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Runes, Potions & Reviews

Turn, Season 1

‘Meh…’ That was my first thought after watching the Pilot episode of one of the most critically acclaimed TV series of the past two years. It has none of the elements of my favourite historical series: the costumes are not jaw-dropping, the settings are not that impressive and it doesn’t really offer a glimpse into the lives of important historical figures. So why was I constantly coming back for more?

The answer can’t possibly be the plot. The story of the American Independence War has been covered by many before, so it’s not really a novelty subject, despite the spin the creators of the show have put on it. In fact, to want to get into these kind of details of how it all went down, you would have to be a) a history buff, b) American or, more likely, c) all of the above. Now, I do love a good historical story, but learning more about Washington’s spies really didn’t seem something worth spending my time on. I only started watching it because it was on my recommendation list on a rainy, boring Sunday afternoon.

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The story starts rather abruptly with a random battlefield and a guy playing dead. It is followed by another random scene about a farmer who’s lost his entire cabbage crop due to bad weather. And that’s how you get introduced to the main players of the spying game. Playing-dead guy turns out to be M (going by the name of Ben Talmadge) and farmer boy is no other than James Bond. Or Woodhull, Abraham Woodhull, as it turns out. Other members of the spying gang include Caleb Brewster (a rather hot-headed rebel) and Anna Strong, 18th century Bond girl, who’s in love with Abraham despite them both being married not to each other. But never mind that, she’s also fierce, intelligent, seductive when she wants to be and the kind of gal who could take out any Bond girl any day.

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Like Anna, a lot of the characters are strong. And I don’t necessarily mean that literally. They simply come across as very well-defined, from Mary Woodhull (an 18th century poster wife, adamant to maintain her picture-perfect family despite most likely not actually being in love with her husband) to Major Hewlett (a guy who couldn’t have been more British had he been named Earl Grey; a follower of rules and a believer of good manners even in war).

So what about the villains? History will tell you there is a big collective one: the British. This show though, doesn’t make it so easy. From the four main British characters, only one (maybe two) can actually be considered villains. The obvious one, without a doubt in anyone’s minds, I’m sure, is Captain John Simcoe. You know those bullies who border on the psycho and only get into the army because it gives them an excuse to be violent? He is it! The second villain is Robert Rogers, commander of the Queen’s Rangers, but to be honest, he’s more obsessed with his job than proper evil. The other two Brits, Majors Hewlett and Andre, are quite charming and/or quirky.

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I’ve already said the costumes and settings did not impress me, and here’s why. The first season revolves around Setauket, a little town in the middle of nobody cares where. The costumes are accurate, but rather plain, because well, residents of a little American town did not shop at Paris salons for their outfits. The best costumes are the uniforms of the British soldiers, of which we see quite a large variety. The setting is again, quite ordinary, memorable because of tree things: variations of brown, wood houses and a lot of mud.

The script and directing do not disappoint, but are again, not the most extraordinary I’ve ever seen. So let’s go back to my question. Why do I want to see season 2?

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I’ve already given you the answer, four paragraphs ago. It’s because of the characters. Although I have to complain about none of them truly developing throughout Season 1, I also have to admit they’re what makes this show interesting. There are a lot of characters played by a long list of great actors (Jamie Bell, Kevin McNally, Burn Gorman, JJ Field, etc.). By the end of Season 1, you’ll want to know what happens to them. Not to mention that you only superficially get to know the other side of the story. In a series about Washington’s spies, I want to also know about the King’s spies, descendants of the most famous secret agent to have ever been written. Plus, there is a New York plot-line that needs to be explored and that promises more glamorous props. So season 2, here I come. I might be two seasons too late (the show’s going into its 4th season next year), but hey, the United States of America were not formed in a day either, were they now?

Leanansidhe

And now, ladies and gentlemen…the spoilers:

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The Ashford Affair

“Knowledge can be a double-edged sword. You need to decide whether it’s worth cutting yourself on it.”

