STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS- movie review

I liked The Force Awakens, and why wouldn’t I? I enjoyed A New Hope and this is the exact same film. I mean, exactly the same. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, lets have a look at the plot.

An evil empire (the New Order which is exactly the same as the Empire) has taken over the galaxy. A rebel with important plans to defeat the Empire is captured by a guy in an ominous cape who serves an evil overlord; he then sends the plan away in a droid that crashes on a desert planet. In a very dubious plot point, the droid then falls into the hands of our force sensitive main character (what a coincidence!), who meets a  cool badass old man who takes her on an adventure.

The biggest differences between this and A New Hope are that BB8 is much cuter than R2 D2, girls can get in on the light-saber action too, black people exist and the masked villain doesn’t wait for a bad prequel series to become a whiny brat. It’s brain off, cool fight scenes on and I enjoyed the action sequences and there wasn’t one minute of its run time when I wasn’t engaged. Unlike the train wreck that was The Phantom Menace, JJ Abrams did not over rely on special effects to make his film engaging, and the Star Wars world looks and feels quite natural. Continue reading STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS- movie review

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

Stay away Clay   Stay away Clay   Stay away Clay   Stay away Clay (2).jpg

 

 

BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THAKANE, PRINCESS AND SLAYER OF DRAGONS

I’m going to put it bluntly: Thakane is awesome and it’s a crime against childhood (most notably mine) that she was never a Princess that every kid grew up with. Not only is Thakane amongst the strongest female leads I’ve come across in fairy tales – but she’s one of the toughest females in  fantasy as well.

Thakane is the heroine from an African folktale who travels across Africa on a mission that is usually reserved for male leads only: slaying a dragon. Let’s have a look at her story and why she is so awesome.

TROUBLED BEGINNINGS

Poor Thakane didn’t have an easy life. At the beginning of her story, her parents are dead and so she’s landed with the work of ‘two wives’ in raising her kid brothers.

When boys came of age, it’s one of her tribe’s customs that they receive a leather jacket and a shield made from the hides of animals  their father killed;but the hide of a buffalo or wild cat isn’t good enough for the pampered princes. They want their gifts made from the hides of dragons.

Nala's not the only African Princess who had to 'make a journey' to lands unknown
Nala’s not the only African Princess who had to ‘make a journey’ to lands unknown

Of course, the other villagers think her brothers are being spoilt little wee leeches and tell her not to go, but Thakane’s having none of it.

“If they lack anything, these sons of a chief, I will not be to blame for it. I will go and hunt these dragons.”

She asks for brave men of the village to accompany her on her quest, but no man will step up to the challenge;more and more men refuse to accompany her, and eventually news of this request spreads all over Africa…

HER PRINCE

Eventually, prince Masilo hears of her strange request and is intrigued.

‘When Masilo heard of this brave girl who decided to go on a hunting expedition  for the sake of the family honor, he felt a strange excitement at such a bold plan. He also felt ashamed that no man in the whole country could be found willing to go with her to the land of dragons to kill one for her.’

LET’S JUST TAKE A STEP BACK AND THINK HOW REVOLUTIONARY THIS IS

Paperbag princess
It doesn’t have to be like this, Elizabeth! If Masilo’s taught us anything, it’s that there are princes out there that will love you for your strength

What a badass! This is makes Misalo a pretty revolutionary prince, because a prince admiring a princess because of her strength is uncommon. Even in the modern fairy tale ‘The Paper Bag Princess’, the main character , princess Elizabeth, is rejected for being strong and ends up dumping the ungrateful prince because of it. This is a glorious subversion of fairy tale conventions and an act of strength on the Princess Elizabeth’s part, but … Quite a sad message lurks underneath. For both women and men, finding someone to love is a pretty important part of happiness in life; it isn’t weak, it isn’t patriarchal, it’s human nature. Presenting woman with the choice of being strong or being condemned to a life of loneliness is a horrible message.

But in this story, her courage doesn’t make her less feminine or desirable; its what brings the prince into her life. Centuries before ‘The Paperbag Princess’, the message behind Thakane is even more positive.

.

THE ADVENTURE

Jasmine
Escaping overbearing royal parents to go adventuring is not just reserved for princesses

The Prince takes a leaf out of princess Jasmine’s book and escapes the palace and an overprotective father to seek out this intriguing lass. He falls in love with her at first sight (this is pre-Frozen and three pages long, it’s to be expected), and they head off on their journey. All good Princesses seem to like singing and have some kind of magical animal affinity, so hey, might as well use it for practical purposes. Using a magic song, she summons magical animals and asks them to recce the dragon’s locations. They should probably be more confused by the talking eels, but this is African myth, so getting animals to talk is pretty par for the course.

Wasted opportunity, Snow White. If Thakane was in your shoes, she'd have sent those squirrels as lookouts and sent the larger animals to take out the Queen
Wasted opportunity, Snow White. If Thakane was in your shoes, she’d have sent those squirrels as lookouts and sent the larger animals to take out the Queen

They then arrive and meet an old lady in a ghost town. When they ask her why no one’s there, she tells them ‘that her skin’s too tough, so they prefer to use her as a housekeeper.’ I like this description,

The old lady then tells them to set an ambush while she’s feeding the dragon and when they do that, Misalo drives a spear through the beast’s hide.

The old lady thanks them and then gives them a magical stone that will protect them from dragons on their way home, which raises so many questions: where did this stone come from? How long did she have it? Why didn’t she use it to save the villagers in the first place? Why didn’t she use it to escape? Why is she staying alone in an empty village instead of coming… okay, old woman, magical plot device- turn brain off; it’s a fairy tale, and this is hardly the biggest plot hole I’ve come across.

Moving on, they go use this stone to protect them from future dragon attacks and go on their merry way.

It all ends with Thakane and Masilo arriving home to a hero’s welcome, the spoilt brats getting their dragon hide coat, and Thakane marrying the prince and spending the rest of her days as Queen leading a life of luxury.

VERDICT

Even though this is an old African myth, this is one of the most revolutionary Princess stories out there.

She went further than Elizabeth in that she got to be both strong and beloved.And not just by any prince, but by a prince who loved her for her courage and who possessed more personality in this short story than most of the princes I’ve come across in most other stories.

Love you Tiana, but can't help but wonder what could have been if Disney's first black princess movie had followed Thakane's plotline and that frog was telling you where to find the dragon.
Imagine if Disney’s first black princess movie had gone with Thakane’s plot and Tiana here was asking that frog for intelligence on the dragon.

WHERE TO FIND THIS

Why hasn’t Disney jumped on this? When did African myth feature Dragons? (except the creation myth of Kweku Tsin)  and since when did African myth star creatures other than Anansi because we all know the greedy bastard took all the stories for himself? Why haven’t I heard of it until now?

Well, this story, is really, really obscure and really hard to find. It took a lot of work to find this story in the first place, and the only source is an out of print book on Swahili myth. It is worth checking out and a preview of the book can be found on this website:

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=aPAUAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA187&lpg=PA187&dq=Thakane&source=bl&ots=O7e93xkglH&sig=kGPVy-NirP25VE8ll9cOkh_8wfI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CFEQ6AEwDGoVChMIkJeG17SMyQIVxD8aCh0QcAlV#v=onepage&q=Thakane&f=false

Now that we’ve had a Princess teaming up with her Prince, how can we match this? Well, next week we’re looking at a Princesses who does the unthinkable- a Princess who saves her prince. Here’s a hint as to what story we’re looking at…

cluster of pearls