Tag: Fantasy

Thoughts on The Dragon Prince (Netflix, 2018)

I’ve made no secret of how much I adore Avatar: The Last Airbender. I didn’t discover it until a few years ago (after a friend bugged me endlessly to watch it) and my eventual experience bingeing it was life-changing. I wrote at length about what I think makes Avatar: The Last Airbender so magical, but the gist is that Avatar was able to imbue levity and colour into every facet: from its humour and character building, to its plot, worldbuilding, and visual design. It’s an absolutely delightful show, which makes it so much more effective when it hits you with an emotional hammer. I discovered Avatar at a difficult time in my life, and it helped me through a period of (what I now recognize as) depression.

My praise was high:

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a remarkably consistent piece of storytelling that retains its quality from the first episode to the last. In fact, even if pressed, I’d find it difficult to find a point in the entire series where pacing is ever an issue. Every episode, even the sidestory episodes that don’t directly involve Aang’s plot against plight against the Fire Nation, like the previously mentioned “Tales of Ba Sing Se,” all serve a purpose in the tale, revealing more about the characters and their world. There’s not a wasted frame, not a wasted word, and that’s something that can be said about so few pieces of fiction, no matter the medium.

A season of The Legend of Korra (a follow-up set in the same world with some of the original creators involved) was already out when I finished Avatar, and I unabashedly jumped on board, expectations unfairly high. Korra did many things right (and its third season is particularly good), but it’s much more of a roller-coaster in terms of quality compared to its predecessor. Though I enjoyed it in its entirety, and appreciate many of the elements it introduced to the series (Korrasami <3), it failed to capture me in the same way as Avatar. In a lot of ways, Korra was missing the heart and soul that made Avatar so special. It took itself a bit too seriously at times, its storytelling was fraught with melodrama, and thanks to never quite knowing if it would get another season, the pacing of the overall narrative was rocky.

One notable exclusion from the Korra staff was Aaron Ehasz, and now, with hindsight, I realize how many elements of Avatar likely originated with him. Ehasz (along with Justin Richmond) has returned to the world of YA fantasy with a new show on Netflix, The Dragon Prince. In many ways it’s the follow-up to Avatar that I’ve been waiting for.

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Thread: My similes are like a tidal wave.

Wherein I muse about a particular writing tick, and discuss how I turned it from a flaw into a strength.

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First Impressions: Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

Earlier this year, I was blown away by Sam J. Miller’s debut YA novel, The Art of Starving. It was a beautiful, raw, warm, funny, and heartbreaking experience. I was already familiar with Miller’s short fiction, but that did little to prepare me for the emotional rollercoaster of protagonist Matt’s journey of self-discovery, super powers, and overcoming the perilous challenges of teenagedom.

Finishing The Art of Starving was like adding rocket fuel to my anticipation for Blackfish City, Miller’s debut adult novel. As soon as it released, I bought an audiobook copy, and, boy howdy, Miller’s outdone himself. Blackfish City is a tour-de-force of incredible, prescient worldbuilding, lush prose, and characters that are achingly real.

The eponymous city, called Qaanaaq, is a floating refugee city ruled by crime syndicates and landlords. It was constructed in the Arctic Circle, post climate change-fueled worldwide flooding, and, like any city populated by people fleeing dead or dying cultures and societies, is rich and diverse, but also suffers from many challenges. Blackfish City follows four people—Kaev, Soq, Fill, and Ankat—and their intertwined conflicts. Life in Qaanaaq is disrupted by the arrival of the Orcamancer, a woman riding an Orca, accompanied by a polar bear, and it soon becomes apparent that the lives and fates of Kaev, Soq, Fill, and Ankat are entwined with the mysterious visitor’s arrival. It’s a story about privilege and self-identification, hope, colliding cultures, and oppression. Like all of Miller’s work, it has a lot to say about the state of the world, and the dangers we face moving forward if things don’t change.

