I had a really fun time answering E.G. Stone’s questions. For more information on my writing process, and to find out who wins a poker game with my characters, check out the interview here.
Check out E.G.’s cool books here.
[Note: pretty big spoilers for Episode 8 and previous episodes follow]
APOLOGIES: It’s been a huge gap between my review of Episode 7 and Episode 8 here, like seven months. That’s probably a commentary on how little I wanted to finish this thing. Anyway, here goes.
RELATED DISCLAIMER: I have to admit, I didn’t remember what was going on much, because I watched Episode 7 back in February. So, I’m sure part of the WTF I experienced was from that. Maybe 15%.
D&D THEME FOR THIS EPISODE: The DM has taken a new job and is moving out of town, so the campaign is ending, and the DM knows they have only one session to wrap up all these half-baked storylines they’ve been sort of but not really paying attention to over the previous 16 months. Also, they split the party last time, which obviously you should never do, but especially when you’re trying to come to a fun conclusion. There’s no way this will be satisfying, but the players will pretend it was.
OBLIGATORY UNNECESSARY FLASHBACK: The episode started with a flashback to 3000 years ago in some kind of Swedish-decorated apartment with a couple in kind of cool modern-styled evening wear arguing about gender roles and playing with their baby. Relevance was not shown. However, it is clear that fashion in Tar Valon will suffer greatly over the next three milennia. Fun terminology note: This was technically a dragon arguing with a chair, which evokes Clint Eastwood’s Republican Convention speech.
MAIN “PLOT” RECAP:
— Moiraine has decided Rand is the actual chosen one because (I think) a psychic barmaid told her so. Moiraine is not taking the other potentially useful and loyal super-powerful witches and werewolves with her because everybody who comes to the well who’s not the dragon dies*.
*Actually, nobody who comes to the well who’s not the Dragon dies, negating several episodes worth of buildup and decision-making. Nobody dies at the well at all other than my hopes for a more satisfying ending.
— Moiraine’s taken Rand into some weeds called The Blight. If I were the manifestation of evil incarnate, I would try to do something more impressive than grow weeds and entrap local youth. The weeds look a lot like the Bermuda grass in my lawn, which had the unintended effect of me imagining all the characters therein as very, very small.
— The other formerly-chosen-but-now-not-chosen ones are stuck in a city called Fal Dara, where they have basically nothing to do, until the city conveniently comes under attack by an enormous army of bad guys, an army which would maybe have been better deployed in the Bermuda grass killing Rand and Moiraine if the Dark Lord had his act together.
— The climactic event, the one that we’re supposed to have been building up to all season, is a massive, well-choreographed sword and magic fight that you want to watch again in slow motion so as not to miss any of the exciting details and cool moves. Ha, ha, no it wasn’t. Instead, they go into a hole in the weeds, have a domestic dream on a farm, and talk to a low-rent Al Pacino in a dinner jacket, at which point Rand makes some kind of negging choice sort of respecting women while not actually really doing so, and Al Pacino leaves disappointed. Moiraine had a chance to kill Rand, and instead of doing so, to the vast regret of this viewer, she did not.
— Rand then acknowledges that he now knows he will eventually go nuts and destroy the world, and instead of taking his own life to save humanity, he just peaces out through the weeds, asking Moiraine for help in ghosting all his friends.
— Through a tortured sequence of coincidences, deux ex machinae, overacting, under-explaining, and dumbassery, everything and everyone gets saved, except for a few designated tragic side characters (TSC’s), most of whom announce their impending deaths just before they happen. As an author who worries about plot, realism, and continuity, this was very hard to watch.
THE CHARACTERS LEFT BEHIND:
— Mat with one t was left way behind. Apparently the actor left the show after episode 6 and was written out of the rest of the first season, which explains his awkward departure scene where he just looks into the Waze and everybody else shouts “Noooooo!” He’ll be back, recast, in season 2. There goes an opportunity to jettison one of our dumb-as-paint self-involved whiners.
