#REVIEW: King of the Rising, by Kacen Callender

I was not a huge fan of the first volume of Kacen Callender’s Islands of Blood and Storm duology, Queen of the Conquered. Feel free to click through to the review, of course, but the short version is that I felt like the book was both too ambitious for its own good and a main character who was not only not especially likable to the reader but was also flatly detested by literally every single character in the book. It had potential, though, and I decided to keep an eye on Callender in the future although at the time I wasn’t committing to picking up the sequel to the book.

Well. Kacen Callender is from St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, and I hadn’t read a book from there last year, so …

It took a while to get to it; in fact, when I picked it up yesterday it had been on my unread shelf since 2021, and had spent more time there than any other book on the shelf. I honestly just picked it up to get it out of the way, and for a brief moment I considered not actually reading it, since it’s not like the Read Around the World thing is something official any longer.

*cough*

It’s a lot better.

King of the Rising begins exactly where Queen of the Conquered left off, at the beginning of a massive slave revolt on an archipelago colonized by the white-skinned Fjern, and if you want the historical equivalent you need nothing more than to recall that Callender is a St. Thomian, and St. Thomas was colonized by the Dutch. What makes this a fantasy novel and not just thinly-veiled historical fiction is the existence of Kraft, which is basically X-Men style magical powers that some of the characters possess. Kraft, if I’m being honest, is the weakest part of the book and in general its main role in the plot is to give the main character of this book and the main character of the last book a way to communicate with each other across long distances.

That switch in narrators is probably the singe change that that played the biggest role in my enjoying this book more than Queen. Sigourney was kind of rough as a narrator. She was very passive in a lot of ways and literally everyone hated her, and she just wasn’t a great choice as an MC. This book is told from the perspective of Løren Jannik, her half-brother, and while Sigourney still plays a pretty significant role in the story, Løren is a much more dynamic character than she was. He is still flawed, certainly; one of the major themes of the book is leadership during crisis, and the book isn’t interested in backing away from his failures as both a leader of the revolt and as a person in general. But the main thing is that he makes decisions during the book and while some of them are definitely bad decisions, at least he acts throughout the course of the book. Sigourney was just too passive, and pushing her offscreen or at least into the background made King of the Rising a superior read.

I probably should have put this first, but, like, you don’t need a trigger warning for this one, do you? Because this book is about a slave revolt against a colonial slave power, with everything that implies, and it can be a really fucking rough read. If you read Queen of the Conquered you should absolutely pick this up even if you didn’t particularly like it. If you did like Queen, I feel like you’ll really enjoy this one.

#REVIEW: The Batman

The short version of this review is this: That they have finally made a Batman movie that I approve of, something I had formerly thought was impossible.

Slightly longer version: I am hard on Batman movies, y’all. I liked Tim Burton’s first Batman movie way back in 1989 and that has been it. I hated the second one so much that my neighbor came over when I got home to ask me to rant about it to my parents less quietly, and when I say neighbor, I would like to remind you that we lived in a house. I don’t even recognize the Nolan movies as having Batman in them. That’s a murder-happy bat-ninja. That’s not Batman. And the less said about Batfleck the better.

This movie is not perfect, but it is closer to being about Batman than any other live-action Batman thing I have ever seen. I am sorely tempted to dive into gripes; the Batsuit is ridiculously tough, rendering Batman virtually immune to gunfire and at one point a C4 explosion that goes basically directly into his torso and doesn’t even scratch him; the chief of police is completely forgotten about as a character after Batman beats up Jim Gordon and flees police custody, and a few other things. There are bits where it is goofy and I suspect that the goofiness is not intentional. Also it is three fucking hours long and yet somehow lacks a few pieces of critical exposition that should probably have been in there somewhere. We watched it over two nights; I highly recommend this approach.

