Saturday, 25 June 2011

Reccing For Know It Alls

I've just started recommending on Know It Alls - a Harry Potter fanfiction recommendations site. Yay! It's a site heavily focused on the Severus/Hermione pairing, and I'll most likely be recommending James/Lily and Ron/Hermione stories; namely because A) they're my favorites, and B) I know next to nothing about Severus/Hermione.

(I am probably way too proud of this. But I'm still really happy.)

For the few of you that are nice enough to be reading my blog, I've just posted my first recommendation on the site; for Scandalacious Intentions' Where Dwell The Brave At Heart Marauders and James/Lily story.

Once again, yay!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Review - Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

Summary; So-so urban fantasy, where teenage Tessa Gray arrives in Victorian London, discovers she is a shapeshifter, takes shelter with and falls for the Shadowhunters, all the while searching for her brother and trying to discover the identity of the Magister.

Magic is dangerous - but love is more dangerous still... When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray arrives in London during the reign of Queen Victoria, something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Friendless and hunted, Tessa seeks refuge with the Shadowhunters, a band of warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. Drawn ever deeper into their world, she finds herself fascinated by - and torn between - two best friends, and quickly realizes that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. 

Whoop whoop. Hip-hip-hooray. Cassie Clare's done it again - churned out another mediocre YA fantasy, complete with recycled plots, poor description, a piss-poor attempt at steampunk, melodrama villains and characters plagiarized from her very own work. Welcome to the world of The Infernal Devices Trilogy, yet another attempt by Clare to pad out her original Mortal Instruments Trilogy. Gotta hand it to the woman, she sure knows how to keep a cash cow flowing.

If you happen to be a Londoner or historian, be prepared to punch everything in plain sight when you read Clare's depiction of Victorian London. Queen Vicky's London was a flawed and fascinating one - a far more intriguing setting for a novel than Clare's watered down version - brimming with hypocrisy, classism and misogyny. It was the wealthiest place in the world, yet had a massive crime rate and thousands of occupants were living in poverty. Sex was an unspeakable taboo, meaning rapists were rarely brought to justice. Society was incredibly racist, homophobic and oppressive. Yet to read Clare's London, a reader would be forgiven for believing that all anyone did was quote great literature, talk like a pretentious arsehole, be shocked and faint at pretty much anything, prance around in fancy dresses, or play-act at being a swashbuckling hero. In short, it's a caricatured and Disneyfied version of British history, one that reads like the extent of Clare's research was a series of cut-and-pasted Wikipedia articles. (AKA, Cassie Clare, quoting a few lines of Great Expectations does not a steampunk make!)

As well as barely attempting the basic definition of steampunk - reflecting a social commentary on said historical society - Clare seems happy to stick with poor caricatures of common Victorian cliches, made worse by the fact they're historical expies of the original Mortal Instruments cast; Tessa/Clary, Will/Jace, Jem/Simon/Alec and Jessamine/Isabelle. It's a genuine shame, as a couple of characters show honest potential as interesting heroes. Jem is mildly intriguing, but it's Tessa's foil Jessamine who seems like a potentially complex and compelling person, but again, she too falls victim to Clare's lazy development, and as a result, becomes a depressingly familiar stock character.

Clare's weak characterizations are made worse by her unrealistic romances. Like her early pairings of Draco/Hermione and Draco/Ginny from The Draco Trilogy, and Jace/Clary from The Mortal Instruments, Clare attempts another smart-ass-bad-boy-is-redeemed-by-cute-girl romance, this time in the form of Tessa/Will. It still hasn't worked. Will is an unappreciative wanker, Tessa lets him walk all over her, and somehow, this is supposed to create burgeoning romantic chemistry. (Once again, Clare's supporting cast unintentionally end up as more sympathetic than her designated heroes). Despite the occasional good one-liner, Tess and Will have zilch compatibility with one another, and if I hadn't been overly familiar with Clare's romance formula, I would have been surprised when I found myself reading their first kiss.

Unfortunately, the deriving from her earlier works doesn't stop with the romances and characters. The plots are glaringly similar, as well as kick-starting the plot with both heroines searching for a missing family member (Clary - her mother, Tessa - her brother), they discover their families are entwined in the supernatural world, end up learning that they are way too special to be boring old humans and instead become super-speshul powerful magical beings.

