fantasy

REVIEW: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

Narrated by Kate Reading.

Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

First off, I’ve got to say how much I enjoyed the narrator for this book and while I’m sure I’d still have liked A Natural History of Dragons if I’d read a physical copy, the audiobook was brilliant and if/when I carry on with the series, I’ll definitely be doing so via the audiobooks. It brought Isabella’s story to life in a way I wasn’t expecting. The narrator had a wonderful old posh British lady kind of voice and it just worked. It was easy to imagine an elderly woman writing her memoir and throwing in the odd aside about what she’s learnt since and how her attitude towards certain things might’ve changed in the intervening years.

A Natural History of Dragons is a historical fantasy memoir of a fictional character who lives in a world that’s inhabited by dragons. I would say there is not that many dragons in a book titled A Natural History of Dragons but I didn’t mind that. Instead, it’s more character focused as a good portion of the novel is about Isabella’s childhood, how she became obsessed with natural history and dragons and how that hindered/helped her find a suitable man to marry. I liked how A Natural History of Dragons spent time building Isabella as a character and the world around her which often feels like a nineteenth century world. There’s a lot about the upper society and how Isabella doesn’t fit in with her interests and not being very lady-like but still knowing that she needs to marry in order to be a respectable daughter. I liked the struggles Isabella goes through personally just as much as her “professional” ones when she gets involved more with dragons. It’s interesting to see her straddle this line between respectability and following her passions and how love could possibly combine the too.

The main dragon stuff comes in the latter half of the book as Isabella gets to join an expedition to Vystrana. I really liked how while dragons were known and excepted creatures in this world, the people don’t know too much about them. Isabella and her fellow naturalists are what I presume were like the people who first started any animal in our world, especially potentially deadly ones like sharks. It’s clear in the beginning they don’t know a lot and some of their theories are wildly inaccurate while others are the basis of bigger discoveries. I liked how there’s references to things later in Isabella’s life throughout the book but especially when she comments on their research process or ideas and how they might’ve changed over time. I also appreciated the trial and error of their expedition and how Isabella gets into various scrapes due to her impulsiveness.

I really enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons. It’s a book I’ve seen around over the years but the fact it’s a fictionalised memoir did put me off a bit. I’m glad to say I’m wrong and that interesting narrative choice really works, especially via the audiobook. 5/5.

REVIEW: Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Unsure of his life and what he wants from it, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) mid-life crisis is interrupted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a galactic killer who seeks the extinction of the gods. Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and his ex-girlfriend Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now the Mighty Thor and wields Mjolnir, to stop the God Butcher.

Thor: Love and Thunder is style over substance. I feel at one time I may have had that criticism for Thor: Ragnarok but at least there the tone was mostly balanced and there was still a decent plot and character work. In Love and Thunder it’s all bright colours (except in the Shadow Realm which is the one stylistic thing and sequence I found interesting) and rock music and it’s so tonally inconsistent and the jokes are juvenile and grating. There’s running gags in Love and Thunder that may have been a bit cringey but generally OK the first time but the fact that they just keep going with that joke it feels like it’s flogging a dead horse and even if it was a little funny to begin with, in the end it becomes so unfunny that it’s painful. The jokes also often come at the expense of the drama and supposedly more emotional, hard-hitting moments which is annoying. Also, if you’re like me and only really like Korg in small doses, then Love and Thunder may be grating at times as that is a “funny” character I do not find amusing.

The tonal inconsistences aren’t just the humour undercutting dramatic moments, but how in some ways Gorr feels completely out of place to the rest of the film. Christian Bale is great in the role and is creepy and gives a great performance. Gorr is so serious, and perhaps a little mad, so when he comes up against a God that’s self-indulgent and arrogant it’s kind of jarring. You could say this is on purpose – showing how the Gods don’t care about the people that worship them and how they just want to live in opulence and have all the food, wine, and sex that they could ask for – thus giving Gorr all the more reason to kill the Gods. However as elsewhere in Love and Thunder there’s humour undercutting dramatic moments and drastic tonal shifts it feels like it’s part of a wider issue.