— Perrin has somehow converted to pacifism in the middle of a war, which is inconvenient. This may derive from his time with the bucolic cart people, even though I’m pretty sure he straight-up ate somebody in Episode 7 after his time with the cart Quakers. When the Fal Darans decide to remodel the throne room while a war is going on in order to recover a magic horn they can’t blow (not making that up), Perrin helps, because Loial the Ogier (who, like Moiraine, has far too many i’s in his name) tells him to ask how he can help. He does this in a particularly painful scene reminiscent of a Mister Rogers episode. When Perrin finally gets a chance to bury an axe in an evil dude who’s stealing the magic horn and taunting him about his childhood, which the evil Arsenio Hall guy inexplicably spent selling lanterns in his village, Perrin just grimaces and watches the guy go. Super unsatisfying. Somebody should have buried an axe in somebody, dammit.
— Egwene gets all weepy at being left behind and then accomplishes not much. Eventually, she serves as a backup D-cell battery to the princess of Fal Dara, Amalisa Jagad (named by Robert Jordan through yet another stomping of fingers on the typewriter and then filling in some vowels in the interstices).
— Nynaeve gets subjected to the most pathetic post-one-night-stand declaration of love I think I’ve seen in a show from Lan, who should know better to come on this strong after the first date. Wait a few days and text, dude. You’re going to scare her away like this. After this, she has to teach Lan to find the woman HE’S PSYCHICALLY BONDED WITH FOR LIFE, and then she becomes another backup D-cell.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY AT EMOTIONAL DEPTH:
When the princess exceeds her recommended amperage and starts to blow fuses, Nynaeve seems to do something unexplained to save Egwene from the resulting air fryer cook cycle. This is badass and in character for Nynaeve. As a result, Nynaeve is rendered extra-crispy in what is apparently the unexpected noble death of a major character. Yay! Shortly afterward, Egwene cries and strokes her cheek, returning Nynaeve to medium rare and to life, thereby removing any emotional impact or badassery previously established. This unexplained capability, despite being at least a level 8 spell and exhibiting powers beyond what Jesus reportedly controlled, does not elevate Egwene above a second-rate love-interest character, and it also founds no major new religions. No death should ever appear tragic in this show from now on, because Egwene has control of mortality’s undo button.
— The sa’angreal: Moiraine says a thousand male channelers gave all their energy to this one object, which means I guess it’s just the Aes Sedai version of TwitchTV. Why they would sacrifice all their power so that Rand can carry around a green tchotchke that he doesn’t appear to need, I don’t know. I suspect they all succumbed to some kind of email scam and had their channeling accounts drained through fraud.
— Geography: Moiraine says the Seven Towers of Malkier used to be a few miles from Fal Dara, which statement only makes sense if the Blight has somehow relocated the Seven Towers.
— The bad guy dream: Unless you’re really sure it’s a dream, maybe don’t stab yourself to get out of it. Talking to you, Rand.
— The other bad guy dream: If you’re ever tempted to end a season of a big-budget fantasy show with two guys talking about life choices on a farm, do not, and give up any career you perceive for yourself in entertainment.
— Trollocs: The estimation of trolloc horde sizes was just nuts. At one point, they say “there are 60 fades, which means there are 5,000 to 10,000 trollocs.” That implies a very specific and weirdly non-integer-divisible range of acceptable fade-to-trolloc ratios, which was very confusing. At another point, in the dark, the princess gazes at the big wall and says, it looks like there are 20,000 of them. When there are five of you, the difference between 10,000 and 20,000 trollocs is not very important, I’d think. Perhaps they have prepared the Gap by seeding it with glow-in-the-dark Trolloc-counting indicator markers for easy horde size estimation, but failing that, the numerical precision of these assertions (at night, from far away) was also hard to fathom.
— Chemistry: Moiraine mentions adrenaline, which has only been really known to modern science since about 1900. Apparently the organic biochemistry field in Tar Valon is seriously on point.
— Strategy: If you have five women who can destroy 20,000 trollocs and 60 (perhaps extending to 120) fades with lightning in under 18 seconds, maybe deploy them to the field BEFORE sending every male resident of your kingdom (except those emergency-remodeling the throne room) to their deaths.
— Overhyped danger: Moiraine tells Rand to “touch nothing” in the blight, making it sound as serious as when Mat picked up that obviously evil hissing dagger in the cursed city that one time. After impressing upon Rand the vital importance of this prohibition, she and Rand and Lan touch literally everything from there on out without consequence.
