Friday, February 3, 2017

Naomi Novik's Black Powder War: A Book Review

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In Black Powder War, Naomi Novik builds upon the Temeraire series with her sequel to the Throne of Jade and Her Majesty’s Dragon. In this edition, the reader is once again treated to detailed, historical battles (only this time with dragons added in) as well as daring escapes. From a plot standpoint, Laurence receives word that he is to proceed to Turkey to receive three treasured dragon eggs. Due to a fire on their transport ship, the crew hires a guide and takes to an overland route. After encountering sandstorms and feral dragons, they land safely in Turkey only to discover that the crown’s funds have vanished, the ambassador murdered, and the dragon eggs ready but no longer promised to them.

As always, a waiting game commences, and this time Novik does her best to build tension while walking through the action. The team is basically imprisoned within the royal palace, and forced to scale walls and sneak out in hopes of finding information. The catalyst of their plight arrives in the form of Lien, the albino celestial dragon that has left China an exile and headed to France to aid Napoleon in order to spite Temeraire for killing her master. From Turkey, the crew finds themselves engaged in the battle of Jena and the mysterious absence of the British dragons. While most of the events remain true to history, Lien is credited with leading the French charge across Europe, revolutionizing both transportation and strategy. Thus Laurence and crew struggle to both victory and safety as the quest to both with a war and return home.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Naomi Novik’s Throne of Jade: A Book Review

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Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik’s follow up to Her Majesty’s Dragon, follows the Celestial dragon Temeraire not long after his great victory over Napoleon. In this tale, the scene shifts from England to a transport ship destined for China and then the ancient country itself. While the journey is long, perhaps too long at times, Novik blends her penchant for battle, pushing Temeraire through one prior to departure, one at sea, and climatic struggles within China itself, with the international intrigue of Temeraire himself. While the dragon has bonded to Laurence, there are only a handful of his breed in the world, all of which are bonded to members of the Chinese royal family. Thus, despite his royal lineage, a past that Laurence often overlooks himself, the captain is seen as below station and not suitable of such a large, elegant animal.

With these debates in hand, the duo journeys to China in hopes of staying together. Yet the encounter espionage, murder, and a culture that not only reveres dragons, but treats them like men. With Throne of Jade, Novik has a gem. She now knows her destination, and she dazzles down this course of action with intent. At the focal point of her tale rests the bond between Temeraire and Laurence, but beyond this fact is the ambition and intellect of the dragon himself. Novik spreads her and her dragon’s wings, pulling the reader through a tale that enthralls and is a must read.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns A review

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Frank Miller’s iconic graphic novel, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns confronts an aged Bruce Wayne living a life of excess and long retired from living a double life as Batman. Yet Gotham has once again descended into darkness and despair. Such a world seeps through each and every page of this comic, revealing a gritty, dark, and cringe worthy universe. Miller paints the picture of the millionaire in retirement, but not the reclusive hidden pair of eyes found in Christopher Nolan’s movie trilogy, but that of a socially active man in a world that is suddenly starting to crumble around him.

Starting with Bruce seeking thrills through racing cars. Miller displays a Gotham City free of the super-villains (the Joker has been sitting silently for years in Arkham), but besieged by the rise of a mutant gang bent on causing mischief just because. It is ultimately this gang and the impending retirement of Commissioner Gordon due to age that lure Batman out of his ten-year retirement. Suddenly the city is no longer free, life is now full of risk, and Wayne cannot sit back on his haunches, especially when a rehabilitated Harvey Dent, compete with a surgically repaired face, strikes out and returns to the life of crime. Despite every dollar he could spare, Wayne could not turn Dent back, could not rehabilitate the man. He feels like a failure, and more now than ever, this failure shoves Wayne back into the fire.

Having paid for Dent’s rehab, Bruce cannot allow the man to run amuck and reek carnage. Thus he dawns the mask, notes his age, his slowed reflexes, the increased pain. Everything used to be so easy, but now, aged yet strong, lumbering yet graceful, Batman becomes the controversy of the city and soon the new police commissioner. In a plot arc that forces Batman to confront the mutant crime leader multiple times, to admit the failure of his Dent project, and to duel Joker, Wayne ultimately must confront himself. No longer can he lead a double life, his retirement proved this fact, but no longer can he Bruce Wayne. Batman has and is his calling, a vocation of danger, a temporal position for which he must find a successor.

But what makes this graphic novel great comes in the political satire as well. Written in the mid 1980’s, Miller explores the cold war and the effects of nuclear war. America is the great hope of the world, but only as long as Superman is in the fold, a position the icon struggles to hold in a world that doesn’t seem to want the superheroes it needs.