One of my biggest problems with Thor: Love and Thunder is Thor as a character. In films of all genres, I can kind of forgive a weaker plot if the character work is good. Especially in franchise films, if I like a character, I just enjoy seeing them and how they’ve grown and adapted to whatever situation they’re in and what’s going on around them isn’t such a big deal for me. With Thor: Love and Thunder the plot isn’t great and neither is the character work. Thor seems like he has regressed as a character and is back to being the arrogant man-child he was at the start of Thor. The whole point of the first film his him learning some humility, that actions have consequences and you can’t always go charging in like a bull in a China shop. Over the past however many Thor and Avengers movies Thor has learnt the smashing things without first attempting diplomacy isn’t the answer. In Love and Thunder, he doesn’t seem to care about anyone, including the Asgardian people he’s supposed to love and protect; summoning the Bifrost in buildings, destroying sacred temples as he stops bad guys, and just generally acting like an irresponsible buffoon.

Though she’s now King, Valkyrie gets no real development, any hints at a genuine friendship between her and Jane are few and far between and she is regulated to Thor’s sidekick once again. Jane and her heavy origin story and rise as the Mighty Thor feels shafted due to it being surrounded by flat jokes doing wrong by her as a character and what she’s going through. Plus, as it’s been a while since we’ve seen the character, the Jane/Thor romance feels underdeveloped even as the film gives a copious number of flashbacks to try and make you care about it.

Thor: Love and Thunder relies on the (unfunny) banter between characters rather than any real meaningful dialogue or emotion and does a disservice to all of its character. It definitely feels like Thor: Love and Thunder didn’t work when the thing that got the biggest reaction from me was an actor’s appearance in the midcredits scene. The rest of the film didn’t particularly make me feel happy or sad and I may have smiled a couple of times or chuckled but never full on laughed at anything that happened on screen. 2/5.

Perhaps I’m being generous with a 2/5 rating but that’s what I’ve settled on. I liked Gorr and the Shadow Realm sequence but everything else, not so much. As someone who tends to have mixed to positive feelings about Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love and Thunder is a serious step down.

REVIEW: Red Seas, Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Audiobook narrated by Michael Page.

This is the second book in the Gentlemen’s Bastard series, the first being The Lies of Locke Lamora, so there may be vague spoilers for the first book.

After barely making it out of Camorr alive, Lock Lamora and Jean Tannen arrive in the city state of Tal Varrar where they are soon planning to take on the legendary gaming house The Sinspire. No-one has ever taken even a single coin from the Sinspire that wasn’t won on the tables or in the other games of chance on offer there but Locke and Jean plan to change that. The course of crime rarely runs smooth and soon Locke and Jean find themselves entangled in the politics of the city and are coerced into setting sail in order to find some pirates

Red Seas, Under Red Skies is almost a book of two halves and I very much enjoyed both of them. The first follows Locke and Jean about two years after the events of The Lies of Locke Lamora as they are putting the final touches to the long con they’ve been pulling. In that half there’s also flashback chapters to see what happened to them in the first few months after they left Camorr. I’m always impressed by the flashbacks in this series. They never bore me and do a good job of actually adding to the characters and their newly changed dynamic as Locke and Jean have been affected by what happened to them in the first book. The second half is the seafaring adventure as they’re forced to learn how to be passable sailors and go searching for pirates to bring back to the city. It’s like the first half is a city book and while the setting is different to where they grew up, Locke, Jean and you as the reader know what they’re up against and how to rig the system. When it becomes a sea/pirate adventure book, that’s when Locke, Jean and the reader are on uncertain ground as no matter how much charisma and smarts they have, there’s things out to sea that you can’t talk your way out of.

