Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review- Lirael and Abhorsen

So I recently completed the Abhorsen Chronicles which is the second series out of my list of ten series to finish before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 comes out. In case you don't know, I've embarked on a hefty reading project and you can read all about it under the "Post Potter Challenge" tab, but just to put it briefly, I am looking for a series to cure my Post-Potter Depression before the final installment to the Harry Potter franchise comes out this summer. I got ten possible candidates (you can see them listed under the Post Potter Challenge tab) and The Abhorsen Chronicles was the second one I've completed. The books in this series are as follows: Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. I've already got my review for Sabriel up and you can read it here. This review will be going over Lirael and Abhorsen.

So Lirael and Abhorsen are very much two parts to the same book so it's appropriate I review them together. Lirael takes place fourteen years after the end of Sabriel and at this point, Sabriel and Touchstone have married and Touchstone has been restored as the king of the Old Kingdom and together, they are bringing stability to the country. Sabriel, the Abhorsen, is often away putting the dead back into death and stopping them from reeking havoc among the country's citizens. Sabriel and Touchstone both sense something bad brewing under the Red Lake and ask for the Clayr to use their Sight to see what it could be; however the Clayr's sight seems to be blocked in this particular area. This book switches gears away from Sabriel and Touchstones story and we get two new characters: Lirael and Sam. Lirael is a daughter of the Clayr living the Clayr's glacier and Sam is the son of Sabriel and Touchstone as well as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, attending school in Ancelstierre. The book starts off with Lirael waking up on her 14th birthday and the girl is sopping emo. Unlike other Clayrs, Lirael had black hair and is pale instead of being blond and tan. Lirael is upset because she's got no mom, she doesn't know who her dad is, and has yet to be awakened (be given the gift of Sight). Clayr's often are awakened around the time they're eleven and it's unheard of for a daughter of the Clayr to be fourteen and without Sight. To keep herself distracted from depression, she begins working as a Library Assistant in the Clayr's Library and makes it a task to explore all the hidden and ancient areas of the Library. Lirael calls upon the Disreputable Dog to accompany her on these adventures and to be her a lifelong loyal friend.

We fast forward five years later and we are introduced to Prince Sameth. Sam is attending school in Ancelstierre at the time and is about to graduate. One night, him and his cricket team are on a bus heading back to school when they crash near the Wall. At the Wall, Sam and his team are attacked by a horde of Dead Hands and Sam enters death in order to find and stop the Necromancer who is summoning them. In Death, he meets the necromancer Hedge who badly injures Sam physically and spiritually. Sam's father Touchstone brings him back to the Old Kingdom to the safety of their palace. There, Touchstone and Sabriel explain to Sam and his sister Ellimere that the Ancelstierran government is sending Southerling refugees into the Old Kingdom and in turn, the refugees are being killed by the dead. Sabriel and Touchstone must travel to Ancelstierre to sort out the matter and figure out what part it plays in what they believe to be a greater threat. In the meantime they task Ellimere to take charge of the kingdom while Sam begins his Abhorsen training. Sam becomes deathly afraid of becoming the Abhorsen after his encounter with Hedge and shy's away from his training. Instead of training, he leaves the Kingdom on the account of his own affairs. At this time, Lirael is now nineteen and still working in the Clayr's library with the Disreputable Dog along side her. Her and dog, while exploring the deeper parts of the library, discover a set of artifacts left for her by a Clayr who saw her several hundreds of years before. The artifacts that have been left for Lirael are a set of tools for a Rememberancer (one who can look into the past). After discovering the gifts left for her, the heads of the Clayr clan quicklu dispatch Lirael off on a boat after they recently received a vision of Lirael on a boat near the Red Lake.

In my effort to keep my summary short, I'll just end it with this. Sam and Lirael eventually cross paths and the two begin to travel together. Together, they both learn the greater task at hand here and what must be done to stop what basically is the end of the world. By the time we begin book three, Abhorsen, we are on our way to the final battle. Lirael and Sam are on they're way to stop the greater evil at hand here and Sabriel and Touchstone have gone missing during their visit to Ancelstierre in an assassination attempt. Coming towards the end of the trilogy, we get to see everything come together so perfectly in an epic final battle. The final few pages are heart pounding and gripping and ends with an incredible band. I can't recall the last book I read that ended so utterly-epicly. Ahhhh, it was perfection.

If you haven't guessed by now, I loved this series. Garth Nix is a beauuuuuuutiful writer and knows how to write very likeable characters. Lirael is the real star of this series. I wondered how Nix was going to top Sabriel's character after book one but he did it with Lirael. As much as I loved Sabriel, I found Lirael to be the better heroine in this series. Sabriel, in a way, was just too perfect. She is so incredibly heroic and stoic so she was harder for me to relate to. Lirael on the other hand, was more like a Bridget Jones type character. She feel likes an idiot most of the time and second to all the other Clayr girls in the glacier, yet she has many admirable and brave characteristics. I also loved her friend the Disreputable Dog; an incredibly loyal and loving friend for Lirael. A great counter character for the aloof and dubious Mogget.

