REVIEW: ARES, BRINGER OF WAR (OLYMPIANS 7) – by George O’Connor

This is what this entire series has been building up to: The Trojan War, and oh my God, is it completely and utterly glorious.

It begins with a battle; chaos in the battlefield; when strategy fails and it turns into a chaotic bloodshed. That’s when Ares appears. And this is introduced by an epic 300 style battle with an epic narration about war happening as we watch Ares kick the crap out of people. I mean, check out this panel and try and tell me that it’s not made of awesome:

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The whole novel is full of excellent fight scenes that really brings excitement back to The Iliad. We have the battle between the King of Sparta Menelaus against Prince Paris, Athena teaming up with Diomedes to wreak havoc on the battlefield, and of course that fateful, heart breaking battle between a grieving Achilles and Prince Hektor. The battles are exciting, not least because its not just a clash of swords, but a clash of characters- each with their own skills and agenda.

Though this novel is called Ares, he is not really the protagonist. This is very much an ensemble piece, and If anything, the story is about Athena, with Zeus playing the role of quiet chessmaster, observing silently from afar as the Gods fight, always in control. But even so, Ares isn’t forgotten and plays a very important symbolic role- being the foil to the manipulations of the seemingly more civilised Olympians.

One of the greatest strengths of O’Connor is that he is really far stronger at bringing a new perspective to the Greek Gods that were despised in the original myths. Athena and Apollo were two of the most beloved deities, and yet are far more cold and less sympathetic in this series, while the reviled shrew Hera, ditzy Aphrodite and the hated God of War Ares (the essential personification of masculine cruelty) are given a brilliantly complex portrayal. He is reviled by his own father Zeus in favour of Athena, and admits that while she is the Goddess of strategy, he is the God of bloodshed and violence is all he can bring. As a result, all he has is strength and he is constantly outwitted by Athena. And yet he has a sort of stoic nobility about him.

Even though he is the personification of violence, he knows what he is and there’s no deception about him. He never starts the battle- but he’s summoned as a result of all the other characters and their epic scheming. That’s pretty complex and is done in such a subtle way.

War of the Gods:

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I can’t talk about this graphic novel without its central draw, the war of the Gods. Oh my God, was it amazing. In all the previous books, we’ve been introduced to most of the main players- Athena, Apollo, Poseidon, Hera- and seen their strengths, know their backstory, grown to love O’Connor’s incarnation of them. Now we get to see them fight.

It is everything I wanted, and oh my God, was the confrontation between Hera and Artemis perfection… All this culminating in Hector vs Achilles, in which the tone changes… the war is no longer heroic, but sad and the weight of the bloodshed falls upon them.

The only downside:

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The one theme that bugged me is that it often contrasts Ares and Athena by the fact that he has children but she doesn’t, and therefore she’s far colder. It makes sense that Aphrodite criticises her for this (because that’s one Goddess not under her control), but this seems to be Ares’ and the novel’s assessment of her too and I’m not sure I think this is valid. It overlooks the reason why she had to be a virgin. The reason why Athena is a virgin is because the relationship between and husband and wife in ancient Greek society (especially Athenian) was so hierarchical, so unequal and riddled in misogyny that remaining a virgin was the only way she could be her own person, powerful in her own right and not lorded over by her husband.

Making her asexual and divorced from femininity was the only way the Greeks could relate to her, such an important Goddess because of their hatred of women. Afterall, Hera was the Goddess of marriage and the personification of the most typical way of life for women; she was Queen of the Gods and wife of Zeus and yet she was reviled in the Aenead, The Illiad and The Odyssey; Aphrodite was the personification of the feminine allure and was likewise portrayed as silly, weak and a cause of disorder. Divorcing herself from femininity was the only way she could be ‘the exceptional woman’ and a Goddess wielding so much power and agency, and this is something that really should have been acknowledged if we went down.

But still, this such an astonishingly minor quibble and believe me, it amounts to nothing doesn’t do anything to detract from how perfect and amazing this graphic novel is. Also, ‘not now Hermes, I’m gloating’ is one of my favourite lines in anything.

Verdict: This graphic novel is perfect in every way and every man, woman and child needs to read it now! I’d recommend reading its prequel Aphrodite: Goddess of Love first (which covers the judgement of Paris), for maximum impact.

