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Book Review – Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

This book took a long time for me to read, but it was absolutely not the book’s fault at all. When I first started to read Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu, I was sidelined by other obligations and just never had enough time to read more than a few pages of the book at once. I’m sorry, but I would have struggled to stay engaged with even the most suspenseful page-turner at that time.

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I put the book down on purpose once I realized that I really liked it, but my snail’s pace was hampering my enjoyment of the story. Once the rest of my life was organized again (as much as it ever is, really), I went back to give this book the time that I thought it deserved, and was not disappointed.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the first book in a series titled The Song of the Shattered Sands, which is supposed to run to six books total. This fantasy novel is set in the desert city of Sharakhai and has a Middle Eastern or Arabic feel to the names, cultures, and details. The main character is Çeda, a pit fighter and courier for those customers who don’t want their business known. Sharakhai is ruled by twelve seemingly immortal Kings, and Çeda is determined to kill all of them because she blames them for the death of her mother when she was just a child.

It is a tall task for a pit fighter to go up against the mystical rulers of Sharakhai, and Çeda flounders trying to figure out how to avenge her mother. She has been left with only her mother’s book and the skills and knowledge of how to sneak to the fields of the adichara, deadly trees with forbidden blooms that grant the user a hypervigilant state.

The story opens on B’eht Ihman, the night on which the asirim (undead slaves of the Kings) search the city and claim several of its inhabitants. While this is a death sentence, it is also supposedly an honor to be chosen. It is forbidden to be out on the streets, a law which Çeda routinely flaunts. On that night, one of Çeda’s courier jobs goes wrong when her best friend, Emre, is nearly killed. She is also cornered by one of the asirim who wears a crown, whispers mysterious words to her, and plants a kiss upon her forehead.

There is more to the plot that Çeda’s desire for revenge, for the Kings of Sharakhai have numerous enemies, including neighboring states and a more organized ruthless rebel force, the Moonless Host. Their plot threads all begin to intertwine as Çeda is drawn into the secrets surrounding the Kings, solving riddles that are seemingly the keys to their demise.

The book begins by telling its story through mainly Çeda’s point-of-view, alternating the current day with flashbacks showing her time with her mother. These flashback scenes become more sparse once we have learned the necessary information, and other characters add to the narrative, including Emre, Ramahd (an emissary from another state), and even one of the Kings. This structure worked well for me, but as more characters are introduced, it did require some concentration to remember all of the political relationships between them.

I truly enjoyed Çeda’s tale and found her to be an enthralling and realistically drawn protagonist. Some of her secrets and foreshadowed events were obvious early on, but I believe that was an intentional decision by the author, as more of the excitement of the story comes in how she pulls off what she does. But this book also ends as one volume of a series should – with many unanswered questions. One aspect of the plot is wrapped up so there is still some satisfaction to be had, and it doesn’t end on a huge cliffhanger. The next book (With Blood Upon the Sand) is already available, and I plan to pick it up soon.

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Upcoming Events and Races

So the triathlon season has come to an end for 2017, fencing has started up again for 2017-2018, and I’ve been planning the upcoming year for both.

Here’s what’s on my plate for anyone who’s interested:

December NAC: I will be fencing the Veteran Open and Vet-40 events in womens’ sabre in Portland, OR.

April NAC: I will be fencing in Richmond, VA. I’m sure I’ll enter the Veteran Open and Vet-40 women’s sabre events, but could also do the Division II event. I haven’t decided yet.

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May: I’m riding in the New York Gran Fondo. This is a 100-mile ride/race that starts on the George Washington Bridge. The route has a ton of climbing and I expect will be my first century ride.

July: This month is a doozy. I should be fencing in Summer Nationals in St. Louis, MO for whatever events I qualify for. Then later in the month, I have Ironman Lake Placid. This will be my first full distance triathlon, and I hope that the NY Gran Fondo will help to prepare me for the climbing on the Lake Placid course.

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St. Louis arch.

That’s it for now, although I expect to add some other local and regional fencing events when my schedule allows it (not easy right now). I’m debating whether I want to sign up for a 70.3 distance triathlon or a half marathon as training for Lake Placid, but I haven’t made a decision yet on these.

