Category: Fantasy

Rogue One: Review

Rogue One: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©Lucasfilm and does not belong to me)

In loving memory of Carrie Fisher.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was perfect for what it set out to be: both something, and nothing, to do with the real Star Wars franchise that I have been following since the first trilogy in the 1980s (not that I watched it until I was actually born). It was a story that was set in the Star Wars galaxy (or universe?) but with completely new characters that we have never seen before, and will never see again. It was a ‘one off’; based in between the original trilogy and the ‘prequels’ of the early 2000s, it tells the story of the rebels who fight to get hold of the Death Star plans, in order to roll straight into the plot of Star Wars (the 1977 original). It was just what we needed.

There was a bit of a jumpy start, with our protagonist who appears unwilling, and after someone pointed it out to me, I was very aware that this was the third white, brunette, female protagonist we have had written into Star Wars. However, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) held her own against the rebels (until she became one of them); her skills with a blaster were great, but I also didn’t doubt them after discovering the background the character had.

I have always really enjoyed the Star Wars universe and its films, and was glad that this time the production made the decision to show us where the action was taking place, especially considering it jumped from planet to planet, and rebel to Empire. Speaking of the Empire, Darth Vader’s occasional scenes were fantastic; it makes sense, considering this was when he was his highest point of power and still climbing. I was glad that they involved his character so much, whilst also refraining from making him the central villain for the film in order to keep it away from the main franchise.

The score was new and refreshing, but still in keeping with the traditional Star Wars themes we all know and love. There were interesting sets, and the plot was easy to get invested in as an audience member, because (even though the characters are new) it is a world we already know and understand – there was not as much need for world building. One of my favourite things about Rogue One is that the stakes are truly, utterly, phenomenally high. I was constantly on the edge of my seat, worried for the characters; it’s breathlessly fast towards the end of the film, and it feels like an incredibly close call even though we have the hindsight and knowledge that the rebels do get the Death Star plans. It didn’t matter that I knew that, I was still anxious for all the characters and cared about them – even the new, sarcastic, robot companion.

All in all, Rogue One was a success. The timing for it’s comic relief was on point; the film was fun, exciting, dangerous and well developed within the Star Wars world and its various branches. Lets have another Star Wars Story, and bring on Episode VIII. Verdict: 8.5/10.

Wolf By Wolf: Review

Wolf By Wolf: Review

By the author of The Walled City, Ryan Graudin, Wolf By Wolf is one of the biggest “what if”s of the 20th Century: what if the Allies lost World War II? What if the Axis, mainly Germany and Japan, won the war and Hitler managed to pretty much take over the entire world? It’s a massive idea, and Wolf By Wolf is somehow capable with dealing with it on a manageable scale, resulting in an interesting story that follows individuals set in this frightening wider world.

Our main protagonist is Yael, a sixteen year old Jewish girl who also happens to have been experimented on as a child, resulting in her ability to “skin shift” – she can transform into any female, with any physical appearance, that she wants to. This has also led to her lacking a personal identity, which is looked at throughout the book and definitely struck a chord with me. It’s an interesting notion that works in well with our modern world, its interconnectivity and the idea of people becoming ‘international’ – or, more personally, how people can have a ‘third culture’ and lack identity for a certain place, instead choosing their identities based on other aspects of their lives.

The year is 1956 and Yael’s mission, as you might expect, is to kill Hitler. The way to get close to him is for Yael to win a cross-world (from Germany to Japan) motorbike race which is usually reserved for teenage boys – I won’t go into much other detail, as I try to make these reviews spoiler free, but all I will say is that Wolf By Wolf is worth the read to find out how Yael gets on with her mission. The book is fast-paced, with thought-provoking insights to a world I’m glad we didn’t have as a future. The only problem I had with Wolf By Wolf is that it is quite an easy read; the concept was good, but the language didn’t challenge or create an superbly vivid descriptions. As a fast reader who was only reading in drips and drabs at work, it only took me three days. If I had been able to sit and read it through, I think it would have taken me a day, a day and a half at most.

A mix of both a young adult novel and historical fiction, I found in Wolf By Wolf the action was quite light, which contrasted with the historical events and their seriousness (such as the labour and concentration camps). Sometimes, the fear I felt I should be feeling for the characters and their predicaments was not as intense as I thought it should be, considering the brutality of the Nazi regime and the genocide that took place. Even in Yael’s life, it’s historical brutality, and the action that takes place in her present did not make me particularly anxious for her safety.

Saying this, I read it quickly because I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know – needed to know what would happen, and had to keep reading whenever I got the chance. Wolf By Wolf may have been occasionally too light, but there was enough action and oh-so-many cliff hangers that my interest was constantly peaked, and there was never a dull moment.

True, classic young adult fiction with a zesty twist of “what if” history, Wolf By Wolf is a good, strong, juicy start to what I know now is a duology looking into this thought-provoking alternate timeline. Blood By Blood is the follow up, which I will be getting from my local Waterstone’s as soon as I can. Verdict: 7/10

The Trees: Review

The Trees: Review

An intriguing, totally original book by Ali Shaw, The Trees marries reality with the fantastical in the most magical of ways, resulting in a book that is both down to earth and wonderfully human whilst still holding something of the spectacular. It begins in a suburban town just outside London, but within the first chapter, the country (and world, it seems) has been tipped upside down by the arrival of the trees. They appear very suddenly overnight, causing chaos and changing life as we know it in the blink of an eye.

