MOVIE: Onward (2020)

Onward Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I always look forward to Pixar films, mostly to see how visually stunning a movie created entirely in a computer can look with each passing year of technological and programming advancements. The other reason I will always go to see a Pixar movie is their dedication to a good story. Sure, there have been some missed steps over the years (The Good Dinosaur (2015) being the latest example), but their track record has been good enough to warrant me seeing their films in the theater. While I was looking forward to this year’s offering of Onward (2020), the result felt a little lackluster overall. Choosing to explore a storyline with a deceased parent was odd in that it felt like something that had rarely been addressed in movies geared toward children while also having a strong “after school special” vibe to it. Either way, putting it in a pseudo-Monsters, Inc. (2001) fantasy world was a fun way to...
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BOOK: The Eternity Code (2003)

The Eternity CodeYear: 2003Author: Eoin ColferLength: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours After the last two adventures in the Artemis Fowl series helped to reunite the titular character with his family, it was entertaining to watch him strike out on his own. This was for no other reason than to prove he has the criminal chops his family name is known for. While decidedly middle-grade to young adult in tone, The Eternity Code is still an entertaining read. One might need to have read the previous two volumes to know who all the main players are, but at least the story is strong enough to carry the reader through to the conclusion without too much hassle. While I appreciated the “on top of it” style Artemis had in Artemis Fowl, I could also enjoy the cracks of vulnerability in his façade present in The Eternity Code. After all, Artemis is merely a teenage boy, and it helps to ground him in reality when...
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BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)

A Darker Shade of MagicYear: 2015Author: V.E. SchwabLength: 694 minutes / 11.57 hours A co-worker of mine suggested I check this book out, and I have now finally gotten around to it. While he gave this series of books a glowing review, I can only hope that the other books in this trilogy fare better than this one. For what it was worth, A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t seem to be original enough for me to care much about what happened in it. It’s filled with so many fantasy and YA tropes that I could almost swear I’d read the same book somewhere else before. Perhaps part of my problem comes with the audiobook production of this story. I generally liked Lila, except when she was particularly annoying. There were quite a few times the narrator made her sound like Audrey Hepburn in the early part of My Fair Lady (1964), and that’s not much of a compliment. Overall, though, I...
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BOOK: The Fifth Season (2015)

The Fifth Season Year: 2015 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 927 minutes / 15.45 hours It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book with such a unique magic system in place. I truly enjoyed the amount of thought that went into a world where the main source of power was that of the earth itself. From magma to solid obelisks, the ability to control the vibrations of the planet (either to amplify or dampen) had an interesting and logical follow-through in its characters and storyline. I’m honestly looking forward to eventually starting the next book in the series since the world was built so well. It’s no wonder that it ended up winning the Hugo Award for that year. While I suppose The Fifth Season is also partly a pseudo-post-apocalypse story, it was only shown in small snippets and references here and there. Consequently, this would make this story almost “modern fantasy” in comparison to some of the classics. Additionally, this would explain some...
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BOOK: The Daylight War (2013)

The Daylight War Year: 2013 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,607 minutes / 26.78 hours I’m glad to see that it only took two books for Peter V. Brett to cut down on some of the extraneous flashbacks and exposition in the Demon Cycle series. While whole chunks of The Warded Man could have been cut with nothing significant lost in the process, and The Desert Spear had what appeared to be an unrelated storyline that weaved through the narrative, The Daylight War has a minimal amount of this “fluff.” Granted, there is still some amount of world-building that helped to explain yet another aspect of this setting, but it’s minimal in comparison to its predecessors. Additionally, I already knew this series was an adult fantasy from my experience with The Warded Man and The Desert Spear. These are tame when compared to the third entry in the series. The sex in this book made the previous two look like nuns in comparison. Sure, it...
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BOOK: Prentice Alvin (1989)

Prentice Alvin Year: 1989 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 830 minutes / 13.83 hours As I’ve been reading through the Tales of Alvin Maker series, I have found it interesting to see what big societal issues have been covered so far. While Seventh Son tackled religion and Red Prophet delved into politics and war, Prentice Alvin bit off a big chunk of racism and tried to address it in a way that’s half fantasy and half historical fiction. Sure, there’s still some semblance of the religion content present in this book that informs the racism dialogue. Still, these large issues end up taking a back seat to the more fascinating aspects of the titular character learning how to control his incredible powers. In fact, this might be my favorite book of the series so far. It’s always more entertaining to watch a character come into the depth of their abilities, and Prentice Alvin has this in spades (both metaphorically and literally). While there weren’t many instances of Alvin directly being affected by a conflict...
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BOOK: Ember Falls (2016)