Book Review – Artemis by Andy Weir

I had a chance to read an advance copy of Artemis, the new novel by Andy Weir, author of The Martian. Like his earlier book, Artemis is set in the fairly near future and is written with an emphasis on getting the hard science right. Unlike The Martian, Artemis employs a larger cast which gives the protagonist a direct interactions with other characters.

artemis cover

The story follows Jasmine (Jazz) Basheera, a young woman who has lived on the moon base of Artemis for almost her entire life. After an incident with her father and law enforcement, she is on her own, working as a type of courier, transporting goods around the base. Jazz is innovative and smart and has also set up a smuggling operation to help net her some extra cash.

When an eccentric billionaire asks her to destroy important equipment in return for a fortune, Jazz cannot refuse. Of course, her caper does not go as planned and there is more to the billionaire’s plan than she was told. The plot accelerates from there as Jazz is hunted by a vicious enforcer while trying to escape discovery by officials on the moon. Her personal life is also a disaster, and all of these aspects come together in a fast-moving and unpredictable conclusion.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and I particularly appreciated the scientific rigor of the moon base and the elements vital to the plot. The opening was slightly slow to set the stage for me, and everything kept going right for Jazz for a bit too long. However, her sarcastic personality kept me reading, and once things go wrong for her, they went massively wrong.

The book is structured with short letters between Jazz and her childhood pen pal interspersed with the rest of the narrative. These weren’t very interesting at first, but became a clever way to explain some of Jazz’s personal history, and eventually became relevant to the plot.

While the ending wrapped up the caper nicely, I think that it was somewhat unbelievable as far as Jazz’s resolution goes. If you’ve read the book, let me know what you think in the comments, as I don’t want to put spoilers up here.

I also had a chance to visit the Museum of the Moon while I was at New York Comic-Con last month. This was a promotion put on by Audible for the audiobook release of Artemis. They had some props from the book on display which I’ll share below. The museum also featured a gigantic realistic moon by artist Juke Jerram.

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Jazz’s EVA suit

 

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Most of the inhabitants of Artemis eat Gunk.

 

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The Moon – created with NASA imagery.

NY Comic-Con 2017 Summary

Oh hey! I never managed to finish up my New York Comic-Con posts! I’ll start with some links to articles I wrote for BSCKids. After that, check out the best of my cosplay photos from the weekend.

  • Kid Brooklyn – a new comic series created and written by a kid from Brooklyn.
  • The Gifted panel – I got into the main stage for this discussion with all of the cast from this new show set in the X-Men universe.
  • The Shannara Chronicles panel – The main players were on hand for this sneak peek at season 2.

Cosplay photos:

 

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Mini Book Reviews – October 2017

I haven’t had as much time as I would like to read and write reviews, so here’s just a quick attempt to summarize some of what I’ve read this past year:

Zero World by Jason M. Hough – part science fiction, part spy thriller, this book was a lot of fun. I particularly liked that I could never truly anticipate where the author was going with the plot. The twists were intriguing and the world set up by this novel holds a lot of potential for more. I can’t even describe it more without giving something away.

The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold – a historical fantasy novel by one of my favorite authors. This story is set in Renaissance Italy and follows a young woman’s plight when she witnesses the murder of the local ruler. Using the bits of metal-magic that her father taught her, she has to rid the city of evil. I listened to this as an audiobook and enjoyed it, like most of Bujold’s work. However, it took me two tries to get through it, mostly because I was too busy to listen regularly.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog – I took a break from fiction to read this fascinating book about how people relate to animals in modern society. Even though I love the idea of non-fiction books, many are not written in a way that makes them easy to read. However, this book was engaging and allowed me to consider many new perspectives.

The Stand by Stephen King – It seems that this is considered one of King’s best works, but I did not enjoy it as much as some of his other books. I listened to this as an audiobook, and if I had read the physical book, I’m not sure that I would have made it through. I like the opening premise well enough: a deadly strain of flu escapes from a military research facility and kills most of the population. The spread of the flu and each character’s struggles as they deal with their friends and family dying, and the fall of most of civilization was a darkly fun read. However, most of the book then moves on to become a classic struggle of good versus evil with a lot of Christian mythologic overtones, which just isn’t very interesting to me. The antagonist is distant and never felt like enough of a threat, and the day-to-day activities of the characters dragged down the plot.