This is also a very different Bruce Wayne than we have seen before, either in the movies or the comics. Bruce Wayne has always been portrayed as a charming playboy; I’m pretty sure this one is a virgin, and he’s a shut-in to a degree that it constitutes clear evidence of a mental health problem. My wife referred to Bruce as a “weird little goblin” at one point during the film and a “drama queen” during another and frankly those are both pretty damn accurate assessments. There is some romantic stuff going on with Catwoman (who hasn’t really adopted that role with a capital-C yet, but whatever) but it’s all at her initiative and they both play it like she’s toying with him because it amuses her.

So it’s not perfect. That doesn’t stop it from being real real good, though, mostly because of the things it gets right: first and foremost, unlike every other Batman movie ever, Batman is a fucking detective in this movie. He is a detective and he is working directly with the GCPD for large chunks of the movie despite many of them not being especially happy with it. And while they do veer into what I think is unintentional camp a couple of times, the movie never forgets how weird it is that this dude is literally running around in a cape trying to beat up criminals. He’s new enough that people are scared of him, but he’s also new enough that some clearly don’t take him seriously, and watching the reactions during the scenes where he strides into a packed nightclub in full gear is really something. This doesn’t appear to be a world with superheroes; there’s a mention of Bludhaven at the very end of the film but no, like, coy references to blue Boy Scouts or anything like that. This is, essentially, entirely separate from any of the rest of the DCU, and frankly, I don’t see this guy being buddies with Superman.

But you know what else he does? He saves people. Which is something you see sadly little of even in superhero movies I like. You know what he doesnt do? Kill people. Or use guns. Which is a huge deal, and they make it very clear at multiple points in the movie that Batman doesn’t like guns, and especially in the big fight at the end the film is at pains to make sure you realize that the criminals he’s fighting are being incapacitated, or taken out of the fight one way or another, and not killed. This is, to me, a big deal; not killing and not using guns are the two most critical aspects of Batman’s character and the one thing the movies have consistently gotten wrong.

Now, beyond the Batman-centric issues: the cast is phenomenal. Colin Ferrell is unrecognizable as the Penguin (and now I want him to replace Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin) and provides one of the movie’s most unexpectedly hilarious moments when he reacts with absolute disgust to the idea that Batman has gotten, no shit, a detail of Spanish grammar wrong. The Riddler is creepy as all hell, which is not a sentence that anyone had ever even thought prior to this movie being filmed. Zoey Kravitz and John Turturro as Catwoman and Carmine Falcone are great. I also really liked Robert Pattinson. His Bruce Wayne, as I’ve said, is certainly a different take on the character than what we’ve seen before, but his Batman is spot-on. There has been a lot of talk about the raspy, growly voice that other actors tend to adopt as Batman, and I think one of my favorite things about how he plays the character is that his “Batman voice” just projects calm. That’s it. There are definitely some moments where he lets the rage through (there’s a great bit with Riddler toward the end of the film, and another where he thinks someone is in danger and is freaking out) but in general he just sort of radiates this preternatural calm for 90% of his screen time, and it’s a really interesting take. Also appreciated are a couple of moments where his inexperience shows; there’s a great moment where he tries out a gadget for what sure looks like the first time and he has a moment of absolute undeniable terror on his face as he activates the thing. And while I complained about the Batsuit being bulletproof, there are a couple of places where he does take some seriously brutal hits (one right after activating the device I just mentioned) and he might actually inject himself with Venom at one point in the film.

The movie looks great, and the action scenes are phenomenal; you always know what’s going on and where everybody is, which is something that a lot of directors simply haven’t mastered. The score is great, and I feel like I’ve said that already but it’s worth saying twice. Gotham itself is a grotesque, broken mess; this is the ugliest Gotham we’ve seen on screen, I think, and it fits the aesthetic of the film, which owes a lot to Se7en in a lot of places.

So, yeah. It’s streaming. Go watch it, now that you can do it without spending three hours sitting in a pool of aspirated Covid. You’ll like it.

