Category Archives: Reviews

Starting in early 2012 I decided that I would make a habit of reviewing everything I read and all the movies I watched. On top of that I’ve begun to review other products and sometimes tv shows as well.

These reviews are just my personal thoughts on my entertainment choices. I wouldn’t use them as your sole guide on what to read or watch, but if it helps… great!

The Warded Man

Book Review: The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

Those of you who are familiar with Joseph Campbell and the concept of the monomyth are going to spot some very familiar structures in The Warded Man. While this may only be the first part of the Demon Cycle, Peter V. Brett makes liberal use of the Hero’s Journey for each of the three protagonists in the novel.

None of them get all 17 steps, but there’s plenty of familiarity in the basic structure here. In many ways it is extremely familiar territory for a fantasy novel. And by the end of the book all three of the viewpoint characters have reached a point of fundamental change. which leads to a satisfying conclusion even with further books to follow.

While the tropes may be familiar the setting is rather refreshing. Instead of being set in a medieval styled world, this is actually a futuristic setting that has been decimated by demons (themselves quite distinctive) and effectively reverted to something closer to the dark ages in mindset and technology. There are also hints of a Western feel to the setting.The Warded Man Book Review: The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

Brett’s big issue is fear. Throughout the story he looks at what fear does to people. Either giving in to it, or fighting it. Everyone in the book is affected by fear. Whether of the demons, or family or themselves.

The demons are magical in nature we are told. And certainly they appear to be largely elemental (rock, fire, wood, sand). They can be warded off using special combinations of runes that have to be drawn with incredible precision and must remain uncovered in order to work.

There were a couple of times when I felt like there may be some holes in the logic behind the runes but the action kept coming so fast I never really dug into whether that was the case or not. It may simply be that the nature of them is not fully explained in this book.

The world that Arlen, Leesha and Rojer inhabit is a brutal one. It’s made pretty (unpleasantly at times) clear that at least out in the country women have the worst end of the deal. There is an interesting contrast in fact to be drawn between town and country in that respect though the book does not focus on it. That said the men’s lot in life is not a happy one either. Pain, beatings and the likelihood of death appear to be the norm in this world.

We watch these three characters grow from a young (pre-teen) age through to adulthood and they do grow. Their attitudes change and mature as life and it’s challenges molds them into what they become.

Interestingly Brett keeps the characters apart until very close to the end of the story and while each character goes through fundamentally life altering events none of them really address the central mysteries of the world.

What are these demons? Where did they come from? How will they be defeated?

We get a few teasing hints. The idea that they may be insect like in nature. The notion that Arlen may in fact be able to phase back to the core with them. But all of that is to come in future books.

What we actually get here is a much simpler story about three people becoming heroes, finding each other and saving a small town.

And just on that level it’s certainly well worth reading. But now I’m really eager to find out the answers to some of those bigger questions.

Now It’s Your Turn!

  • Have you read The Warded Man? If so what did you think?
  • Do you have a favorite post apocalyptic fantasy? What is it?
Doctor Who (series 8) Episode 5

Doctor Who Review – S08E08 Time Heist

Time Heist made for a pleasant palate cleanser after the intense and format challenging episode that preceded it. While it didn’t have the big ideas that Listen threw at the viewers, it gave us plenty to enjoy.

For a start as the name indicates this episode takes it’s tone from 1970s heist movies. You’ll probably see lots of people saying it reminded them of Ocean’s 11 but guess where that movie was “stealing” from?

The visuals were strong here and I was actually a little surprised to realize that it was Douglas Mackinnon (Listen) directing again because while both episodes are good they feel very different.DW S8E5 TimHeist TheTeller 600x400 Doctor Who Review   S08E08 Time Heist

Time Heist is almost entirely a stand alone episode. Yes there are a few references to things that have previously happened but they take minimal screen time and don’t impact the story at all. It’s also an episode with a small cast. Which is something I generally enjoy because it gives time to explore those characters a bit. Both Saibra and Psi strike me as characters with some depth and potential for further adventures. You can’t say that about most Doctor Who secondary characters.

It was interesting to see Psi not only challenge the Doctor’s apparent callousness but also Clara for apologizing for it. But I don’t think the Doctor is callous. I think he’s focused.

This is a Doctor who needs to solve the problem he’s been challenged with. He obsesses over it and bends all of his energy to the solution. When he sees a situation that he cannot fix, he simply moves on to the next solvable problem. Caring can happen when he’s solved the problem and got them out of their current situation.

