not necessarily, sire

“Steward,” Alberich said, without troubling himself to turn and look at the man, “I have the crown, the throne, the city, and my sword. And quite a lot of blood. Is anything else required?”

“No, sire.”

Alberich took the third step, to the gold-edged, green-draped platform of the white throne.

He faced the court. Frightened women, courtiers without the funds or wits to flee, a few loyal and stupid ministers; soldiers, the palace guard, servants, the dead who had not yet been taken away, and the prisoners who had not yet been slain. Hate, fear, and uncertainty were naked in their eyes, these men who had been masters of the world and lords in their city; but the city was theirs no more. His men stood proudly, satisfaction and an expectant hunger about them–wolves who looked upon one of their own who had made a kill, and waited only his word to feed.

He said: “I am Alberich. Witness and bear word.”

There was blood on his hands that set the crown upon his own brow.

XX, XY

The tall young man with the long fair hair and the heavy long sword halted before the three-stepped dais and looked down at the woman with the crown and dagger in her lap.

The resemblance was there when one looked for it, though his skin was roughened by open air and tanned dark. The angled planes of both their faces were alike, his sharpened to a cragginess that fascinated the eye; hers softer, rounded; the fair hair–true gold and smoothly flowing, or nearly white and bristling like a horse’s tail–and the slim, arrogant tallness of both. He overtopped most men; she stood on the second low step and looked him in the eye.

And, like his armor and evilly-stained gray cloak, the hems of her flaring skirts were soaked with drying blood.

Son of the Black Sword – Larry Correia – Book Review

sons-of-the-dark-sword-send-to-larry-c.-2Son of the Black Sword is Book 1 of the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior trilo…oh wait no people actually like this so let’s make it a five…wait are they still buying it? What, after book 3 didn’t wrap everything up? Multi-part series instead.

I complain, but it’s in good humor. This series showcases Correia’s strongest writing, because it plays to his strengths: exciting combat scenes; honorable men; fight scenes; violent men; battle scenes; emotionless but charismatic men; chase scenes; beautiful women, and you may have gotten the gist at this point: he writes fight scenes really, really well. There’s a one-vs-many fight at the end of this book that is just a work of art. What’s more, this book avoids his weaknesses: self-insert characters, silly humor, and bashing of political opponents in juvenilely amusing ways.

It’s a damn good book. Fight scenes with a purpose are exciting, charismatic protagonists with inner depths and meaningful journeys are memorable and enjoyable, and beautiful women who have personalities, motivations, and effect on the plot, are good characters regardless of what they’re wearing. Son of the Black Sword has all of those. (Note: with the exception of a ditzy librarian who tries using a romance novel as a how-to spy manual, all female characters are dressed quite appropriately for their circumstances.)

As mentioned, SoTBS was originally #1 of 3 books, before Trilogy Creep Syndrome set in. I hope the story doesn’t get stretched out too far, because I want to find out how it ends, damn it! There is the distinct impression that the story Correia is telling is going to be epic enough to withstand the expansion, but…I really like this story. What is the story?

So.

20-year veteran, Senior Protector Ashok Vadal is one of if not the most dangerous men on Lok. Not only is he a scion of the powerful and respected Vadal House, a Protector gifted with superhuman abilities, not only trained to the peak of physical ability and combat skill, not only above the law and tasked with enforcing it as the most famous member of an order of right hard bastards–Ashok is also the wielder of the mighty ancestor blade Angruvadal. Ancestor blades, made of the mysterious black steel, can cut through steel and demon hide, cleave all four legs off a galloping horse, and, moreover contain the memories and instincts of every warrior who has borne them previously and can guide the muscles and mind of its present wielder to victory….or can savagely punish the unworthy who dare set hand on it.

Ashok was judged worthy as a small child and has lived his life in the Protector Order ever since. How could a man who never lies, who never feels fear, who is wholly devoted to the Law, be unworthy? And why could his mentor, the man whom he trusted and loved as more than his own father, tell him that his life is a shameful falsehood, a disgraceful lie.