Nothing sums up The Ashford Affair better than these words, spoken by one of its male characters. Lauren Willig’s novel is a beehive of secrets always threatening to burst, a story within a story focused on 3 generations of the same family. It is a tale we can all relate to by asking ourselves: do we know what our family’s deepest secret it?

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The novel starts in Kenya in the 1940s, where we meet a young woman named Addie, who is on her way to meet her cousin and best friend, Bea. It then crosses the globe and a few decades, to land in 1990s’ New York, where Clemmie, a successful attorney, is on her way to her Granny Addie’s birthday party. Eventually, we jump back in time and cross the Atlantic to arrive in Britain, in the 1920s. From here on, we’re on a journey, following the tumultuous friendship between Bea, a glamorous aristocrat, and Addie, her orphan, scholarly cousin. The narrative keeps joggling the three periods as Clemmie starts to realise her great-aunt Bea, who “looked like the sort who toppled kingdoms and sunk ships,” is her family’s deepest secret.

Willig tells the story beautifully, describing her scenes in great detail, from clothes, to cocktails to the heat of a summer day. The three locations each have a story of their own and are by definition summaries of the atmospheres they’ll bring to the book. Britain’s aristocratic scene is tempting in its luxury, but strict and cold at its core. Kenya’s wild landscapes are a place where anything is possible and the imagination is left to roam free. New York is modern and chic, but a heartless business arena below the surface.

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The characters are well-rounded – never just bad, never just good – and grow out of themselves as the story evolves. You will fall in love with Bea, become friends with Addie and see yourself in Clemmie. They are all believable, more so because they are part of the same family. Their personalities are an evolution each family will have encountered throughout its history. Bea is shaped by the sunset of nobility in full power, Addie is formed by the dawn of female independence and Clemmie is a child of a success-driven world. Look at your own family, two or three generations back, and you will likely see the resemblance.

The plotline twists and turns, making life extremely difficult for the characters. From ruined marriages to bastard children to murder, this story will keep you constantly wondering what’s going to happen on the next page.

So if you need a glamorous book to enjoy with a glass of wine, look no further. This novel about love, friendship, family and regret has everything you could ask from a great story.

I can’t possibly give it less than:

5 Potions(5 potions)

Leanansidhe

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the spoilers…

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The Secret Life of Pets

What do your pets do while you’re away? No, but, really, what do they do?

If you’ve ever asked yourself this, you’re most certainly one of the billions of people who have. I remember stalking my grandmother’s dog for an entire day when I was little, to solve the mystery. For children like me and adults alike, “the humans behind Despicable Me” have decided to have a go at giving us the answer.

Let me start by saying that I find their marketing stunt very ingenious. It tells you why you should go watch this movie – it’s been produced by the same people who brought you the minions, the greatest animated success since Let It G…err, I mean Frozen – but it does it without breaking the spell of the trailer by reminding you there were producers who probably had a lot of meetings around a table in a conference room to get this thing going.

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The trailer offers a good summary of the story. A dog, Max, gets a new ‘brother’, Duke, when his owner adopts a new dog. He tries to get rid of him, but gets both of them in trouble, in a van, on the way to the pound. They’re broken out by Snowball, a bunny who’s adorable until he starts spitting out vile words. Meanwhile, Gidget, the fluffiest little white dog you can imagine, riles up Max’s gang of friends (and a hawk) to find the secret love of her life….you’ve guessed it, Max. And it all happens over the span of a workday, while their owners are away.

From the minute the movie starts, you can tell the quality of the animation is outstanding. The details of New York as the camera catches it from above are breathtaking – from the skyscrapers glimmering in the sun to the dozens of auburn colours of the Central Park trees, the animators have outdone themselves.

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The story is catchy, albeit very, very predictable. From the grumpy friend who doesn’t really feel like helping to the stray animals that hate humans because they’ve abandoned them, you kind of know what’s going to happen from start to end. However, despite being stereotypes, the characters did not lose their nature. Most films like this feature animals that act like humans, but here, dogs are obsessed with chasing balls, cats are obsessed with beams of light and hawks would really like to eat everyone else.