Everything we understand and know about the Charter and the history of the Old Kingdom comes together so perfectly by the end of the series. The magic and fantasy aspects of the series are used to the point that their needed and is not fluffed up. I enjoyed being able to see all nine gates of Death in the final installment, whereas we only got to gate four in the first book. I also liked see the mix and clash of Ancelstierre technology and Old Kingdom magic that we didn't get in the first book. Again, the best part is the wonderfully written characters ingeniously created by Mr. Nix. I adore character driven books and this series is definitely one of them. You will fall in love with Sabriel and Touchstone in the first book, and fall even deeper in love with Lirael and Sam in the second two books. I can't wait to make my way around to reading the rest of Garth Nix's books. I highly, highly recommend this series.

Lirael- 10/10

Abhorsen- 10/10

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Movie Review- Mimacs

Alright so this movie came out back in 2009, but it wasn't available to rent on Netflix until very recently which is why it's taken me this long to get around watching it. I couldn't wait to watch brilliant filmmaker's Jean-Pierre Jeunet's newest film Mimacs because I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Amelie. Who doesn't love his 2001 quirky romantic comedy starring the talented and beautiful Audrey Tautou? I was hoping Mimacs would be a good follow up so I had high hopes when I slipped it into my DVD player. So does Jeunet's latest film match up with his previous ones?

Well I had the problem of constantly comparing it to Amelie in the first 20-30 minutes of the film. I figured this was going to happen but it was making me nervous sometime at the 30 minute mark. The good thing is, soon after that Mimiacs began to take on a life of it's own for me and I was highly engrossed for the next hour and a half. So the film is about a man named Bazil and it opens with his childhood (like in Amelie...gah! I need to stop that) when his father is killed in a freak accident when he steps on a land mind. Soon after that, we fast forward 30 years and we find Bazil working in a video rental shop in Paris. One night, a shootout ensues outside of the shop and Bazil gets shot in the head by a stray bullet. Bazil's surgeon decide there would be better to leave the bullet in his brain; however, Bazil could drop dead at any second. By the time Bazil gets out of the hospital, he is homeless and has lost his job. Rendered homeless, he is picked up by a man named Slammer who takes him to his "family" who agree to "adopt" him.

Slammer's "family" consists of a group of outcasts that live in (or under?) a junk yard. They family is a bit like a Ocean's 11 type of group, where each person has a special talent. There is Elastic Girl who's a contortionist, Mama Chow who is the cook and mom figure, Remington who's a former Ethnographer, Buster, the human canonball, Calculator, a girl that can calculate things perfectly, and Tiny Pete, a man who creates moving sculptures out of the salvaged trash. After being accepted in the family, Bazil goes out to gather trash one day when he discoveres two office building located across the street from each other. One is the arms manufacturer that created the mine that killed his father, and the other is the manufacturer that created the bullet that's lodged in his brain. One is owned by Nicolas Thibault De Fenouillet and the other is owned by Fran├žois Marconi. He attempts to speak with De Fenouillet but gets thrown out of the building. He then gets into the building across the street only to hear a grim speech by Marconi. Afterwards, Bazil decides to take on a ploy to make both their lives hell. Bazil, with the help from his family and their special talents, is able to get the two arm's manufacturer to declare war on each other by interfering with an arms deal with an African dictator. With the two men up in arms over each other, Bazil and Co. continue reeking havoc on the men leaving each to believe the opposing party is responsible for it.

Jeunet explained this film as a "satire on the world's arm trade." That pretty much sums it up. The entire movie is a satire and a really charming one at that. Everything that happened in the movie was completely improbable, yet it was a humorous look on the weapons manufacturing industry. I loved all the characters that played a part in bringing down these two arms traders. This odd cast of characters added to the whimsical tone to which the film alluded. Jeunet certainly knows how to create quirky characters, and he doesn't fail to match up in Mimacs. Even though Mimacs dealt with a pretty serious topic, it is executed into a cheerful delight of a film. It certainly had me smiling til the end.

This is very much a feel good film like Amelie, however, I have heard quite a few complaints about the movie trying to be too cute. I certainly didn't have a problem with the cutesieness of the movie, but if you're not familiar with Jeunet's style, you may think the movie is trying to hard. I personally thought the movie was colorful and vibrant and was everything I was looking for in a film from Jeunet. I was saddened when I learned that Audrey Tautou was suppose to have a cameo in it but was unable to do so due to scheduling conflicts. Orginally, there was to be a scene where Bazil lowers a microphone in a chimney and finds Amelie and Nino in the apartment with several crying children. Oh well, maybe in his next film?