It was fun seeing Locke and Jean out of their element when they’re out to see, but really through the flashbacks you see that they haven’t really been 100% themselves since they left Camorr. They relationship has shifted a but and while they still definitely trust and care about each other (don’t think I’ve read about such ride or die best friends like them for a long time) they aren’t always quite on the same wavelength anymore. Locke especially is unsettled and doesn’t always believe in himself and his schemes and it’s interesting to see him doubt himself and work to overcome that.

There’s a lot going on in Red Seas, Under Red Skies with various outside forces having their own schemes that attempt to ensnare Locke and Jean, but I never felt lost or confused when reading it. There are schemes within schemes and it’s fun to see how things unfold and while there’s certainly surprises, when you think back, the groundwork for them was there and pretty much everything was meretriciously planned.

I love the blend of magic and science in this series. You get to see more of Locke’s bag of tricks and how a pack of playing cards can be more than what they seem. Alchemy is the main sort of “magic” but there’s a few instances where mind control and telepathy may come to play, and when they’re out to see there’s clearly some large, deadly and fantastical creatures in the water.

I love the characters, the world, and the whole vibe of Red Seas, Under Red Skies and this series as a whole. It’s a series I want to take my time with as there’s only three books released but even though it’s been a couple of years since I read the first book, I soon found myself immersed in this world again. Locke and Jean’s character development was so good and interesting and the new characters, especially the new lady pirates, were great too. 5/5.

REVIEW: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

When Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) meets America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a girl with extraordinary but uncontrollable powers, he gets pulled into an adventure spanning the multiverse to save her and their universe.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an interesting film and probably one where people may have expected more from its concept. While Doctor Strange does traverse the multiverse, he only spends a decent amount of time in a couple of different universes so it doesn’t really feel like a true “multiverse of madness”. That being said, this is one of the shorter MCU films of late at just over two hours so the lack of extra universes makes a pretty snappy runtime for a film that’s juggling a fair few characters.

Helping Doctor Strange on his mission is his trusted friend and the new Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) and former Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Personally, I love seeing Wong’s role expand from one MCU movie to the next. Benedict Wong is a charming guy and brings a likeability and stability to Wong, especially when next to Strange’s more reactive and harsher attitude. Wanda has an interesting arc and Olsen has always been good in the role but it looks like she really relishes showing a different side to Wanda. I’d be interested to know what people who’ve not seen WandaVision (or have forgotten huge chunks of it) thought of Wanda and her storyline in this film and whether her motivations were understandable and if there was enough context in the dialogue to explain what was up with her.

Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) has more to do here than in the first Doctor Strange movie which was nice. In the brief moments we saw of her in the first film it seemed like she was smart and capable at rolling with the magical punches, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness that proves to be the case. Gomez’s America Chavez is an interesting one. The Young Avengers comics is one of the few series I’ve read so I did know about her before watching the film and I’m not sure they did the character from the comics justice. America Chavez should have more gumption and confidence in her abilities, which we don’t really see here. You could say this adventure is what helps her become the America we see in the comics than can be a bit of a copout – especially when so often male characters don’t have to go from meek and mild to a confident leader.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is directed by Sam Raimi but there’s a lot of creepy horror imagery in this film. Raimi directed the original Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy and outside of that he’s best known for his horror films and he certainly brings the horror here. There are jump scares, evil spirits, and some gory and bloody moments too. When you continuously hear that directors can’t put their own unique stamp on franchise films, it’s nice to see something in the MCU that does feel distinctly different.

The score by Danny Elfman is also pretty great and knows how to amp up the tension and add to that unsettling feeling. There’s one fight sequence where music plays a big part and it’s really fun visually and audibly, and shows a different way the magic that’s at Doctor Strange’s disposal can be used.