The humour doesn’t make you roll on the floor laughing, but does manage to make you giggle. By the time the credits came rolling, I ended up with a lot of smiles, a lot of “ah, yes, of course, cats love to do that,” but only one “ha-ha.” That being said, this is a great film to take the kids at. It teaches you a lot about friendship and about the responsibilities of owning a pet. It teaches you why pets are not toys and why they need to be taken care of, not just played with – all lessons that should be embedded on some adults too.

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Another great message of the film is that breeds and even species don’t matter. Cats, dogs, hawks, bunnies, crocodiles, snakes, stray or not, all these animals can be friends. As a child who grew up with stories like this, I can tell you they make a silent impact on how a child perceives who’s fit to be their friend and who is not. And in the world we live in, that is more imperative than making audiences fall off their seats with laughter.

The actors are all fantastic, but if you’re like me, you’ll spend a lot of time going over images in your head to try to fit them to the voice. I got nothing! My favourite voice was that of Jenny Slate (Gidget), whom I mistook for Bernadette Peters and Laura Bell Bundy. I also did not recognize Kevin Hart (whom I really should have, the guy’s got a trademark voice) or Lake Bell or Ellie Kemper. Then again, not identifying their voices only shows how well they blended in with their characters.

I don’t have a lot to say about the soundtrack. A couple of songs stood out, one of them being Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York. The script was also good, but not brilliant. That doesn’t matter though because the main point of this film was the heart. It has a lot of heart, a lot of lessons and I really hope you go and watch it. It’s worth it.

It gets 3.5 potions:

5-potions

Leanansidhe

And now…a bit of a spoiler 😉

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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

History is peppered with ironies, and Catherine the Great’s life is no exception. Truer now than it was then, it is quite the irony that Russia’s greatest empress was in fact German.

If you’re not familiar with Catherine the Great’s life, Robert K. Massie’s book will shock you in almost every chapter. The fact the real name of the last female monarch of the largest country in the world was in fact Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst is only the beginning. This biography takes a look at every aspect of her life, most of which, as she herself admitted, were quite unique.

The book opens with a short biography of her father, a “hardly distinguishable” German Prince, and proceeds to take you on a journey through her childhood, her years as a Russian grand duchess, her brief time as a consort-empress and then her glorious rule that span over 30 years.

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The book is set chronologically up to her ascension to the throne, then starts to branch out in different categories, throwing you slightly off course. Massie still tries to keep the narrative in a sequential order, but he intersperses it with analysis of different aspects of her rule (her take on church, government, art, philosophy, etc.). The result is he is still talking about events from people’s lives long after he already told you how they died.

The really long list of people the author chose to talk about besides Catherine was arguably not his to make. As one of the greatest figures in history, Catherine’s interactions with every single person that appears in this book are inevitable to write about. That being said, one thing I found rather tedious was how almost all of these people came with their own short biography. A good example is the chapter called “They Are Capable of Hanging Their King from a Lamppost.” Meant to show Catherine’s reaction to the French Revolution and how it impacted her own rule over Russia, this chapter starts as a painfully detailed description of the fall of Louis XVI. This might be useful for readers not familiar with the revolution, but for history lovers (who are surely most of Massie’s readers), half the chapter turns into a bore.

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Massie’s writing style is that of a biographer. He doesn’t embellish facts and rarely uses description, but stays to the point even when analysing. He doesn’t appear biased, as other biographers might, but also doesn’t ever pinpoint Catherine’s actions as bad. Of course, some decisions, such as that to alienate her own son from the throne for fear of a coup, don’t need to be explicitly labelled as bad for the reader to understand them as such. Then again, some readers might not see it as a poor decision and Massie doesn’t force this stance on them by giving an opinion about it. He does however compare the relationship to her son with that of the Habsburg empress Maria Theresa and her co-ruler, her son Joseph II, making it obvious that the latter’s choice to share power with her heir was the smarter decision.

