Review: For the Killing of Kings, by Howard Andrew Jones

I received a copy of “For the Killing of Kings,” by Howard Andrew Jones for review. Cirsova Magazine has regularly ad-swapped with Howard Andrew Jones for Tales from the Magicians Skull and has ad-swapped for this title in the Spring issue.

FortheKillingofKings_comp-2I’ve always been wary of starting new fantasy series that have not yet been completed. The last time I committed myself to such a series, it stalled out after the third of five books (though rumor has it book 4 may finally be coming out!). Given Jones’ track record, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that, but the wait for the conclusion of a story can be rough. I think this one may be worth it, though.

Narrator voice:

“A kingdom has enjoyed a fragile peace for seven years after the end of a great war. The final battle of said war and the uneasy peacetime has fragmented the kingdom’s heroic top-cop force, the Altenari. Their previous leader died in the fight, many senior members resigned or went missing, and squires with magic potential are being siphoned out of the corps into a new mage auxiliary. The great fallen hero N’lahr’s sword, kept on display in a reliquary, proves to be an elaborate fake, and conspirators are willing to murder their sworn comrades to maintain the cover-up. As the mystery of the false sword unfolds, the kingdom teeters on the brink of war while its most ardent defenders are hunted down as traitors by their mad sorceress queen and her scheming minions.”

“For the Killing of Kings” is a very modern fantasy, in its style and plotting, in rather sharp contrast with the last book I’d read. It’s not a bad thing, and tastes may vary, but it definitely took some shifting gears to go from a Kline adventure to this. The opening of the book is a very slow burn as Jones builds his mystery and establishes the atmosphere. The multiple perspectives and introspection from some of the characters can drag out the pace of the story in places, but it ultimately evens out. The action is grand and exciting, and while the myriad characters are a bit shallow, they remain endearing.

Spoilers below

Admittedly, the one worry I had throughout the book was whether there would be a pay-off at the end. “For the Killing of Kings” is a bit of a brick, and being the first of three bricks, one could understandably be concerned and hope that it not end on too big of a cliff-hanger. “For the Killing of Kings” is more two shorter novels with their chapters interspersed that split off from a common starting point. One of these novels, the one which follows the first group of characters introduced at the beginning of the book who are forced to flee from the conspiracy, delivers a payoff, while the second, which follows characters who initially remained behind and try to unravel the mystery behind the conspiracy, ends with a “darkest hour” cliff-hanger.

Overall, though, the book delivers on its premise: at the beginning of the book, we’re told of a prophecy that a sword will kill a king, and by the end of the book, someone has killed said king with said sword.

Spoilers end

Most important, perhaps, is the question of whether I’ll be picking up the other books in the series. Yes, I will, because yes, I want to know how it ends!

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‘Fireworks is Just Like Porky’s’

“Is “Fireworks” (…) an homage to those bawdy ‘80s sex comedies like “Porky’s” and “Private Resort?”

I dunno, is Christie Lemire retarded?*

I’ll be honest. I did not think Fireworks was that great; it was nowhere near as good as Your Name, though it still had a lot of charm and a lovely aesthetic to it. What I didn’t pick up on was anything that justifies Lemire’s need to equate Fireworks to one of the raunchiest R-rated sex comedies ever filmed.

Fireworks is about first love, from a boy’s perspective—from a boy who’s hovering in the awkward realm between childhood and adolescence. He wants to be a man and have the opportunity to prove himself, but, being a child and inexperienced and unwise to the ways of the world, he really doesn’t know what to do and has a hard time figuring it out.

Norimichi’s love for and fixation on Nazuna is innocent and non-sexual. For all of the shots of Nazuna that Lemire complains about, Nazuna’s portrayed not as a woman to be lusted after but something pure and elfin, beautiful and innocent, something that Norimichi wants to cherish and protect, even though he doesn’t really know how. She is the idealization of first love. Yes, there’s billowing skirts, subtle glimmer on the lips, hair wafting aetherially in the breeze—but no, there are not upskirts, downshirts, boob-shots, etc. She’s mysterious, and though imperfect, Norimichi idealizes her because she’s his first love.

Now, the boob jokes from the friends and about the teacher that Lemire complains about: Norimichi’s friends exist to show a contrast between Norimichi’s youth and innocent affections and male adolescent posturing. The awkward adult relationship between the teacher and her boyfriend, who cracks a joke about her breasts is there in juxtaposition to the purity of Norimichi’s first love.

Yes, all of the agency in the story is with Norimichi, because it’s a story of a boy trying to become a man and protect someone he loves.

Lemire is mad about this, too, but anyone who compares the story of a boy’s first love and how that boy would try to do anything he could to make life better for that girl to a movie where a bunch of high schoolers get into a violent prank feud with a redneck  brothel owner is probably a broken human being.

