Review: Chasing Freedom

I hang out with a lot of political writers.  Then again, most if not all writers still to be political, to some degree or another. And the most common form of political writing lately is the distopia, or perhaps dystopia, depending on who’s writing it. And dear God, I am sick of them.

Granted, there have been some solid ones.  There was Daniella Bova’s Tears Of Paradox (Storms Of Transformation Series Book 1), which honestly looked something like it was out of Walker Percy than anything else. There’s Ordinance 93, that was mostly an action thriller with heavy espionage elements than a distopia. There’s every John Ringo novel, which looks like he’s destroying the world at one point or another.

But for everyone one of those, there are easily ten that don’t make the cut. Or drive me to tears. Or drive me insane. I don’t even finish them, because I can’t.  Honestly, it’s either the despair, or the writing, and the occasional “Why am I not doing something fun, like having a root canal?”

And then a friend of mine, Marina Fontaine, wanted me to look at Chasing Freedom.

Finally, at long last, something fun.

And this one is a distopia that’s easy to digest, easy to read, and simply enjoyable.

Our main characters are Julie and Randy, and we follow them from being teenagers rebelling against a Politically Correct system gone amuck, via blogs and rallies, and watch them blossom into resistance fighters against a totalitarian system.

What’s that you say? Sounds like a variation on Red Dawn?  Sounds like a TEA partier’s worse nightmare? Must be written by some redneck in flyover country?

Oops, sorry, no.  Marina lived under the USSR.  She’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt. You want a tyranical nightmare, she can build one.  However, this isn’t Tolstoy (who was a moron). You will not want to read this one with a bottle of vodka.

Chasing Freedom is different from all the other distopias for a number of reasons. The tone is lighter and hopeful. It’s also filled with creative ideas about how to circumvent a dictatorship.  For example, Amish country becomes a safe haven for people fleeing the nightmare that is the urban environment (like New Jersey).  Also, this is a distopia that operates on the level of a Tom Clancy novel, following various and sundry people at multiple levels of the resistance and the political hierarchy — from the schlub in the street, to the grunts running the black sites, to smugglers getting people to Canada.

Despite having all of these characters at all of these levels, they’re easy to keep track of. They have histories, they have easily traced relationships, and they all connect to each other.

Another difference is that this is not outlandish. This is not a delusion. Much of the tyrannical elements are visible from here. You can see these coming. And when you see the ones at the start of the novel, the ones to follow are easier still to see.

And the best difference? This is one book. Sure, there could be more novels, but this is basically it, one novel, one story — a history of a resistance, encapsulated in a few hundred pages. I honestly can’t name you one person who’s done that.

Just do yourself a favor, and buy the book already.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Ghibli Retrospective: “Whisper of the Heart”

What a charming film, and what a tragic history behind it. “Whisper of the Heart” was written by Miyazaki, produced by Miyazaki, and had its storyboards supervised by Miyazaki, but it was not directed by Miyazaki, nor Isao Takahata. The director of “Whisper of the Heart” was Yoshifumi Kondō (creating that line over the o is annoying, so with all due respect to Kondo I’m done with that). Ghibli had a significant problem, then and now, of developing a new class of directors once Miyazaki and Takahata retired (the problem is so significant, in fact, that after Miyazaki’s latest non-retirement is was an open question whether or not Ghibli would be making any more films at all). Some people rose up and made good films – Goro Miyazaki, who directed “Up on Poppy Hill”, Hiroyuki Morita, who directed the sequel/spinoff “The Cat Returns”, and Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who directed “The Secret World of Arrietty” – but none of them were truly designated the successors to the Ghibli brand like Kondo was.

Kondo was to be the next Miyazaki – indeed, Miyazaki himself had essentially hand-picked him as his successor. And it’s hard to ask for a better debut than “Whisper of the Heart”. Tragically, though, Kondo died not long after “Whisper” of an aneurysm, which Miyazaki himself blamed on overwork (another way of saying that he blamed himself for Kondo’s death, being the one who pushed him so hard).

And it’s such a shame, not only for him and his family, of course, but for the world, because “Whisper of the Heart” is truly an excellent film. I’d probably rank it above at least “Ponyo” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. “Whisper of the Heart” is the story of Shizuku, a young teenage girl on the cusp of her entrance exams for high school, but whose real ambition is to be a writer. Shizuku struggles from insecurities about her art, as well as the normal trials and tribulations that a young Japanese girl goes through regularly in suburban Tokyo. Along the way she discovers that a boy named Seiji has been checking out the same books as her at the library, and after rocky introductions the two fall in love quickly thanks to their shared ambitions – Seiji wants to be a violin craftsman.