I think the things people may love or hate about this film are the things that I can’t really talk about in a spoiler-free review. There are cameos and reveals, some work and may have a lasting impact, while others I’m pretty sure are just fanservice. It’s the inclusion of the horror-esque elements that make Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness standout but the problem I have with it, is the same problem I have with Doctor Strange – I don’t really like Stephen Strange as a character, and I much prefer it when he’s part of an ensemble. The start of the film is a bit slower but he’s at least with Wong more who mutes Strange’s attitude a bit. When Strange is front and centre, as he should be as the titular character, that’s when things get a bit shakier for me. A trope I love is “grumpy man adopts sassy teen” and though that’s the kind of dynamic they try and push with Strange and America, it just never hits the mark.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is often weird and creepy but it doesn’t feel like it did enough with its multiverse premise – or there were bigger expectations on it than it ever hoped to deliver. The acting is good, the score’s great, but there was never really enough to allow me to connect with the majority of the characters or to make me really feel anything. 3/5.

Sidenote: if you want a really great multiverse adventure, watch Everything Everywhere All at Once.

U is for Upside-Down Magic (2020)

Nory (Izabela Rose) and her best friend Reina (Siena Agudong) enter the Sage Academy for Magical Studies, where Nory’s unconventional powers land her in a class for those with wonky, or “upside-down,” magic. Undaunted, Nory sets out to prove that that upside-down magic can be just as powerful as right-side-up.

As I near the end of my A-Z Challenge I wanted to watching something that wouldn’t be too taxing and found this Disney Channel Original movie on Disney+. It’s based on a book (which I haven’t read) and it’s almost a combination of Harry Potter and Sky High but that works surprisingly well.

Reina’s power is creating fire and she is good at it but lacks confidence, especially when Nory is no longer with her to be her hype woman. Those two are some of the best tween best friends I’ve seen in media for ages. Both young actresses were great and I really believed in their friendship. Nory’s power is that she can change into a creature, but not just one, she always ends up as a mixture of two or more animals which doesn’t fit in with the neat aesthetic of Sage Academy.

Honestly, the teachers at Sage Academy are the worst. So many of them are super strict and expect perfection all the time that it makes the kids unsure of themselves. Plus, as the sort of moral of the story is embracing all your weirdness and differences, there’s a lot of adults who are against that and the headmistress especially is dismissive of Nory. Skriff (Kyle Howard) is the groundskeeper/teacher for Nory and the three other kids whose powers don’t fit into the neat normal and he’s a bit jaded too to begin with but once he starts to help Nory and the others too, he becomes a lot more likeable.

Upside-Down Magic feels like one of the Disney Channel Original Movies that they actually spent some money and effort on. The young cast are all pretty great, the special effects don’t look terrible, and it’s a film with a good message and themes. The villain of the film is interesting and looks pretty good too, and how they build the weirdness and make a book super creepy is admirable.

Overall, Upside-Down Magic is a fun, easy-watch kind of kid’s film. There’s a lot of great friendships between various characters, like the bond formed between Nory and the other kids with upside-down magic, but really, it’s Nory and Reina’s friendship that’s at the heart of this film. They really are the best of friends. 3/5.

REVIEW: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Washed-up MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) learns of an ancient battle when he’s recruited by Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) to stand against the enemies of Outworld who wish to take over Earth.

Having not played the games I’m pretty much a Mortal Kombat novice. Though that being said, I did watch the 1995 Mortal Kombat film earlier this year, can’t say I remember much about it though so really this Mortal Kombat is a blank slate for me.

The plot of Mortal Kombat doesn’t feature a big tournament, instead they talk about it a lot and it’s more a getting the team together to prepare to fight in the tournament kind of film. So really it feels like a lot of setup for the next film – which hopefully will be made otherwise this one would’ve been a bit of a waste of time.

The majority of the special effects and fight sequences look great. In fact, Mortal Kombat starts and ends on a high as it’s bookended by fights between Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). Those fights are very entertaining and the second one where what can be amounted to superpowers are involved, is truly an excellent way to bring things to a close. The rest of the fights don’t quite hit that standard and a few seem to end before they have even begun. That said, all the fights are pretty bloody and gory so if you like that kind of thing you’re in luck.