Ember Falls Year: 2016 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 234 pages Being a fan of children’s series like The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as a lover of rabbits (owning two Flemish giants as pets), I was glad to get back into the Green Ember series with the second book, Ember Falls. Obviously, as this series is mainly geared toward children, there were a few points of the plot of this second book that I either predicted from the start or could see coming from a mile away. In any case, the world building that continued with this book was top notch, despite certainly feeling like a “linking” part of the series. While The Green Ember could stand on its own and laid the groundwork for the books that came after it, Ember Falls certainly needs its predecessor to make sense. It also seems to rely on the next book in the series to reach some conclusion. This is an issue that often arises in book...
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BOOK: The Desert Spear (2010)

The Desert Spear Year: 2010 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,573 minutes / 26.22 hours The second book in the Demon Cycle series, The Desert Spear practically proves my point that its predecessor, The Warded Man, started in the wrong place. In fact, if there weren’t an awesome battle sequence at the end of The Warded Man, I’d suggest just skipping to The Desert Spear since all the key moments from the first book were referenced in this sequel. That being said, this book has some of its own issues, some of which are gripes I continue to have about this series—which makes me think this is just the way these books are going to be. Before I get too far down the criticism hole, I do want to say that I truly enjoy the magic system in these books. The Desert Spear doesn’t necessarily do anything new with it, but there’s at least a little more world building that happens in terms of the...
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BOOK: The Wishsong of Shannara (1985)

The Wishsong of Shannara Year: 1985 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,253 minutes / 20.88 hours One thing that was made clear to me when I read The Elfstones of Shannara was that this trilogy (that started with The Sword of Shannara) didn’t follow the same characters from book to book, per se. Sure, there were characters like Allanon the Druid who managed to span all three volumes, but overall I didn’t find that I needed to have read the previous book in the trilogy to understand what was going on in the story. This was quite beneficial when I started reading The Wishsong of Shannara, as it quickly grew to be my favorite in the series so far. While I had high hopes for the “main quest” of this book, the fact that it’s put into side-story status almost from the beginning was a little frustrating. Don’t make me follow the journey of the character who needs to grow the most! Show me the thrilling adventures...
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BOOK: The Arctic Incident (2002)

The Arctic Incident Year: 2002 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 387 minutes / 6.45 hours Sequels can be tough. There seems to be a need to incorporate what made the original successful, while also trying out new ideas at the same time. Additionally, the characters need to grow and show that they can handle any new problems thrown their way. In The Arctic Incident, the sequel to Artemis Fowl, I found more of the same military sci-fi fantasy elements present, but with changes to the characters that took away a lot of what I liked about them in the first book. And by characters, I specifically mean Artemis Fowl. While the first book in this series contained a confident, coy, and conniving teenage super-genius, The Arctic Incident took Artemis Fowl and expanded those brief moments of emotional vulnerability into an entire character. Perhaps this was due to Artemis joining forces with the same magical creatures that he swindled out of their gold in the first book, or maybe it was...
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BOOK: Artemis Fowl (2001)

Artemis Fowl Year: 2001 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 281 pages With the movie adaptation of this book coming out in a few months, I figured the premise of Artemis Fowl looked interesting enough that I’d want to read it before seeing the film. After all, a child genius going up against fantasy forces sounded like it would be entertaining. Overall, this was true. Granted, this book starts one of those classic Young Adult series that’s actually meant for children, so I can forgive a bit of its bathroom humor—but only to a point. Still, I found the fusion of modern technology and fantasy elements to be the strength of this book. Much in the vein of the science fantasy genre, Artemis Fowl uses scientific principles and concepts to explain the numerous phenomena connected to creatures like fairies, dwarves, and trolls. It only makes sense that these creatures would evolve technologically along with humanity. Being able to explain how these creatures could remain undetected for thousands of years was nearly...
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MOVIE: Mortal Engines (2018)