Ashok is given a choice: become Lord Protector, head of the Order and continue to live a life of fame, valor, and value…or open a letter that will reveal his past to him and reveal the truth.

Ashok chooses honesty. (Ashok, it transpires, didn’t have a choice).

The disgraceful secret the Protectors have kept for twenty years? Ashok isn’t a man. Ashok isn’t even a human being. Far from being son of the First Caste, the rulers, movers, and shakers…he is actually a casteless. Legally, less than the tools used to till the fields; practically, of less value than the animals used to pull the plow. Although Angruvadal chose him, the utter shame of the choice meant that House Vadal had his mind magically wiped to remove all memory of his casteless origins, deep compulsions implanted in him–rendering him literally fearless and utterly devoted to the law–and he was sent to the Protectors as a mere child in hopes that he would soon die. Oh, and his mother was murdered as part of the cover-up.

Ashok, after delivering a fairly gory reckoning to the people who have committed this injustice and this sin, checks himself into the nearest prison to await trial and sentencing. (Remember what we said about devoted to the Law? Ashok walks the walk…not only because he’s been brainwashed for his entire life.)

Unfortunately, what Ashok gets instead of justice is Omand, the Chief Inquisitor. Omand is seriously bad news. For one, he’s planning a genocide against the casteless…as a stepping stone to whatever his evil plan actually is. Step 1 involves creating a reason for his genocide to continue. Step 2 is ordering Ashok to join with the casteless rebellion and make it into enough of a threat to justify continent-wide genocide.

The implication is that Omand is going to get a horrible surprise about just how clever he isn’t a book or two down the road.

Ashok obediently escapes from prison to find and join the rebellion. He finds–or is found–by Keta, Keeper of Names, and his hostile bodyguard Thera. They have been sent to judge his worthiness before he can be allowed into their ranks, or to meet the mysterious Prophet whom the rebels have rallied about–the Prophet who speaks with the voice of a Forgotten god and testifies that blood, seas and messes of it, are incoming…

But that’s not really a prophecy so much as an accurate observation, really.

And anyhow, yeah. I’m out of time and I need to put some content up that isn’t cat pictures.

Rated: It’s really good. Get it and read it and then tell all your friends.

The Rebel Princses – Episode 10 – Recap

Previously on: our heroine was kidnapped by flying ninjas who have a grudge against her husband, and is in eventual danger when their plot comes into fruition but a lot more immediate danger from the crazily jealous ninja girl. Her husband has been prevented, by nefarious plots, from going directly to the rescue. Her faithful maidservant (who is actually in love with the guy who our heroine is in love with) went to go fetch said guy so he could go help look, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be under house arrest. Remarkably, everyone else is even less useful.

So Prince #3 and Jin’er have been searching, somehow accompanied by soldiers. They aren’t finding anything but keep at it. News of this reaches the Lord Xie in his exile. He wants to see the boy….to chew him out for being concerned for a woman who is a) the daughter of their enemy, the Wangs, b) married to someone else. Lord Xie is unimpressed with the idea that #3 is trying to redeem himself for abandoning A’Wu before: it’s not possible to make a comeback for something like that, and anyway, we have a blood feud going. #3 says, sure, you’re right, but I do want her to be safe. Lord Xie fumes a bit.

A’Wu and her captors have stopped for the night.

Meanwhile elsewhere, Grand Vizier Dad has arrived somewhere and finds some guy (? the governor of the city?) begging for mercy for allowing the princess to have been kidnapped on his watch.

Dad says: listen up. I don’t have anything against you, but I’ll have your entire family buried alive if she is harmed. The guy then begs his way in to see the Eldest Princess (I think he means A’Wu’s mother, but who he gets is A’Wu’s sister in law, her useless brother’s ignored wife). She sends for A’Wu’s mother….who everyone has been carefully keeping the news away from. (We’re going to learn later why Wifey doesn’t like this family and it’s a doozy. I mean, other than the obvious reasons why.)

