometimes it can beat you with its message over the head with all the subtlety and overkill of someone playing whack a mole with the hammer of Thor. But the writing his strong, the pacing is tight and it has a genuine heart and likable characters that will keep you engaged from start to finish.

RATING: 4 cool classmates you’ll stay friends with after graduation/ 5

BOOK REVIEW: STOLEN- by Kelley Armstrong

Blurb: When two desperate witches lure part-time journalist and full-time werewolf Elena Michaels into a carefully laid trap, she quickly learns that her perceptions about humanity are based on some fundamental flaws. In Kelley Armstrong’s supernatural thriller, Stolen, the world is populated with vampires, demons, half-demons, magical shamans and other supernatural races living anonymously among the human population–a concept that Elena has a hard time accepting, just as she struggled with her own lupine identity in Armstrong’s remarkable debut, Bitten.

But when Elena returns to her werewolf pack in upstate New York, pack leader Jeremy reveals that the threat people pose to the supernatural races should not be taken lightly. When Jeremy, Elena and her lover Clay decide to take action to protect their pack, Elena gets kidnapped on the orders of a power-crazed billionaire. While being held captive she learns that while some magical beings are good and some evil, none are capable of more outright cruelty and savage betrayal than ordinary, non-magical human beings.– amazon.

Review: Stolen is very much a transitional novel. While Bitten was stand alone and focused on the werewolves, this book  transforms the series into an ensemble piece with a dozen other magical creatures. Here, not only do we have the werewolves, we’re introduced to witches, half demons with different powers, shamans, sorcerers and vampires.

We get given an introduction to Paige and Savannah, who will go on to become protagonists for later books, as well as a host of other characters including Xavier, Leah, and Cassandra, who will be recurring characters in later books.

That’s quite a hefty task for one novel, and not only does it have to do all that, but it has to tell a decent story. Which it does well. While by far not my favorite in the series (that distinction goes to HauntedBitten and Industrial Magic), Stolen is far more than that boring middle book you’re stuck reading because it sets up the next book; It’s  a good story with a strong climax, and it introduces the new supernaturals in a way which feels natural and not like a big info dump.

Elena is captured by a big organisation experimenting on the supernatural. Her every movement is watched, and there are a whole host of enemies and dangerous characters whom you aren’t entirely clear whether they’re friend or foe. You know that Elena will make it out alive- when does the viewpoint character ever die?- but this novel makes painfully, uncomfortably clear that there’s a lot of other terrible things that could happen to her before then. Each botched escape attempt could result in serious repercussions; not only that, but the fate of the other people trapped in the institution is more uncertain- (and mild spoiler, not every one makes it out alive).

The reason I still read Women of the otherworld, a paranormal romance series, when I hate romance and I hate the ‘protective alpha male’ love interest (and by that I mean douchey stalker with no boundaries) , is because Armstrong is amazing at action sequences. The ending was great, and it had some real morally grey areas. Innocents had to suffer, and Stolen doesn’t sugarcoat the brutality of it.

Ty Winsloe is the main villain, and although he’s only human and not as compelling as say the super powered nasties that occupied Anita Blake‘s rogue gallery (before the series deteriorated into paint by numbers porn), he is still a realistic and unpleasant character you wouldn’t want to be trapped with. Xavier’s intriguingly untrustworthy, and … well, I won’t spoil it, but not only do we have wolves, but wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Paige and the all female witches were a breath of fresh air the series seriously needed. Too often in Urban Fantasy, we have a sassy, tomboyish heroine who’s the only strong female in the entire world who isn’t an evil slutty bitch who’s trying to steal the heroine’s man raaww.

Because of the insanely ridiculous ‘only female werewolf’ thing with Elena -which makes absolutely no sense but that’s a post for another time- this series was in danger of becoming this. I loved that Paige and Ruth love traditionally feminine things and it isn’t treated as inferior.

I loved it when Paige and Elena butt heads and Ruth casually freezes her and starts calmly telling them off for their lack of manners. I’m always a big fan of strong older woman and Ruth was great- reminding me of Grams from Charmed before the later series made her seem like kind of an asshole.