— Worst motivational speech ever: Agelmar Jagad. We’re all going to die, and then everybody we know is going to die, and then everybody else we don’t even know is going to die, so it doesn’t matter which armor I wear.
— Most pathetically obvious allegory ever: Naming dream-Egwene and Rand’s dream baby Joiya, so that when Rand rejects the opportunity to buy into the fake OnlyFans world of dream-Egwene, he has to literally give up Joy.
— Most rotoscoping in a final battle scene: Rand al’Thor, approximately 1800 degrees of rotation.
— Most obvious recreation of Merry and Pippin as a boring and unimportant side-duo: Egwene and Perrin (bonus for nearly matching one of the names).
— When everybody was saying “The Gap will not hold,” within me was birthed a burning desire to see the tragic and pointless sacrifice of the male population of Fal Dara occur not in a modified dam-fort but instead in a denim-filled clothing store. It would have been far more entertaining than watching them shoot crossbows out of poorly-designed arrow slits.
TIMES THE SUBTITLES UNINTENTIONALLY CAPTURED THE SHOW’S ESSENCE:
— “Shallow panting”
— “Distant screaming intensified”
— [Dialog] “Must be an awful feeling”
There you go. Will I watch Season 2? Probably. Will I enjoy it? Probably not.
Ian Lehrer’s The Deeping Well is a dense, exciting tale of the subterranean. Set entirely in the caverns, tunnels, passageways, and cities carved in rock below the surface, Lehrer brings to life a richly detailed world, complete with many distinct cultures. There are the underdwarves, portrayed here with a stratified, militaristic religious society, and the dark elves, present at the edges of the world but often deadly and malevolent, and the gnomes, represented here by Flannyrd, a curious, wise, and well-traveled woman who initially seems to be a mere trader.
Each culture comes with a distinct history, lore, and language, sometimes revealed by scholarly articles included in the text, but more often by little details sprinkled into conversations or situations or through discoveries by the characters. The caverns and tunnels are full of danger, whether dangerous falls and climbs, beasts that hunt in the shadows, rushing underground rivers, foul undead scavengers, or nefarious villains. This world, with all its rich detail and differences from the surface, fills the story with a strong, gritty flavor of somewhere wholly different from what we know. Light and food, both in limited supply, are constant concerns, and Lehrer’s imagined societies all have ways of dealing with the harsh darkness that surrounds them.
The most interesting and most central race of deep dwellers in this story is the Ta’tlan, an ancient race of warriors. The main character, Cagtlan, starts the book in training to become one of the elite warrior caste, the Ayengalli, in an enclave of the Ta’tlan. These warriors fight with two swords, one to kill, one with hooks to catch or break weapons, and Lehrer’s descriptions of combat are vivid, exciting, and easy to follow. They also use Litanies – meditations that give them keener perception, the ability to cloak themselves with shadow, or the frenzied passion of fire. The Ta’tlan culture has multiple castes, a long history, and a complex religious and cultural tradition, and figuring out the intricacies of how this all works is one of the real pleasures of the book.
The story feels episodic, with distinct breaks and travel between locations, as Cagtlan and Flannyrd embark on a journey that takes them far across the underworld in pursuit of an ancient mystery and a treacherous enemy. Their quest changes shape and grows in importance as they begin to understand the forces arrayed against them, and as they find companions and villains along the way. Cagtlan is steeped in his culture, but he begins to understand more about its origins in antiquity, and he realizes some of the lessons he’s been taught make him weaker rather than stronger.
There’s a ton here for fantasy fans. Magic, epic battles, victory, loss, poison, schemes, assassins, traps, sneaking (a lot of sneaking), ancient lore and artifacts, and lots of growly dwarves. Surrounding all of it is the rich, living world Lehrer has created below the ground, affecting all of the people and the cultures in ways that feel practical, natural, and ancient. Some books have a bunch of backstory and lore, and you end up bored to tears reading yet another Elvish poem or song of the trees or whatever. Here, Lehrer gives you enough juicy details to spark interest and give context but not so much that it ever feels like didactic showboating or a chore.
