Book Review – Plague of Giants

I’m nearly caught up with my backlog of reviews, but I’ve noticed that I seem to be developing a bad habit where I read the first book in a series and then move on to a different author and series before finishing the one I had just started. In the next few months, I’m going to make an effort to go back to finish some series that I’ve started so you’ll see a lot of book 2 and book 3’s here. But first… another new series:

I recently read the first book in a new series by Kevin Hearne that I had received as an advance copy at New York Comic-Con in 2017. Yep, 2017, that’s how far behind I am in the to-be-read pile.

Plague of Giants Cover

A Plague of Giants is Book 1 of the Seven Kennings series and takes us to a fantastic realm filled with humanoid races, each having an associated kenning, or magical affinity to something in the natural world – fire, water, air, earth, or plants. At the opening of the novel, only five kennings are known, and I think that the search for other kennings will be part of the ongoing story.

This book is several tales woven into one, and is told as a story within a story. The bard Fintan uses his kenning to take the form of each important character in the development of a recent war and tells their story to the city of Pelemyn. While the people there know how their own city has managed in the war, Fintan entertains them with details from other parts of the world. At the same time, he instigates some political drama, with all of this part of the book being told by a historian sent to record the bard’s tale.

Fintan’s story follows several point-of-view characters through a time when two separate catastrophes strike. The action begins when Tallynd du Böll, a tidal mariner from Pelemyn, defends the city from an approaching fleet of strange ships. Her kenning gives her the ability to breathe underwater, swim at incredible speeds, and manipulate water. Tallynd detects an invading army of bizarre giants approaching the city, and they are clearly aggressive.

The tidal mariner surges into action to defend the city, using water to swamp the ships and drown the giants. She manages to single-handedly defeat most of the enemy, but at a cost. When a kenning is used to perform great feats, it ages the user relative to the power exerted.

The invasion of the Bone giants is half of the book’s focus, alternating with a second group of troublesome giants, the Hathrim.

The giants of the Hathrim clan live on the slopes of an active volcano and have long known that their days of safety are going to come to an end. Their part of the story opens when the volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate. The Hathrim had prepared for this eventuality and managed to get many of their people and supplies loaded on their famous glass boats in time to escape.

However, instead of seeking refuge with another clan of giants, their leader, Gorin Mogen, dares to lay claim to a piece of land along the southern edge of Ghurana Nent. The Nentians see through the giants’ claims that they are only there temporarily, but since the Nentians lack a kenning, they are forced to use political and unaugmented military strength against the fire-wielding Hathrim.

As the plot unfolds, Fintan relates the stories of numerous point-of-view characters, and there is truly no singular protagonist in the book.

The plot came to a more satisfying conclusion that I would normally expect from the first book in a series. One main plot thread is concluded while hinting at further problems from that quarter. However, many lesser political intrigues are just emerging, so I expect that aspect to play a greater role in upcoming volumes.

I had fun reading this book and the world and magic was easy to understand. I read an advance-copy which did not include the map, but I found one on the author’s website to reference. I like to have a visual reference for where different nations are located in regard to each other. Looking at maps also helps me to remember place names at the outset of a book.

I’m not sure when the next book in the Seven Kennings series will be out, but I’ll be sure to pick it up.


Coming Soon – Eagleman 2019

Funny story…

I raced in Eagleman in 2017 for my first Ironman-branded event, as well as my first 70.3-mile (half distance) triathlon. Prior to that, I had only completed sprint distance triathlons and two half marathons. I had never swam that far in open water, and had only ridden that distance once before on my bike. I had spent a good amount of my time training up to the running distance, since that is a weak point for me.

The day of Eagleman came, and I raced. I felt great during the swim, despite getting a little lost on one turn and being swum over by another age group. I started out strong on my bike and felt fast until I was about two-thirds of the way through the course.