Sources are important for a biographer and Massie’s large variety of them bears testimony to the accuracy of his work. He takes quotes from Catherine’s Memoirs, but also from reports sent by foreign ambassadors to their own sovereigns. The latter is a clever choice as it not only shows a mostly honest account of her actions (it was in an ambassador’s own interest to report facts as they were), but also how her deeds affected the rest of Europe and Russia’s relationship with it. A particular funny part taken from this type of source talks about Peter III’s mistress; because the opinion comes from different unbiased sources, it rings truer than if it had come from Catherine herself:

“Breteuil [the French ambassador] described Elizabeth Vorontsova as ‘having the appearance and manners of a pot-house wench.’ Another observer described her ‘broad, puffy, pock-marked face and her broad, squat, shapeless figure.’ A third responded that she was ‘ugly, common and stupid.’ Everyone who tried to understand her appeal to the emperor failed.”

The direct quotes are also useful for getting a true feel of these historic figures’ personalities. For Catherine, her own words show an honest woman, aware of her importance and fully embracing it:

“May I be pardoned for offering this candid expression of my feelings instead of trying to cover them with a veil of false modesty.”

For her most important lover, Gregory Potemkin, whom she probably married in secret, it shows the hot-headed, jealous man, a side of him one might not guess when looking only at the empire he helped build. He calls one of Catherine’s favourites “this non-entity of non-entities,” then proceeds to tell him:

“You cur, you monkey, who dares to bespatter me with the mud from the gutters from which I have raised you.”

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The funny element is rare in a book that takes itself very seriously, but when it does appear, it always comes directly from the mouth of the people Massie writes about, giving you a glimpse of the differences between how they acted in public and who they  were in private.

All-in-all, the over 500 pages of this biography are a complex, interesting, often jaw-dropping, sometimes earth-shattering experience. You’ll enjoy it if you’re a history fan or if, like me, you’re on a spree of reading about the lives and deeds of bad-ass women who have changed history. If you prefer personalised biographies, whether funny, emotional or poetical, you might want to stay away. The facts you’ll discover are amazing, but the style in which they’re told feels more like a documentary narration than a literary masterpiece.

This book receives:

5-potions

 Leanansidhe

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The Shannara Chronicles – Season 1

What do you get when you mix the end of the world with Lord of the Rings? A post-apocalyptic fairytale that MTV was very keen to turn into the next big obsession of the decade. Were they successful? Err…

Let’s begin by clarifying the origins of this story. The Chronicles of Shannara is a series of adventure books written by Terry Brooks. Accused by some readers for being too similar to Lord of the Rings, the series gives off a Tolkien vibe through its use of elves, gnomes and trolls, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a rip-off of the trilogy. The series comprises of over 30 books (some novels, other short series), but the book we’re interested in, is the second novel of The Original Shannara Trilogy.

Go See It If-

The Elfstones of Shannara is the foundation stone with which MTV decided to start its ‘most ambitious project yet’. It tells the story of a young half human/half elf named Will Ohmsford, who is recruited by a Druid (aka wizard/warlock/magical being) named Allanon to join a quest together with an Elven princess (Amberle) and a human girl (Eretria) to save the world from a hoard of demons who have just escaped their prison world. In order to do so, they have to save a magical tree called The Ellcrys which is the key to sending the demons back to their black hole of hell. From then on, this TV show turns into a chain of adventures the three youngsters go through.

Their quest is set against a gorgeous backdrop of greenery courtesy of New Zealand and some awesome CGI effects which allow us to get a glimpse of what the world would end up looking like if we all disappeared one day. Remnants of ‘the ancient world’ (aka present times) lie all over this TV show, but as epic as the distant ruined skyline of New York is, these ruins make no sense. The story is placed thousands of years into the future; they would not still be there, especially in such a well-preserved state. They try to explain it very superficially, but the truth is they’re simply there to create the right atmosphere for the show. That being said, the sets, landscapes and effects are amazing and will make you both love the fantasy side of it and giggle at recognizing aspects of the contemporary world the characters are dumbfounded by.

