Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book review: The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

In an earlier post, I mentioned something about liking The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Well, now I'm going to mention liking a book I think is comparable to a LotR of the twenty first century: Miles Cameron's The Red Knight. I found this gem many months ago in Barnes & Noble, staring face out as one of the new fantasy releases. The cover showed a man grasping a sword resting on the ground, only his hands exposed on the pommel and garde, colored in gold, red, and black. It was very striking, and after reading the synopsis, I did my literary litmus test: flip it open to a random page (or two) and see what I read.

I recall the passage being about a man who had his head gorily crushed by a monster--literary violence is only really sort of my cup of tea, given my affinity for dark fantasy--surrounded by some very beautiful prose. The prose was effused with the reactions of the characters, namely disgust and revulsion, but with a strange humor peeping through. I can't remember where the passage was exactly (it's a whopping 650 pages, but if you find it, let me know). What was immediately evident was that this story was in the hands of a literary master, somebody who loved language and whose skill reminded me of Angela Carter. I bought it and unfortunately, had to shelve it until I finished reading a few "practical" books.

When I did get around to starting it, I realized I was in for a mighty ride. From Cameron's familiarity with medieval culture and armory, I knew I was in good company. This is a man who rivals every medieval scholar out there in terms of love of topic and an excellent working knowledge (I would say expertise, but medievalists specialize too much for that). There's nothing boring or slow about the intense layering of details, and I loved the feeling that as the reader, I too was being marched around the battlefield.

Then, la! Characterization is definitely Cameron's other strong point. On an individual level, his characters grapple with personal problems and each other. Most of the characters are as flawed as any grimdark protagonist, yet there are two important differences. One, each character is relatively likable. They may not have the best personalities, but they have realistic motivations and emotions, which is the inherent appeal of flawed heroes. Two, as Jeff Gerke highlighted in The First 50 Pages, every character has some speck of goodness in them, even if it's buried deep. The goodness in them is a redeeming factor, but doesn't compromise the distinct tone of moral ambiguity. 

The goodness is also a significant way to distinguish The Red Knight from the very bastion of dark fantasy (grimdark? I'm not sure it qualifies), George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I love Martin, but I don't like feeling the hatred Arya feels towards the Lannisters (and many more), or the contempt Stannis carries around like a banner. I'm only halfway through A Storm of Swords but there are only a handful of characters I genuinely sympathize with, and they're all fighting each other. And on top of that, none of the characters seem to have any true moral values, like empathy or a sense of justice. Maybe Martin is too subtle for me. The important part about this is that Miles Cameron's characters usually do stand for some sort of goodness, even if they don't want to. 

We initially meet the protagonist because the company of mercs he leads been hired to protect an abbey. It seems simple enough (this is a very pared down version). Initially, he's getting paid to do the "right" thing, but in the end, the payment becomes almost irrelevant. Protecting the abbey becomes about self validation, guarding his fellow man, and besting a cruel and manipulative enemy. Those are all causes that as the reader, I can get behind. It was a relief to have a cause that I know is right, because for me, in real life righteousness comes down to a matter of choices, not personal glory. Not the chain reaction you see in ASoIaF. Don't get me wrong--I love Martin, and his stories have a place. Give me characters like the ones Cameron created, however, and I feel like I know them.

To explore this point a little further, I'll give why caring for the characters and their choice to do right (or what for them is right) is so important: the injuries and deaths in the story actually matter. In Martin's stories, people are maimed or die left and right, with no consequence. In The Red Knight, each injury is described in detail, and you can feel the characters bleed. When one of the more important NPCs dies, I felt a very real sadness for them. Cameron wroughts this effect with subtlety, using the characters' goodness, and as a reader and someone who appreciates literature, I am so grateful to him for that.

The story itself reminded me of LotR from Cameron's love of his characters, and his portrayals of epic battles. That comparison still breaks down a little down characterization lines, funnily enough. I realized last night that another reason how The Red Knight succeeds is that for the most part, the characters are very ordinary. Royalty and aristocracy is mentioned, and it comes and goes for the protagonist. The aristocracy is often portrayed in a comic light, which is a delight to read after we get such a solemn treatment of it in other works. By and large, the characters in The Red Knight are ordinary folk, and they are all too aware of that. It makes them homey, gives them warts, but they are beautiful in their imperfection. I loved that aspect of the story, because they are endearing and yet they act naturally.

The spine on my copy of the book reads "1", so I'm guessing a trilogy is to be born out of this. I will be seeking out more of Miles Cameron's work, if only because as with the same fever I got with Harry Potter, I have to know more! The story left off with a "wheels within wheels" ending, and I want to see the trap unfold. Particularly because the protagonist knows there's a trap, and is choosing to march on in anyways, whistling a tune.