A lot of the characters in Mortal Kombat feel pretty generic and don’t have too much personality. While Lewis Tan is great at the fight sequences, his Cole is the usual chosen one character and is defined by his love of his family and not much else. The rest of the heroes aren’t given much of a backstory or personalities and, for many of them, there isn’t a feeling of camaraderie between them that there should be when you have a team of heroes. Kano (Josh Lawson) almost feels like he’s in another film entirely as his personality is the biggest out of all the characters. He’s loud, brash and argumentative and they way he delivers one-liners just feels out of place as the rest of the characters are quite dour and serious. He does make it so things don’t get too dull but it still feels a little weird.

Mortal Kombat is a bit of a mixed bag but even though a lot of the characters are pretty generic (they’re fighters who all have some sort of special power), the plot moves at a good pace and the fights keep coming so you never really get bored. 3/5.

REVIEW: Eternals (2021)

The Eternals, a race of immortal and powerful beings, have lived on Earth for centuries. Their mission was to protect its people from creatures called Deviants but when a new danger threatens Earth and its people, they decide to take a stand to protect the place they’ve learnt to call home.

Eternals is the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in some ways it’s different to what has come before, but in others it falls into the general tropes of the MCU. The scope of Eternals is huge and there’s a lot of information to take in about these characters and their history. They are all pretty much demigods with different powers and how they fight together, using those different powers is really fun to watch. And while they are all from the same place originally, they each have experienced different things in their thousands of years on Earth and that along with their general core beliefs make them different to one another.

There are ten Eternals so natural some characters get more development than others but each character gets at least one very cool moment, whether it’s a quiet, dramatic moment or something in a big fight scene. Sersi (Gemma Chan) could be considered the lead in this ensemble cast. She, along with Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sprite (Lia McHugh), is the one who sets out to find the others and bring them all together to stop this new threat. Sersi is a character whose core values are really love and kindness. She’s always liked and cared for the people of Earth even when some of her companions thought them to be not worth saving or a danger to themselves.

A lot of the comedic moments come from Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and his human valet Karun (Harish Patel). With Karun, he could’ve easily become an annoying comedic side character but the film knows exactly when to use him to its advantage and he actually has a really heartfelt moment which I did not expect. Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos also has some funny moments but his humour is a lot more subtle and dry and having that kind of humour balances out the more typical MCU-type humour which was nice.

The cast and the characters are what made Eternals for me. These characters have all lived different lives but they all still care about one another. They do often seem like a dysfunctional family and no dynamic between two characters is the same. There are friendships or maybe even romantic relationships between various characters that are stronger than between others but that’s true to life in any kind of friendship group or family. It doesn’t make any of the relationships lesser and instead adds something to the various characters motivations. The chemistry between certain actors was great if unexpected – Barry Keoghan’s Druig and Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari were a standout.

The cinematography in Eternals is often stunning and that has to be at least in part due to director Chloé Zhao and her love of natural lighting and filming in real locations. At times this does make the CGI a bit more noticeable when it is used as the blend of the real and computer-generated doesn’t always hit the mark.

Eternals is a bit more of a serious MCU film as it presents lofty ideas and themes about humanity and the value of life of one species vs another. It’s the kind of film where even though you see the worst of humanity, you can also see the best and its potential. But with all these serious discussions, there’s also spectacular fight sequences where it’s really fun to see these characters work together.

There’s a lot to take in, but overall Eternals manages to be an engaging and hopeful story with fun action sequences and a lot of mythology to get your teeth into – and there’s enough in the film itself and its two post-credit scenes to get you interested in a sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

There may be vague spoilers for the original Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in this review.

Nikolai Lantsov, King of Ravka, is trying to keep his country from the brink of war and ruin, while battling a darkness that has taken hold inside him. Zoya Nazyalensky, Commander of the Second Army and one of Nikolai’s closest allies, will do everything to protect her fellow Grisha and help Nikolai secure the throne. Meanwhile, far north Nina Zenik wages her own war against the people who would see the Grisha destroyed. Each of them will risk everything to save a broken nation but some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried.