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Speaking of the characters, the show has quite the kaleidoscope of them. Will, the main character, is not exactly the Avenger type of superhero. More like a clumsy, left-footed fellow who wins you over immediately by being naive, sarcastic and ultimately very kind. The two main girls however might take their time to get into your affections, so for the first few episodes, you’ll find yourself sharing Will’s frustration at having to deal with them. Amberle is brave, high-and-mighty, but very kind. Eretria, on the other hand, is cunning, opportunistic and selfish until you understand her reasonings. You soon discover she’s pretty bad-ass in the best of ways. By the end of the show, you and Will will both have a hard time choosing which one of them is your favourite.

The most important secondary characters include the mystical Allanon, the honourable King Eventine, the slightly insane Brenen, the always-and-forever lying Cephelo and the incorrigible bachelor Prince Ander. There are a lot more characters, especially as guest stars are brought in for each episode, but these five have the most impact on the story and they provide such a broad palette of personality colours, you are never be bored.

Go See It If- (1)

The villain to this piece is a scary-looking warlock called the Dagda Moor, who is the leader of the demon hoard looking to end all humanity (and elves and gnomes). We don’t really see much of him and we understand even less. His sole purpose seems to be to destroy the world, which makes him the kind of villain I really don’t like as there is nothing to him except being evil. Why? Just because. His lack of screen time takes away from his image so that it’s very hard to take him very seriously or feel that there is any chance for this guy to win.

The script is not the best there ever was, and is peppered with cliches and predictable lines. To compare it to another MTV success, it falls quite short of the witty and creative Teen Wolf. It’s not unbearable, but sometimes those cheesy lines are enough to make you cringe.

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So, have MTV created the next big trend in TV? The answer is no. The show is good enough to have a second season, but it could really do with less pointless adventures and more focus on developing at least the important characters. Nothing bad to say about the visual, as every scene is eye candy. The acting also delivers, with half of it being great and the other half passable.

If you’re into fantasy, definitely give this one a try, but don’t expect any Game of Thrones intensity. This is MTV, after all.

All in all, this show gets:

5-potions

 

Enjoy,

LEANANSIDHE

And now for the SPOILERS!!!

Go See It If- (2)

 

Fangirl

Fangirl is one of those novels you don’t expect it to be quite as good as it really is. No offense Rainbow! If you didn’t know the author (Rainbow Rowell) you might expect a fairly fluffy, light novel about sisters, falling in love and dealing with parents. However, what you actually get is a fascinating novel about the complexities of having siblings who you love, but who at the same time drive you completely crazy. A novel about how falling in love is one of the scariest things you can do and how easy it is to lose focus because you’re so lost in it. Lastly a novel that demonstrates the devastation left behind when a parent leaves.

Fangirl is the story of Cath, a girl in her first year of college. Cath is probably unlike most of the heroines you’ve met before; she doesn’t have any magical powers, she isn’t the most popular girl at College, she doesn’t have a boyfriend, thinks of herself as the lesser twin (yes she has an identical twin sister called Wren) and suffers from anxiety. So whilst she may not seem like a typical girl to root for, she is absolutely the girl you want to root for. Rainbow has written a character so real, you can feel Cath’s highs and lows ooze off the page. Her family relationships are so real, you get frustrated at her family for her and feel hurt when the people she likes (kinda loves) betray her.

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One of the central plot lines to the whole book is the fact Cath writes fanfiction based upon a popular book series entitled ‘Simon Snow’ (this is loosely based on the Harry Potter series). The use of fanfiction in this novels really allows the reader to explore how Cath feels about herself, her self worth and most of all how she wants to hide away from the world because she can’t control things in real life as she does within her fantasy world. Something she learns to not rely on some much as the book goes on.

The supporting characters in this book are well defined, and each have their own fully developed storyline. So although their stories are intertwined with Cath’s, their problems are also played out and solved in a satisfying manner which enriches the story telling.