Our unwilling protagonist is Adrien Thomas, and the book follows the journey of this self-proclaimed coward as well as the companions he meets whilst trying to traverse this new world. There’s nature-loving Hannah, her technology deprived son Seb, and a mysterious Japanese hunter girl (and badass) Hiroko. Adrien ‘accidentally’ sets out on a mission to find his wife when he finds out that Hannah and Seb are travelling to find Hannah’s brother; along the way the group come across mythical, or ancient, creatures (not sure which they classify as), confront death and the breakdown of social structure, and also manage to learn a lot about themselves and each other.

The Trees begins at a crawl, and at first I didn’t enjoy many of the characters – especially our antihero Adrien. This might have been because of Adrien’s lack of drive, which the book definitely plays on throughout. I mostly related to Hannah as a character at the beginning, having always also enjoyed nature, but the realisation that social norms (and their lives) have fallen apart quickly has Hannah’s love of the forest beginning to wain and wear out.

At times, Shaw’s novel is very dark; The Trees plays well on human nature and our fluctuating emotions and desires, proving that our instinctive nature is as brutal and wild as the trees that appear over night and show no signs of moving or relenting. In simple terms, The Trees delivers the wonderful, if harrowing, message that humans are still just animals, and our base desires are as savage as the natural world is. I love it.

As the book progresses, I began to feel for the characters and understand them in a more profound way as their personalities were explored, the original impressions peeled away to reveal their inner natures, strengths and weaknesses. The way that they grow to care about each other, in their little band of misfits, was the same way that I grew to care about them. It was an organic (pardon the pun) character growth that definitely made me feel more involved in their predicament, and proved that Shaw’s writing and sense of pace is excellent. By the end of the book, I couldn’t put it down – I needed to know that these people I had grown to care about were going to be alright in their new and frightening world.

Thoroughly engrossing, with a spectacular concept for a nature-lover like me (or anyone who is interested in the different ways we may see the apocalypse), The Trees grows on you like the natural world that gives the book its name: slowly, inching forward and creating solid foundations, but finishing with power and total captivation of the imagination. There is definitely something in The Trees for everyone. Verdict: 9/10.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©WarnerBros and does not belong to me)

Yes, I am very aware that this review is almost an entire month late, with Fantastic Beasts being released in the UK on the 18th of November, but on the off chance you haven’t seen it and are pondering whether or not you should – here is a review to help!

This film is first in what J.K.Rowling has announced as a series of five movies based in the 1920s-1950s, surrounding the dark wizard Grindelwald, his rise to power, and his relationship (and ultimate demise by) a young Albus Dumbledore. However, Fantastic Beasts both thrusts this idea on its audience at the beginning of the movie and then only has a sprinkle of hints to it throughout the rest of the film, before bringing it back in full force as an interesting finale – as the title suggests, the rest of the film focuses on finding (or, I should really say, recapturing) some ‘fantastic beasts’ that have managed to get out of a magical suitcase, although this does feel like a secondary plot.

Fantastic Beast‘s main protagonist is Newt Scamander, although a lot of the film follows him and a muggle he befriends called Jacob Kowalski. It also gives us an insight to American wizards’ way of life, their traditions, and the difference between them and the British wizards that we have met throughout the Harry Potter series. Set in New York in the 1920s, in Fantastic Beasts we also see segregation of ‘no-maj’s (muggles) and wizards, which made me curious as to whether this was a nod to the segregation that people of colour faced at the same time (even though this wasn’t apparent in the back drop of the film, which I think they could have made more effort to involve).

I found it really interesting to see a Harry Potter’s Wizarding World film that focused on adults who were comfortable and fully “trained” in their magical abilities. As it was set in the city, it was also nice to get an idea of wizard’s and witches’ daily life, although I wish there was something set in 2016 because we still have never seen the magical world as it stands today (interesting fact for those who don’t know: the Battle of Hogwarts took place in 1998).

Overall, Fantastic Beasts was a good, strong film that held its own in the Wizarding World franchise; I enjoyed Eddie Redmayne’s acting although his character’s awkwardness was not what I was expecting. I wondered if it might stereotype Hufflepuffs considering one of the only other Hufflepuffs we have met was Luna Lovegood, but I enjoyed the style nonetheless. The best thing about Fantastic Beasts were (shock) the beasts themselves – as with all Wizarding World films I’ve seen, the effects were great and I loved the different magical creatures we met and were able to learn about. Most of these, I’ve been told, did come from Scamander’s book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” so it was nice to these come to life on the big screen.

Saying this, the plot for Fantastic Beasts was borderline ‘okay’; I was surprised by its quirks, and it proved J.K. Rowling’s ability to write – she was responsible for the screenplay. There was good direction from David Yates but I wasn’t really sure of the main plot and the battle-fuelled ending of the film, which dragged the magical creatures into a secondary plot line (which was weird seeing as they were the film’s title). As well as this, during the final battle the dueller’s spells ‘touching’ really annoyed me (book nerd alert); I understand it is used for visual effect, but the whole point if this effect is that it is only supposed to happen with Harry’s and Voldemort’s wants because they have the same core material.

I’ll be honest – I wasn’t particularly excited going into the cinema to watch Fantastic Beasts, but after seeing it I am excited for the future of J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World and the stories it has to offer. My only other issue with the film itself was the surprise reveal at the end of this film, and the casting of Grindelwald, but I will wait to make a judgement until we see him properly in the future films.

Fantastic Beasts was varied in pace, and the magic was great – but apart from the beasts, there wasn’t anything new or unexpected in terms of characters’ magical abilities. Though the plot was a little busy, it was a good film overall which has set up the future plot lines well and made me excited for the Wizarding World to be back in my life. Verdict: 7/10.