The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel
Is there anything better in life than free books? My roommate is a fan of the podcast, bought the graphic novel, and ended up giving it to me for...I don’t know. Friendship? Fun? A poor attempt at bribing me to do the dishes? One of the three.
I found this graphic novel hilarious for two reasons. The first is that I myself will be publishing a graphic novel series loosely based on my own family’s Dungeons & Dragons adventures (see, Sovadron), so seeing someone else take that very same premise in a completely different direction is just good fun.
The second reason this book is so funny is because it is legitimately funny. I admit, the modern tone and swearing coming from characters in a medieval-ish setting threw me off a few times. And several of the jokes and at least one scene would not make sense to someone who is unfamiliar with roleplaying games. Especially the first battle, where Magnus hesitates for five whole minutes and debates with the DM on how exactly to kill the goblin. In the real world, of course, Magnus would be dead. But for D&D players, we are all intimately familiar with pausing the game while we try to figure out the best way to commit murder.
Pacing-wise, the story starts a bit slow. The characters had to find their footing and get properly motivated to go on an actual quest. But once it picks up, it's lightning quick.
A related note on tone: while about 75% of the story is funny, every now and then it takes an unexpectedly dark turn. There are several characters who die (for good reasons as well as stupid ones), and we’re dealing with Merle’s fucked-up family, including his very straight-laced cousin. If they were aiming for something like Cable from Deadpool 2, they missed by about a mile, namely because Cable at least lets Deadpool play off of him while the funnier Adventure Zone characters don’t really manage it.
But that’s honestly my only complaint about the story: exclusive humor with occasional sharp turns into grimdark territory. The plot is cohesive and gripping: there’s a large mystery that all falls neatly into place in the end (on a cliffhanger, of course, because they want us to buy volume two in 2019). While we know very little about the three main characters’ backstory, we are still very invested in them not getting stabbed, mutilated, or set on fire. The whole thing is just an excellent homage to Dungeons and Dragons and all of its fans.
I read this book in two large settings. It’s one of those reads where once you finish the last page, the only viable response is “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHH!”
Anyway, it was great. There is a love triangle (groan), but it’s handled very well and is actually relevant and useful to the plot. Mare is the “standard” YA protagonist, in that she’s a poor girl from an oppressed class thrown into the deep end of the privileged class and has to balance her compassion with her desire to bring justice and the ultimate bloodbath that it will cause. It's thinly-veiled racism in a fantasy world and good social commentary on our real world.
While there is racism (bloodism?), there is surprisingly no sexism. Not even in the subtext. The main character (Mare) is a girl, as is the leader of the Scarlet Guard. The men--Reds and Silvers--treat the women as their equals. And the fighters are all co-ed! There's a scene where Mare is learning to use her gift with the Silvers in the training room, and ends up fighting Cal's fiancee, who's basically Magneto with an unhealthy obsession with knives.
You could argue that Aveyard, who's obviously trying to do a social commentary on oppression with her book, fails to talk about intersectionality, the overlap of social identities and all the privileges and oppressions associated therein. And to a certain extent, she does. At least in Red Queen, racism and classism are interchangeable (when in truth, they are not) and the LGBTQ+ community isn't present at all.
But in terms of women being able to fight, rule, and be otherwise kickass without being questioned at every turn, it's a nice breath of fresh air.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the grayness--the moral ambiguity--of the characters. The love triangle Mare finds herself in is, of course, between the two prince brothers: Cal and Maven. Maven is like Mare, believing that there needs to be change now, that radical action is needed to bring equality between Reds and Silvers. On the other hand, Cal ultimately agrees that while the injustice done to Reds cannot stand, he takes a more moderate approach. He points out that the other countries would likely punish them for bringing equality and that moving too fast will bring far more violence and chaos than they’re prepared to handle.
And then there are characters like Maven's mom, the queen, who's just an all-out bitch.
The pace is breakneck speed. I mentioned earlier that I read this in two settings, and that's just because I couldn't put it down. It's not like the slow burn of Lord of the Rings where you can casually pick it up, read a few pages, put it back down to return to cooking dinner, and then pick it up again while you're baking cookies. No, Red Queen is the kind of story where you don't want anything else going on around you. If you pick this up while you're cooking or baking, your food is going to burn and probably take a large chunk of the kitchen with it.
The book is first person POV, told entirely through Mare's eyes. Which means we learn everything about the world of the Silvers right along with her. As such, most of the book is dedicated to exposition. It’s kind of like Harry Potter: book one is an introduction, the end of which includes the gauntlet being thrown and the Big Bad Guy being revealed. The biggest difference between Red Queen and Harry Potter is that while Rowling kind of eased us into the character deaths and injustices, Aveyard cracks out the angst right away, while still leaving us with a hopeful ending.
