I read NONA THE NINTH

Sort of. Maybe. I saw all the words.

I have read and reviewed the first two books in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series, Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth. There will be a fourth, supposedly this year, called Alecto the Ninth. That will apparently be the final volume. This one, Nona the Ninth, only happened because apparently Nona’s story got a bit out of Muir’s control and she had to make it its own book; early printings of Harrow actually say that Alecto will be the next book, an error that I don’t know if they corrected in later versions.

You might notice that the word “review” does not appear in the title of this post. This is not a review. I am functionally incapable of reviewing this series any longer, and I can only barely apply the verb “read” to the process my brain was attempting while my eyes were roving over the words on the page. If I had read the book, I would have understood more of it. By the end of this book, there are so many characters who are not in their own bodies that I feel like I need a fucking spreadsheet to understand what is going on. Some characters may — or may not, no one is clear– be in more than one body. My wife loves these books unreservedly; I keep asking her questions and she begins to answer them with “Well, do you remember when …” and my answer is invariably no. No, I do not remember that happening. No, I do not remember that character, who was apparently mentioned six hundred and thirty times in book two. No, the back cover copy on this book describes several different events in the book and I don’t remember any of them. Blue thing in the sky? What blue thing in the sky?

I only just found out, in conversation with her before coming in here and writing this, that not one but two of the characters are apparently planets. I missed that! I feel like a character being a planet should have been something I noticed. Two of them I definitely should have noticed. I did not. The main character, Nona, is physically nineteen years old but has the mentality of a six year old and is in some unclear way only physically six months old; the book is fairly adamant that she, Nona, is not Nona, but is in fact one of the two main characters of the two previous books, possibly in one of their actual physical bodies and possibly not, and by the end of the book I am literally unsure if any of the three of them are alive, in any sense of the word. I think Gideon’s actual physical body is running around, but someone else is in it, I think, unless we were supposed to realize that the other person who is in Gideon’s body now was always in Gideon’s body and this is not a change of the status quo but a reveal. I have no fucking idea.

Also, there are other Gideons, and at least one of their bodies is still running around, also not occupied by the spirit of that Gideon. I think. I saw a reviewer on Goodreads refer to that Gideon as G1deon to help distinguish them.

There is one person who is actually two people, but not at the same time, until they get into a fight with someone else and win it by the second person in the body shoving the owner of the other body out and taking it over, so then the one person who is actually two people is actually two people, until later, when one of them catches fire for, as near as I could tell, no fucking reason at all, and then suddenly both of them are back in the same body again only now both of them are one person. Whose name is Paul.

There is a character named Hot Sauce. Another named Pants of the Undying. A third’s name is Awake Remembrance of These Valiant Dead Kia Hua Ko Te Pai Snap Back to Reality Oops There Goes Gravity. I made one of those up. I dare you to figure out which one.

I swear to God, I’m literate. I really am.

#REVIEW: The Menu (2022)

Remember when I used to do reviews of stuff? I feel like it’s really been a while, but I do actually still have opinions about media once in a while, and last night my wife and I sat down and Watched a Movie Together, that being Searchlight Pictures’ The Menu. I miss movies; I used to reliably see at least thirty or forty a year, then I went into this long period where I only saw superhero movies, and now I don’t even give a damn about those, so it was a good feeling to be able to carve a couple of hours out of a Friday night to be able to watch this. Given that 90% of the television I watch involves cooking in some form or fashion, there really wasn’t any way I was going to be missing this.

And … man. I really didn’t know last night what I thought about it, and it took until taking a shower just now (yes, it’s the second-to-last day of break and 6:52 PM and I just took a shower) to figure out what I think. And the tl;dr is that if you watch the trailer and think Yeah, I might want to see that, then go ahead and follow up on that feeling, and if you feel like the trailer is for what seems to be a really schizophrenic movie that maybe can’t decide what it wants to be when it grows up, well, roll with that feeling too.

I can imagine people loving this film and I can imagine them hating it, although people who hate it are maybe a little easier to imagine? And one way or another, I think maybe they made the wrong movie. Want details? Massive spoiler territory from here on out, although it’s not like the trailer conceals a lot of secrets and one way or another the film tells you exactly where it’s going at about the halfway point and I think counts on you to not believe it in order to continue to maintain dramatic tension.

So! A short black line, and then spoilers ho!