Here's a link to Cameron's website below. If you have any questions or want to leave any feedback, comment away!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Links o' Interest July 27

It was a great week for geek culture, riding on the heels of the SDCC. I live on the East Coast, and until I "make it", I'm pretty far off from attending. However, that doesn't stop me (or you!) from reaping the nerdy benefits. Did anyone see the Tetris cosplays?

  1. This link is less time/con relevant than just general bad ass-ness: a premise of examining chauvinism in Tolkien. Tolkien and LotR, as you may guess, is my bread and butter. I'm excited for this series of articles to get underway.
  2. I'm a happy lady when animators show how awesome lady warriors can be, and Power Rangers is no excuse. I loved the Yellow and Pink Ranger clips...Particularly as there is a picture of me as the Yellow Ranger from Halloween circa 1995. These clips reminded me of "Shanghai Batman", and that is always a win.
  3. If you haven't read or heard of The Mary Sue yet, get thee to their site! I love Disney crossovers.
  4. Old school-esque pin ups and science is not much of a cognitive dissonance for me.
  5. I just started reading this. I feel out of the loop a little, but I know myself when I find webcomics: they're flipping addictive. Must. Read. The. Entire. Thing. Who needs sleep? I gotta say, I love Mr. Zane's so-called paranoia, because I get that way more than I'd like to admit. Lots of literary twists and turns, very Borges. Bring it on.
  6. I'm kind of crazy about xoJane. As in, I check it at least once a day. My favorite contributor is Claire, but this article by Kate Conway is excellent. It's my only SDCC-related link (I'll share other links as the individual franchise news is released). If you've ever been curious as to what it's like living as a geek girl, here's some honest insight. A little secret: I don't particularly like Michelle Rodriguez as an actress (for one very good reason: Avatar), but I love her call to arms. Vive le geek girl revolution!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Links of interest: July 21

Introductions aside, let's get down to business. I created this blog on this very day because my phone is overloaded with Google Chrome tabs of links I looked at and thought were awesome. The links are a serial distraction; when I want to open a tab from Google Search, my eye is inevitably drawn to another page I have open that I said I'd "come back to" later. I've already read the page, mind, and probably went through all of the interesting content, but it was just too cool to close. My boyfriend is a serial Chrome tabber (I've never counted his tabs, but they crowd his screen and he makes a point of saving them, even through shut downs). I can't live that way. I want to alleviate the pressure of remembering awesome websites but putting them up here, and I'm hoping to do it about once a week. Now they can crowd your tabs!

This week's links:
  1. Bully Pulpit Games. I found this while perusing the "r/fantasywriting" sub-Reddit many weeks ago, and the site is just too cool. These guys are clever and interesting, and I fully plan on buying one of their games. Most of their offerings seem to be card games, but the supplemental materials are available on the site, so you can get a sense of their style. "Carolina Death Crawl" and "Grey Ranks" look like fun games, full of humor, excitement, and murder, the makings of a fun evening.
  2. Stefon Mears' Blog. Okay, perhaps this is self referential to suggest another blog, but it's totally worth it! My favorite post? The one where he discusses A Song of Ice and Fire as the "what comes after" from the fairy tale happy ending. Absolutely fascinating, particularly when it comes from a series that strives to have no heroes.
  3. LitReactor. I just discovered this site last week, when I tripped onto an article by Rob D. Young about how D&D can improve storytelling. Ooh, reading it was magical. The inspiration Young gave was the Internet high five I was talking about in my last post. Excuse me while I go enjoy my fantasy gaming.

New beginnings

I think anyone reading this has heard of Lord of the Rings and its staunch fandom, more recently since Peter Jackson's rendition of the story into movies. The title "Frodo Lives" refers to the "first wave" popularity of LotR in the 60s, when it was chic for college students to tout a button emblazoned with the phrase. The buttons and bumper stickers are now available only obscurely on eBay and Amazon, and Frodo's fictional life hasn't been in true danger since a time long, long ago involving a guy named Sauron. But now the fans of Tolkien aren't letting Frodo die from obscurity, and this blog exists to celebrate that fandom with you. Any fandom, actually. If you're into Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, comics (Marvel vs. DC), the Wheel of Time, tabletop rpgs, video games, board gaming, A Song of Ice and Fire, and many, many other fandoms, I'm here to give you a high five. I want to celebrate how awesome and fun our fandoms are, and to give you an Internet back slap for being casual, hardcore, or somewhere in between.

This blog was created out of contempt, I'll admit, because I happen to know several people who couldn't tell a hobbit from a Valkyrie. I'll leave them to Twilight and The Notebook, without further comment. I'm writing this because I want to share cool ideas, events, links, and geeky enthusiasm. Frodo Lives with us.