Rating: 5 almighty smackdowns / 5

Frankie Boyle’s American Autopsy: A Crusade Against Political Correctness

Frankie Boyle has always been the mortal enemy of political correctness; his shock value humor always  put him at odds with his co hosts on Mock The Week before he leftand he launched an attack on Right Wing Theresa May’s cabinet that was so scathing (and totally true) that the left wing Guardian refused to publish it. Frankie Boyle’s humor is black and brutal, whatever his mark. However, Frankie Boyle is at his sharpest when his uncompromising, savage tirades become politically charged. And on Frankie Boyle’s American Autopsy, we see his most devastating dress down yet: the circus of scandal and bigotry that was the American elections.

The BBC is oh so diplomatic and so obsessed with balanced that in a debate between William Wilberforce and Satan himself they’d make sure to mention that Satan always provides his residents in hell with reliable heating for the sake of being non partisan; Frankie Boyle, on the other hand, doesn’t give a fuck. Free to say what he wants thanks to being placed directly on iPlayer, right out the gate he pulls no punches with Trump:

‘It’s not that he’s the worst person for the job, he’s the worst mammal.’

And he only becomes more scathing  as he relentlessly rips into what happened at the election. Don’t think Hilary gets spared any rough treatment, because he destroys her as well:

‘People said well, er, Hillary was the best qualified candidate ever […] that’s not the problem. Peter Sutcliffe was an excellent truck driver.’

He goes on to criticize her for her total lack of charisma and described her as the worst candidate ever. His American guests are there to help him discuss the events surrounding the elections, and they’re amiable and entertaining enough. Sometimes it slips into political talk rather than comedy, but when the president is a man who has the world fearing that he’ll accidentally lean on the ‘Nuke the world’ button when he’s reaching for a pussy to grab, venting a little shock, horror and bemusal is the sugar that’s needed to help the anthrax go down. Still, Frankie Boyle is absolutely best when he’s raging solo, and when it’s just him laying into his target he’s hilarious and never loses its momentum for even a second. But even though he’s insulted everyone and everything at some point in his career, there will no doubt be many who think his show is a left wing conspiracy.

Even though Frankie Boyle is the man who drinks the tears of the Offended Class like a fine wine, people will accuse the misanthrope  who compared Palestine to a cake being ‘punched to pieces by a very angry Jew’ of being ‘politically correct’, because we’ve barely started legitimately criticizing that culture and we’ve already devolved to a point where we’d scream that phrase at Atticus during the scene in To Kill A Mockingbird where he tries to stop a lynching. Let’s be clear. Being suspicious of a man who’s strangely unwilling to rebuke support from the KKK is not being politically correct. Thinking it’s hilarious that a wealthy billionaire , who ruined the  Scottish countryside and placed working class  locals under risk of compulsory eviction for the sake of building a luxury golf course, is somehow an anti establishment hero, is not political correctness; it’s having a sense of irony. Attacking politicians and refusing to be entirely swept away by either party is vital, because raising any politician- even the most virtuous one in the world- to the level of Messiah is deadly and leaves you wide open to being manipulated.

And that’s one thing Frankie Boyle realizes too; he takes no prisoners, won’t introduce ‘balance’ arbitrarily if one side’s full of shit, and that’s why so often his political opinions are more honest and spot on than most journalistic articles.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Bitten- by Kelley Armstrong

Elena Michaels didn’t know that her lover Clay was a werewolf until he bit her, changing her life forever. Betrayed and furious, she cannot accept her transformation, and wants nothing to do with her Pack.
When a series of brutal murders threatens the Pack – and Clay – Elena is forced to make an impossible choice. Abandon the only people who truly understand her new nature, or help them to save the lover who ruined her life, and who still wants her back at any cost.

Bitten is the debut novel of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Other World Series, the inspiration of the TV series of the same name. In every way it is very standard Paranormal Romance / Urban fantasy, but what distinguishes this novel from the pack is Armstrong’s writing.

Her world building is strong. Werewolves are one of the big three of urban fantasy (the big three being vampires, werewolves and witches or some similar kind of spell caster), and they aren’t shockingly different from the wolves of your Mercy Thompson novels or any other urban fantasy series. But the werewolves’ lore is extremely well fleshed out in this story, and their world and history is deep and interesting.