It's not only derivative of her own writings, it's derivative of the stock formula of the average teenage urban-fantasy novel of today. For a woman publishing her fourth novel, it is appalling storytelling and a depressing sign that Clare's writing has not yet matured since her infamous days of The Draco Trilogy.

However, there is the occasional saving grace that makes ploughing through the novel possible. One of the more enjoyable components of the Mortal Instruments was the mythology of the Shadowhunters, the Nephilim and the Downworlders. The adoptive family of the Institute too is occasionally touching. (However, I can't buy the idea of 23-year-old Charlotte being the governor of the Institute).

Still, a mildly interesting mythology, appearance of Magnus Bane, and occasional good one-liner can't save a derivative and poorly written novel. Clockwork Angel is a rip-off of a rip-off, and for this reason, I am not planning to set aside anytime for Clock Prince and Clockwork Princess.

2/5. It's got a couple of entertaining moments, but honestly not worth it unless your a hardcore Cassie Clare fan.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Review - James Potter And The Hall Of Elders' Crossing, by G. Norman Lippert

Summary; Harry Potter's kid goes to Hogwarts, tries to maintain an identity away from that of his father, discovers a group named the Progressive Element that is trying to paint the long-dead Voldemort as a good guy and uncovers a plot to raise Merlin.

What's it like to be the son of the most famous wizard of all time? James Potter thinks he knows, but as he begins his own adventure at Hogwarts, he discovers just how much of a challenge it really is to live up to the legend of the great Harry Potter. As if it wasn't enough dealing with the delegates from the American wizarding school and figuring out the mysteriously polite Slytherins, James and his new friends, Ralph and Zane, begin to uncover a secret plot that could pit the Muggle and Magical worlds against each other in all out war. 

One of the more well-known Next Generation Harry Potter fan-fictions, G. Norman Lippert's James Potter Series became (in?)famous through posting his fanfiction novel on a flashy website of his own making - a website that was so flashy that it got mistaken for an official project by JKR or Warner Brothers. Hits to his website went up to several thousand, and before he knew it, he was a big name in Next Gen fandom. (Not bad for a guy who didn't even know what it meant.)

His story doesn't quite live up to his brilliant website, although its clear Lippert has some talent. The characterization is great fun; less so from James, who is fair enough but reads like a mini, less-angsty Harry, but Ralph Deedle, a shy, large, awkward Slytherin, and American Zane Walker, a funny and outgoing Ravenclaw, are hugely entertaining OCs. Zane in particular had the potential to be hugely irritating, but he was done well and became likable. Ralph was the most lovable and human out of the three, and to be honest, I found him the most interesting, especially his Big Reveal at the end. Kudos to Lippert for creating a human and sympathetic Slytherin character. I was less certain on James himself though; he is likable enough in his insecurities, and the paragraphs about him on the train and at the Sorting, worrying about living up to his father, were touching enough and made James quite human, but they dragged on far too long. His reasons for not telling his father about the problems going on at Hogwarts became convoluted after a while, as did the constant refrain of "we can't tell the adults until we've got more proof!" James's failure on a broom, however, created a lot of sympathy for him and he does become a fairly decent protagonist.

Supporting characters too were entertaining. Ben Franklyn, I'm guessing, was a real base-breaker, but to be honest, I loved him, he was great fun. Teddy, Petra and the Gremlins gang were occasionally off at times - the parts where they shared rooms and classes with James & co were annoying, and I wasn't fussed about Raise The Wocket - but I more or less grew to enjoy them.

Tabitha Corsica, however, was less convincing as a villainous character. I was genuinely interested in the Progressive Element part of the story, and the real life connotations with giving a historical villain a more positive image. Unfortunately, Tabitha, whilst having an interesting morality, is a one-note character; she has no real motivation for giving Voldemort a better image. I hope this was elaborated on in the later books, since I genuinely liked this component of the story.

I could say less for the other major component of the plot. Merlin-reincarnation plots are overdone, and to be honest, annoying, and this story didn't do much with the basic formula. (I did, however, quite enjoy the revelation about Ralph's wand).