While people said you could read Six of Crows without reading the Grisha trilogy you definitely shouldn’t read King of Scars without having read the five previous books. King of Scars takes place three years after the Darkling’s defeat and there’s a lot of references to past events and knowing what these characters have gone through then, makes their highs and lows more affecting now.

King of Scars is told from the point of view of Nikolai, Nina, and Zoya. Nina’s story does kind of feel a bit like a side quest and quite separate from what’s happening with Nikolai and Zoya. She’s in a different country, she doesn’t even know what’s happening back in Ravka, and while she’s being a spy for Nikolai, she’s trying to confront her demons and her grief over losing the man she loved. Nikolai and Zoya’s stories are more entwined so you get what both characters are feeling about the situations they’re in as they’re trying to protect the future of Ravka. There’s political intrigue as Nikolai, Zoya and their allies (Genya, David, and the twins) try to figure out how to make alliances with neighbouring countries and protect their borders. As well as the politics side of things, Nikolai has to deal with a monster that’s living under his skin. The constant threat of him hurting anyone, or their enemies finding out about it and using it against them, always on his mind.

All three of these characters are struggling. They’re struggling with their guilt, their responsibility, their grief, and they’re all handling (or not) to the best of their ability. Reading King of Scars was a bit odd at times as while I like all three characters (Nikolai was my favourite from the original trilogy), they were all more or less side characters in the stories they first appeared in so to have them front and centre now felt a bit strange to begin with. Though, I have to say while I liked her before, King of Scars made Zoya go way up in my estimations. She’s powerful and mean but she’s holding in a lot of pain and the way her powers and inner strength develop is great to see. I also really liked her and Nikolai’s relationship. While they are close and clearly trust one another, there’s hints at there being something more between them, whether they are aware of it or not.

Though I enjoy it, I don’t often YA fantasy as I’m focusing more on my Read the World Project which tends to be more historical/contemporary fiction or non-fiction, and as I read my sixth Leigh Bardugo book of the year, I was reminded how fun and fast-paced YA fantasy can be. Bardugo’s writing is insanely readable with twists and turns, humour and heartfelt moments, and ends the whole book on a bit of a cliffhanger. I’m not too sure what to make of the ending but I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out (and if Nina’s story becomes a bit more connected to what’s going on in Ravka).

It was a lot of fun being back in this world with characters I like a whole lot. King of Scars technically might not be a 5-star read but I read it in a couple of days and couldn’t put it down. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath their school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other.

I’ve been getting the book-only Illumicrate subscription for the past six months and this is the first book I’ve actually read from them. That’s not necessarily anything against the books from previous months (especially as I’m just generally not reading as much as I used to) but as soon as I read the blurb for The Devil Makes Three and looked at that beautiful but dark cover, I really wanted to read it as soon as possible. Thankfully, for a book I’d never heard of before and had just piqued my interest – I really did enjoy The Devil Makes Three.

The atmosphere in The Devil Makes Three is incredibly vivid. Even before the devil makes an appearance there’s a sense of foreboding and bleakness to both Tess and Eliot’s lives. As the story progresses you learn more about the two of them and how their relationships with their parents are strained for different reasons. Each of them are going through tough times and with Tess especially it’s made her hard and prickly. She’s been betrayed by the people (her parents) who are supposed to care about her and put her and her younger sister Nat first so she now finds it incredibly difficult to trust and rely on other people. This means that she tries to deal with what’s going on with the devil on her own before opening up to Eliot about what’s been happening to her.