A rip-roaring fantasy adventure with all the right trappings and a grimy, grim, and new world to explore. Highly recommended.
I’ve been fiddling around with the very cool MidJourney AI graphics creation program, which lets you order up an original picture based on a phrase. You can add “in the style of” also, which often influences the image. For example, here’s Henry VIII in the style of Gary Larson.
And here’s one my wife tried: Art Deco Forbidden City
The AI gives you four initial options, and then you can choose to enhance one of them or do variations on them or just go for an entirely new set of four.
I thought I’d try my book titles just to see what it did – obviously there’s more to go on with some of them than others, particularly Daros, which is just a word that’s often a surname. Here’s what it made for me:
Flames Over Frosthelm
The Outcast Crown
The Woeling Lass
This is really fun. I paid up for a month’s subscription to give myself a chance to play more, and I’ve already made up some trivia questions for my monthly-ish Zoom trivia game based on it.
I’ve just entered The Woeling Lass in this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, a competition for indie-published fantasy. Looking forward to seeing how it does.
The competition filled tremendously quickly this year. There are 300 spots, and 109 of them filled in nine minutes! It slowed a bit after that, reaching 161 in 39 minutes. I got in there about 55 minutes after it opened, but my guess is it will fill even faster than the 24 hours it took last year.
Daros ended up coming in 15th out of 377 entries in the first ever Self-Published Science Fiction Competition run by Hugh Howey, missing the finals by a bit. That’s disappointing, but it was a really great ride, and I very much enjoyed getting to know the authors and bloggers as the competition progressed. There were four published reviews from blogger judges, and there may be more coming, because a lot more judges read the book as part of the process. Here are those reviews:
Two other favorite moments were:
(1) when a fellow author Ben Roberts made pixel art of Guzma after reading the book
And (2) when one of the finalist judges invoked Captain Torlo:
I won’t have another sci-fi book ready in time for the 2nd competition, but I am working on a new one and would love to enter again.
I saw this prompt on Twitter, and thought I’d take a stab. I hate the Russian invasion and love Gilbert and Sullivan, so it seemed worth a shot.
Despite my orders to advance my forces are unraveling.
They have no food or bandages and… Oops! Incoming Javelin.
Our army’s prowess constantly the Kremlin now intones.
But all my supply vehicles fell prey to Turkish drones.
Our plan to take the country in four days is all now cheesed.
My rubles are now worthless and our oligarchs’ yachts seized.
The condemnation coming in is nothing short of global,
And all we’ve really conquered is the ruins of Chernobyl.
The Kremlin leaders vanish and our stock market remains a sham.
We thought we had good hackers but they now have banned our Instagram.
Zelenskyy asks us to desert and soldiers are amenable.
My convoy’s stuck – a sitting duck – and that is quite untenable!
Our military strength’s a myth as you must have surmised.
We’re hated and the Russian name is constantly despised.
Though Putin’s arrogance has left us bleeding from the femoral,
I am the very model of a Russian Major General.
I’m so pleased to announce the release of The Woeling Lass, my fourth book in the Inquisitors’ Guild series. The ebook is up now on Amazon, and the paperback should be coming as soon as they approve it. Click the button here to go there:
Here’s the blurb to whet your interest:
A Death Denied
An assassin hunts Inspector Gueran Declais through the streets of Frosthelm, and she is not acting alone. Just as he learns that his family may have been attacked and slain, Gueran is struck down as well. Despite the odds, he lives. Barely. Whisked away from the city for his safety, he struggles to recover from his injuries, learn his family’s fate, and uncover the identity of those who want him dead. Far from Frosthelm, he becomes caught up in investigating another bloody attack, one that may or may not have been perpetrated by vengeful spirit of a woman wronged long ago, and one that threatens to expose him to his enemies. The locals are certain, though: the killer had to be the Woeling Lass, her hands cold as the grave and her feet aflame.
Back in Frosthelm, Urret Milton is an apprentice in some difficulty at the Guild. She receives a mysterious note for Gueran, a man everyone thinks is dead. Rapidly embroiled in the effort to unravel the reason for the killings and bring the assassins to justice, Urret struggles to shed her troubles and show that she has what it takes to be an inspector. But all this leads her into far more peril than she bargained for, for which she can’t possibly be ready. Her position at the Guild, the security of the city, and her life itself are all at stake.