The more I think about this film the more I realize how much I liked it. The movie is clearly a movie for girls, but it’s more than that. It’s a movie for writers. I don’t know a writer in the world who can’t empathize with Shizukui’s lack of ideas followed by her sudden burst of inspiration that causes her to spend up to four in the morning writing. This happens to me all the time; I’ll be run dry of ideas, and then I’ll get the BEST IDEA EVER, and I’ll have to get the story out RIGHT NOW. It is more than once that I have stayed up until four in the morning writing.

And I can empathize surprisingly well with Shizuku’s romantic life. There is a scene when Shizuku, who has never really shown interest in boys before and is quite shy, is talking with Seiji alone, but unbeknownst to her the entire class is hiding behind a nearby door and eavesdropping. When she figures it out, she’s furious.

This is me. I am not outgoing, and so people find it amusing or entertaining when I take an interest in someone, and I HATE that. I have made excuses to leave my house in order to talk to people without worrying about eavesdropping, so Shizuku’s reaction rang VERY true to me.

The direction in the movie is indeed fantastic, if not quite flawless. Some of Kondo’s visual themes and motifs are brilliantly subtle, to the point where I’ve had to read other reviews to actually catch them, but some are rather on the nose, like the scene where Shizuku tells Seiji that she does not want to be a burden on his life, but wants to aid him, while she is helping him push his bike up a steep hill. This is effective, I suppose, but blunt enough that you can sort of see the gears working in the background. “Hey, you know what would make a good metaphor…” But it’s also something that is quite easy to chalk up to directorial inexperience, and his use of visual storytelling is so on point, so razor sharp in so many other places that his skill and talent is readily apparent.

The script is Miyazaki, and thus excellent. It is much less whimsical than most of Miyazaki’s fare (most; remember that one of the things that makes Miyazaki great is that he could tackle ideas from any direction and knock them out of the park regardless), but it has as much heart as any of them. The story is only barely less slight than “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, but Kondo treats it with the utmost respect; maybe what’s happening here isn’t a big deal in the sense that, say “Princess Mononoke” or even “Porco Rosso” was, but it’s a HUGE deal for Shizuku, and Kondo doesn’t minimize that.

When a boy Shizuku’s friend Yuko has a crush on upsets her, Shizuku and Yuko are both angry, but also both mature enough to talk it over and come to a more rational decision about what to do about it. What happens to them isn’t something for us to laugh at, but a real crisis in their lives that they handle; the only difference is that it happens not to be the sort of crisis we face often as adults. Later, when Shizuku bursts into tears after hearing Nishi’s opinion of her story, we empathize and understand why. To Kondo, being a teenager just means you deal with different issues than adults do, not that they’re less important.

This goes all the way down to the controversial ending. Sure, a marriage proposal is sudden, and they’re too young to act on it anyway, but then the whole point is that being young doesn’t mean your decisions don’t matter. Miyazaki said that the reason he added that ending is that he wanted the protagonists to commit to something; again, it all comes down to respect for the characters. Their choices are not unimportant. They matter. Them being teenagers doesn’t change that.

The ending, by the way, is also EXTREMELY refreshing. Both Seiji and Shizuku, when given the option to go the path of the starving artist to chase their dreams, reject it, and choose to finish their schooling so they could come back to their ambitions after standing on more solid ground. There’s something particularly Miyazakian about that touch, a level of sophistication and maturity lacking in most western films.

Also worth noting: The love story might be the closest of all of them to the Miyazakian ideal of “Two people inspiring one another to live”. This is basically the sole reason Shizuku and Seiji believe they’re suited for each other; both of them are inspired by the other’s dedication to their dreams, and both agree to help the other fulfill them. You can see why Miyazaki decided to adapt the original manga in the first place.

“Whisper of the Heart” is an underappreciated entry in the Ghibli canon. It’s something of a bittersweet pill when you realize we’ll never have another Kondo film to watch, but he left us with – to use a metaphor from the film – a real gem. Perhaps it is rough and unpolished occasionally, but beautiful regardless. And, ah, when it sparkles…!

We’ll never know what Kondo could have been, but we know what he was, and that is the director of a beautiful, moving, and inspiring piece of meticulously crafted cinema. And that’s a better legacy than most of us will ever leave.