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris #2) by Jim C. Hines – I started to read this series because I loved the concept of a class of magicians who could magically pull technology, monsters, swords, etc. from books. I listened to this as an audiobook and it went quickly. I found the narrator a little off-putting at first, but then grew used to him. The narrative sneaks in some backstory for one of the characters in small excerpts through the regular chapters. I couldn’t always follow the numerous rules about the magic, but the plot moved quickly and the characters are unique.

Here is what I’m currently reading:

Twelve Kings in Sharakai (The Song of the Shattered Sands #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu – the first book in an epic fantasy series, set in a desert land with a well-developed mythos and world. I’m enjoying this one a lot so far, but I had to start from the beginning again when I had been too busy for several months.

Artemis by Andy Weir – I just snagged an ARC of this book by the author of The Martian at New York Comic-Con. It’s really good so far, and is the book I’ve been reaching for first this week.

Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire #6) by Naomi Novik – It’s been quite a while since I read any of this series, basically because there hadn’t been any more out yet at the time. It looks like Novik is up to nine books now, so I’m going to catch up. Dragons fight alongside human soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars. This volume sees our main character and his dragon sent to Australia after committing some treasonous acts in the previous volume.

How about you? Have you read any good books lately?

The Shannara Chronicles Recap – Episodes #1 and 2

So I’ve decided to write up a brief recap or review for season 2 of The Shannara Chronicles because: 1) it’s a fun show, 2) I read the books a long time ago, 3) I like to write things, and 4) I love Game of Thrones, but there are already plenty of sites that write about it (and really, there’s not much to cover for it between now and 2019).

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Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Season 2 starts off quickly with the episodes Druid (#1) and Wraith (#2). The first episode shows us Eretria in the immediate aftermath of season 1 before jumping ahead to events a year later. We see that Eretria has found a new place in the world and a new lover, Lyria, yet she still wonders why Wil and Amberle never came looking for her.

Wil has also found a new life, training to be a healer with the gnomes. Trouble starts when a stranger comes seeking healing, but turns out to have other reasons for seeking out a Shannara.

By the end of the first episode, the show has already set up two antagonists. General Riga is an elf who believes that magic is too dangerous and wants to rid the world of magic-users. The other enemy is one of pure magic, as Bandon, corrupted by an evil sword, tries to resurrect the Warlock Lord, originally destroyed by Wil’s father in the book, The Sword of Shannara.

The action moves quickly as Eretria and Lyria are kidnapped by rovers, who are then interrupted by a bounty hunter, Garet Jax. Wil is pursued by Mord Wraiths, summoned by Bandon to seek out the Warlock Lord’s skull, necessary to bring him back. Interesting associations start to take shape as more is revealed about the new characters.

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Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Lyria is revealed to be a princess, daughter of Queen Tamlin, ruler of the human kingdom of Leah, while Wil’s companion is Mareth, who can use some type of illusion magic and claims to be the daughter of Allanon. Where is that pesky druid, anyway? Well he’s been busy running back and forth to everyone trying to keep the world safe. He flees Skull Mountain to meet with King Ander before ending up back in Leah with most of the rest of the cast.

All together, the season is off to an intriguing start. The show is just as beautiful as season 1 was, both in the locales, special effects (I really like the fiery Mord Wraiths), and costumes. And like season 1, The Shannara Chronicles doesn’t shy away from killing off characters we like in season 2 either.

What were your favorites scenes so far? What do you think of the new characters? Let me know in the comments below!

NYCC 2017 – Day 4 (Sunday)

Well, Comic-Con is over for another year and Sunday was a more relaxed day for me as I had already seen most of what I had come to see. However, I still found plenty to keep myself occupied.

Every time I had tried to browse Artist’s Alley, it had been too crowded to really enjoy it. But I went through on Sunday morning, and it wasn’t so bad. I was finally able to wander and see the art on display. I picked up a couple more comics as well (couldn’t help myself).

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The only panel I attended on Sunday was for The Gifted – a new television series on Fox, set in the X-Men universe. I had watched the first episode, so at least I was oriented to the series. Fans got to watch the beginning of the second episode and then hear from the cast. I’ll have more on this panel posted over at BSCKids later in the week.