Mom is, of course, shattered to hear that something has happened to A’Wu.

At the inn, Xiaoye and A’Wu are at it again. Xiaoye makes A’Wu eat bread that has fallen on the floor, but A’Wu does get her hands untied in the bargain….until one of the guys brings in some nice stew the Young Master ordered for A’Wu specially. HAH, lol, A’Wu locks XY outside when she goes out to throw the soup away. Then she….sets the door on fire?

Liupan Guy says: don’t panic, just make sure the horses are all tied down.

Back at home, Grand Vizier Dad arrives. Mom is still passed out. He is able to tell the brother that he’s sent word to Xiao Qi and this should allow him to take action himself. Brother doubts that XQ (who ran off on the wedding night) actually cares, but Dad points out that he is allied with the Wang Family now, not to mention a danger to the Emperor. If he doesn’t toe the line, he’ll get his one way or the other.

Brother then finds the time to complain about his wife. (Really, can’t blame her too much: her husband has been ignoring her in favor of knocking up concubines, and yet she takes the blame for not producing grandchildren.)

Elsewhere, Prince #2 is assuring his faceless and nameless girlfriend that she’ll be there with him when he becomes king. Trust him. (I wouldn’t, but…)

Prince #3 and Jin’er are heading back to the capital now. They’re not giving up on A’Wu, but there is still the Lord Xie, looking suspicious.

Back at the caravan, A’Wu gets caught, again. But! XQ’s Swordsgirl Sidekick is there! It’s a rescue! Not a very good one, because we spend about three minutes just in one section of the corridor-set, dodging behind walls and they’re all the same wall! A’Wu takes command. They obviously can’t escape together, or right now. She knows that there is some sort of thing happening, using her as bait, in three days, and that XQ is the target. She’s safe enough–for the next three days–and so decoys off the pursuit, sending them with the message: Tell XQ three days–I’ll be waiting.

Swordsgirl stays to defend the princess secretly and the other guy goes out to carry word.

Meanwhile, the poor governor guy has arrived home and now that he upset Mama Wang, he’s really worried about his continued existence, lol. He and his wife and family are going to make a run for it.

Back at the caravan, Xiaoye is about to get raked over the coals, and not just the ones that are still smoldering because she let the prisoner burn down the inn. So, this girl has kind of an interesting character, or would if she was given a bit more time. She’s in love with Liupan Guy and totally jealous; but she’s also at least nominally focused on their revenge plot and doesn’t want that endangered, either. Also, I think at least one of those guys is in love with her.

OH MY GOSH HE ORDERS THAT ONE OF HER ARMS GET CUT OFF. This prompts A’Wu to speak up in her defense and Liupan Guy to decree that she’s goign to stay in his rooms for the night. For safety.

Back at the governor’s house, a woman comes to the door. She says: if you want to live, follow me. So he goes off for a meeting with Lord Huan.

OKAY. So I think I’m getting the hang of this. Grand Vizier Wang’s son (Su) is married to a Huan daughter. I think that Prince #2 is also a Huan, or at least is in league with the Lord Huan. So, here we go.

Speaking of which, #2 shows up.

Liupan Guy is at the “if we met in a different lifetime, do you think we’d still be enemies” stage of their relationship. It seems that he is the child of a Liupan princess who was raped by a Hulan prince, but was later accepted into the Hulan royal family since they were getting underpopulated….Ahhhhh, was this one of the guys that XQ killed back in episode 1? Heh. Liupan Guy tried to go back and get his mother and sister out of the warzone, but it was too late. He now has a few loyal followers from the Liupan survivors, but that’s it.

He’s dead set on revenge. Except that the thought of killing A’Wu makes him a little unhappy. Oh this strange thing called sex love….

Back at the palace, the Emperor is getting a secret message from Lord Xie about the plan to kill Xiao Qi. Someone named Xu Shou is going to take over the army when he dies. Prince #3 is on his way home.