And if you’re not helping to solve that problem, then you’re getting in the way and you need to shut up. He’s certainly not the most sympathetic incarnation of the Doctor, but I find him very relatable.

Writer Stephen Thompson’s previous scripts for Doctor Who (The Curse of The Black Spot and Journey To The Center Of The TARDIS) have been met with less than glowing reviews. Both had strong concepts but were let down at various stages during their execution.

I think Time Heist will be much better received. It sets it’s targets firmly on achieving that heist movie feel and it succeeds. The plot is relatively straightforward (bar some of the time loop elements that are de rigueur in Who currently) but achieves some moments of real tension as we go along.

We even get a monster who’s genuinely scary but turns out to be a victim as well.

Yup, that’s some fun Doctor Who.

Now It’s You Turn!

So scroll down to the comments and tell me what you thought of this episode


Doctor Who Review: S08E04 – Listen

wnNBOTn 1024x573 Doctor Who Review: S08E04   ListenWell that was rather brilliant.

It’s a Moffat episode (through and through) so the online debates are following the tediously predictable path but this is a case where Moffat is playing to his strengths, not letting his ideas get away from him.

Traditionally in Doctor Who the “time” aspect of the show has been limited to getting the Doctor to wherever he needed to be for the story to happen. That’s generally not how Moffat has approached things however. He is the person who coined Timey-Wimey after all. For a while this was refreshingly different. Then it became expected from him. And in some cases it just became overly confused.

In Listen Moffat treads a fine line as we move backwards and forwards through time to tell the story. But in this case it’s relatively easy to follow and it makes an internal sense. There is in fact a lovely symmetry to the resolution we get here.

Another thing that Moffat is terribly fond of (with good reason) is the notion of the monster we can’t see. What he has tapped into several times previously is the fact that the scariest thing in the world is the monster our brains imagine out of shadows. Thus we got the Weeping Angels, Vashta Nerada, Prisoner Zeroand The Silence.
The human brain is the ultimate pattern matcher. And when it can’t match something… it just makes it up. And the monsters that it makes up aren’t cool or cleverly designed. They’re just fucking terrifying.

Listen is both a scary story exploring this again and a meta analysis of the concept. In the end… The Doctor scared himself. I’ve seen people complaining that we don’t get to find out if there really were monsters outside the ship or that we don’t get an explanation for who the thing under the blanket was in Rupert Pink’s bed. They’re wrong. We get explanations. We get multiple explanations. That’s the point. The uncertainty is what scares us. It’s what scares the Doctor. In some ways it’s maybe why he does what he does. How better to face fear than to go looking for it.

It’s interesting to me that the 12th Doctor is perhaps the most pro-active Doctor we’ve ever had. Yes all the Doctors have been curious and prone to sticking their nose in where they didn’t belong. But here the Doctor essentially meditates on a problem and then goes to find the answer. Only the 7th Doctor has really shown any evidence of that sort of planning previously.

Also of note is that once again Clara gets a lot of face time. She’s very much the agent of this story. Yes it’s the Doctor’s obsession that’s driving, but Clara is the one who actually gets things done. Her interactions both with a young Danny Pink and a young Doctor make for a nice bookend to the story.

There’s also obviously a long game being played with Danny Pink. Clara is very carefully keeping him separate from the Doctor and yet the fact one of his descendents is the first human time traveller cannot be a coincidence. I’m very curious to see exactly where that is going.

And because I can’t help myself, more praise for Peter Capaldi. His driven and manic Doctor in this episode was another captivating performance.

While I find a lot of the criticism of Moffat to be overblown (and entirely too personal) there are some legitimate issues with his work in the last couple of seasons, not least of which is over-exposure to certain tropes.  That said, one should never forget that Moffat can absolutely nail Doctor Who when he’s on his game. Listen is the best episode of Season 8 (so far) and a top notch Doctor Who story.


Book Review: Raven’s Shadow Book 1 – Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

91v3dsu CmL 635x1024 Book Review: Ravens Shadow Book 1   Blood Song by Anthony RyanThis is another of those series where you’re not going to get a wholly satisfying conclusion to each book. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, I just like to warn people about that sort of thing up front. It does reach a logical pause point of sorts, but there’s clearly a lot of unresolved issues.

Apparently Blood Song was originally self-published. I don’t know if it was re-edited before being published by Penguin but there’s certainly none of the stereotypical self-published weaknesses on display here.

Certainly there are plenty of familiar fantasy elements at play including some sort of supernatural nameless evil lurking in the background and our hero with a destiny. It also has that modern fantasy feel of dirty, gritty, gosh isn’t life horridness. But it’s extremely well executed.