Swag

From there on, my stomach complained and I became dizzy with more exertion. In hindsight, I believe I was dehydrated, but at the time I didn’t know that that was how my body would react. I started the run barely being able to walk, but finally found a jog-walk strategy that helped me keep moving. By the last 3 miles of the race, I really couldn’t run at all, but I kept moving and made my way to the finish.

I had been hoping for a better time, but with the heat and dehydration, I just couldn’t move any faster. This past season, my races were all hilly, so it has been tough for me to compare times between any races so far.

Since I now have a couple more races under my belt, I have been thinking ahead about goals for next triathlon season. I don’t do too badly in the shorter events, but I’d like to get faster overall. I signed up to race in the New Jersey State Triathlon in July, for both the sprint and the Olympic distances.

I had been thinking that I would do another 70.3, but it was a toss up between Ironman Connecticut 70.3 (formerly Rev3 Quassy Half), Eagleman, Ironman Atlantic City 70.3, or something a little further afield. My thoughts kept going back to Eagleman and that flat, hot course.

Last week I received an email announcing that all of the Tier 3 entries for Eagleman had sold out. That means that the race was down to the last tier of entries and would likely sell out completely. If I wanted to race Eagleman next season, I needed to decide soon. This race has also been designated as the tri club championship for 2019, which has probably added to the entries.

When I raced Eagleman in 2017, my brother also did the race, and my cousin, sister-in-law, and a friend completed a relay. My husband had considered doing the bike portion of the relay with them, but ultimately decided against it. I know that he’s said a few times that he wished he had ridden in it.

I brought it up to him and mentioned that the race was likely to sell out soon. By the end of the night, we had both signed up. He’s in for a relay and I’m racing the whole thing. Now I just have to figure out how to hydrate and go faster. I guess I’m starting a training plan again in December!

Graphic Novel Review – Monstress Volume 1 (Awakening)

I picked this graphic novel up at New York Comic-Con last year (2017) and only got around to reading it now. Fortunately, I was able to get the second volume at this year’s event, because this was a beautiful, albeit dark and violent, book. Monstress Volume 1 – Awakening is written by Marjorie Liu with artwork by Sana Takeda.

Monstress 1

I was first interested in this graphic novel because I loved the artwork. The mixture of Egyptian and steampunk themes on the cover and opening pages was enough to draw me in. When the book added demons, cats, and a dark and compelling protagonist, I was hooked.

Monstress tells the story of Maika Halfwolf and initially switches between glimpses of her past and her current scheme to infiltrate the stronghold of the human witches who are experimenting upon the Arcanics (her people). Maika doesn’t remember much of her past, having mysteriously survived the catacysmic end of a great battle between humans and the Arcanics.

As the plot unfolds, I was immediately sympathetic toward Maika because of her mistreatment at the hands of the humans, and the nature of their cruel experiments. When Maika discovers herself to be inhabited by a demon, she gets a pass for what she is forced to do to survive because she is not wholly in control of her actions. She both uses the demon against her enemies, and fights against it, in her journey to find revenge against the humans and relearn her past.

There are definitely some dark moments in this story, ranging from the murder of children to questions about cannibalism. However, cats feature prominently and bring some levity to the rest of the book.

While Monstress definitely isn’t for everyone, I enjoyed it and will be reading Volume 2 in the next few months.


Upcoming Events (Nov 2018 – 2019)

Well I’m out of races to write about because the triathlon season here in New Jersey is essentially over. I don’t want to swim outside unless the water is at least 70 degrees, so any time from mid-September through May is out for me. That means that it’s time to look ahead at what events I’m competing in for this season in fencing, as well as triathlon in 2019.

CJTC Turkey Tri

Well, I guess I do have a triathlon to race in November. This one is put on by my local tri club and is a self-guided indoor (or partially outdoor) triathlon. Competitors will pick one day between November 21 and 25th and will complete a swim, bike, and run all on the same day. They don’t need to be back-to-back, but I’m not sure if they need to be in the traditional triathlon order or not. I’ll have to pick up my athlete packet to find out, I guess.

