The Two of Swords: Part Seven

May 26, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads)

swords7The Two of Swords: Part Seven by K.J. Parker

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Here we have the shortest entry yet into the series — a scant 35 pages — but don’t be fooled into thinking nothing happens here. We get to see the situation (I hesitate to call it a war at this point; it seems to be veering into a different kind of territory) from the perspective of Glauca, the Emperor, shortly after his conversation with Senza from Part Six. Glauca is an old man, more a scholar than a warrior, and a collector of ancient Tarot decks. As part of the story, Glauca performs a reading on his own, giving the entire story a hint as to its title, and also, possibly, giving us some insight into the rest of the plot. Knowing Parker, though, there might be some clever misdirection going on with that scene. Or, knowing Parker, maybe not. It’s not like he’s trustworthy.

That’s one of the reasons I like Parker’s fiction so much. We can’t trust him to be straightforward with us, so it’s hard to tell which of his narrators to trust. It’s easy to tell who’s reliable and who’s not, but it’s not always easy to tell if Parker is playing them straight with us. It’s a strange balance, where we trust our narrators more than we do our author and don’t find it to be frustrating. I usually get a little bent out of shape when an author is being coy, but there’s something about Parker’s style — likely his wry voice and irreverence — that makes it okay.

I did a quick look-ahead at the remaining available parts (I’m almost halfway through!), and see that there are shorter chapters ahead. Given the way Parker condensed so much information into this part, I don’t see that as a detriment; if nothing else, it will help me speed through what’s left of the story. I’m not looking forward to when I’ll have to wait on the remaining chapters like everyone else, but I guess that’s my own fault, and besides, if there’s praise to heap on this series, I suppose that’s about as high as it gets.

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The Two of Swords: Part Six

May 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords6The Two of Swords: Part Six

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Senza Belot takes the stage to tell part of his story, following his brother Forza’s chapter. We learn more about what happened at the end of the battle in Part Five, but not so much as to get all the answers. The real question here is: Is Forza dead? If so, it could have a major impact on events; if not … well, that could also have a major impact on events. It’s important to how Senza would proceed, if he were or were not dead.

It’s cool to start seeing all the different parts begin to intersect. Teucer showed up in the Part Five, and Telamon keeps popping up, as well as Oida. We begin to see why the latter two characters keep making appearances, which raises additional questions. Hell, at this point in the story, it seems like all we have is questions. This isn’t a problem, since the story is starting to gather its legs beneath itself, ready for the jump. Right now, it keeps hinting at that jump.

One of the things I’ve liked about Parker’s books (aside from the wry style (and the endearing anti-heroes (and the borderline irreverence (it’s sort of hard to find something not to like)))) is his plots, which sneak up on you. I’m seeing evidence of one of those taking shape, which just makes me giddy. It makes me think that the story about the war is just a red herring, or else the major factions in the war are the red herrings. There’s a crimson fish in here somewhere, I guess is what I’m saying.

It took me until Part Five to see the story in The Two of Swords, and I’m pretty sure I’m hooked now. I was going to read them, regardless, but even if I hadn’t had the faith in Parker to stick it out, by now I’d be reading just for the story. The parts are getting shorter, which on the one hand is good, since I can breeze through the remaining chapters, but on the other hand, I’m just going to catch up with the end of the published parts that much sooner. I’m not sure I have it in me to pace myself to that point.

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Boba Fett: Pursuit

May 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

pursuitBoba Fett: Pursuit by Elizabeth Hand

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Major spoilers ahead. Be forewarned.

What a wreck of a novel. It picks up from the events in A New Threat and keeps going, but there doesn’t seem to be any coherence as to where the story is going. We get a little bit of Boba, a bit of Anakin, a touch of Dooku and Palpatine, and some Coruscant, tied in with the two main threads that have been woven into the series — Boba’s vendetta against Mace Windu and his knowledge of Tyranus and Dooku being the same person — are just written off without complication. Plus, the main plot of the last two books, that of capturing Wat Tambor, is also dismissed. It’s anticlimactic, and problematic in other ways.

Boba talks to himself a lot, which seems like a horrible trait for a bounty hunter to have. I get why it’s there, narratively (so the reader can know what he’s thinking), but why not have him think those things instead of speaking them aloud? I mean, sure, I mutter to myself when I’m debugging my code, but to me there’s a huge difference between that and carrying on a monologue with oneself while, say, piloting a ship during a space battle.