Review: “The End of the World as We Knew It”, by Nick Cole

Nick Cole gets it.

Superversive, I mean. He gets it. What it means. How to write it. Every single book of his I’ve read, even the poorer ones, have had at least one moment that pulled me out for a second and made me say “Wow”. And I mean wow as in, “I suddenly got the impression that my world was a little bit brighter and better than it was before”.

Like, his book “The Dark Knight”? I think it was a good book, not great. Except, there this one moment at the end…when one character is caught between saving a library that is essentially the last repository of mankind’s knowledge or saving a 19 year old mentally challenged man…where I just sort of stopped reading for a moment and said “Wow.”

Just, “Wow.”

And “Wow” is sort of “The End of the World as We Knew It” in a nutshell. The book is a little bit like “World War Z” if it were hyperfocused on two characters. The world has ended, and fiancees Alex and Jason – no last names given – are on the opposite sides of the country. When the apocalypse hits, both cheat on each other. Alex is a drunk. She has contributed nothing to her life and knows it, and the thought of Jason, who loves her whatever her flaws, is the only thing that keeps her moving in the apocalypse.

Jason is a rich stockbroker who makes his money by climbing on other people’s backs; he wonders aloud more than once how many people he exploited for his riches. When the apocalypse hits, he cheats on Alex, assuming her dead. After making it out of his office building he takes a train down with the military to California, almost as a sort of penance, in an attempt to find Alex.

Unusually, Alex is much more likable than Jason – this is probably because she seems genuinely repentant and is constantly hoping and praying to find Jason and beg forgiveness. Jason starts off almost dead to the world, but as the story goes on he realizes how much he truly loved Alex, and finding her becomes his mission in life. By the time the book ends Jason has grown much more likable, because he’s thought of someone outside of himself.

But really, that’s not why I’m even writing this. It’s for those “Wow” moments. Like, at the end of Jason’s story, when he rescues a woman who is nearly killed by an explosive strike dropped on a massive zombie attack, to atone for not rescuing the woman he cheated on earlier, only to then see her get embraced by the man who loves her…

That was a “Wow” moment.

When Jason finds the body of a woman who is known only as the Lady, who he has been convinced all along is Alex, but he discovers she’s not, and this prompts the revelation that love truly is stronger than death, or even the of the world as we knew it…

…Wow.

And then the biggest one of all. SPOILERS for the ending.

It is many years later, and Jason and Alex have both dropped out of history. Alex’s story ended with her stuck and surrounded by zombies; we don’t know that she died, but it didn’t look good. Jason’s story ended with him striking out into the North alone to find Alex, armed only with a compass tied around his neck.

The man who killed the last reported zombies from the Apocalypse shares his story from the nursing home: Expecting to find one zombie, there were, in fact, two- a man and a woman.

And…

“He loved her. He wouldn’t leave her,” sobs Cal.

“What happened next?” I prompt. “By the river that day. That last day of summer.” Then Cal remembers. “Can they love each other? Do you know that, boy? Do you know if they can do that?” I didn’t have an answer. Who could?

“The last one was the worst. He loved her. All those zombies, all those years, they’d become nothing more than animals, less than even, and the last of them turned on me in the end. I was glad they were the last. He loved her. He wouldn’t leave her,” he sobs over and over into his nurse.

But of course, that’s not the last thing we learn:

The last two zombies had no identification. Just some personal effects.

The yellowing paper of the official report reads: Female, one diamond ring, left ring finger. Male, one battered army compass, worn around the neck.

Wow.

Sorry, John C. Wright. Nick Cole may be the most superversive writer working in the field today.

Ghibli Retrospective: “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

Isao Takahata is Studio Ghibli’s second critically acclaimed director. He is neither as good nor as prolific as Miyazaki, but he is, for lack of a better word, “artsier”. Takahata’s best known film is “The Grave of the Fireflies” (which I will NOT be getting to), the notoriously sad and depressing wartime classic about two children who starve to death in WWII era Japan. “Grave of the Fireflies” is universally acclaimed, undeniably brilliant, profound, moving, and something nobody ever, ever desires to watch twice. Takahata is not a crowd pleaser like Miyazaki is.

…Which isn’t to say that he’s bad. Quite the contrary, Takahata is very good, and certainly interesting. He has two of the most artistically unique Studio Ghibli films, “My Neighbors the Yamadas” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”.