The one thing that you might be thinking and be wrong about, having watched the trailer, is that there’s probably a scene where they discover that they’re eating people at some point during this movie. No! I am as surprised as you are that they resisted their urge, but no; I don’t know how much the food can be considered food, really, but there’s no cannibalism, intentional or not. What there is is basically a suicide cult among the head chef and his various kitchen and front-of-house staff, and they’ve decided that this is their last service and as such it’s the one where everybody dies.

You get no insight into how this decision was reached or how he (presumably) managed to talk everybody into this nonsense, and you will discover as you watch that the dinner guests are remarkably passive about their impending demise. At about the halfway point the head sous chef shoots himself in the head right in front of everybody, and Ralph Fiennes’ Chef Slowik literally says “You’re all going to die” to the guests at more than one point during the movie, so there’s no real argument to be made that they aren’t aware of what’s going on, especially when one of them actually does attempt to get up and leave and gets a finger chopped off for his trouble. It eventually turns out that everyone in the room has offended Chef Slowik in some manner or another (and some of them are really cheap; John Leguizamo’s character is a washed-up movie actor and apparently he was picked for death because he was in a movie Slowik didn’t like) except for Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, who is effectively a replacement +1 after her dinner date’s girlfriend dumped him.

There’s some effective creepiness here, and some fun satire of the way high cuisine works and (especially) the way major chefs are treated as gods and eventually expect to receive that treatment. Unfortunately basically every character in the film, especially the dinner guests, is some form of douchebag or another, really excepting only Taylor-Joy’s Margot and the hostess whose name escapes me. There are a lot of words that describe her, but “douchebag” isn’t one of them, I think. In some ways she’s the movie’s scariest character. And the thing is, a lot of what’s going on in the film either doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t make any sense, or some combination of both, and the notion that any of these people just sit around and wait to die is almost too ridiculous to bear. Also, Slowik’s operation apparently involves both a sophisticated hacker and an actual kidnapper, along with one hell of a surveillance and intel operation.

The movie should have been about one of the sous chefs.

The problem is that Slowik is such a guarded character, and the chefs by and large are entirely faceless, that you really can’t get any clue as to why any of them might go along with this insane plan to, eventually, and this is not a joke, dress up all of their guests as human s’mores and then burn everyone involved to death. And the fact that the guests don’t fight back just doesn’t make any damn sense. No; what you do here is you make the guests mostly faceless and terrified and you pull us into the cult of personality around this chef, and you hire a more charismatic actor than Ralph Fiennes, or at least cut him loose to be charismatic, because Julian Slowik, as he’s portrayed, couldn’t talk a kid into eating ice cream. I don’t know if I should blame Fiennes for that, or the director, or the script, or all three, or what, but this is not the guy. Nobody dies for this dude, or if they do, we’re gonna have to get a lot more background as to why, and you can keep all of the satire elements without them descending into utter ridiculousness like this one does.

(A prime example: the guests pay their bills and are given gift bags, all while wearing marshmallow serapes and chocolate hats, before they are set on fire and killed. Slowik tosses off a line about how their gift bags each contain a finger from a guy who is drowned as one of the “courses” earlier in the film. I have no idea whether the line was supposed to be funny or creepy or what. It’s ridiculous.)

The movie should have started off with a hot young chef getting hired by this dude– go ahead and let Anya Taylor-George play that character instead– and go through a couple of normal dinner services and some moments with Chef where it becomes clear why people might be willing to kill/die for him before getting into the murder shit, and have her be the one chef who decides she can’t be part of it. Or, hell, leave her conflicted! You can still have your horror satire if you want. Or, hell, have her be the hostess, so she’s outside the dynamic of the kitchen and maybe not part of The Plan but still enough on the inside of everything that we can see why this guy might have made the decisions he did, and why people might have followed him, and why people might have decided to go ahead and be burned to death instead of fighting back, which … no, sorry, I can’t buy it.

Monthly Reads: November 2022

No weak links this month, but I’ve got to award Book of the Month to Nghi Vo’s The Chosen and the Beautiful.

#REVIEW: Seed, by Ania Ahlborn

I am trying really hard not to make this review a single sentence: This book is deliciously fucked-up, and you should read it.

Because, really, that’s the money graf, right? Nothing else I write is going to matter much more than that single sentence, other than maybe the content warnings, because man, this book needs itself a content warning. Because if you are a parent of young kids there is a real good chance this book is going to fuck you up hard, and my son is roughly the age of the older daughter in this book. This book will grab you by your daddy-brain or your mommy-brain and shake you until you’re concussed, and I would understand if you don’t want that to be your reading experience.

