Netflix’s The Witcher (2019 – present)

Piotrek: When I first heard the news in 2017 I was excited. Ola proclaimed:

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Now we’ve both seen the first season, meditated on it for a while, and it’s time for our verdict 😉 We both like the books, a lot, so it’s not going to be a cool review of a random genre TV show. I definitely will be measuring it against my high expectations and a clear vision of who Geralt is and what world he has his adventures in. And against one of the best computer RPGs ever.

And boy, am I conflicted… It’s good they did it, there are many great things about the show, including most of the actors, but the story is butchered in a way that simply does not work for me. That is not to say I won’t be watching next season, there’s not that much solid fantasy on tv.

The problem starts with the first important decision Lauren Schmidt Hissrich had to make, about the show’s structure. Books start with many stories, two volumes of them, concentrating on Geralt and his adventures, often shared with Jaskier/Dandelion. It’s episodic, although some wheels are put in motion that will determine events volumes ahead. Yennefer appears, but is not yet one of the protagonists. Ciri is too young to really matter. The show, by starting the story with three separate timelines, gives us two heroines that are just as important as the hero, and gives us insight into their origins that we only glimpsed at reading the saga. The idea is good, execution flawed. Before I discuss the flaws, let me tell you what I think we missed, and I would miss it even if Hissrich’s idea was executed seamlessly.

Sapkowski’s short stories, stories I value more than the novels, introduced his world in a pretty comprehensive way. Culture, history, religion, politics, prejudices, brewing conflicts that will later erupt into wars. Nilfgaard is mentioned, but not visited, and we get to see the shades of moral grey of this universe before we’re told to hate the big bad. Sapkowski created a post modern cycle, where the bigotry of our own world was the main target. Here we got a cliche about the coming Nazis. I’d argue it’s because there was no time to get to know “our” side. One of the victims of that simplification is Cahir, reduced to a stereotypical Hitlerjugend officer. Whatever you think about the later seasons of the GoT, it’s early episodes showed how to present a complex fantasy world on screen with depth that is simply missing here. Ola?58-Copy

Ola: That’s one mighty rant ;). And an unfortunately justified one, I might add.

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Jonathan French, The Grey Bastards (2015)

The Grey Bastards

Author: Jonathan French

Title: A The Grey Bastards

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 386

The Grey Bastards, French’s first installment in the Lot Lands series and the winner of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016, has been steadily making its rounds around the blogosphere for a while, and became especially popular after the publication of the second installment, The True Bastards, earlier this year. The covers of both installments are really neat (I’d say “pretty” but somehow that word doesn’t seem to really fit fanged half-orcs) and give the reader a fair taste of the content. Which is, contrary to the expectations of some, less a story about nasty old pensioners, and more a curious mix of biker gang lore, bastardized Tolkien setting (well, I couldn’t resist) in a RPG-derived form, and some solid wordlbuilding.

The Lot Lands, previously called Ul-wundulas, are a domain ravaged and scarred by a war. The terrible orc Incursion into the greener and more fertile lands of the Hispartha kingdom a generation back had several unintended consequences: a swath of land between the kingdoms of humans and the domains of the orcs had been razed and destroyed, leaving it all but empty – a no-man’s land, vulnerable to another incursion and liable to start another war. In the wake of Incursion, the half-human, half-orc slaves of Hispartha had been freed and allotted a part of the empty lands, under the condition of protecting the border. Divided into several “hoofs”, a cross between a tribe, a warrior-group and a gang, they share the Lot Lands with insular and dangerous elves, unlucky and demoralized soldiers banished from Hispartha to the ungrateful task of manning the castilles along the border, religiously-minded Halflings defended by the world’s Tartars(!), called Unyars, blood-crazy centaurs, and Sludge Man – a dangerous demon inhabiting a fetid marsh and controlling moving masses of black, sticky goo.

Grey Bastards are one such hoof, consisting of several seasoned riders tasked with a double duty of patrolling the lands in the vicinity on the backs of great war hogs and with protecting a village of women and orphans which had symbiotically grown under their fortress. In this world, another conflict seems inevitable – and the protagonists of The Grey Bastards are in the middle of it all. Intrigued yet?

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L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Saga of Recluce (1991-?)

There are many great stand-alones in fantasy, but, arguably, the genre is built on series. I guess, when you create an entire new world, just to place your story there, you’re tempted to re-use it 😉 And it pays better, and readers expect it. So, while Tolkien started with trilogy (that he is quoted to think about LotR as one book), his successors published longer and longer series or various length, renown and quality. For me, Belgariad and Dragonlance were gateways into post-tolkienian fantasy, and, after ca. 25 years of reading fantasy, there are still more huge – and reportedly great – series on my TBR.
Recently, I found myself on an extended business trip abroad, with only one book in my luggage (a 900-page one, but still 😉 ) and I visited an excellent second-hand bookshop that offered a pretty complete collection of one of the longest-going fantasy sagas, L.E. Modesitt’s Saga of Recluce. While not featured in most of the top tens, it’s often mentioned as an interesting series of novels, with carefully thought-through magic system and an innovative approach to the issue of chaos/order balance. I’ve always been interested by this last issue, as a huge fan of Zelazny‘s Amber. I bought the first four volumes, and now, after reading the first two, I reached a preliminary verdict.
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And Tolkien it ain’t 😉