The first and most obvious thing to note is that yes, the pencil-drawn “Kaguya” is a beautiful film. The story of the film is taken from the Japanese folktale (or, technically more accurately, Monogatari) “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”. The plot is that a bamboo cutter discovers an infant the size of his thumb inside of a magical stalk of bamboo, an infant he immediately recognizes is a Princess with no name. Together with his wife, they raise the infant as she grows with supernatural speed into a young woman of exquisite beauty. At the same time, the Bamboo cutter finds gold and fine clothing appearing inside other stalks of bamboo, and takes it as a sign from Heaven that he is to move to the capital and raise the Princess as actual royalty, where she learns the duties of a real Princess and leaves her friends back in the bamboo valley behind.

The movie is – bluntly – rather dull, but it is an interesting look at Japanese culture and history. However, this is also its biggest failure. Miyzaki is often cited as a feminist, but he is not in the way westerners think of the term, at least as far as his movie go. If this movie is anything to go by, Takahata is. “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is profoundly and obnoxiously anti-men, and the truly harmful thing about this is that to reach that point the movie needs to lie about its past and its origins.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” tries to paint a picture of an old Japan where young Princesses were swept up against their will by the whims of the patriarchy, unable to make their own choices or escape the expectations of a male-oriented society. The Princess is clearly far happier at her original home by the bamboo forest, playing with other children and living among the beauty of nature, than she is living at the cold, sterile palace. But her father essentially forces her to live at the palace he builds for, claiming the entire time that royal life and marriage are for her happiness but obviously thinking more about his own newfound status.

The royalty who come to visit the Princess and ask for her hand in marriage clearly know absolutely nothing about her and don’t care, comparing her to various objects and completely uninterested in getting to know her personally. The Emperor almost kidnaps her. The one male character originally portrayed as positive in the film considers leaving his wife and children to run off with her. Literally none of the male characters are portrayed positively. The father has a change of heart at the end of the film, but he has been such a negative influence up until then that it very much comes across as too little, too late.

The big issue here is that this isn’t how the original 10th century story went; put another way, this movie is portraying a lie. This is not what all men were like. Her father did not shop the Princess out to various men like a slave in the market, but rather tried to protect her from the outside world; he was not happy about making her choose among the royalty who come to court her, but is pressured into it.

When the Emperor comes to court the Princess, he does not attempt to kidnap her, and when she rejects him, he does not vow to return and make her marry him whatever her issues on the matter. In fact, the Emperor treats the Princess with great respect the entire time. He continually proposes to her, having fallen in love, but accepts her rebuffs with grace. When the moon people come for her at the end of the story, the Emperor tries to stop them despite the fact that she rejected him. In the original tale, the roles of the men and women are, if anything, reversed; the Princess has the royalty wrapped around her little finger while her father is forcibly bullied by them despite his best efforts to help her.

At the end of the story, the Princess and the Emperor have such a close relationship that the Princess writes a letter to the Emperor herself before she is taken back to the moon, and the Emperor is so overcome with grief he sends men to the top of Mount Fuji – the mountain “closest to heaven” – and tells them to burn the letter in the hope that it will one day reach the Princess.

And ultimately this is the biggest issue with the film: It tries to paint an image of a time gone by when women were treated as objects and men were selfish boors and jerks, when the original story simply doesn’t portray a world like that. The point of the film is a lie, and if the movie is most interesting as a piece of Japanese culture, it is highly disappointing to see it wear its anti-men agenda so proudly on its sleeve like that.

If you like the idea of watching an experiment in pencil drawn animation and semi-dreamlike storytelling, then you might find the movie of interest; I can’ really say I regret watching it. But for most people, it’s not recommended.

 

 

Book Review: For Steam and Country by Jon del Arroz

A couple of weeks ago, I took my 12-year-old daughter to the town library in search of something to read. When I asked the librarian in charge of the YA section to recommend something without suicide or sex, she said, without hostility but quite firmly that we were in the wrong section. Apparently those were the predominant themes of modern YA literature. (Mind you, this is the stuff offered to them as pleasure reading, in addition to the doom-and-gloom highbrow literature they’re already required to read for school.) And then we wonder why so many of today’s teens are A. depressed and B. avoid pleasure reading at all costs.

It is therefore with great pleasure that I report on this latest offering from a science fiction author Jon del Arroz. For Steam and Country is, as the title implies, a steampunk adventure first and foremost, but it also succeeds brilliantly as YA.