And now, with all the positive, we must get to the annoying element that blights all the Elena books: her taste in men.Fucking Clay- even reading about this man makes me feel suffocated and like I need space. Granted,  Elena is away from him most of the novel and so he’s less of an issue than, but their relationship still does manage to grate on my enjoyment. Here is a choice quote about their relationship:

I had to admit that since we’d been been back together, he really had been working at being less controlling, possessive, and over-protective. Not that he was giving me up and letting me live a semi-independent life. We kept separate bedrooms, but that was as far as it went.

Yes, Clay is needy, controlling, and imposes himself on her every second of the day. But of it isn’t because he’s a creepy, co-dependent douchebag. Oh no, it’s because he’s a werewolf and he can’t help it:

As part of my own relationship-saving efforts, I’d had to admit that this togetherness thing was part of Clay’s nature. Bitten as a child, he’d forgotten ever having been human […] He was more wolf than human. About the togetherness thing, Clay would argue that you’d never see a wolf telling its mate that it had to ‘get away for a while’ or needed ‘some personal space.’

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Yeah, that’s not how wolves work. If this were a real wolf pack, you wouldn’t get a mate and Elena (Alpha female by default) would start banging Jeremy, so I really wouldn’t pull the wolf card, Clayton. And of course, like with so many other stalking, douche-bag werewolf boyfriends (HAUPTMAN) , he blames it on being more wolf when this douchey behaviour has nothing to do with wolves- which I will go into on another post.

Second of all, as part of our relationship saving moves, Elena had to compromise and accept his stalking, possessive behavior as just how he is? Bullshit. This isn’t a compromise thing, this is HIS problem, HIS issue, HIS shit, not Elena’s, and there is no in between, HE needs to change- and agreeing to compromise is just enabling his behavior. Also, Elena’s making all the compromises. Throughout most of the series (I haven’t completed it, so I suppose it could change although I doubt it), he’s never less possessive, so Elena is just accepting it. Sure, she puts up a few token complaints because she’s a strong independent woman ™, but she never follows through, never forces him to change.

 I really can’t consider Elena as the strong heroine she’s marketed as when she puts up with this and their relationship- as much as I enjoy their snark and banter, their sexuality and rebelliousness, it really stops me from truly enjoying her books. I know I’ve railed on about this, and this is more a complaint about the series as a whole, but this unhealthy relationship dynamic really does ruin the Elena books for me. 

Thank God, the very nature of this plot meant that Clay and his co dependent behavior couldn’t ruin this book- although is it weird that a book where Elena is imprisoned by a pervert who can control her every move felt less suffocating than an average scene with her and her One True Love. But still, even if our heroine was kidnapped, at least she got to spend most of the novel trying to break out by herself without Clay breathing down her neck. And, once SPOILER she did escape, there was too much going on plot wise for Clay’s possessiveness to really cause any problems. 

The only other problem is that again, we have Elena doing incredibly  stupid and wreckless things. In the last book we had her running off alone to rescue Clay (actually running, instead of getting a bus or something- but fuck logic, WE NEED DRAMATIC TENSION!) This time we have her getting captured due to her own wreckless actions. We also have her HIGHLIGHT TO SHOW SPOILERS stopping in the middle of her own escape – still in the danger zone, after weeks of imprisonment and sexual abuse- to fuck her goddamed boyfriend.I mean, come on! A bunny in heat would exercise more control than this. It makes me doubt Elena when she says she earned her position as ‘voice of the alpha’, as I don’t think she’s shown to be responsible enough to babysit a pot plant, let alone… hell, let alone focus on her own escape!

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All the face palms  in the world can’t numb the pain

Gah, but in spite of all these frustrations what keeps me coming back to this series is the fact that Armstrong is an amazingly good writer. Her prose is elegant, descriptive and great at evoking scene and atmosphere while never slipping into any shade of purple.Her dialogue is natural and witty and her action sequences are always intense. If you can put up with the Alpha male douche love interest or *gasp* like paranormal romance, then I’d definitely check this series out, as this is definitely the best the genre has to offer.

Verdict: Stolen does a good job of transitioning women of the other world from a stand alone book about werewolves to an ensemble piece about multiple supernaturals. Not only that, but it’s a good story in its own right and definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed Bitten.

RATING:3 Kick ass she-wolves out of five