The things Tess ad Eliot experience after the accidentally release the devil are truly creepy and terrible. Things they experience blur the line between dream and reality, making events even more unsettling as they (and you as the reader) are never entirely sure what’s real. There is a bit of gore in The Devil Makes Three but it’s not over the top and instead it’s ink that’s used to give you nightmares. Honestly never thought of ink as creepy/evil but the way it’s described here, how it moves and bleeds from pages and almost devours people, it’s really quite disturbing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a creepy/horror story and The Devil Makes Three was really very good. The ending was a little sudden and I’d have liked to see more of the consequences of Tess and Eliot’s actions on people in their wider sphere who were affected, but overall, it’s a gripping and atmospheric read. 4/5.

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has been living a normal life in San Francisco with his friends including his best friend and co-worker Katy (Awkwafina) but that changes when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends his men after him and pulls Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings.

I have seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings twice now (and there’s a good chance I’ll see it a third time in the cinema) and I really truly love it. While almost naturally there’s a big CGI-heavy showdown at the end, that doesn’t lessen the impact of this film, and as it’s a very CGI-heavy showdown that still puts the focus on the characters and their relationships, it works and is still very enjoyable. Plus, it pulls in elements from Asian culture that we just haven’t seen before in the MCU so it doesn’t feel like the typical end of the world scenario.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a story of a family, and perhaps more than that it’s a love story. But not the kind of love story you’d expect with the superhero lead having a big romance. Here the love story is between Shang-Chi’s parents, Wenwu and Li (Fala Chen), and how their love shaped each other and their children. Throughout the film there’s flashbacks to Shang-Chi’s childhood (played by Jayden Zhang as a child and Arnold Sun as a teenager) to see the events that shaped him into the adult he is now. The way these scenes are interspersed throughout the film always feel natural and are complimenting what’s happening in the present. These scenes, while often more family and relationship focused, are just as compelling as the action sequences that are happening in the present. Ever single flashback feels important and adds something to the characters involved; whether that’s Shang-Chi, Wenwu, Li, or Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang as an adult, Elodie Fong as a child and Harmonie He as a teenager).

Having these flashbacks scattered through the film means that the main action and story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks in very quickly. After a prologue narrated by Li (and all in Mandarin) telling the backstory of Wenwu, the ten rings he possesses, and how the two of them met and fell in love, it’s straight into the everyday life of Shang-Chi and Katy and how they both quickly get caught up in Wenwu’s schemes. The first action sequence is set on a moving bus and straightaway you can tell that this is a film made by people who know how to shoot fight and stunt sequences – and it’s clear that Simu Liu (like other cast members) put in many hours of stunt and fight training because it’s easy to believe that he knows martial arts.

All the hand-to-hand fights are just thrilling to watch and the way they’re choreographed often shows little character moments in them. Character’s fighting styles aren’t all the same and Shang-Chi incorporating a headbutt (something far more American than anything his father would’ve taught him) into a fight is a fun little moment.

The MCU often has a problem with its villains; namely that they’re pretty generic and forgettable. The two main exceptions to this rule are Thanos and Loki and now there’s a third with Wenwu. He is a villain, he is a murderer and a conqueror, but he can love though over time it becomes twisted into something else. He is an understandable and complex villain and his connections to Shang-Chi and Xialing makes him compelling and the conflict between the hero and villain that more impactful.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of my new favourite MCU movies and is definitely one of the great origin stories of the MCU. It’s fun and vibrant with great characters, fights and visuals and overall, it feels like a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Also, I appreciated how the comedic moments were handled throughout the film. Katy is the main comedic character but her jokes and comments are never to the detriment to a dramatic or sombre moment. Plus, she feels like a real character by actually having her own family connections and skills that can aid the hero. I honestly did not expect to love this film as much as I did and I can’t wait for Shang-Chi and to meet other characters in this universe because i feel his dynamic with them would be so interesting. 5/5.

Also got to give a shout out to whoever put together the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There is really very little of the movie in the trailer, and of the third act especially. In some ways it’s good as there were so many surprises to be had when watching the film but in others it’s not as I thought the trailer was fine but it didn’t make me desperate to see the film. But maybe that was for the best as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has far surpassed any expectations I may have had.