Meanwhile, Xiaoye, much subdued, shows up with clean clothes and washwater for A’Wu. She pays her debts, and she owes her existence to Liupan Guy and also is in love with him. It’s okay. She can deal with it. If he needs her to die, she will die for him and for their revenge!

A’Wu says: even though we’re not friends….woman to woman, it’s not a good idea to be infatuated with someone to this degree. Okay? Think it over, kiddo.

Cut to, uh oh. Xiaoye is dressed in A’Wu’s clothes. The other guys salute her for her courage, and the one guy who’d always been hitting on her before shows up, too, and promises to stay with her.

A’Wu then spots the imperial envoy’s emblem on Liupan Guy’s robes and blanches a little. But worse is to come. Oh shit, they’re going to put a suicide vest on her….

….LIKE THE ONE POOR XIAOYE HAS ON.

Liupan Guy advises her to pray that they kill Xiao Qi easily, since that means she’ll be in less danger…and then he can take her back to the steppes with him.

Meanwhile, back at the army camp, Xiao Qi and his men are standing around in their armor, fretting over whether Swordsgirl is going to be able to do the bodyguarding all by herself. And, it does look like the decoy trick is going to work on her….

END EPISODE. So, given that this is episode 10, I’m starting to be a little impatient with the device used for Xiao Qi’s characterization, which is to have him standing quietly in the background while his sidekicks bicker amongst themselves. It’s a good setup, it’s a good trick, but he has got to do something every so often and do it well. Considering that episode 11 is apparently titled “Xiao Qi heroically rescues Wang Xuan,” we’ll see….

Poetry Corner – Always Comes Evening

 Riding down the road at evening with the stars or steed and shoon
 I have heard an old man singing underneath a copper moon;
 "God, who gemmed with topaz twilights, opal portals of the day,
 "On our amaranthine mountains, why make human souls of clay?
 "For I rode the moon-mare's horses in the glory of my youth,
 "Wrestled with the hills at sunset-- till I met brass-tinctured Truth.
 "Till I saw the temples topple, till I saw the idols reel,
 "Till my brain had turned to iron, and my heart had turned to steel.
 "Satan, Satan, brother Satan, fill my soul with frozen fire;
 "Feed with hearts of rose-white women ashes of my dead desire.
 "For my road runs out in thistles and my dreams have turned to dust.
 "And my pinions fade and falter to the raven wings of rust.
 "Truth has smitten me with arrows and her hand is in my hair--
 "Youth, she hides in yonder mountains -- go and see her, if you
 dare!
 "Work your magic, brother Satan, fill my brain with fiery spells.
 "Satan, Satan, brother Satan, have known your fiercest Hells."
 Riding down the road at evening when the wind was on the sea,
 I have heard an old man singing, and he sang most drearily
 Strange to hear, when dark lakes shimmer to the wailing of the loon,
 Amethystine Homer singing under evening's copper moon. 
- Robert E. Howard

Mud (2012) – Movie Review

Directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Matthew McConaughey, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Taylor Lofner, Michael Shannon…wait, what? Wasn’t he Zod in Man of Steel? Huh, what else has he OH MY GOSH THERE’S A HANK THE COWDOG PODCAST ADAPTATION THAT JUST CAME OUT LAST YEAR OH MY GOSH AND IT’S AVAILABLE ONLINE (okay, back to business)

TLDR 1: This movie did not represent me…unless you take into consideration representation actually is.

TLDR 2: it’s really good.

This movie is easily two hours long, and it was around an hour and a half in that something–right around the time all the threads pull together and the plot starts moving on nitro–bumped it up for me from “I’m watching intently” to “Oh, I’m gonna to show this to my friends”…whether they like it or not.

It’s a boy’s movie, and the women in it are secondarily characters and primarily sources (and forces) of conflict. So why did I like it? How can I like a movie that doesn’t represent me?

Because representation is not about what the character’s skin color is. There never has been, ever, a heroine who looks like me, even the ones who stare at themselves in a mirror and whine about having brown hair instead of blonde. But there have been many heroines that I can sympathize with–and many heroes.