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Mark Lawrence, One Word Kill (2019)

One Word Kill

Author: Mark Lawrence

Title: One Word Kill

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 204

One Word Kill, the first installment in the Impossible Times sequence and Lawrence’s first foray into a SF territory, came on the heels of his success with Book of Ancestor trilogy.  The book met with enthusiastic reviews and has been recommended by many fellow bloggers – Mogsy, Aaron and Drew, to name just a few. As I haven’t read anything by Lawrence, One Word Kill was suggested to me as a good entry point – and by now I can firmly attest to the popular conviction that Lawrence knows how to write. His writing skills are a thing to behold, especially in such a short novel as One Word Kill, where every word counts. It’s a mark of professionalism to spin an intriguing story, build a convincing world and create compelling characters within a couple hundred pages. As much as I would love to wholeheartedly recommend the book, however, I can’t. To borrow Bookstooge’s latest food metaphor, One Word Kill reminded me mostly of a solid fast food meal: it had all the necessary ingredients, maybe even chosen with care for their environmental impact and health benefits, it was very professionally made and quite substantial, but by no means was it a masterpiece or a sensory delight.

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Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame. Movie to conclude the major plot points of 21 movies, stories of multiple characters that took place throughout the galaxy. Thanos won part 1, but we just knew not all was lost. It would go against every rule off modern profitable film-making, and some of us read comics…

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WARNING! There will be spoilers. The movie has been in cinemas for three weeks, so you had time enough to see it 😉 It will be our discussion on how successful it’s been in summing up the complicated history of MCU and opening avenues for new adventures.

Piotr: I’m a bit tired of my role of enthusiastic simpleton, yet I’ll start with a decisive yes. It was not a perfect movie, it was not the best Marvel movie, but it was a movie well suited to play its unique role within the MCU. Heroes ultimately won, but it wasn’t easy, and not without serious sacrifices. There were hilarious moments, spirit-rising speeches, epic battles – the final battle was, IMO, better than the one from Infinity War. Three hours, but I was not bored and could even stay in the cinema a little longer 😉

Ola: I am also quite tired of playing the unsmiling Dirty Harry to your Pollyanna, and yet I cannot endorse this movie. It is well-made, very professional and full of perfectly choreographed and rousing action scenes, but ultimately it remains empty, the promises of Infinity War for something deeper unrealized. I was intrigued and dismayed in turn, and what really killed my pleasure of enjoying this movie was the lack of internal coherence and logic. For a film that makes so much fun of Back to the Future it should really show a better alternative to time travel – and one that is not blithely disregarded half an hour later.

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Edward Rickford, The Serpent and the Eagle (2019)

The Serpent and the Eagle

Author: Edward Rickford

Title: The Serpent and the Eagle

Format: Kindle

Pages: 314

*I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

The Serpent and the Eagle is Edward Rickford’s debut, a first book in a planned trilogy about the  Spanish conquest of the Mexica (Aztec) empire. The topic of Hernán Cortés’ bloody and ambitious subjugation of the biggest New World empire of the time is a very interesting one, and I was eager to read the fictionalized account of his endeavors, especially balanced, as was the case here, by the Mexica perspective.

If I were to describe The Serpent and the Eagle in one word, it would be “earnest”. It is indeed a very earnest book, a work of undeniable effort and knowledge, and a clear passion for the topic.

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Captain Marvel (2019)

It’s been some time since we had a Marvel movie review 🙂 But in preparation for Avengers: Endgame we feel we need to review the most recent MCU production, Captain Marvel.

Marvel

First things first, we’ve decided not to tackle the controversies concerning Brie Larson, the lead of the movie, and the fanbase, a huge part of which chose to get enraged. None of this serves the movie well, and we’d rather focus on the newest entry in MCU itself :).

Captain Marvel is a definitely smaller and less ambitious movie than the entirety of the Avengers franchise; in fact it’s one of quite a few origin stories Marvel has put on the screen through the years – from Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) through Ant-Man (2015) and Doctor Strange (2016). We should probably also include Hulk (2003), at least from the chroniclers’ duty point of view, even if the majority of fans would prefer to forget it 😉 Captain Marvel also the first Marvel female-centered movie, despite fans’ ongoing pleas for a Black Widow flick. It is symptomatic, then, the the female superhero Marvel decided to depict in their response to the popularity of the Wonder Woman movie (2017) was a similarly beefed up, overpowered character of an ex-fighter pilot, who at the beginning of the movie remains an outside force not connected to Earth’s troubles or humanity, and whose main story arc revolves around the issue of getting involved and starting to care.

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