Mortal Engines Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours If I were to look at Mortal Engines (2018) critically, I’d notice a number of flaws. From fairly flat characters to a string of movies and directors that it tries to imitate, this film should be terrible. And yet, given that I’d already suspended my disbelief by entertaining the idea that an apocalypse would result in cities mounting up on enormous machines and scavenging smaller towns for fuel, I found this movie incredibly entertaining. Perhaps the base plot isn’t too original, but the execution felt fresh and new. Somehow, I was able to turn off my critical brain and just enjoy this movie for what it is: pure, unadulterated fun. As someone who appreciates film as an art form, there is plenty of it on display here. The look, feel, and aesthetic of Mortal Engines is so bold and consistent that the core concept of the plot naturally follows. The visuals and soundtrack merely accentuate the action...
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BOOK: The Warded Man (2008)

The Warded Man Year: 2008 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 453 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For anyone who thinks that fantasy is a childish genre, The Warded Man shows that it can have very adult themes. While this adds an element of realism by including sex and violence, it also means that the intended audience for this book should be mature enough to be able to pay attention. Unfortunately, this book takes a repetitive approach with its character arcs, almost as if writing for children who need the point constantly driven home. In the end, I’m mostly just disappointed at what this book could have been instead of what it was. I’m not sure if there’s a minimum page count/word count for fantasy books, but The Warded Man seems to be an interesting novella, padded out with tons of unnecessary backstory—or at least backstory that could be covered in a relevant line or paragraph when needed. I did like the concept and the magical system in...
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BOOK: The Black Star of Kingston (2015)

The Black Star of Kingston Year: 2015 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 160 pages Immediately after I finished reading The Green Ember, I picked up this short story/prequel and read through it in one sitting. I had become pretty well invested in the world created in The Green Ember and wanted more of it before diving into the sequel, Ember Falls. While The Green Ember mentioned a story of The Black Star of Kingston in its main plot, I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed as I would have hoped. Sure, all the things that made The Green Ember great were mostly present in The Black Star of Kingston, but it felt a little…underdeveloped. Once again, the strength of the plot and characters helped provide entertainment as I read this story. However, without a more comprehensive understanding of the lore of this series, I wasn’t quite sure where this story fits in with the rest of the canon. I knew it was a prequel...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones (2008)

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones Year: 2008 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 425 minutes / 7.08 hours Earlier this year, I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and absolutely loved it. Consequently, I had high hopes for the next book in this series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. While there was still the same amount of self-awareness and humor in this book, it felt a little…off. Perhaps I should have read these two books closer together, but I had some trouble coming up to speed in the beginning and wasn’t entirely sure why the “goal” of this book was to find Alcatraz’s father. In any case, Sanderson’s world-building is still in top form here. Of course, the “cute” way that this series was self-aware when I read the first book was a bit more annoying this time around. It almost felt like every chapter had to have a soliloquy, even if it didn’t link itself to where the plot was at the time—which often broke the...
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BOOK: The Green Ember (2014)

The Green Ember Year: 2014 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 368 pages On the other end of the spectrum of “fantasy rabbit” stories from Watership Down, we have The Green Ember, the first in a series that probably could have been written without the animal trappings and still been a good story. Where Watership Down had very rabbit-like characters interacting with the human world, The Green Ember has very person-like characters interacting with an animal world. Occasionally, the attributes that make the rabbits unique were used—especially in the battle sequences—but there were often moments when I forgot that these characters were rabbits. I felt the cuteness of rabbits, and the scariness of wolves and hawks, help reach a younger audience without directly confronting them with the realities of the scary world around them. After all, if it was people vs. people in this book, then the intended audience might miss out on some of the important morals and lessons contained therein. Having a clearly evil force...
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BOOK: The City of Brass (2017)

The City of Brass Year: 2017 Author: S.A. Chakraborty Length: 533 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In S.A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, The City of Brass, we find some of the standard tropes that seem to be the foundation of the Young Adult genre. There are snippets of works like Harry Potter and Twilight that seem to leak through, their influences helping to shape the world that the author has created. However, while some of these tropes might be tired in any other setting, they are used to great effect here, as the author has created something grounded in culture and traditions that helps to enhance the fantasy world that lies just beyond our own. While I did enjoy reading this book overall, there were a few weaknesses. The start of the story was action-packed and hooked me right from the get-go, but then the section leading up to the second half of the plot seemed to be bogged down with lots of exposition and world-building. It also...
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BOOK: The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)