I mentioned in the previous books how Boba making friends seemed at odds to his character, but if Hand brings them in, she should stick with it. Pursuit concludes the entire series, and we only get a mention of Gab’borah and Ygabba, with Boba riding off into deep space without a thought of returning to Jabba’s palace to speak to them. This was after the two of them repaired Jango’s body armor to give to Boba as a gift! I guess this makes him the selfish, calculating bounty hunter that he’s supposed to become later?

For five books, Boba has talked about killing Mace Windu, and the showdown finally happens here. Disregarding the fact that Boba couldn’t possibly, under any circumstances, take down Mace Windu, and that Mace wouldn’t tolerate some young upstart trying to kill him in Palpatine’s chambers, the whole thing comes to a close thanks to Palpatine’s intervention. Nobody dies (which we already know), but Boba leaves the chambers seemingly fine with not taking his revenge. So the one big motivating factor of the entire series is dismissed without thought.

For that matter, when Boba finally tells Palpatine that Tyranus and Dooku are the same person, Palpatine just says “I know”, and then reveals that he’s working against the Republic. Boba’s cool with it, Palpatine’s cool with it (after saying “I trust you to keep this to yourself”), and the universe goes on. What the crap is that about? Why didn’t Palpatine straight up execute Boba once he knew he knew his secret? Did I miss something there?

Finally: Elan Sleazebaggano? For real?

The entire Boba Fett series was mediocre, at best, but Pursuit brings it to a terrible close. If you’ve come this far with the series, you may as well finish it out, but I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. I’m hoping some books in the adult Expanded Universe will do a better job of filling in Boba’s back story.

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Boba Fett: A New Threat

May 23, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

threatBoba Fett: A New Threat by Elizabeth Hand

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Well. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by Jude Watson’s take on the Expanded Universe, because the Boba Fett series has been pretty underwhelming. In A New Threat, she takes us to Xagobah (not her creation, but really?), where the native xamsters (again: Really?) are caught between a battle between the Republic and the Separatists. Boba is there to either capture or kill Angkor Wat Wat Tambor for Jabba, and Boba considers this his last apprenticeship assignment. Once this is complete, he’ll be a professional, so the stakes are high (for Boba, at least).

Boba continues to make friends, this time finding one through Xaran, a xamster (seriously, was Hand cringing as she wrote this stuff?). Before he leaves, we see his friends in Jabba’s palace, and the whole thing just seems sentimental and out of place, for Boba the Bounty Hunter. Even at his age (fourteen or so), he’s pushing hard to be considered cold and calculating, and the idea that he’s making friends all over the place seems at odds with that characterization.

Hand makes a big deal about how Boba knows that Darth Tyranus and Count Dooku are the same person, and he carries that knowledge around with him like it’s his trust fund. We’re reminded of this fact several times, but so far this is an unfired gun in the story, because as much as we see it, nothing is done with it. I get the feeling this is going to be relevant in the next book, but I’m not sure how much room there will be to cover it, since A New Threat is only half of the story of Xagobah and Wat Tambor. We finish this book with nothing resolved, with almost nothing having happened in the story anyway.

I may have been too excited about reading this series, but man, has it been disappointing. Luckily, there’s only one book left in the series, because if there were any more, I’d be dreading having to keep reading it. I’m in this for the long haul (170 books to go!), for better or worse, but I’m sure hoping for better than this book.

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The Two of Swords: Part Five

May 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords5The Two of Swords: Part Five by K.J. Parker

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This. This is what I’ve come to expect from Parker. It has good characters, human drama, a lot of detail, and a brisk pace. Yes, yes, there’s also the sardonic style and the irreverence, which we’ve seen in all of the parts up to this one, but Part Five finally got around to showing me that Parker is on form with this series.

Remarkably, this is the shortest of all parts thus far, but there’s a lot packed in here, thanks in part to shifting the point of view to Forza, one of the Belot brothers who are at war with each other. There’s a little bit of battle here, but what really takes the focus of the story is the relationship between Forza and Raico, his wife. Forza is known for being the greatest general who ever lived, but as we see behind the scenes, Raico might even be better than he is. I like that Parker populates his stories with women who are just as — usually more than — capable as his male characters. It’s not that it’s unusual to find that in modern fantasy stories, but I think it’s significant when male writers include them.

One word of caution, though: Before reading this entry in the series, make sure you have Part Six on hand. I get the feeling you’re going to want to read it right away after finishing Part Five.

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The Two of Swords: Part Four

May 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords4The Two of Swords: Part Four by K.J. Parker

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We shift from the outskirts of the war directly into it with Part Four of The Two of Swords, where Daxin, the Grand Logothete to the Queen of Blemya, winds up in the military as a favor to the Queen, who is an old friend of Daxin’s. The thing is, what we see of the war is traveling. The army travels from Blemya to the desert, from the desert to an outpost, from the outpost to another city, and so on, all while under the threat of the Mavida, the nomadic tribes that live in the desert. There’s not even much battle that takes place here.