The next books are Glass Sword, Cruel Crown, King’s Cage, and finally War Storm. So, if you’ll excuse me, I now have to raid a bookstore.
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Christina "DZA" Marie's Favorite Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I don’t even get dressed up in a costume and bang on people’s doors anymore. No, I love this because I love horror. And candy. But mostly horror. And this time of year, you turn on the television at nine in the morning and at least five different channels have horror movies playing.
We’ve all heard of (and have hopefully seen) the classics: Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, et cetera. And these are great. Nobody is denying the awesomeness that is the classic horror movies of the 1980s. But they tend to eclipse the modern horror movies of the 21st Century.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. The 21st Century sucks in terms of new, creative movies. Everything is either a remake or a sequel, or it’s all fake blood and pretty blondes with no actual substance.
Well sir (or ma’am), this list is for you. Because I decided to expel sequels and remakes from this list--which is a shame, because 2017’s It was incredible. These five movies were all made within the last decade, and all of them are new, creative, and downright terrifying.
Get Out is one of those insidious movies that gets under the skin and stays there long after you leave the theater. This is in part because the big theme is about race, and how seemingly nice white people still play in active role in oppressing black people. However, there are some real terror elements here. There’s hypnosis, brainwashing, liars and schemers.
One of the freakiest moments is during a party, where Chris (the guest of honor and the main character) leaves the room. Everyone is chatting and otherwise acting normal, until he goes upstairs. Then everyone stops talking and looks up, listening to him and following his moments. I literally shivered just remembering and writing this down.
The Cabin in the Woods
You know those comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland that make fun of horror movies? Cabin in the Woods does the same thing, and still scares the shit out of you. It’s the same guy who wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so there is strong comedic elements--especially with the “villains.” (I’m using quotations here because, in the end, you have to ask yourself if they are truly the bad guys.) But it’s still terrifying. The idea of every one of your movements being watched and manipulated by people who want you dead. The risen zombies who worship pain and therefore go out of their way to make every moment as agonizing as possible. The fact that any decision or possible outcome that happens is a shitty one because it’s just that big of a clusterfuck. This one will probably remain a favorite of mine for a long time.
A Quiet Place
Some people are skeptical when they find out a horror movie is rated PG-13. Not me. The Ring (another favorite of mine) is PG-13, relying on dread and suspense instead of blood and guts. A Quiet Place uses similar strategies, and it does it beautifully.
It’s a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has to make as little noise as possible to avoid being killed by these horrifyingly fast (alien?) monsters who operate on sound. So 95% of the dialogue in the movie is American Sign Language, which the characters probably already knew because the main protagonist (and the actress who plays her) is deaf. The movie deals with guilt, family, and how to survive a world overrun by terrifying monsters. A good time all around!
I literally couldn’t even watch this one. I kept ducking behind my hand and looking away from the screen as the characters entered dark rooms and got hunted by the ghost-lady. The main character’s mother spent her childhood in a mental health institution, where she met another, much more disturbed girl around her age who also had a rare skin disease that made her ultra-sensitive to light. An experiment gone wrong ended with that girl being dead, but not gone, as she continued to haunt and emotionally abuse her “friend” throughout her life.
There are some concerns about this movie being less-than-friendly to those with mental health problems, particularly depression, which is one of the conditions the mother suffers from. It’s not nearly as bad as, say, Halloween or The Roommate. But it’s enough to warrant a heads-up.
This is a movie that took a mildly ridiculous premise--a haunted mirror--and executed it to perfection. It also has a dual timeline: we see the main characters as children encountering the mirror for the first time as it drives their parents insane, while simultaneously watching those characters as adults try to destroy the mirror.
I love this movie because it’s smart. There are zero stupid horror movie mistakes, and the only (ultimately fatal) mistake made by the characters is that of pride, which is a legit character flaw. The kids did what any child could do in that crappy situation, and then proceeded to spend ten years researching the shit out of the mirror and coming up with a plan of how to destroy it. The acting is great, the writing is better, and the results are horrifying.
But wait, there’s more! If you want a list of all of my favorite horror movies, head over to my Favorite Movies page. I update it every time I hit the theaters.
Have a happy Halloween! :)
Chapter One of Sovadron will be released on November 16th, 2018!
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.
The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass--and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.
With the seventh and final book of the Throne of Glass series (Kingdom of Ash) coming out this month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to review books one through six, plus the prequel anthology The Assassin’s Blade.
I hesitated to get started on Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, simply because the descriptive blurb of the first book makes it obvious that there’s a love triangle involved (it says something along the lines of Two men love her, the whole world fears her, and only she can save them all). That triangle gets resolved very quickly and maturely, thank God. And while I do have several complaints about Maas’s overuse of romantic subplots that I talked about in my Luna Station Quarterly article last month, overall this is an excellent series.