One of my only issues with the novel is the character of Wren (the twin). I felt I missed a lot of her story and was definitely interested to read more to find out what was really going on under her smooth exterior.Although I understood the writer’s decision to focus more on Cath, I felt we were missing an important character’s voice in the story telling.

The father character (Art) in isn’t altogether there in the mind in this story, and this is one of the storylines which keeps our sisters together, as well as drive them apart. His illness is, however portrayed perfectly in this novel. What this novel tells me, is that people who are different may not always have it sorted 24/7 and you know what that’s okay. It’s about learning to notice the differences in their behaviours, and supporting them when they need you but no suffocating them when they don’t.

Considering this is about the third or fourth time I’ve read this, you can guess that I highly recommend it. It’s not just a coming of age story but it’s a story of learning to love yourself and letting people figure out their own path. It’s about finding the people you fit with, not the people you want to fit with and learning you have more fight in you than you know.

So time to get into the spoilers……please go and read this immediately if you haven’t!!

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The two main story arcs I want to focus on in this review both focus on the fanfiction story which runs throughout the book – at first it’s the most visible connection we can see between Cath and her sister Wren. We learn as youngsters they wrote short fanfictions together, Wren proofreading Cath’s stories and when the twins’ mother left, we can see that bonding over these fictional characters allowed them to escape into another world and not on the real one, where their mother is gone and their father is absent of mind. At college, Wren pulls away from the fanfiction but begins to drink to escape her problems, where as Cath seems to dive further into her fiction world. Both twins have been damaged by the loss of their mother and obviously try to cope in varying ways, but what the novel does show is how both twins slowly and surely become better through the love and support they are shown by the people they meet.

So back to the story arcs around the fanfiction – the second storyline is the story of Cath and Levi falling in love, whilst Cath reads her fanfiction to Levi. For Cath this is one of the most intimate things she could do with anyone and the fact she almost immediately lets Levi in shows you right from the start how much Cath likes Levi.

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What I love most about their story is that it isn’t a magical and unrealistic tale. It’s a story of getting to know someone, finding out they can make mistakes and learning to trust when every fibre of your being tells you not to. When they finally get together, you celebrate not only for Levi winning her over, but for Cath learning to trust herself.

Another character of note in the novel is Reagan, Cath’s roommate and Levi’s best mate/ex-girlfriend. She is a force to be reckoned with in this novel and I really feel she could have her own story. Actually they all could please, Rainbow? Reagan is a girl who tells it like it is, hasn’t got time for wishy-washy-ness, but surprisingly hits it off with Cath. Their friendship is one of the most-heart warming in the novel, as it never feels forced and by the end you smile when you hear Reagan ask Cath to be her housemate the following year.

The novel has action without it being overwhelming. It’s longer than most, but it never feels like it’s too long. The fanfiction excerpts, which are scattered across the book, break the pace up and allow it to step outside of itself every once in awhile. I could read this book time and time again, and still discover new reactions to the meaningful storylines.

I give it 5 potions.

Hedwig x

5 Potions

This is becoming a theme with me 😀 Shhhhhh….

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

It was many and many a year ago / In a kingdom by the sea, / That a maiden there lived whom you may know / By the name of Annabel Lee.

So go the first lines of Edgar Alan Poe’s famous Annabel Lee.

It’s a beautiful poem that makes you want to go on a search mission through your library and dig out that volume of poetry you haven’t looked at in a while. But don’t you dare do it! Because if you read the poem, if you make it to the last line, you might just spoil the ending of Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight for yourself.

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The plot of Lady Midnight is masterfully intertwined with Poe’s poem, although you don’t realise it until Clare wants you to. Other than that the plot points don’t stray far from other Shadowhunter novels, which makes the story feel familiar and stay true to the fictional world it’s a part of. There is a detective mission to carry out (finding out who is responsible for the dead bodies showing up all over Los Angeles covered in mysterious runes), a bigger than life love story (see back of book for obvious spoilers), several other less epic love stories, secrets within secrets and a whole bunch of magical creatures. This might seem slightly chaotic if you’re not familiar with Clare’s work, but I promise the plots don’t override each other, but branch out of the main one, so it doesn’t feel like there’s too much happening.