Technomancy, too, I'm guessing, is another large divider. Honestly, I don't see the point in describing all the physics of magic - it won't work, and it's a recipe for all sorts of continuity issues. It also slows down the plotting of the story; more interesting social and political elements are put on hold for long and doomed descriptions of magical mechanics.

Unfortunately, long, clumsy descriptions and expositions are something of a hallmark in Elders' Crossing. The Prologue, whilst being a nice shout-out to Reservoir Dogs, drags on for far, far, too long, and once you find out that much of it doesn't bear importance to the plot, a reader feels cheated. the technical skills here are few and far between - the plotting was far to slow, and long paragraphs felt awkward. Seriously, this would've been a much better story if Lippert had done some editing. The climax suffers from this; it's by far the weakest part of the story, and doesn't much involve the social and historical ramifications of the Progressive Element - a real shame, as its by far the most interesting part of the story.

Looking back on the review, it does come off is more harsh than I intended. I did enjoy it, even with my reservations, and I feel that Lippert has real potential talent as a writer. It was light and humorous, with some great comedic moments and could be really funny. There were some real touching moments, especially with the ghost of a certain canon character. Whilst some ideas were unimpressive, the Progressive Element was properly original. All in all, I enjoyed this, but it's always apparent that Lippert is here a first time writer.

3/5. It's clumsily written and it's clear that this is Lippert's first foray into writing. However, he some natural ability, his love for the series comes through, and with some more practice, he will become a pretty good writer. (Curse Of The Gatekeeper is on my fanfiction reading list).

Review/Rave/Ramble - Alexandra Quick Series, by Inverarity

Summary; A Harry Potter fanfiction series that has next to nothing to do with Harry Potter. A helluva lot Better Than It Sounds. (Currently numbers at three novels out of a planned seven; Alexandra Quick And The Thorn Circle, Alexandra Quick And The Lands Below and Alexandra Quick And The Deathly Regiment.)

The war against Voldemort never reached America, but all is not well there. When 11-year-old Alexandra Quick learns she is a witch, she is plunged into a world of prejudices, intrigue and danger. Who wants Alexandra dead, and why?

Instead of revising for that ever evasive Chemistry A-grade, I've discovered a new fanfiction series to obsess over. Yay for the wonders of Internet procrastination.

Inverarity's Alexandra Quick American fan-fiction series, titular protagonist Alex Quick learns she is a witch, attends a prestigious magical school, forms a close group of friends, discovers her tangled family history and tries to defeat a Big Bad of a Dark Wizard along the way.

Sound familiar?

On the face of it, Alexandra Quick sounds like a rip-off of Harry Potter transplanted into an American setting. However, despite sharing superficial similarities to its inspiration series, Alexandra Quick soon develops its own tone and mould... ending up travelling in quite a different direction to Harry Potter.

Alexandra herself is the series' greatest strength and a terrific protagonist.  Inverarity seems to have been aware right from the start about the stigma associated with female fan-fiction OCs (ie that they have a tendency to be blatant Mary Sues) and has gone out of his way to make Alexandra the complete opposite. It's arguably possible to view Alexandra as the deconstruction of the Jerk Sue; she is temperamental, gutsy, assertive and determined, as well as powerful in terms of raw magic, and damn does she suffer for this. Seriously, Inverarity could rival Jim Butcher and Joss Whedon in the amount of trauma he likes to inflict upon his main character. (He also likes to lean on the fourth-wall and tease about Mary Sue implications; Alex's teacher once writes her a letter explicitly stating she is not a "special snowflake" - a common fandom term for Mary Sues.) However, despite all Alexandra's flaws, she remains an essentially likable protagonist, due to A) the sheer amount of pain she goes through and the determined way she navigates through it, and B) she has very human desires; most of her motivations come through wanting to be reunited with her family.

Alexandra's difficulties are not the only demonstration of series' approaching from a darker angle earlier than Harry Potter. Unlike its inspiration series, which Grew The Beard during Prisoner Of Azkaban and Goblet Of Fire, Alexandra Quick starts out dark and descends into even deeper tangled territory. Much of this comes from Inverarity's deconstruction of various throwaway tropes in JKR's Harry Potter; for example, (sort-of) Muggle-born Alexandra is unable to truly tell her mother and step-father about witchcraft and the magical world, making for a very lonely young teenager. It's a rather tragic and realistic way of the integration of magical and Muggle-cultures; something that - due to lack of involvement of Hermione's parents - is never touched upon in Harry Potter. (And if you want to get all Buffy with the magic-is-a-metaphor for growing up schtick, I suppose it's a comment a big part of adolescence means a growing distance from your parents.)