The Pilgrim’s Progress Year: 1678 Author: John Bunyan Length: 324 pages I distinctly remember my parents reading this book to me when I was a child. Decades later, I decided to re-visit it and read it for myself. I don’t know if it was an abridged version or a simplified re-telling appropriate for kids, but this was not the book I remember from my childhood. Sure, the action bits were still there, like the fight with Apollyon, the Slough of Despair, and the suicide discussion in Vanity Fair, but there was way more dialogue than what I recalled of the story. Not to mention the verbiage/wording seemed more along the lines of a King James Bible than of a fantasy setting. Sure, I’ll concede that, for 1678, this was a groundbreaking piece of fiction, and perhaps the first piece of successful fantasy ever written, but it hasn’t aged entirely as well over the years when compared to its source material. There are undoubtedly little lessons...
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BOOK: The Carpet People (1971)

The Carpet People Year: 1971 Author: Terry Pratchett Length: 335 minutes / 5.58 hours Having now read one of Terry Pratchett's books, I thought it might be interesting to go back and read his very first work. Many authors don't manage to become famous with their very first book, and I think Terry Pratchett is no exception here. The Carpet People is an amusing book with his standard British charm, but I think it never goes far enough in its exploration of the idea. After all, I was expecting this book to be more along the lines of The Borrowers instead of just a straight-up fantasy with a few references to the fact that these creatures lived in the carpet. Part of the problem I seemed to have with this book was the incessant need for fantasy books to create new names for objects and creatures that already (mostly) exist. If you took away the carpet setting, I think this book could be practically indistinguishable from...
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MOVIE: The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride Year: 1987 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours The Princess Bride (1987) is a movie that defies genres. It’s an adventure film with swashbuckling pirates. It’s a fantasy film with giants and six-fingered men. It’s a comedy with numerous quotable lines. It’s a family film about storytelling. It’s all these things, and more, which is part of its appeal (even if it makes the whole movie difficult to classify or market). The real trick with The Princess Bride is that it is subtle with its self-awareness. While other films may go so far self-aware that they’d break the fourth wall (a la Deadpool (2016)), The Princess Bride manages to poke fun at these classic genres with a knowing wink to the audience. Of course, this is part of its appeal. Many self-aware films make overt references to other big-hitters in their genre, thus relying on the audience who has done their homework to understand the joke. In The Princess Bride, there are no references to The Lord of the...
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BOOK: The Legend of the Three Roses (2017)

The Legend of the Three Roses Year: 2017 Author: Jason Hubbard Length: 509 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** After reading plenty of sub-par independent authors recently, I was pleasantly surprised to have the opportunity to read The Legend of the Three Roses by Jason Hubbard. With a slick cover and good chapter header graphics, the book looks good, but how does it read? I’m a stickler for proofreading, and I found maybe one or two errors in the entire manuscript. Again, good so far. There were a few confusing spots near the end that could have used either chapter or scene breaks, but overall, the book was solid. What made me truly enjoy reading The Legend of the Three Roses were the characters. I can forgive a lot if the story is engaging, but if I find the characters annoying or illogical, I’ll usually force myself through. This book was not the case, as it had both an immersive story and setting,...
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BOOK: Warbreaker (2009)

Warbreaker Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 676 pages For the last few years, Brandon Sanderson’s name kept coming up amongst my writer friends. I had never heard of him, but they had been fans of his writing for some time. In my goal to read all the unread books I own, I found that I had obtained a Brandon Sanderson book many years ago as a prize during my first National Novel Writing Month. Even with the daunting page count, I decided to give Warbreaker a read. All I can say is that it was refreshing to finally read a fantasy book written by someone who genuinely knows what they’re doing. I’ve read a lot of books recently that I would consider “amateur,” but Sanderson proves he’s a professional in this tightly written book. From incredibly interesting and entertaining characters to expertly placed foreshadowing to a fascinating magic system, Warbreaker is fully original while also maintaining the tropes and structure of a high fantasy...
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BOOK: Shadowguard (2015)

Shadowguard Year: 2015 Author: Gama Ray Martinez Length: 228 pages I picked this book up for free on my Kindle recently, probably due to some promotion to heighten awareness of the latest book in the Pharim War series. As the first book in this series, Shadowguard doesn’t waste any time getting down into the action of the story. Somewhat light on exposition and description, the world created here is still vibrant and fascinating, regardless. The story's characters and setting immediately immersed me in the world, and that's not even mentioning the interesting magic system Gama Ray Martinez has created. It fell in line with the fantasy genre without being too derivative of it. Some may say a series of books about a magical boy learning magic at an illustrious school sounds a lot like the Harry Potter series. The fact that the Pharim War series has a fantasy world setting, and isn't just a hidden part of our real world, makes it distinctly different from J.K....
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