With complicated plots come complicated characters; a lot of complicated characters. This is the part where I think Clare should have dialled it down a bit. The Dark Artifices is a new Shadowhunter series that moves the spotlight away from Clary and Jace, so why are they in it? Lady Midnight has so many characters by itself, it really feels unnecessary to the story to add old ones in the mix.

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It has Emma Carstairs, a stubborn, reckless female warrior (kind of like a feminine Jace, but not enough to feel like a copy cat) who often runs into dangerous situations without a second thought.  Her parabatai is Julian Blackthorn, a cool-headed good boy with a big secret you might discover after the first few chapters and then keep waiting for him to reveal. Then there’s Christina, a kind-hearted Latina running away from her past who also happens to save everyone’s asses a time or two. Other characters include a ridiculous warlock you’ll laugh with, a weirdo uncle you’ll feel sorry for, a strict tutor who will frustrate you and a brother divided between two worlds whom you’ll learn to love. So really, there is no room for catch-up time with the Lightwoods and all their friends and family, which is what you end up doing one too many times.

The style of the novel is typical Clare, which is to say it draws you into an atmosphere of magic and fantasy, which is very hard to get out of when the time comes to get back to reality. Clare achieves that by her use of words and the fluidity with which she strings them together. She has an eye for detail, which she uses to make you feel like you’re really inside the book, touching the cool smooth metal of a faerie steed or feeling trapped by the dark cold waters of the ocean. Sometimes though, the description is a bit too much and you just want Clare to get on with the story instead of reading about normal car rides where nothing is happening.

Despite these in-between scenes that seem to drag on from one important moment to the next, the story never feels dull. It’s full of little surprises you don’t anticipate, it maintains the suspense of the detective plot, it frustrates you and makes you dream at the same time. More importantly, it has a plot that both stands on its own and fulfils its duty as the start of a new series. As such, the ending leaves you with a couple of unsolved situations and answered questions, but then, all good first books of a series do.

This book gets:

5 Potions

Leanansidhe

P.S: Mild spoilers below. Scroll down at your own risk.

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Outlander – Season 1

So it begins…

Over the past 3 days I’ve been on an journey; an emotional journey to say the least and it all started with an ad on Tumblr. I saw the Ad at the top of my feed. it was promoting the start of the second season of a show called Outlander. I’d heard of it but as I don’t have access to Prime, I’d never gotten around to watching it. After a hasty access check, I logged in using a friend’s account and began my what was soon to become epic journey. I’ll start this review by covering my overall opinion of the show and then will go into more detail, but don’t worry, I’ll give you a spoilers warning in case you want to immediately go and watch it. Which you totally should do.

General Impressions (No Spoilers)

The premise for the show is that our heroine Claire Randall, who is visiting Scotland, is transported back 200 years in time, leaving her husband in 1945. When she arrives in the past, she encounters a group of Scots, who take her hostage because she is an English woman and a potential spy. The series maps her journey through this turbulent and very different time, as she (as well as us) falls in love with the beauty, life and a man of the time.

The show consists of 16 episodes in total. All an hour long, which feels like quite a rarity these days. The length of each episode really allows the storylines to mature and develop at their own pace, and you feel as though nothing is rushed or unexplained.

The Characters…

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The main character Claire is a modern educated woman who speaks her mind, which often gets her in trouble, but I also believe is something the other characters begin to admire about her. She is loyal and passionate, very likeable. You only wince a few times when she gets herself into tricky situations by the things she says, but really as a modern viewer you’re always on her side.

jamie

The second main character in the series in a likeable Scot named Jamie. He has  a great sense of humour and is extremely thoughtful, but also portrays a sense of youth and learning. As the series progresses you feel he really grows up from a young lad to a strong man. The character of Jamie is written in a way that enables us as viewers to believe he is a true Scot by the way he thinks and does things but also enough of a modern thinker for us to truly love him. If he acted and thought in the manner of the time, I believe it would be difficult to fall in love with his character, never mind believe that Claire could find a match in this man.