Her descriptions of scene and atmosphere are detailed and really brings to life everywhere Elena is to life- whether it’s the gym, Bear Valley, or the forest where the pack are hunting deer.

However, it’s the action scenes and the humour in which is Armstrong really shines. I think the only way to do justice to Armstrong’s brilliant one liners is to give an example:

He flipped through the pages, stopping on a photo of a bikini-clad redhead sprawled over the hood of a Corvette Stingray…

“What’s the woman doing there?” he asked

“Covering a scratch on the hood. She was cheaper than a new paint job.”

Armstrong’s wit is on form throughout the whole novel. All the action sequences are fast paced, very tense and exciting. They grab you from the word go, whether it’s a deer chase or a show down with the Big Bad.

As for characters, the villains in this book are… serviceable. They aren’t memorable like the ones that can be found in Anita Blake’s (pre book 10) rogue gallery, but their motivations seem believable and they do provide a legitimate threat for Elena and the pack to fight against.

And speaking of Elena, the main selling point of this series is the strong ass-kicking female leads. Bitten delivers. Gorgeous, biting witty, no nonsense and a supernaturally strong fighter, Elena is an extremely engaging character. She is not your virginal lead, and is unashamedly sexual- and the many sex scenes, for that matter, are smouldering. Her downfall however, is being overly impulsive and making bafflingly stupid and reckless decisions. There is one point where she rushes to find the antagonists- while all alone, with no backup- without telling the pack where she’s going and having a big part of her plan hinging on them figuring out where she is and riding in for the rescue. Unfortunately, this is a stupid streak that will continue through later books.

Then, with all these good points, what could possibly go wrong? Well, our heroine Elena has a serious character flaw: her choice in men. Clayton Danvers is one of my most loathed characters in literature and ruins every Elena book he’s in. He is an (unfortunately) very typical paranormal romance lead, and if you’re a big fan of the genre and like the domineering alpha male love interests, you will love Clay. He has a lot of good points: he is gorgeous, sexy, and passionate, has hilarious banter with Elena and he has a single target sexual attraction towards her. Their relationship is very passionate, intense and high drama like Catherine and Heathcliff. But also like Heathcliff, Clay is very possessive and puts his obsession for Elena above Elena’s wellbeing. Clay is possessive to the point where his relationship with Elena becomes co-dependent and stalkerish.

First of all, they met when Elena was a student and Clay was professor of anthropology (a job that after this we never see him do or talk about because businessman Dominic is the only werewolf we actually see do any real work). The much older male love interest is a prevalent feature of Armstrong’s Otherworld series. The fact that he was a professor teaching her class is a dubious start.

Then, Clay bites her. He doesn’t talk to her, doesn’t try and tell her about what he is or give her a choice, he just bites her. He forces a dangerous, irreversible life choice on Elena without even talking to her. This is a big conflict between the two throughout the book, but even reviewers who dislike Clay’s actions don’t quite emphasise how bad he is. There’s a scene where Elena looks at the werewolf dossiers- the history of werewolves- and there’s a section that details all previous attempts to create female werewolves. They all died.

Now, as a man who’s been a werewolf since a child, and as an (alleged) academic, there’s no way that Clay could have not realised that attempting to turn Elena would most likely kill her. This means that he was willing to risk killing Elena rather than risk her leaving. I don’t care how well Clay knows Elena’s taste in maple syrup or how much he worries about her. This is not love; this is limerence; this is self-absorbed obsession.

I could list numerous instances of Clay’s manipulative, pushy and controlling behaviour (he gets very jealous when Elena tries to have other friends), but I will let this point speak for itself.

Elena may be ‘tough’ in the feisty, 21st century ‘Strong Independent Women Hear Me Roar’ way. I would actually find a more timid, female lead who cried a lot and wasn’t an amazing fighter- but had the strength to really stay away from Clay – to be a stronger female lead. All in all, this is a brilliant book and I would be giving it 4/5 for writing quality alone. But sadly the presence of Clay drags its score down.

RATING: 3 ½ restraining orders from the other world / 5

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