When talking about this series to friends, I tend to describe it as “the YA version of Game of Thrones, without the incest.” There’s a mile-long list of characters in a carefully crafted epic fantasy world facing an apocalyptic threat few people are ready to believe is real. The main character at the center of it all--Celaena--is an intriguing protagonist. She’s in many ways a reluctant hero. Despite her natural tendency to help and protect the innocent, she’s spent the last decade of her life as an assassin and has been running from her larger destiny. She’s arrogant, spoiled, a bookworm, self-hating, terrified, and charismatic.
She’s probably my second-favorite character, right behind Manon. We don’t meet that lovely badass or her coven--The Thirteen--until book three. Technically, they’re bad guys, being allied with the evil king. Manon is part of a clan called the Ironteeth witches, and those women are vicious. And they ride wyverns. Because why not? Manon and Celaena’s meeting is as explosive as you’d expect for two powerful women who balance hidden hearts with bloodthirsty tendencies and are on opposite sides of a war.
Maas has the character development down pat, but her true strength lies in total mind-fucks. Starting in book two and picking up in intensity, Maas regularly gives jaw-dropping plot-twists at least once a book, and they get crazy starting in book four. Sometimes it’s something Celaena does, as she becomes a master of setting up elaborate plans without telling anyone until the last minute. Sometimes it’s a big reveal as to a major character’s backstory. Sometimes it’s the real answer to the mystery that supposedly got solved four chapters ago. I can no longer read these books in public because I start swearing out loud when one of these twists comes out.
If you like fantasy mysteries with diverse characters and way too many romantic subplots, then this is the series for you. Fair warning: you should probably buy all the books at once, and you’re going to want to read them in this order:
Books 1-3 (Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire)
The prequel anthology The Assassin’s Blade
Books 4-6 (Queen of Shadows, Empire of Storms, and Tower of Dawn)
Today is about re-writing and research.
For those of you who are new to this series, check out parts one and two below.
It has been a long-ass time. You’re probably wondering where it is I squirreled myself off to and why I dropped off the grid like that.
Well, apparently, trying to start a blog, YouTube channel, and writing career while at the same time trying to hold down a full-time PCA job immediately after graduating college and moving into your first apartment...that was a bit more than I could chew. So I took a little break from blogging and vlogging to focus on my stories, as well as to try to figure out how to adult. (Still haven’t quite gotten the hang of that, but I’m getting there.)
So, what have I been up to? A lot. Sovadron comes out in November, and is currently in illustrator John Hawkin’s hands. I’ve been plowing through the Throne of Glass series (a review of which will be coming out soon, along with book seven--yay!), and, subject to this week’s blog post, I’ve been self-publishing!
Right now I have two small books available on Amazon. My collection of shorts Gary the Gecko’s Guide to Getting Your Humans to Get Together (and Other Short Stories), and the urban fantasy novella The Minnesotan Witch.
I'll see you guys next week for my review of Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass series. :)
Some of you may have noticed that I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks. For that, I apologize. I have been utterly exhausted for the last month and can barely keep up. I may be flirting with burnout thanks to working in human services.
When it comes to my spare time, I've found myself having to choose between working on this blog or working on my writing projects: both Sovadron (the crowdfund campaign is still going on, by the way) and a new novel that involves magical, flying wolves in space. I swear to God, I was not high when I thought of that.
So, for now I'm going to take a break from my blog. I'll let you guys know when something new comes out, like the short story collection and urban fantasy novella that will be released in July. But for now, I'm going to focus on catching my breath and writing what I love: epic fantasy craziness.
Thank you for your patience and your support. Love ya! :)
Sovadron IndieGoGo Crowdfund Campaign
Illustrator John Hawkins and I have decided to extend the IndieGoGo crowdfund campaign to raise funds for the Sovadron graphic novel another thirty days. That means you guys have another thirty days to ensure that this comic is successful.
Another thirty days to get your free perks.
Another thirty days of sneak peaks and character sketches.
Another thirty days of awesome. :)
To celebrate, we have added on more perk to the campaign. For those who donate $150, John Hawkins will turn you into a fantastical creature from the world of Sovadron.
Ever wondered what you would look like as an elf? A dwarf? A demon? Well, now's your chance! Click here to get the Fantastical Portrait perk. I'll contact you asking for a picture of your face (or your friend's/family's/spouse's, if it's a present) and what creature you want to be turned into.
This is a LIMITED TIME OFFER! Get your free portrait today!
Sovadron Pages 1-3
For more sneak peaks, become a backer on the Sovadron crowdfund campaign here. Or become a patron on Patreon here.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!