What does elevate this series above the typical Harry-Potter-In-America fanfic - and is something JKR never quite managed even in the later Harry Potter novels - is the blurring of good and evil, and the grey against grey morality of the adult factions struggling to gain control over the American wizarding world. Abraham Thorn, Dark Wizard and major villain, is of an entirely different brand to Lord Voldemort. Whereas Voldemort is a personification of pure evil, Abraham Thorn is more a well-intentioned terrorist and strangely relevant to today's culture. Indeed, the Big Reveal of Deathly Regiment serves to highlight that Thorn is fighting very real evils against the bureaucratic government of supposed good guys of the Confederation. It's a far cry from Harry Potter, where the lines of good versus evil are evident, and the Ministry are merely a bumbling idiots who only serve the purpose to complicate the heroes fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

Yet although Inverarity's writing serves to highlight JKR's flaws, Harry Potter too makes plain the problems with Alexandra Quick's universe. Harry Potter's greatest strength by far was JKR's creation of the Harry-Ron-Hermione Trio, and unfortunately, Alexandra Quick fails to replicate this with Alexandra's friendships and relationships; Alex's best friend Anna Chu is the only friend to get any real development throughout the entire series so far, and even she is often demoted to follower rather than true accomplice. David Washington remains static throughout the novels, and despite having an entertaining personality and good sense of humor, is given little to do and little character development. (It's a shame, considering the development given to Alex and Anna). Alex's Ozarker friends Constance and Forbearance Pritchard also change little throughout the stories, although offering slightly more to the plot than David. It's a major contrast to Harry Potter, where the heart of the series lay in the closeness and development of Harry, Ron and Hermione. This issue is definitely visible to a reader comparing the two series, and the story - Deathly Regiment in particular - suffers as a result.

It's a shame, as the rest of the world-building is magnificent - like how JKR's wizarding society had a certain Britishness towards it, Inverarity's depiction of wizarding America has a distinctly American feel. The creation of the Confederation, the Cultures, the political atmosphere, and the depiction of the Ozarkers are terrific, and there's a few sad and hilarious touches (like the ghosts of the Colonials and Indians regularly holding battles). For most part, the story, universe and characters are all at once good fun and quite clever. It's just a shame that the relationships between the characters don't get nearly as much attention and development.

4/5. Alexandra Quick is not without flaws, but the writing has significantly improved with each installment, and is overall an extremely enjoyable read.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Taylor Swift, Slut-Shaming And Better Than Revenge Snarking

Watch out. She steals
sweet innocent virgins
on the playground.
It's no secret I dislike Taylor Swift. I won't go into all the reasons why since A) I have other things to say and B) Other writers have already explained it in much better terms than I would be able to. (Plus, that guy's article has a symbolic flow chart of eyeballs and princesses. You know the one).

But I can't let go of the whole brouhaha with "Better Than Revenge" (AKA Camilla Belle is oh-such-a-meanie-slut-who-stole-the-lovely-and-saintlike-Joe-Jonas-from-my-heavenly-clutches. Honey, it's more likely he left you because he didn't want to be featured in any more of your "country" songs).

It's not just the blatant slut-shaming and the idea that a grown woman who bitches about her ex's new girlfriend being a slut is the same woman who is being held up across America as the ideal role model for young children. It's that the Better Than Revenge lyrics - as well as that they should be blacklisted by the Council Of Half-Decent Music - also hold examples of hypocrisy, classism and creepy-clingy-girlfriend-ism;

Now go stand in the corner
And think about what you did

Wow, Taylor Swift is so incredibly mature and not childish and petty at all. I wish I could've had more role models like her as a child. Then maybe I'd be making millions by bitching about my exes. Sigh...

Ha, time for a little revenge

Yup, really seeing the maturity here.

The story starts when it was hot and it was summer,
And I had it all, I had him right there where I wanted him
She came along, got him alone and let's hear the applause
She took him faster than you can say sabotage.