The protagonist, Zaira von Monocle, is a 16-year-old, who–shocker!–actually behaves as a normal teen, even though the circumstances of her life are anything but ordinary. Sure, she is a daughter of a great adventurer, who inherits her father’s airship and goes off to far away lands and gets involved in battles that might decide the fate of her country. Yet at the same time she is subject to the same challenges and emotions as any teen. She has a secret crush on a neighbor boy who, frustratingly, only sees her as a friend. She feels sad about having lost her mother at a young age and devastated at the news that her father is presumed dead. She has a comically adorable attachment to her pet ferret (yes, there’s a ferret named Toby, and he’s important to the plot!). And, as most teenagers, she has her flaws: she is stubborn, occasionally rash, doesn’t know her limitations while at the same time being insecure… Did I mention the “normal teen” thing? If you don’t have teens of your own, just take my word for it. Zaira is true to life, perhaps more so than the cynical and too-smart-for-their-age creatures that populate modern YA fiction, especially the kind geared towards girls.

 

Read the full review at Marina’s Musings

A review of For Steam and Country, by Jon Del Arroz

Having a book published BY the blog’s owner isn’t exactly kosher in some circles, but, I’m not actually collecting a paycheck, so I can write whatever the heck I want about a book.

For Steam and Country: Book One of the Adventures of Baron Von Monocle

Yeah. This one is going to be a little strange. But it’s steam punk. Aren’t they all?

Her father’s been pronounced dead. Destructive earthquakes ravage the countryside. An invading army looms over the horizon. And Zaira’s day is just getting started…

 

Abandoned at an early age, Zaira von Monocle found life as the daughter of a great adventurer to be filled with hard work and difficulty. She quickly learned to rely on only herself. But when a messenger brought news that her father was dead and that she was the heir to his airship, her world turned upside down.

 

Zaira soon finds herself trapped in the midst of a war between her home country of Rislandia and the cruel Wyranth Empire, whose soldiers are acting peculiarly—almost inhuman. With the enemy army advancing, her newfound ship’s crew may be the only ones who can save the kingdom.

 

For Steam and Country is the first book in the Adventures of Baron Von Monocle series by top-10 Amazon best selling space opera author, Jon Del Arroz.

So, a farm girl is taken from her home in order to fight an evil empire that leveled her village, leaving nothing for her to go back to ….

And our heroine’s father leaves a memoir behind that states he prefers to sword, as it is “a more elegant weapon” …. for a more civilized age, I’m sure.

Nah, that doesn’t sound familiar at all, does it? Heh.

Granted, our heroine gets a much cooler inheritance from her MIA dad than a mere laser sword.. No. She gets an airship, a crew, and a SpecOps commando team. Cool, huh?

There are fun bits of business all over this book. There is a red shirt engineer who is very cautious about his estimates (no, he doesn’t come with a Scottish accent). There are airships and a knight named Cid, and a military philosophy named Jasyn Warhpeg … so Jon occasionally got cute at times. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t lean too heavy on the Steampunk, or the in jokes. Yes, there are airships and cars, but For Steam and Country doesn’t go as over the top as some steampunk, like Girl Genius. And for all the jokes I’ve made, any similarities to Star Wars end about 30% into the book. But it’s enough to warrant discussions about hero journeys, that sort of thing.

At the end of the day, For Steam and Country is a very traditional story, and quite comfortable in some of what it delivers. Which is a good thing. While I hate to disagree with the man who signs my royalty checks, there is something about royalty reclaiming inheritances that speaks to us — just ask Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a trope to start with.

It’s fun. For Steam and Country has a lot of good solid characters, with back stories and a full history. And the last third of the book really does take off into strange new worlds, so if you think the story is paint by numbers … don’t bet on it. Seriously, don’t.

Right now, the only weaknesses to the book are the ones that comes with the start of any series — if For Steam and Country didn’t cover it, it’ll probably show up in book 2. There are some characters that need more background and some sense of what they’re thinking. For example, the Iron Emperor, an adversary whom we briefly meet in the story, is interesting, in part because he has very little screen time, and we don’t get a great sense of what’s going on in his head — especially when you get to revelations about what’s Really Going On Here.  I suspect that the sequel to For Steam and Country will have a lot of fallout from book one, and I will be very interested to see how that works.