I was a little worried when the book started with our hero narrating his life to a chronicler. If ever there is an overused trope in fantasy that has to be one. It’s also one tha ttends to set my teeth on edge. Fortunately the story doesn’t jump back and forth very often and when it does there’s some clever hinting at how the story being told is not the story that we are reading.

Since we really only have one viewpoint character for the bulk of the book the enjoyability pretty much hinges on him and fortunately Vaelin Al Sorna proves to be very engaging. He is a lightly flawed character, but neither a tortured hero nor so crippled with character flaws that you end up hating him. There’s a nuance to him and his behavior that rewards reading about him.

It would be fair to say that the characters surrounding him do not fair as well. They are comparatively shallow. To the extent that betrayal when it happens feels more like the next plot beat than an actual knife in the back. In part this is again because of that narrative style of re-telling a story to a chronicler. What you end up with is a series of sequences from Vaelin’s life. The big action moments if you like. And some of the character moments that should support those are missing.

But somehow that doesn’t matter because the book just keeps you moving along with it. There’s always a problem to be resolved. Some underlying tension to worry about. Or another larger mystery to get your attention. It’s what they call a page turner.

There’s also a good amount of solid world building going on in the background. We get a lot of information about the society that Vaelin was born and lives in, but also glimpses of other parts of the world too. These aren’t radically new societies, but they’re believable ones and they do give the reader the feeling that there’s a larger world happening around the events that they are reading about.

If you enjoy solid modern fantasy then I’d say theRaven’s Shadow series is worth a read. So far two books are available:

Blood Song
Tower Lord


Doctor Who Review: S08E03 – Robots Of Sherwood

Galimaufry indeed. 

The word was uttered by Ben Miller rather excellently playing the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham (who I found constantly reminded me of Anthony Ainley’s version of The Master) . I had to look it up:

A hotchpotch, jumble or confused medley.

11 Doctor Who Review: S08E03   Robots Of SherwoodWell that’s certainly a very apt description for Robots of Sherwood. You could also just sum it up by calling it a Mark Gatiss Doctor Who script.

Gatiss has a long but very mixed history with the show. He generally has clever ideas, but too often in his episodes he lets his instincts for comedy dominate. And while Doctor Who should have humor, it’s not a comedy.

And so while sometimes we get Cold War other times we get The Crimson Horror or Robots of Sherwood.

There are some really clever ideas going on in this episode. The notion of the Doctor finding himself face to face with a fictional hero as culturally significant as himself is interestingly meta. And the friction between these two egotistical characters proves to be very entertaining. It was also quite clever to have the Doctor so suspicious of Robin Hood and yet in the end have him be one of the few genuine things in the story.

Jenna Coleman gets a good amount to work with too as Clara is alternately captivated and frustrated by both Robin and the Doctor and then finds herself separated and needing to handle things on her own.

The titular robots aren’t much more than automatons without any clear motive for their actions, but I do like their design.

So there are a bunch of good acting performances and some clever ideas in this story. But it’s surrounded by… cheap and easy jokes.

The multiple arrow splitting. The sword fight with a spoon. And worst of all the golden arrow hitting a spaceship and miraculously giving it the power to achieve orbit.

That stuff is silly and lazy. Humor in a drama has to be grounded in the reality of the story or the laugh you just got actually undermines the story you are telling. Thats the case here unfortunately 

It’s not that the individual moments aren’t rather funny. Watching a man duel with a spoon is inherently ridiculous and thus amusing. But it’s not credible even in the swashbuckling world that this story is set in. And when that same silliness is directly contrasted with the Sheriff brutally killing someone there’s a massive inconsistency in the tone of the episode.

So yeah… good in parts, clever ideas. Wildly inconsistent and ultimately flawed.

Screen shot 2014-08-25 at 7.21.21 AM

Doctor Who Review: S08E02 Into The Dalek

I was really looking forward to this episode. We’re now free of the encumbrance of regeneration and able to see the 12th Doctor in his own environment. Plus a return of the Daleks. Granted Dalek stories have always been hit and miss affairs, but when they work they can be really good.
The episode opened strong with CGI that seemed noticeably better than the giant dinosaur from last week and I loved Peter Capaldi’s delivery of the Doctor’s lines as he insisted on a “please” from the person he rescued. Its that sort of detail that makes this Doctor feel different to what we’ve seen for years now.