The thing is, stuff still happens, even if there’s not a lot of action in the novella. It focuses on Daxin and his inexperience, despite his role, and reveals much about the state of the war and how pointless it feels. Parker continues with his cynical style, showing what happens when the inept wind up in charge, possibly making a comment on war is usually run by the inept. Regardless, the story has a strange compulsion about it, despite it being so light on action.

Part Four is the best of the series so far, which is a surprise. It could be that enough of the backstory is finally laid down for me to get a better understanding of what’s happening, or it could be that this would be the point in a standard novel where the story begins to take shape. Either way, I’m committed, and I’m eager to see who the next point-of-view character will be.

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Boba Fett: Hunted

May 18, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads)

huntedBoba Fett: Hunted by Elizabeth Hand

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On the one hand, it’s nice to see books in the Star Wars universe that aren’t about the Jedi and the Force and all that. It’s not like the Boba Fett books are the only ones with that focus, but they remind me that they’re few and far between, what with the Skywalkers pretty much running the galaxy.

On the other hand, these stories aren’t that exciting. Hunted is the story of Boba Fett finding Jabba on Tatooine and completing one job in order to secure his employment with the Hutt, and even though Hand populates the story with a variety of characters and action, the end result is pretty disappointing. The story takes him through Mos Espa, where he deals with thieves and other brigands, and ultimately to Jabba’s palace, where he contends with the sinister Hutt and his cronies, including other bounty hunters. We know Boba goes on to work for Jabba, so what we’re seeing is the beginning of that relationship.

Hand writes Boba sympathetically here, which is odd, since he’s supposed to have a reputation for being ruthless. Granted, Boba is still young here, but it’s strange seeing him so easily dismiss a friend in one book, only to see him go out of his way to save strangers here. Is he embracing the idea of having allies and opponents, as Jango has taught him, or is he getting unnecessarily caught up in the plights of others and becoming sentimental? I can see him starting out one way and becoming another, but the way she presents him in this book is at odds with how he’s been established in the previous books of this same series.

On top of that, the story hinges on coincidence, especially at the very end. Not only does that coincidence strain credibility, but it also reinforces the idea that Boba is not above making friends, even as he’s trying to make himself out to be the greatest bounty hunter to ever live. Granted, there are two more books in the series, and it’s possible that Hand will have him betray that friendship, but it seems unlikely in the way she sets up the story here. Jude Watson has this same sort of balance to maintain in Jedi Quest, but so far, she handled it better than Hand has done so far with this series.

I would love to be surprised by how Hand concludes this series, but I’m reluctant to expect it. I know it must be hard writing for characters she didn’t create (as well as picking up a series someone else started), but it seems like Hand doesn’t get the character of Boba Fett at all. Either that, or I don’t. Now that I think about it, why does Boba Fett have a reputation for being so ruthless?

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Boba Fett: Maze of Deception

May 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

mazeBoba Fett: Maze of Deception by Elizabeth Hand

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With the help of Aurra Sing, Boba is on the way to retrieve the money Jango left to him. He doesn’t know where he’s going, and he doesn’t trust Sing well enough to believe that she’ll treat him well once they arrive, but what choice does he have? He’s eleven years old, and well on his way to being the bounty hunter he’ll become, but he still doesn’t have the clout that an adult has, as he learns once they land.

I said at the end of my review of Crossfire that I was looking forward to reading something by Hand, but it turns out that I already have: The Frenchman. It was a tie-in to the Fox show Millennium (man, remember that? With Lance Henriksen?), and, true to form, I can’t remember a thing about it. I guess it’s a good thing I’m writing this blog, so twenty years from now I’ll be able to look back on these reviews and remember something about all these books.

Anyway, Hand seems to be more adept at writing for a younger crowd than Bisson is. Yes, the narrative is simplified, but it’s not simple. The story is compelling, as Boba goes from trial to trial in his search for his inheritance, and Hand creates an intriguing setting for this adventure. She also writes convincingly toward the lessons he learns from the book that Jango left him, in regards to whom to trust and how to act.

Bisson’s strength was in his characterization, and while I didn’t see the kinds of relationships he created in Hand’s take on the story, neither were there any relationships in this book like Bisson created in his. Hand still writes convincing characters, but there wasn’t room for her to show how Boba related to someone he could trust. This could be intentional, since Boba is learning that he can trust no one, but he’s still a child, and still naive enough to have to learn that lesson.