I read more manga: GYO

I talked about my experiment with, and affection for, Junji Ito’s Uzumaki a few days ago, and that led to me ordering two more collected editions of his work, including the above, called Gyo. And … uh … well, I have one more left and I guess we’ll see how it goes, because Gyo is … kinda bad? Like, “about fart monsters” bad. The big scary beasts in the book are literally fart monsters. There are lots of lovingly detailed drawings of fish, people, and various other living things with tubes implanted into their asses to harvest their internal gases. That’s not a joke. It’s not even a humorous exaggeration. They’re fart monsters. Their farts might be sentient. It’s unclear.

Fart monsters are not scary, no matter how you try.

Now, there’s definitely some creepy shit in here, and Ito’s art is awesome, particularly the way he ramps up the detail whenever he’s drawing anything particularly horrific, but the problem is that the creepy pictures are connected by story and words and talking, and the words ruin the cool pictures. Not the least because I hate the font this book is lettered in, which makes everyone look like they’re shouting, all the time. And a lot of time they are! There is quite a bit of shouting in this manga. Not always for a good reason.

It also features one of the worst female characters and one of the worst romantic relationships I’ve ever encountered in literature, period. Kaori is terrible in every imaginable way, and is a collection of every misogynist stereotype about women one could write down, and her boyfriend Tadashi is also terrible although not in an especially gendered way. You never for a second understand why these two even like each other because they are both insufferable and their relationship is toxic as hell, and I’m not sure if the book was deliberately written that way, but I don’t actually think it was. Like, she’s worse than him because her shittiness is so explicitly gendered, but they’re both terrible characters.

So, yeah, I didn’t like this one, although I’m still three-starring it, mostly on the strength of the artwork and the two amazing stories at the end of the book. They are both maybe the length of a standard Western comic book, so we’re talking two ten-minute reads, maybe, but the second one in particular, called The Enigma of Amigara Fault, is spectacular. The other suffers from a little bit of The Dumb; there will be some who won’t like it because it’ll fail the smell test right away and it isn’t long enough to win your trust back, but if you get past that it’s a great little short horror story. It also suffers a little bit from being translated into English; I assume the phrase “principal post,” meaning the main support column of a house, doesn’t sound quite as ridiculous when repeated in Japanese as it does in English. Amigara Fault, though, is great, from start to finish. It’s just that I’m not sure those two stories are enough to justify purchasing the entire volume, since Gyo itself is so Goddamned goofy.

One more, though, and then I’ll have to decide if I’m looking for more to read or retreating back into my superhero comics where I belong.

I read a manga!

I’ve said this before— the clearest line of distinction between people who are very late Gen Xers and people who are very old Millennials is Pokémon. If Pokémon played a role in your childhood (or a role in the childhoods of people your age) chances are you’re a Millennial. If you made it to college without ever having heard of Pikachu, you’re Gen X. Along with this comes the idea of being into manga. I can assure you that I was into every nerdy hobby available in the Midwest in the 1990s and I never even heard the word “manga” despite being deeply into Western comic books. It just wasn’t a thing over here yet. Anime, much the same. And while I’ve had plenty of opportunities, I’ve never really gotten into either. Something about the style of most anime (and the weirdly wordy way Japanese seems to translate into English a lot of the time) has always just sort of repelled me, and I’ve never had a good explanation for why I don’t like the stuff, I just don’t.

I bought the collected edition of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki earlier this week for no clear reason– like, I learned it existed and that it was “horror manga” and I bought it, and I’m not sure why– and I seem to have broken that streak finally, to the point where last night I ordered the collected editions of this dude’s other two series. Or, at least, two of his other series? I’m not sure how much he’s actually done. Uzumaki is kinda random and goofy in parts but it’s creepy as hell throughout, and it reminds me of Scary Stories to Read in the Dark in the absolute best way possible and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The idea– and this is kind of a “roll with it” scenario– is that a town is cursed, and the curse manifests itself in spirals. The first eight or ten chapters are all standalone, where some character or another is affected by the spiral psychosis in some way, and then everything knits itself together very satisfyingly over the last several chapters. The whole thing is six hundred pages plus, so it’s pretty beefy, and it’s big enough that the art has space to shine and for all that it’s a quick read anyway. If you’re a manga person you’ve probably already encountered this, but if you’re not and you want an entry point in the genre, this one roped me in, so give it a look.