*:This is a rhetorical question; since her resume includes 8 years working with the Armenian Genocide-denying Young Turks network, the answer is obviously yes.

Quick Comics Review

I’d said that I’d do a round-up review of the series I followed (or briefly followed) last year, and, well, here it is!

Scott Snyder’s Justice League Stuff – I enjoyed Metal a lot, and despite the promises of the short-lived New Age of Heroes that were “Taken from the pages of Metal”, the real follow-up to the event was Snyder’s new sprawling Justice League story. It started out promising, with Justice League: No Justice, but I felt like the wheels were falling off by the time his new Justice League title started; I dropped it after #2, because frankly it was too bloated and dull. Which surprised me because I thought he’d handled a large ensemble fairly well in No Justice. But the start of Justice League was just so sloppy I skipped out on everything else.

The Immortal Men – Slow, pretentious, and utterly beautiful–the art wasn’t enough to make up for the plodding attempt to cram all of the Immortal Men mythos into what ended up being a six-issue mini-series due to its cancellation. I picked this book up because “Oh, hey, Batman Who Laughs is here!” and I was curious what he was up to after Metal. Well, it turned out he was mostly just standing around behind some other villain whose name I forget so they could put him on the cover and trick people like me into following the title.

The Brave and the Bold – If not for Kings of Fear, this would be my book of the year. A Celtic / Dunsanian fantasy fairy tale murder mystery that Wonder Woman and Batman have to solve. The art was gorgeous and story compelling, and it was wonderful to see this kind of fantasy story being told today.

The Terrifics – I love the Terrifics, and due to the hiccups at DC, it’s as close as I’ll be getting to the Outsiders for some time. It was a bit slow early on, but it really hit its stride with issue 5 and hasn’t really let up since. This has been my favorite ongoing since I got back into comics, and the price is right at 2.99.

Raven: Daughter of Darkness – This one started out slow, and it’s not a take on Raven that I’m a huge fan of, but it got better after a few issues; while it’s not great, I don’t regret my decision to not drop the title.

Catwoman – I love Joelle Jones’ art style; I just wish she was better at pacing her story. I think the first story could’ve been told in 3 issues instead of 6, but that’s really a problem with contemporary comics in general. I almost dropped this after the first arc, because even though I enjoyed it, I’m not invested in Catwoman beyond her place in the Bat-o-sphere. Then Penguin showed up in issue 7, so I’m sticking around, even if he really should’ve shown up several pages earlier to offer her the gig instead of at the end of the book; again, pacing.

Batman – I’ve done a complete 180 on Tom King and his Batman. Yes, I raved about his cozy Batman stories, but when he’s not doing cozy Batman, his stuff was terrible. I got tired of watching Batman lose and not save anybody, and the lead-up to the wedding was egregious. I could’ve stuck out the Batrayal or the price hike, but not both.

Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome – This is a gem I picked up on a whim and ended up not only following the 4-issue series, I’ve got a few issues from an earlier run, as well. Great art, fun and intriguing story. I hear there’s an omnibus collecting all of Britannia up through this, so I’ll be nabbing that.

Batman: Kings of Fear – Book of the year, right here. (Sorry Brave & Bold; you were fantastic and beautiful and sublime and all, but this is ImportantTM)

Kings of Fear blew up the post-modern approach to the Batman mythology with two tons of TNT and is easily one of the best Batman stories ever written.

Batman gets hit with an abnormally large dose of Scarecrow gas, and Doctor Crane tries to analyze Batman to see what makes him tick.

It turns out that Batman’s greatest fear is that the contemporary post-modern approach to writing and critiquing Batman as a rich crazy guy who is probably just making things worse by his crime-fighting is true.

And if this were a contemporary post-modern Batman story where Batman is a loser, doesn’t save anyone, and creates more supervillains than he stops, his fears would be reality.

Only it’s not, and they aren’t. Spoilers: This Batman saves lives. Not only does Batman save the lives of people targeted by criminals, Batman saves the lives of criminals, too. It turns out that the recidivism rate of criminals who are stopped by Batman is only 2% (pretty much his rogues and their most devoted henchmen); criminals stopped by Batman turn their lives around: they go to jail, learn trades, get out, start families, and keep their shit together.

Both the tone and aesthetic of this book hearken back to a time when Batman was still a winner–a good guy who saves the day. So, while Batman is letting randos get murdered in Batman, and Leslie Thompkins just got killed by the Joker in the current Detective Comics countdown to #1000, at least one Bat-book from the last year has a real goddamn Batman who saves the day and makes Gotham a better and safer place.

Short Reviews – Finished, by L. Sprague De Camp

Finished, by L. Sprague De Camp, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

L. Sprague de Camp offers up something of a planetary romance with Finished, where I can’t quite tell if he just bungled his premise or was poorly spoofing Sword & Planet and Campbell ran it because he thought it would make the folks over at Planet Stories look like rubes.