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First Impressions: The Skaar Invasion by Terry Brooks

It’s no secret that I’m a big Terry Brooks fan. He and his work mean a lot to me for many reasons—foremost that his Shannara novels cemented my love for the type of storytelling that I discovered via Tolkien. Every year, I look forward to the next Shannara volume, so it was a bit of a shock when Brooks announced a couple of years ago that his latest series, a four volume set beginning with The Black Elfstone, was the conclusion to the long-running epic fantasy series.

The Shannara books are all over the place quality-wise—some legitimately terrific, like The Elfstones of Shannara and Witch Wraith, others disappointing and derivative of Brooks’ earlier work, like The Gypsy Morph or Bearers of the Black Staff. Lately, they’ve been pretty good. The Black Elfstone, which I reviewed for Tor.com, managed to be nostalgic without being too derivative, and added back a lot of the meat that was missing from Brooks’ novels  in recent years. It felt, for lack of a better word, appropriately epic considering its place as the keystone in a conclusion to a 40+ year series.

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Things I Love: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

Since finishing Sam J. Miller’s incredible debut novel, The Art of Starving, a few weeks ago, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I’ve often found that the best way to let go of things, or, rather, to move on, is to talk about them out loud.

The Art of Starving is the story of Matt, a gay teenager who mistakes his anorexia for super powers. As we follow Matt along a path that threatens to tear him apart, the  relationships between him, his family, and fellow students become ever more complex, layered, and interesting.

I’ve long been a fan of Sam J. Miller’s short fiction. All authors write about other people, but Miller is one of the rare breeds of writer, the best of the best, who pours himself into every word he writes. Not just because some of the elements and story beats from The Art of Starving match experiences from his own adolescence, but because each word, each phrase, every theme seems to reveal a piece him. There’s so much passion, energy, and emotion packed into his stories. The Art of Starving is no different. It’s not always an easy book to read—in fact, most of it is heartbreaking, gut-punching—but you feel so keenly attached to Matt that it’s impossible to put down. 

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First Impressions: Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer

I adored Ilana C. Myer’s debut novel, Last Song Before Night. It took a familiar concept—hodgepodge group of youngsters sets out to change the world—but, by channelling her best Guy Gavriel Kay impression, and adding many of her own twists, including *gorgeous* prose, Last Song Before Night ended up being a unique and welcome take on epic fantasy. To say I was excited for its standalone sequel, Fire Dance, was a major understatement.

At this point, though, I’m sitting here with mixed feelings.

All of the elements that made Last Song Before Night are still there: a familiar world that feels like our own, but not; labyrinthine politicking; layered relationships between the characters; Myer’s beautiful prose. But, for whatever reason, one that could totally be my own, it’s not quite coming together for me the way the first book it.

Myer is careful and considered in her prose, to the point that it’s lyrical and rich, but also sometimes tips over into meandering. This works for me sometimes, when I’m looking to curl up and get lost in a book, but it comes at the expense of the plot unfolding at an almost glacial pace. Half way through the book, I’m only just getting an idea of its overall shape, and its conflicts seem secondary to exposition about the world, and inner monologuing by the characters. This was the case in Last Song Before Night as well, but there the central mysteries (specifically the world’s missing magic) and the various plot lines were more outwardly compelling, making the window dressings more palatable.

Fire Dance is being promoted as a standalone novel, and it *is* for the most part, with only a few characters crossing over from Last Song Before Night, but sometimes while reading, I feel like I’m supposed to already be familiar with the characters and the world—there’s a *lot* of politicking that goes over my head, and I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not reading as closely as necessary, or because Myer chooses to drop readers into her world without preamble or set up, and challenges them to keep up. This will work better for some readers than others.

On the flip side, I really hope we start seeing more standalone novels and sequels. I love the idea of dropping back into a fantasy world and exploring new corners and conflicts.

I’ll have a full review on Tor.com when the book releases next week.