I didn’t post yesterday, breaking a 200-plus day streak. Why? No good reason, I just didn’t feel like it, and after a while I get tired of the ceaseless WordPress notifications that I’ve blogged X days in a row. My cold isn’t quite gone yet although today was better, so hopefully this will be gone in the next day or two. We’ll see.

A Genuinely Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: I finally beat ELDEN RING

I finally– FINALLY managed to put Elden Ring to bed just now, after a completely ridiculous 122 hours of gameplay over roughly a month and a half (the game came out on February 25) of my actual life. I’m not doing the math to figure out how many hours a day that represents; I can tell you I did actually take a couple of days off here and there, but not many.

Here’s the review: this is easily one of the best games I’ve ever played, and I’m probably never touching it again. Now, there are plenty of other games I’ve put more than 120 hours into– there are other Fromsoft games I’ve put more than 122 hours into (Sekiro and Dark Souls III, definitely, and while they aren’t Fromsoft, Nioh and Nioh 2 as well) but those have all been on multiple playthroughs. Even something like Skyrim, which is legendary for the amount of content it contains, wasn’t close to 122 hours on my first playthrough. 122 hours is twice the length of a really big game, and I am one hundred percent certain that there is a ton of stuff left to do in this game that I left on the table– even if it’s just as simple as the fact that I was playing a strength build and so I went basically the entire game without casting a spell. I’m sure I missed dungeons. I probably missed entire quest lines scattered here and there, and who knows what other little landmarks or interesting bits of content I just never noticed.

It’s difficult to explain to people who don’t play video games just how big this game is, and how– much as I predicted, about 90 hours ago– that kind of scope ends up actually being detrimental to the game. Because, okay, this was my first playthrough, and subsequent playthroughs won’t need to be nearly as long, because 1) I really won’t feel the need to do every single thing that I can possibly do on a second playthrough and 2) Since I know the general layout of the world and the basic path for exploration I won’t need to do as much fiddlefarting around as I did on the first playthrough, where there were big stretches where I didn’t really know what to do next so I just sort of wandered around until I stumbled over something. So I’m not in for another 120 hours, but even 50-60 for a second playthrough of something I’ve done before is just a big investment of time. That’s literally multiple days of playtime. Like, I loved it, it’s delicious, but if I eat any more I’m gonna throw up, and that’s not what I want.

I am uploading the final batch of episodes now; episodes 88 and 89 will go live today, so that’s 22 more episodes, meaning that the last episode will air on the 21st, since I don’t intend to bump up the release speed at all. I need to decide what I’m doing with the channel now; I’m closing in on a year that I’ve been doing this (I started in June of 2021) and I was really hoping that this series would goose my follower count a bit. I started the series with 116 followers on YouTube. I currently have, after 88 episodes of what at least to me seems like quality content about the hottest game on the market, have … 116 followers. I think a year of an hour of content every single day— I didn’t miss a single deadline once I started– is probably enough to determine whether I’m 1) going to blow up or 2) want to blow up on YouTube as a platform. I think the first answer is no; I had heard all kinds of stories about how follower counts pick up a lot once you get your 100th follower and your first video with 500 views; I’ve done both and they haven’t. The second … I’m tired, y’all. Video games and reading are my two big leisure activities and I effectively converted one of them into a job over the last year and I’m really not sure I want to keep doing it. I’m going to take those eleven days and play a game or two and not record at all, just to see if I feel differently about it, and we’ll see if I pick things back up in a couple of weeks (I could always just finish that year out and make it official) or if I decide to walk away from the channel for a while. I mean, I could always just record stuff when I want to, or cut down on the recorded episodes and do more livestreams or something. There are avenues in between “keep doing exactly what I’m doing” and “completely shut down.”