Everyone tracks their workouts and reports in on their times. I think there are age group awards, but this is my first year participating in this event, so I’m not really sure. But in any case, it’s a good excuse to get some workouts in over a weekend where everyone is typically focused on eating.

US Fencing North American Cup (December NAC)

This is the first of three national-level events that I will be competing in this year and is being held in Cincinnati, Ohio. I have entered the Vet-40 and Veteran Open events in Women’s Sabre, and chose to forego the Division II and Division I events this time. I could technically fence on all four days (one event per day), but the entry fees and travel expenses make it tougher to commit to that.

IMAG0428

This is what a NAC looks like.

Division II isn’t an unreasonable event for me (I think I finished top 16 in the last one where I had a decent day), but Division I is tough. If I remember right, I believe that my last Division I event had me facing Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis in my first bout (I did get one point on her).

Thrust Fall ROC

This is a regional fencing event in December which features both Division I-A and Division II options. I’m going to fencing both days/events, and I’m hoping that it will be a good warm-up for the NAC that takes place on the following weekend. If I fence well, I can qualify for Summer Nationals.

Tri-State Veteran Cup Events

This is a series of fencing competitions held in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area, and is limited to athletes in the Veteran age groups (40+) and is only held for sabre.

I finished second in the first event of the year, and there are at least four more this season. I probably won’t make it to all of them, but I’m planning on at least two more, depending on my work schedule.

Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon

This will be my first time participating in the Lifetime Fitness series of triathlons. This chain of fitness centers runs this event in January all over the country. I’ll be competing in Florham Park, NJ on January 20th. I don’t have any particular goals for this race (yet) because I’m not really sure what to expect with the indoor format.

New Jersey Half-Marathon

This is a race that I’m undecided about for now. I feel like I need to have an event on the horizon in order to motivate me to run. Otherwise I tend to focus on just fencing and cycling (which is fine, but not if I want to do triathlons). The half-marathon distance is a good stretch on the distance for me, but is also something that I know I can finish (and hopefully improve my time).

What Else, Isn’t That Enough?

I’m sure I’ll find more fencing events as the season progresses, and then there are those other two national-level events ahead also. But it’s too far away to plan and think about those for now. I’m considering a 70.3-distance triathlon, but haven’t decided on which one. Oh, and maybe I’ll do another cycling time trial? I have plenty to keep me busy!


Book Review – How He-Man Mastered the Universe

This was a bit of an unusual read that I picked up through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. The book had actually been sitting on my Kindle for quite a while, but I’m trying to do better to catch up on my backlog of reading, so I picked it to read in the week leading up to New York Comic-Con.

HeManCover

I grew up watching the He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, so I thought that I might like How He-Man Mastered the Universe by Brian C. Baer, and I was certainly familiar enough with the cartoons and toys, even if I could no longer remember the names of every single character. This book was fun to read, but is probably only of interest to fans of the television show or toys, or to people who like to learn about film history, as a good portion of the book discusses the making of the 1987 movie, Masters of the Universe.

The first section of this non-fiction book was a little slow and repetitive, but I did learn that He-Man was a toy (with mini-comics) before he was a cartoon. Toy company Mattel developed the He-Man line of action figures in response to the success of the Star Wars toys by rival company Kenner. When the He-Man toys were a success, the television show was created and brought directly to local television networks at a time when Saturday morning cartoons were just starting up.

The book details several key episodes of the cartoon before delving into the history of the Masters of the Universe movie, produced by the notorious Cannon Films. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book, and I wish I had had time to go back to watch the movie recently, now that I know much more about how the casting, story development, and special effects were all created under the shadow of a failing production company.

HeManMovie

After the movie failed in the box office, a few additional cartoon spin-offs were released, but none of these ever achieved the same level of pop culture success as the original cartoon and toys. Overall, this was a reasonably fun non-fiction book to read, but the subject matter may limit its appeal to fans of He-Man.

 

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