Let’s call this a strong 4/5 stars. It’s well above average, with likable protagonists, a fun romp, with enough variations on traditional story telling tropes so that you can’t see what’s going to happen next. And no, you won’t see it coming. Go buy it, you won’t regret it.

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and we have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Love at First Bite series. 
    

Superversive Book Review: The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel

In my review of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, I noted how it had a magical girl, who ended up at a magical school, collected nearly a dozen magical friends, joined a fraternity, investigated a mystery, saw an omen that heralds the doom of worlds, headed off an attack by an army of dozens of mind-controlled students, saved the entire campus, and provided support for a battle that involved the dragon that used to be Professor Moriarty.Not bad for the first week, huh?

No. Sorry, my mistake. It’s not bad for the first five days of school. Take that, Harry Potter.

How do I know that book one was the first week? Because , book two of L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel series, opens only a few hours after the end of book 1, and explicitly states she’s only been there five days.

If the books get any more dense, we’re going to have to call Rachel Griffin “Jack Bauer.”

In spy novels, most people will cite John Le Carre, usually for good reason. As far as I’m concerned, his crowning achievement were his George Smiley novels. The middle book of his Carla trilogy was called The Honorable Schoolboybook 1, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, ended with the discovery of a mole in MI6, and his unmasking. Much of the second book is walking back the cat — going through the mole’s history and discovering exactly what havoc he hath wrought upon the spy service during his period working for the other team.  Much of The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel proceeds in a similar manner. Book one was so dense, and the implications so vast, we need an after action report just to get a good grasp of the fallout.

In fact, the first 100 pages of The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel handles: recapping the first book, reintroducing the characters, walks back the cat on the enemies from book 1, as well as sets up the conflict going forward.  Not bad, huh?

So, if you think that the first book ended a little abruptly, without any follow through, there’s a good reason. It would have added another 50-100 pages. But don’t worry, there is enough new data here that you can read these books back to back without a problem. How do I know that? Because I know three other people who who did just that.

For those of you who fear the repetitive nature of YA books … no. Not at all. There is nothing repeated here. In fact, this one continues to wrap up plot threads left over from the first book — there actually were plot threads dangling, but I didn’t realize it after the grand shootout in the finale. I suspect the series will end in fire.

And good God, the references. I think you need a degree in classical literature and be in on the jokes of three different languages and five different cultures in order to get all of the little hints and nods in the novels. I think I only got half of them, and some PhD’s in philosophy explained some of the others to me. But that’s a general observation, not specific to this book.

In The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel, you see more sides to people we’ve already seen. Whether it’s the magical prince of Australia, or the Artful Dodger and his pet dragon, or even Vladimir von Dread (I have asked. His family crest DOES NOT read as “DREAD IS BAVARIA. BAVARIA IS DREAD”). In fact, if she ever wants to do an anthology, I call dibs on von Dread shorts, he’s just that interesting. It is a vast and colorful crew, and I suspect we’re going to see more of their own backstories as time goes on.

Now, I hear that Jagi hates having her book compared to Harry Potter. I know. It’s not fair to JK Rowling. But I’ve handed book 1 to four other people, and they read only 10% into Unexpected Enlightenment before deciding that it was a deeper and richer world than Potter. And the farther in we go, the deeper everything gets. Or maybe it just shows us how shallow Potter was and we never realized it. There are no johnny one-note characters here. Everyone has different emotions and moods and personalities. Hell, I think Rachel went through more emotions over the course of any five pages of The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel  than the entire body of Hogwarts in 7 novels.

I’m told that it’s unfair to compare the weak parts of Rowling to the best parts of Rachel Griffin. Except that there are no weak parts to the Rachel Griffin novels. The world is deeper and far more cosmopolitan. The characters are more complex. The plot is faster and more tightly written. The bad guys are more threatening. The overarching mystery is more compelling. And anyone who felt that Harry Potter presented a genuine threat to Christianity, I have only one thing to say to you: Keep your eye on the Lion.

As for the plot… the short version is that it’s really wrapping up a lot of plot threads from book 1. And there’s a lot to wrap up: the raven that heralds the doom of worlds; the Outsiders from other worlds; the “Lightbringer,” the ones behind Moriarty last time; the one behind THAT threat; her relationship status; the story behind Rachel’s father and his work as an agent … there’s an awful lot kicking around. And we aren’t even going to get into all of the new various and sundry plot elements kicking around.

SHORT VERSION: five out of five. Go read it.

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Love at First Bite series.