Seed is a slim volume, totaling only about 220 pages, and I read it in two big gulps over two nights. The first night it scared the shit out of me and the second night, going in prepared, I was able to resist freaking the fuck out until I started to get a horrible inkling of how the ending was going to go, and this is one of those books where it’s going to hit you how it’s going to end and then you are going to spend the rest of the read with your skin crawling and hoping that you’re wrong and then you’re going to be right and it’s going to be awful anyway. It’s one of the most effective horror books I’ve ever read. Your mileage may vary, especially if you aren’t or haven’t ever been a parent,

(Jesus, why did I phrase it like that?)

… especially if you aren’t a parent, but if you are? Christ, I can’t let my wife near this book. Seed features generational curses, abusive parents, demonic possession, amnesia, grinding poverty, pet and animal death, murder, disintegrating marriages, poltergeists, car accidents, projectile vomit, ghosts, disapproving stepmothers and what may Goddamn well be the devil himself and it has crawled under my skin and it’s going to live there for a while. Ania Ahlborn has written a bunch of other books and I absolutely will be reading more of them. This is a great book to read in October if you don’t mind losing sleep and possibly a couple of sanity points to it. Go pick it up.

#REVIEW: Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames

Y’all, this one was delightful.

This isn’t going to be a long review; in fact, I’d be surprised if the cover art doesn’t take up more real estate than the actual review. Suffice it to say that this is the kind of book where I can identify the characters on the cover by their weapons (left to right: Patrick, Gabe, Clay, Ganelon and Moog) and I enjoyed it enough that I ordered the sequel before I’d finished it and almost went directly into the sequel afterward. It won’t be on the unread shelf for long, I can assure you of that.

Kings of the Wyld is a pure epic fantasy adventure, featuring a gang of murder hobos fighting monsters that any D&D player will recognize, with the minor exception of substituting rabbit-eared immortals called Druin in for the expected elves. The hook, such as it is, is that these guys have been retired for a while and most of them have gained a bunch of weight, gotten old, moved on from the adventuring life and have spouses and children. The story kicks into gear when a giant horde of monsters nearly takes over and besieges a town far to the north, a town that Golden Gabe’s (adult, also adventurer) daughter happens to be among the defenders of. Gabe’s plan: get the band back together (that phrase is literally used, repeatedly) and go rescue his daughter. The problem: even before you get to the city surrounded by tens of thousands of monsters, you have to get through the massive forest full of other dangerous monsters in between them.

Toss in some Pratchett/Adams-level humor and you’ve got yourself quite a book. I gobbled this up in just a couple of days, and enjoyed every page of it. I have a few gripes– I’ll get to those in a second– but all in all this was a hell of a treat.

So: the gripes. The book remains firmly locked into the third-person perspective of Clay “Slowhand” Cooper, the guy with the big shield (it’s more important than the sword) on the front cover there. Clay wants to get back to his wife and daughter but his loyalty to his friends is what gets him to go on this one final mission. The problem is, I feel like a few chapters here and there from another perspective might have helped. In particular, I’d like to have seen some chapters from Rose, the daughter trapped in the city. Gabe is nearly frantic with worry for most of the book, but we never really see the danger Rose is in because they spend 85% of the book trying to get to her. At one point they’re able to contact her via a scrying tool of Moog’s, but she rather brusquely tells her dad to stay the hell away because she doesn’t want him to get killed and … well, he doesn’t take it all that well.

This is also very much a Dude Book. The five main characters are all men, and the representation level isn’t great: one of the five is gay, but his husband is Tragically Dead before the events of the book start, which is kind of annoying. Now, the dude-heavy nature of the team might be part of an ongoing commentary throughout the book of How Things Have Changed Since Our Time, and I’ll point out that while the main story thrust of the book is the Damsel in Distress trope, Rose herself is an ass-kicker, she’s just an ass-kicker surrounded by a hundred thousand demons, and most of the younger bands of adventures feature women rather heavily, including one exclusively female group that manages to rob Clay and his team multiple times over the course of the book. The sequel, starring Rose, will presumably be better on that front.

I think it’s fair to say that if those things are going to bother you, you can probably pick up Bloody Rose, the sequel, because I’m pretty sure that you’re not going to have to have read this book to know what’s going on, and given the quality of the writing I feel safe recommending Bloody Rose unread. I was not bothered by them so much as I noted them and moved on; your mileage may vary and adjust your expectations accordingly. But I loved this one, and I can’t wait to get to the sequel.