Final Score- 9/10

Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Review- Sabriel

I am always on a look out for another series that can ease the pain of my post-Potter depression, and the most recent remedy I tried was the Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix, the first novel being Sabriel. So far Sabriel is the only one I've read of the series, but I'll definitely be making my way to the other two soon. By post-Potter depression remedies, I mean children's fantasy series that are written to be enjoyed by adults as well- but not like the YA books that insult your intelligence. So how does it measure up next to Harry Potter?

So to put in a nutshell what Sabriel is about, the novel is set in a fantasy land where there are two neighboring countries. One is the land of Ancelstierre which is kind of the "new world" of the two- it's got schools, cars, electricity, and other cultural aspects similar to the 20th century. To the north is the Old Kingdom and is separated from Ancelstierre by a heavily guarded border called The Wall. The Old Kingdom is a land where magic can be used and extremely dangerous dead spirits exist. These dead spirits are corpses that have been reanimated called Dead Hands and also powerful supernatural beings known as Free Magic. These dead beings are raised by "Necromancers" who can travel into the gates of death and create Dead Hands to do their bidding. The Abhorsen are a bloodline of Necromancers that fight against this by laying these beings back into death by using magical bells that each have their own unique power.

It took me almost half the book bit until I fully understood the concept of the magic used in this fantasy land. I know not everyone has the patience to mull through until they have a firm grasp on it so I'll quickly explain. The magic is referred to as Charter Magic and derives its powers through a web of magic channeled from "The Charter." The Charter are a group of powerful objects that were created thousands of years ago; it consists of the Great Charter Stones, The Wall (the one that separates Ancelstierre from the Old Kingdom), and three bloodlines. These bloodlines are the royal family, the Abhorsen, and the Clayr (a large sisterhood of blondies that can see the future). The Charter is meant to maintain order on magic from reigning freeling. Charter Mages or members of these magical bloodlines cast Charter spells by summoning symbols called Charter Marks, and combining the different marks to achieve their desired effect.

So Sabriel, our heroine in this novel, is attending school in Ancelstierre at the beginning of the novel. Her father Terciel, who resides in the Old Kingdom, is the current Abhorsen of their time. While at school, Sabriel receives an alarming message from her father in which he sends her his weapons which includes a sword and bells. Sabriel believes her father has been overcome by an incredibly powerful evil entity so immediately leaves for the Old Kingdom to rescue her father. When Sabriel reaches her father's house on a cliff, she finds a created named Mogget. Mogget is a Free Magic construct who has been bound into a form of a white cat by a red Charter collar which forces him to serve the Abhorsen. Mogget joins Sabriel on her journey to the Old Kingdom to find her father and tells her that she is the new Abhorsen, though she refuses to believe it. The two are eventually joined by another companion who calls himself Touchstone. Sabriel and Mogget find Touchstone in an ancient burial ground where he was magically imprisoned as a ship's figurehead for the last 200 years. Touchstones history is a mystery to Sabriel at first but acts like nothing but her loyal servant. The three of them continue on a journey to find Sabriel's father and discover the greater evil at work.

The novel was plush full of innovative magic, creepy dark monsters, wonderful characters, and lots of adventurous trials. The one thing that made this book was Sabriel's incredible bravery and heart. The majority of fantasy series don't feature female characters as a lead and the female characters that do make an appearance typically aren't written well. I think writers should take take a lesson or two from Mr. Nix on how to get into a girl's pysche. She's not written like a uber-tough superwoman or like an over emotional, unreasonable damsel. Instead she's written like an actual human being. She's got real emotions, uses logic, is fearful yet brave, and is very down to earth. The funny thing is, our male counterpart Touchstone was clearly not the one who wore the pants in the relationship. Literally. Touchstone had the kilt while Sabriel had on the armored pants. Touchstone didn't try to hide his weaknesses and is eventually brought out of his shell by Sabriel. Mogget was definitely a favorite of mine in the book. He's is very much that smartass, talking cat character but we are never very sure about him because of the dangerous, blood thirsty Free Magic that resides in him.

I love how this book is still labeled a children's book but doesn't dumb itself down at all for the sake of the audience. If you're not use to reading fantasy novels, everything dealing with the necromancers and charter magic might seem a bit confusing in the beginning, but it all becomes clear and easy to understand once you get into it. It's got a nice, sweet romantic story within it between our heroine and Touchstone. If this were a young adult novel, I feel like the focus of the story would have been the romance which is why I've given up on reading YA novels. It's better when the romance works with the story's plotline instead of it being the focus of the plot. Overall, the book is incredibly innovative and original and exciting. It had everything I was looking for in a post-Potter remedy. An original fantasy world, unique magic, young likeable protagonists, great characters, lovely relationships, and an exciting plot. My only complaint was it ended too fast. Ever since I got my Kindle, I can't really tell the length of books anymore but I felt like plowed through Sabriel too quickly, but that may just be because I couldn't put it down. Now I need to get the next two in the trilogy. I'll be sure to post my review for those when I do!

Final Score- 9/10