Screen shot 2014 08 25 at 7.21.21 AM 1024x576 Doctor Who Review: S08E02 Into The DalekAnd that was just the beginning of the snark and cynicism with the high (low) point being his casual use of someone he knew was about to die in order to gain information to save the rest of his party.

Phil Ford, who previously wrote The Waters of Mars (a favorite of mine) delivered an episode that emphasised this Doctor’s moral ambiguity while at the same time highlighted the lack of ambiguity in Dalek morals. They believe one thing and they believe it absolutely and openly.

The idea of a good Dalek is an interesting one and something that the script explored well particularly in contrasting the Doctor and his nemesis. It also touched on a theme that has been recurring in recent Dalek episodes. That the Doctor himself hates. That he would make a good Dalek. A statement that clearly shook him.

It would be interesting to watch S01E06 – Dalek back to back with Into The Dalek because they share a lot of thematic elements while approaching the situation very differently and also ending up in a very different place.

I really liked the use of Clara in this episode too. Not only is she central to resolving the crisis with the damaged Dalek, but she also firmly (and physically) puts the Doctor back in his place when he becomes too alien and removed from the situation around him. It is a great moment and not something I can see happening with previous companions or Doctors.

Director Ben Wheatley takes advantage of the miniaturization conceit to come up with some unusual and imaginative shots and angles to tell the story as well as trying to minimize the obvious budget limitations of shooting a full scale Dalek attack on the spaceship.

Hello Danny Pink

Unusually for Doctor Who there’s actually a B-story in this episode. The episode is credited to both Steven Moffat and Phil Ford and it felt like Moffat was basically writing the B-story here which was the introduction of Danny Pink.

It’s obviously intended to be a gradual introduction of the character since he has yet to meet the Doctor. But what that does is give him far more character build up than companions normally get. We’ve seen him flirt (awkwardly) with Clara. We know he was a soldier. And we know he had to kill people. I think he’s going to add an interesting dimension as things go forward.

The New Era Begins

While Deep Breath had a lot of elements in it that were common in the Matt Smith era, Into The Dalek felt new. There were no slapstick moments here. Peter Capaldi wasn’t goofy or silly. His humor was sharp and biting. Clearly the first episode of this season was intended as a transition from what has come before. Now the new era has begun and I’m loving it.

I spent so much time just loving Peter Capaldi’s performance. Clara felt like a more rounded character. The tonal change has really freshened things up. Oh… and this is probably the best Dalek story since… Dalek.


Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

abercrombie 01 the blade itself 675x1024 Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe AbercrombieThis is the first book in a trilogy called The First Lawand I should stress that it is not in itself a complete story. In fact, in many ways it reads more like a  prologue. A coming together of the cast and setting the stage before the story itself gets going.

That’s being a little harsh perhaps, but I didn’t find it a satisfying experience to read just this book so it’s worth noting. Be prepared to invest in all three books. And it is probably worth your time reading all three because this one has a lot to recommend it.

Now right before reading The Blade Itself I had just finished a re-read of The Lord Of The Rings (my first in a while) and so I couldn’t help comparing the two books while I was reading this one. And it’s quite a contrast.

While The Lord Of The Rings deals in heroic figures who are larger than life and better than the average man, The Blade Itself is populated with mean, petty, broken people. Aragorn and Frodo are the sort of people we might aspire to be, while the characters here are the sort we would look down on and judge wanting.

And yet, throughout the book and despite the horrible things that some of the characters do, there is a thread of hope of redemption running through Joe Abercrombie’s story. The suggestion that regardless of what they have done they can do something good. A detail that I think actually rings true in Tolkien’s work as well.

While unquestionably modern fantasy with all itsgrimdark trappings there are moments here where wondrous buildings are described and events are narrated where it sounds like just the sort of thing we might see in Middle-Earth. So we have an interesting melding of the classic high fantasy with the new gritty realism.

And the characters are very interesting and quite complex. You may well not like them very much and in some cases you may find that characters you thought were likeable turn out to be very flawed indeed. But for all that I found myself captivated by their lives and wondering how things were going to turn out for them.

Which is of course why it was so damn annoying that the book just ends. It’s not even a cliffhanger, it just ends.

There are clearly bigger elements being set up here. Corruption in the “Union”, Shanka (humanoid, apelike, goblin creatures) massing on the borders of the north; The Empire restive in the south and Eaters (people who have eaten men’s flesh) causing havoc for their own reasons.

None of this is resolved or even really clarified for us. It’s a big, epic, story and clearly you have to read the whole thing for it to make sense. But it’s a story I very much want to read all of now. – The Blade Itself