This tale from the Inquisitors’ Guild of Frosthelm is a fresh mystery full of swordplay, deceit, ancient magic, scheming nobles, and a healthy dose of humor. Combining the clues and hidden mysteries of detective stories with all the grand adventure of epic fantasy, The Woeling Lass is a wondrous journey through betrayal, murder, ancient legend, loss, courage, and redemption. And, it has really silly chapter titles.
Each book from the Inquisitors’ Guild series is a stand-alone mystery and a complete story. You can read them in any order. Dive into the treacherous streets of Frosthelm today, and make sure to bring your sword.
[pretty big spoilers for Episode 7 and previous episodes follow]
Sorry for the gap in my series of cutting edge critiques here. Had holiday plans cancelled, then got COVID, then had some family events, then watched better TV than this. But we’re back, with two episodes to go.
D&D Theme for this episode: I can’t even. No D&D game I’ve ever played has been this bad, not even when I was ten and didn’t understand how to play. Nor have any players wanted to be like these people, ever.
In this episode, one thing happened of consequence, and it was barely of any consequence. This was:
— The party came out of a hole.
Most of the rest of it was taken up with emo whining about petty shit.
Like past episodes, we started in a completely different biome with people we’ve never met. If there were a WOT drinking game, this would have to be a sip of beer, not a shot, because otherwise players would be in the emergency room in no time. I fully expect episode eight to begin in the Sahara with a couple of accountants named Ed and Merle.
However, the start of this episode was totally badass, with well-choreographed fights, really cool action and camera angles, and emotional stakes as a pregnant woman fights off many attackers during labor. If they can make a scene this good, why does the rest of the show suck? This is a tantalizing glimpse of what the show could have been.
Then things go downhill.
There is whining about Mat being gone.
There is whining about Moiraine’s leadership.
There is whining about who cares about Mat more.
There is whining about the other people’s whining.
This accomplishes nothing other than the relentless crushing of my will to live. The group is admonished not to use magic for fear of summoning the Machin Shin, which would be REALLY BAD. Of course, they don’t say what the Machin Shin is, because telling vitally important potential Dragons valuable information about the risks you just described would be, you know, strategic.
Loial talks about how the Ways (or is it Waze?) used to be covered with grass and rather pleasant. I had several problems with this:
(1) they’re underground, where grass isn’t, and it’s dark, which grass can’t hack
(2) the Ways are composed of fresh columnar basalt conveniently and improbably arranged into walking paths, and grass doesn’t grow on that
(3) even if somehow the underground volcanic hellscape did have grass, it would still have the bottomless pits, which would tend to ruin any bucolic charm and make picnicking and frisbee hard, although it might make for an interesting golf course
They’re attacked by a Waze Trolloc, which somebody should have flagged on the app for them, and despite being warned not to use magic, they do, and as promised, the Machin Shin, which is not, in fact, a mechanical tibia, arrives. The way this was played up, I expected some disemboweling or plague of boils or fireballs descending from the sky, but instead the Machin Shin seems only to be a combination of a mild affliction of Mean Girls mixed with Impostor Syndrome. Given that the Dragon candidates are all, themselves, petulant teenagers trapped in 20-something bodies, maybe this is the worst opponent they could face, but it’s a bit anticlimactic.
Despite being told not to use magic so as not to empower the Machin Shin, they use magic to defeat the Machin Shin. Despite being lost in the Ways and needing at least a day to figure out where they are due to Trolloc vandalism, they emerge very close to where they wanted to be and completely unscathed. Someone is seriously overselling the perils of the Ways. I think it might be Loial, given that he’s also hawking his invaluable guide services that apparently nobody actually needs.
They emerge to a weird walled town on a desert ridge with no apparent industry or agriculture. Unlike other cities in this series, though, this place seems to have actual people living there and a variety of places to explore, although it’s a little hallway-heavy, and the throne room has the standard Monarch Brooding Balcony (Basic Model) installed. The people here also have their own custom salute which looks like they are giving themselves the Heimlich maneuver. Culture!