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I spent some time people-watching, taking photos, and then met up with friends for an after-party. NYCC was an amazing (but exhausting) weekend and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.

NYCC 2017 – Day 3 (Saturday)

Whew, day 3 went fast! I felt better today, despite two previous days of riding the train, walking to the Javits Center, and exploring Comic-Con while carrying a bag of camera stuff, comics, and books.

artist alley

Today I had two must-see panels: The Shannara Chronicles and Star Trek: Discovery. I made sure to get in line in plenty of time for Shannara, which meant that I also saw the preceding panel: The Tick.

I used to watch The Tick animated show years ago, so I wasn’t unhappy to get to see that panel, even though I was not familiar with the television show. All the panels were fun and entertaining again today. I was able to get a sneak peek of the upcoming seasons/episodes for all of them.

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I wish that I had had a chance to watch more of Star Trek: Discovery before attending that panel, but there are only so many hours in the day, and I just didn’t get to it. Despite that, the panel was fun, and Michelle Yeoh made a surprise appearance at the end, sneaking in as an attendee who was there to ask a question.

Of course I again spent some time wandering through the main exhibit hall and Artist’s Alley. To finish out the day, I went to The Museum of the Moon – an exhibit outside of the official Comic-Con activities. This was a promotion for Andy Weir’s new book, Artemis, but was not far from Javits. The museum features “props” from the book, such as a space suit, a collection of contraband, and Gunk – a flavored algae product that the poorer inhabitants of Artemis must eat. At the center of the exhibit was the moon. This was a 3-dimensional representation of our moon, made of high-resolution digital images of the surface, and incorporating the elevations on the surface.

the moon

There’s one more day to go, and I’m through. That’s okay though. I’m not sure my feet can handle much more.

NYCC 2017 – Day 2 (Friday)

Well day two is over, and I survived. It was another grueling day of walking, lines, panels, walking, and more lines. Although I think that moving some of the larger panels off-site has helped to reduce the crowds.

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There weren’t any must-see events for me today, so I spent some time wandering the show floor. I managed to snag a pre-release copy of Andy Weir’s new book, Artemis by using a tip from one of my friends (it involved a secret phrase).

Square Enix had a large booth, so I stopped by to investigate their offerings. I trialed some of their video games and then moved on to shop for comics. I picked up two more volumes of Saga and the first two Walking Dead comics. (I’m still working my way through Bone and recently bought Watchmen, so I have a bit of reading to do!)

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Finally I made my way to panels later in the day:

  • Hulu and Seth Rogen’s Future Man
  • SYFY Wire Fangrrls Presents: Badass Women of Sci-Fi

Both were good, but I was too tired to stay for more after that. Another long day awaits me on Saturday!

NYCC 2017 – Day 1 (Thursday)

Today was the start of New York Comic-Con, held at the Javits Center, and this year – at several other venues around the city. I’m going to try to write a brief report on each day. But – I’m pretty tired already tonight, so this will have to be quick.

I had to skip NYCC last year, so I was curious to find out what had changed since I had last attended. This was also the first time I’ve been to NYCC on a Thursday. I expected it to be less crowded on Thursday, and I think that was a fair assessment. Lines were long, but not that bad.

show floor

I started the day at Will Call because my ticket never made it to me in the mail. I had heard horror stories of 4-hour lines, but I had no such problem, with no wait at all. Unfortunately, I had to then leave the building and walk around to another entrance to officially go in.

I went to a few panels today:

  • Todd McFarlane Talks Movies, Comics, and Toys!
  • Audible Presents: Artemis – A Conversation with Andy Weir and Rosario Dawson
  • Keanu Reeves Discusses Replicas

FF game

All the panels were good and kept me entertained. I don’t have the energy to go into more detail right now though.

The show floor at NYCC is enormous, so I spent some time wandering there. I bought some strange collectibles and scored a couple free books. After only a short line, I was able to see some of the props from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I even caught a glimpse of Adam Savage (Mythbusters) at the end of one of his events for the weekend.

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Tomorrow is another day, and I’m sure I’ll discover more awesome things at NYCC!

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