Where Bisson’s stories felt firmly written for a younger crowd, Maze of Deception feels better suited for adult readers as well as juvenile readers. They still don’t quite reach the level of what Jude Watson did with her books, but on the bright side, Hand’s book doesn’t follow the formula that Watson’s books started to take. It’s nice to see a new writer in the Expanded Universe, and I look forward to seeing how Hand continues the series.

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Boba Fett: Crossfire

May 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

crossfireBoba Fett: Crossfire by Terry Bisson

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Crossfire is a step up from The Fight to Survive, namely because it’s a (mostly) complete story in itself. I may have gotten too used to Jude Watson with the thirty books of hers I read in her two series, but I’ve come to expect the stories to be self-contained, even if they’re part of an overarching story. Crossfire likely won’t make a whole lot of sense without The Fight to Survive, and I expect that the next book will rely heavily on what happens in Crossfire. (Though, I suppose that could be true of the Jedi Apprentice series. By the time you get to book seventeen, Watson’s relying on characters and events from earlier in that series, too.)

In Crossfire, Boba has made it to the toxic moon of Raxus Prime, where Dooku has his base of operations. There, the two of them try to make an uneasy agreement over Boba’s inheritance, but things go wrong quickly when the clone troops invade. From there, Boba is “rescued”, and he continues to learn how to become self-sufficient through the events in the book.

Bisson’s characterization is still the strong point of this novel, as it was in the previous one. Boba is considered an orphan by his rescuers, and he makes a friend while in transport. The thing is, Jango told Boba several times that bounty hunters don’t make friends, so Boba’s new friend is at odds with the training he receives from the book Jango left him. Ultimately, Boba has to make a choice, and while it wasn’t as emotional as I would have expected it to be, it does find the tricky balance between making Boba a sympathetic character and making him compatible with the character he will become.

Like the previous book, Bisson simplifies things a bit more than I would have liked. The emotions in the story are written with broad strokes, and he overuses exclamation marks to indicate other emotions. I forgot to mention that he uses interrobangs in the first book, but at least I didn’t see any of those in this book. Either way, the books are a good example of an author writing specifically for a younger audience, instead of writing normally and adjusting the content for younger readers.

Interestingly, Bisson touches on the issue of sex and gender, though it’s only in passing. One of the characters in the story is neither a boy nor a girl, since in their race, their bodies don’t define themselves until puberty. The character makes a remark about how gender is more than just parts, and I was surprised to find that in the book. I like that it was there, and I agree with it, but I’ve not seen such a progressive thought in the Expanded Universe. Regardless, I was pleased to see that message in a story written for a younger audience, and not made to be a big deal. It just is, and I think it’s great.

While Crossfire improves on the first book in the series, this is the last book Bisson contributes to it. Elizabeth Hand takes over for the rest of the series, so it’s hard to anticipate what will come next with a new author. I’ll be reading it either way, which is good, since I’ve been wanting to read something by Hand for a long time.

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Archie: Volume Two

May 15, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

archie2Archie: Volume Two by Mark Waid, et al.

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I had a lot of fun with the first collection of the Archie reboot. It captured the heart of the characters, updated them to life in the modern world, and had decent stories that were reminiscent of the comics I read when I was a kid. I’d say I was surprised, but Mark Waid was at the helm of the reboot, so I kind of expected it to be all of those things. I just wasn’t expecting it to be good enough to capture forty-four-year-old me.

By now, Archie and Veronica are a thing, and Archie and Betty are not. Of course, Archie being Archie, it’s not that simple. Archie has feelings for both of them, for good reasons, and while I remember as a kid just accepting that about them, here we get to see why. We already knew why he and Betty were a thing, but Veronica’s spoiled-girl routine made it a bit of a mystery why Archie was so hung up on her. Here, Waid tells us why. It helps to build the character, and it also helps to start at the very beginning like they’ve done, because when I was a kid, the characters had already been around for thirty years. Maybe the very first comics gave readers some similar reasons why, but by the time I was reading them, it was just a foregone conclusion that this was the love triangle.

Fiona Staples drew the art for the first arc, and I was somewhat hesitant when I saw she wasn’t involved with the second one. My hesitation was for naught, though; the artists here do a great job of capturing the mood of the comic, from the dramatic moments down to Archie’s pratfalls. They blend the comic (that is, funny, and capturing the style of the comics) with the serious so perfectly that you roll from one to the other without noticing.

I’m not sure if it’s the nostalgia affecting how I feel about the series, but I’m impressed. We’re only twelve issues into the new series, and we’ve run the gamut of emotions with the characters, which is the sure sign of a successful story. So long as they keep this momentum up, I expect be a part of this revival.

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