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The third and almost most important character in this telling of Outlander is the setting. Filmed in Scotland itself, the epic scenery and breathtaking landscapes only add to the texture vision we are presented to on the screen. You almost feel as if you are there by how accurate and detailed the show is. I would compare it to Game of Thrones in terms of locations and setting the scenes.

Nit-picking….

However a review cannot be a full review without highlighting some fault. This show does not exhibit much fault but I felt the middle few episodes – 13 & 14 – really let the season as a whole down. The pace did not match other episodes and the storylines of those episodes did not feel as if they warranted so much airtime.

Final General Comments

This show is a real masterpiece of Television. I was happy to learn that a second season is airing currently and these lovely episodes are based on books. So that’s about 6 new books on my reading list. Go watch it now, if you haven’t already! Go!!!!!

Time for some more details……BEWARE PLOT SPOILERS BELOW……

As I’ve stated before, one of my favourite things about this series is that everything seems to have a steady and believable build. One of the most significant plot lines for the entire series is the fact that Claire ends up marrying Jamie, albeit not out of love so to speak. You can tell from the very beginning there is an attraction between the two, in the first 8 episodes we experience many scenes with the two of them conversing and getting close yet still no action, which you would expect in a modern drama or modern version of a period piece. It’s perfection really. You can tell they have a lot of chemistry but they still stick to the rules of the time, making the entire piece even more realistic.

The Elements of the Story….

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Love, politics and war all play their part in this series with Claire finding herself at the center of it most of the time. Personally I didn’t know much about the Scottish Clan system, so it’s an interesting look into the allegiances of the time. For instance, at one point Jamie is caught between pledging allegiance to a different clan than his own and if he did, he would become the heir to that clan, which his uncle would have killed him for. However on the other hand, for him not to pledge allegiance would have been quite an insult and his other uncle would have killed him for that. So it plays out these complex storylines with the respect they deserve, which in turn brings a surprising level of drama and storytelling into play. A show which is about a love story but not only a love story.

Sexual Chemistry….

wedding c J

Speaking of said love story the two characters have a brilliant chemistry together and some scenes which get you very hot under the collar. Sex and other graphic scenes are not shied away from in this series, which only adds to the appeal. As we’ve all learnt with Game of Thrones a bit of skin goes a long way. However what I liked about this show as that sex wasn’t used a plot play rather it was essential to the story. After Claire and Jamie are married they discover and get to know one another through the discovery of sex and it’s many layers. The learning experience creates a deep bond between the two, that we see time and time again after. Their relationship only grows as they discover one another and who each other is, so when Claire reveals to Jamie who she really is you believe that Jamie believes her. He trusts in her so much, and loves her completely that he accepts the truth without having the typical response you would expect in most shows.

Villains and Torture

I must admit towards the end of the series, things take quite an intense turn with some scenes of torture and even the rape of Jamie. I know seriously shocking. It’s very intense but it acted beautifully and feels natural to the story. The last episode especially is quite different and I must admit I found myself hiding behind my hands, mostly because of the villain of the series Jack Randall is involved. He is the main protagonist of the series, thwarting Claire and Jamie often. He a fairly unstable character and is portrayed so brilliantly by the end of the series you’re shouting at the screen for his to be killed. The reason he’s such an unusual character is because it appears he is gay but unable to be public about it, as was common on the times. So his light turns to dark and unfortunately he has quite the obsession with Jamie. It’s a great storyline mostly because it’s so believable, I know I’ve said that many time in this review but it’s the main reason I loved the show.

The Real Final Comments…

Along with the main characters of the show, there are a whole cast of supporting actors who bring this world to life. From Scottish warriors speaking Gaelic to the witch figure Geillis, all adding layer after layer to the rich world of 1743 Scotland.

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This series is long roller coaster and if you binge it like I did it will be over in a second. I recommend spreading it out weeks to full enjoy each episode for the masterpiece it is.

Top marks for this show:

5 Potions

Hedwig

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