This movie spoke to me because I can sympathize with the protagonists when they learn that the people you admire and look up to might not be worth that admiration or don’t have all the answers, that love might not conquer all; that your parents are fallible, and yet still love you, and still are worthy of respect. I can sympathize with the struggles of having to leave a familiar, beloved home but still know that my friends have got my back. And though the target has changed and changes often, sometimes I just totally wanna beat the hell out of people, you can totally understand why. And hell, I still flip out over Hank the Cowdog because I loved those books to pieces when I was a kid and I was not, at last check, a dog.

This movie is excellent because I can admire the protagonists, even though they’re imperfect, frequently make bad decisions and quite often stupid ones, work hard but still need outside resources, fight hard and still need help. They’re courageous, generous, loyal, and honorable. When they think something ought to be done, they go and try do it, regardless of odds or reasons. They’re good men–or trying to be–or learning to be.

And it’s a good story, told in a way I personally really like: with tons and tons of implied backstory that motivates everyone, shapes their reactions and explains their actions but which isn’t actually shown, merely implied. I love that one. It means someone has sat down and thought things through.

So what is the story?

Well, there’s these two kids, (Tye Sheridan as main hero Ellis, and Taylor Lofner as Neckbone)–who are out exploring an island on the Mississippi river where unexplained events have somehow stranded a boat in a tree. They claim the boat as their own but soon discover that someone else has gotten there first: a man with hob-nailed boots, snakes tattooed on his hands, a white shirt with a wolf’s eye sewn into it that protects him (and a pocketful of other weird superstitions) who calls himself “Mud.” (Matthew McConaughey)

Mud is on the island, hiding out, and waiting for someone. He asks the boys to bring him food and keep an eye out for his girl, the most beautiful woman they’ve ever seen. This turns out to be Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and the relationship between her and Mud turns out to be a lot more complicated than first appearance. Mud has been infatuated with Juniper since they were children, but, it is later revealed to the boys, he also has a history of violently attacking anyone else who gets involved with her…or maybe Juniper sets him off on purpose. That’s been their pattern for a long, lont time–but this time he’s killed someone. Mud’s story is that he did it to protect Juniper from being outright murdered by an abusive boyfriend…and though circumstances seem to bear him out, the guy’s family has muscle, money, and is out for blood. Oh, and they have a couple of informants in the Sheriff’s department, the hospital, and the state police.

Mud recruits the boys to help him to repair the boat so he and Juniper can make it down the river to God knows what but he seems to think it’ll be freedom.

Ellis throws himself into the project as a way of escaping from, or seeking answers to, the problems in his own life that he doesn’t have the power or vocabulary to address directly. His parents are separating: his mother is done with their rickety houseboat and hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and his father isn’t taking this at all well. At the same time, Ellis’s love life is taking its first tentative steps, only for him to discover that, while girls might find doglike infatuation flattering, they are vain and deceitful at heart and not to be trusted…

So it goes, right up until the part when the wheels come, inevitably and completely, crashing off.

Again, why is it good?

Because it’s an interesting story, well-told. It has themes which, while meaningful, are never over-emphasized. Because it has, first and foremost, well-realized, deeply human characters who are flawed but basically good and who learn from their mistakes to become better. Or, at least, learn not to make those particular mistakes again. In Mud’s case, it’s taken a lifetime. Ellis, though, might not take so long and might not have to end up hiding out on a deserted island running from the cops and your girlfriend’s boyfriend’s vengeful father’s henchmen.

What else? Oh yeah, the acting is superb, including the child actors; the script never once made me cringe (possibly because even the more, shall we say “thematic” bits were delivered so well), so, props for the casting as well as the acting; the cinematography is very pretty and the colors are–well, actually the color is pretty washed out and brown but Arkansas, amirite? There’s also a pretty badass shootout at the end.

Rated:
You’re a good man movie, Mud.