Finished

Why do I feel like the genre is being mocked?

The truth may be somewhere in between. Finished is a mess of weird names and affectations, such that entire paragraphs barely register as coherent ideas expressed in English. De Camp is a smart guy who enjoys being smart, but he’s also a fairly decent writer who has done some really good humorous SFF that, while funny, didn’t quite dip into twee. So despite being a mess, there’s a damn good story at its core that makes me wonder why he didn’t work to tell it just a little bit better.

A planet in contact with the Galactic FederationTM is being kept at arm’s-length by the advanced space-faring culture; they’re just too primitive and barbaric to be granted access to the technical and philosophical knowledge of Earth (Ertsu). The planet has a perpetual regency: the “one king” of the planet is a revered and sacred mummy relic, and the princes of the planet rule in his name. The mummy is fraudulently taken off the planet, and the Prince demands the right to pursue it to earth to recover their world’s most sacred treasure.

Turns out, the theft was a sham. The prince allowed, nay facilitated, the theft of the mummy which could be stuffed with literature and technical manuals so that they might be smuggled back to his world.

There’s a large naval battle as one of the representatives of the galactic federation pursues the rogue prince, who fakes his death, faked a mummy (lost in the battle), and ultimately returns to his people with the promise of a new golden age.

Again, not a bad story, but it suffered greatly in the telling, and I would’ve much rather it be told by a Brackett or a Kline. It’s not something I can easily explain—not within the limitations of time I have for this column—so I can only suggest that you read it for yourself.

This is the last day of the Cirsova Issue 9 & 10 Kickstarter! Be sure to back today if you haven’t already!

Short Reviews – What Dead Men Tell, by Theodore Sturgeon

Castalia House’s back end is down right now, so I’m going ahead and posting this week’s Short Review here; we’ll get it mirrored up there once Markku gets us situated. What Dead Men Tell, by Theodore Sturgeon, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

What Dead Men TellFor poisoning the well against the pulps, crusty old Ted the Sturgeon really needed to blow me away. And once we got past the first couple of pages of autistic rambling, Teddy only managed to tell a moderately interesting story.

Hulon, a film projectionist, recently wrote a piece for an obscure literary magazine outlining his eudaemonic philosophy: the future is uncertain and the now is so finitely small as to be inconsequential, so true security can only exist in the ossified events of the past—one’s past actions and accomplishments were all that one could truly hold onto, therefore happiness and security is derived primarily from what you are able to put into your past.

Well, this bit of thinkery draws the attention of a mysterious group who has transcended the laws of life and death! They appear to him as ghosts—movie stars who he’s certain are dead, but there they are in his theatre, plain as day! After approaching the third of these supposedly-dead movie stars, Hulon is informed that they are willing to test him to join their ranks. He will be placed in a chamber where he will meet death.

Hulon finds himself in a seemingly endless corridor, all alone except for strange balls of liquid that supply nutrient nourishment and dead bodies of old men that he happens upon at regular intervals.

I’ll go ahead and spoil the riddle, because that’s really all there is to the story: the endless corridor is some kind of umbilic torus, the body is the same body over and over again (it appears different because of different lighting [it cycles through the spectrum with each circuit Hulon completes] and because it gets banged up when illusion-creating gravity centered on Hulon changes and it drops to the floor/wall), and the ‘death he will meet’ is old age.

How did the gravity in the torus work to make it appear that the corridor was perfectly straight? Hulon admits he can’t answer that when he gives his answer to the riddle, and Ted doesn’t answer it either (‘oh, you’ll learn that and more in good time’ the cabal members tell Hulon).

What Dead Men Tell is a riddle-story; an atmospheric riddle-story with a worthwhile riddle (at least it wasn’t one of Asimov’s Black Widowers yarns), but I needed more. What were the stakes? The weirdo film projectionist is granted immortality and is assigned a girlfriend to instruct him in the ways of the new cabal he has been welcomed into.

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Wild Stars Update + Cirsova Review!

We’ve had some great positive coverage of Wild Stars III: Time Warmageddon from both Bounding into Comics and Critical Blast. Not to mention this great plug from The Alt-Right DM.

We’ve hit our initial stretch goals and will be giving away lots of comics to backers. The next goal is $1500 for the Prairie Bay comic.

 

FMPBCOVERcolor

Also, I’m thrilled to be able to announce that the first review of Cirsova # 8 is in from Tangent Online, and it’s positively glowing! It’s a roll of dice who reviews us there, and some have loved us while we haven’t been to the tastes of some others. Thankfully, Tara Grimravn appreciates what we’re going for with Cirsova. Be sure to check out what she’s written about our summer issue!