Here's where it gets bad. Taylor Swift, your boyfriend is not your possession, and people do not steal him from you. You cannot hold people "right there where I wanted him" as if you owned him. Seriously, it's impossible to see why she's held up as so saint-like once her lyrics have been analyzed. If these lyrics were gender-flipped, and it was about a weak-willed woman being stolen from her boyfriend by another man, the artist might not be declared such a role model for young kids anymore.

Also, the idea that she's blaming the "other woman" entirely for her boyfriend's infidelity doesn't sit right.  The idea that "hey, maybe my boyfriend's a flaky idiot" never crosses the narrator's mind. In fact, the boyfriend doesn't get any elaboration throughout the lyrics apart from being the token "virtuous pretty boy stolen by the slut." The fact that the narrator finding it conceivable that her boyfriend either didn't fancy her or was being a dick, but that she instantly assumes that it was the evil slut who corrupted her perfect boyfriend sends out a disconcerting double-standard.

(Good news, adulterers! It's not your fault that you're cheating on your girlfriend! It's the mean girl in short skirts and low cut tops that manipulated you into ditching your partner!)

I never saw it coming, wouldn't have suspected it
I underestimated just who I was dealing with
She had to know the pain was beating on me like a drum
She underestimated just who she was stealing from

Again, with the "stealing" and "dealing with." Swift acts like her designer jewelry or pet poodle was stolen, rather than, y'know, a human being.

Yes, it's completely wrong to try and get with someone already in a relationship - the lyrics aren't clear as to whether the boyfriend and the girl where cheating on the narrator, or whether he simply left her for another girl - but still, unless you're dating a programmable robot, it's highly unlikely this woman deserves all the blame.

This is even more disconcerting than the Actress/Mattress stanza, not only because it seems to be ingrained into Taylor Swift's brain that the woman is obviously the slutty man stealer, and the man is obviously the corrupted innocent, but because she believes all of her listeners will immediately agree with this. (And sadly, to look at the sabotage on Camilla Belle's Wikipedia page, she was right).

She's not a saint, and she's not what you think
She's an actress, whoa
She's better known for the things that she does
On the mattress, whoa

Whoa, Swift, I know Camilla Belle isn't exactly the greatest of actress, but - oh wait, she's calling her a slut. I R DUM.

Here's the famous stanzas that's had feminists amongst myself up in arms. Slut-shaming at its most crudest.

I may be being overly nitpicky, but something else isn't right about this. The concept here is that Swift is hammily implying that Belle is a slag, but she is unable to say it outright. She's like a preteen embarrassed about giggling at naughty words like "sex" and "boobs." It's as though she's so afraid of being labelled inappropriate or "naughty" and instead clumsily implies the accusation instead of outright saying it. In a way, that's even more despicable than actively calling Belle a slut.

Soon she's gonna find stealing other people's toys
On the playground won't make her many friends
She should keep in mind, she should keep in mind
There is nothing I do better than revenge, ha

And once again, a boyfriend is not a toy to be stolen on the playground. And I very much doubt that is cheating ass was as innocent as a child's toy.

She lives her life like it's a party and she's on the list.
She looks at me like I'm a trend and she's so over it
I think her ever present frown is a little troubling
She thinks I'm psycho 'cause I like to rhyme her name with things.

... And I find it difficult not to be sympathetic towards Belle for that.

But sophistication isn't what you wear or who you know
Or pushing people down to get where you wanna go

This is the one line in the song that makes me laugh. Hypocrite much, Swift? Why write this song if not to push Belle down in order to sell records?

Oh, they didn't teach you that in prep school, so it's up to me
But no amount of vintage dresses gives you dignity

This is uncomfortably snobbish. Calling someone unsophisticated because of their background is out of order - whether wealthy or poor. Swift is no longer having a go at Belle for going out with Jonas, she's become unnecessarily bitchy by criticizing her background and personal life. It's dangerously close to bullying and an attitude that a woman who takes so much pride in her perfect role-model image should not be demonstrating.


Am I overly critical here? Swift's attitude in these lyrics is a sharp contrast to the sweet innocent girl she is portrayed to be to create the mould she is slotted into to present her asa perfect role model.