Nothing happens in this town. Nothing that advances the plot even one tiny little bit. The only thing of any interest that might matter later is that somebody comes out of the Ways behind them complete with ominous boot tracking shot, but that is just dropped completely, and we never learn who he was or what he was doing.
Otherwise, we just have a ton of brooding.
There is whining about Mat.
There is whining about the whining about Mat.
There is whining about who loves Mat, and who just like doesn’t get Mat and never gave him a chance, man.
There is whining about Egwene dumping Rand (who is eminently dumpable), even though she’s now actively hooking up with him again.
There is whining about the quest.
There is whining about some heretofore completely unhinted romance between Egwene and Perrin, which is put forward by Nynaeve, who didn’t even live in @&$#&$& Two Rivers at the start of the show and would not have any basis to know, and which there’s been no sign of up to now.
There is whining about not apologizing.
There is whining about the manner of apologizing.
There is whine-apologizing.
There is whining about the Amyrlin Barcalounger and the Aes Sedai.
There is whining about how harrrrd saving the world is.
There is whining about the gift of foresight.
Ugh. So bad. Watching Rand try not to cry while firing emo arrows in the torchlight was about the most pukeworthy this series has ever gotten, and that’s a high bar.
There’s a surprise clumsy and lifeless romance between Nynaeve and Lan, because what this show obviously needs is another passion-free lackluster love storyline. The only thing I kept wondering is if Lan keeps his headband on while getting it on, but the jury is still out on that, because we did a fade to black before anything even happened other than gratuitous Lan pectorals. (Dude is ripped – you go, Lan).
We learn shit that I don’t care about that has no bearing on the plot, and what we learn isn’t even spelled out very well. Lan is some kind of king of a dead land (grumble stolen from Aragorn grumble). There’s a seer here in this weird town who’s in some kind of witness protection program as a bartender. (Note: this is the second bartender-with-a-secret-identity, if you’re working on the drinking game.) We learn that Rand will be holding a baby someday, which is terrifying, because I was really hoping he never reproduces or tries to parent anyone.
We also learn that Rand was the baby born at the beginning of this episode, which is disheartening, because his rancid petulance is so far removed from his mom’s utter badassery. I would so much rather watch his mom do stuff for eight hours. This is the strongest presentation of nurture over nature I think modern media has produced.
Then, despite the seer not telling Rand he’s the dragon, he goes and tells Moiraine he is, and she believes him, and they leave without telling anybody, to the consternation of everybody else, who is now stuck in BFE with the self-Heimlich posse. In their final scene, we see Rand and Moiraine heading into an abandoned lot next to Fal Dora, where the HOA should get the landowner to cut back the weeds already. A little RoundUp would work wonders.
My working hypothesis is that Moiraine knows Rand’s not the dragon, and she’s taking him to the Eye of the World where he will be squeezed to a powder by the forces of nature and magic (that’s close to literally what they said would happen, and it is no small comfort to imagine Rand being popped like an Earth-zit). Then she’ll come back and get the others, and nobody will have to deal with his incel bullshit anymore.
Or, maybe, we can just have more flashbacks of his mom killing people. Please.
To wrap up, rating the would-be Dragons (in order of how much I want them to die):
RAND: Another week as the worst of the worst. I really hate this guy.
EGWENE: Pledged never to dump Rand again, which almost makes her worse than Rand. Except Rand is like the absolute zero of suck, and you can’t suck any more than he does.
PERRIN: He had barely anything to do, other than see stuff in the dark that nobody else could and deny scurrilous accusations that he didn’t love his wife.
MAT: Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film, yet gains some points for not accompanying this sorry set of saviors on this trip. Wise move, my evil-dagger-loving friend.
NYNAEVE: Still my favorite, but this was a weird stalkery episode for her, and PlayDoh has more chemistry going on than her love scene.
I am so pleased to announce the release of the audiobook of Daros, performed by the talented and funny Jennifer Pratt. I so enjoyed hearing her bring the book and the characters to life. I hope you enjoy this new, enhanced version of my book (now a SPSFC semi-finalist, and still in the running for more).
Apple Books/iTunes coming soon, as soon as they process the release.