cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])

Say one thing for Sam, say he's not very good at keeping up to date with his writing commitments. I keep getting waylaid by a million other tasks, not to mention my crippling apathy & laziness. Still, if I want to make any headway with my writing then I need to, you know, do some writing.  You have to be realistic about these things. So, without further ado, here is a very quick review of the book series I have just finished being enslaved to reading.

The Blade Itself is the first book in Joe Abercrombie First Law trilogy. It's also his debut, and a damned good one at that. It sets up a wonderfully brutal fantasy world with hints of Middle Earth, Westeros and Sharpe-era England. The plot is a fairly standard one - a handful of disparate characters are slowly brought together and manipulated like pieces on a chess board in an epic quest to blah blah blah. Yes, yes I know it sounds like you've heard it all before. But trust me, the books have merit. The plot can't be given justice by a one-sentence description. The joy of it lies in the rich world he has created - and of course in its characters.

You have Logan Ninefingers, the brooding warrior from the barbaric North, prone to philosophising about violence and leadership and whether a man can change his nature. You have Jezal dan Luthar, a spoiled prissy soldier swept up in matters beyond his control and forced to consider that he may not in fact be the most important thing in the world. You have Collem West, a soldier of common origin elevated, some would argue, above his station. You have Ferro, a traumatised killing machine who lives only to get vengeance on her hated enemies. You have the mysterious Bayaz, First of the Magi, a magician of boundless talent and limitless guile. Best of all, you have Sand dan Glokta, a ruthless inquisitor who was a promising young war hero until he was captured, tortured, broken and reduced to a husk of a man. 

The characters really make these books worthwhile. Through their quests, fights, squabbles, wars, betrayals, back-stabbing, snarkery, sarcasm, highs and lows you come to know and care about them shockingly quickly. The one that makes the most impact is Glokta, as his viewpoint passages are peppered with internal monologues. Abercrombie does a great job making each viewpoint character's chapters stand out. The Northmen's chapters contain colloquialisms and oft-used phrases of theirs (the death euphemism "back to the mud" being a particular favourite of mine). Jezal's tend to have scathingly biting comebacks he utterly fails to voice.

This is one of those series where almost every character is a bastard, going about their bastardy lives and doing dastardly barstardy deeds - and yet each character is strangely endearing, likeable even. It's not like you can't identify with any of them and so find it difficult to root for them.

The characters fight and learn and grow against a backdrop of war an intrigue, where lies are piled on lies and betrayal isn't a matter of if but of when. It's a nasty, brutish world with little time for happiness and pleasantries. And yet it's compelling reading. The pages practically turn themselves in some parts.

I urge you to seek these out and give them a try. If you like Game of Thrones, The Lies of Locke Lamora and other tales of fantasy-flavoured bastards' shenanigans then I can guarantee this is right up your alley. 

cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])
The target audience for this film.
                                                   The target audience for this film.

I found this mostly-finished review languishing on my computer and thought I should blow the dust off of it and finally get back in the reviewing game. For those not in the know, Cirque des Geeks is where I and a couple of friends do the occasional review, when we remember that it exists.

At the time of writing the bulk of this review I had just come back from watching fantasy comedy Your Highness with my sister. Tellingly we’d had the entire screening room to ourselves.

To say I’d heard mixed reviews before going in would be more than a bit of a fib; in truth all of the reviews I’d read said pretty much the same thing. They panned it. And deservedly so. If I were to write this review in just three words, those words would be ‘not funny enough’. But where would be the fun in that?

Plot recap: Danny McBride plays Prince Thaddeus, second-fiddle to and dweller in the shadow of his aptly named elder brother Prince Fabious, played by James Franco. While his celebrated brother is off slaying villains and rescuing maidens, Thaddeus and his manservant Courtney loaf around drinking, wenching and getting stoned. When Fabious’ new fiancé is kidnapped by an evil wizard, however, Thaddeus gets roped into helping him on his quest to retrieve her and thwart the wizard’s attempt to fulfil an ancient prophecy … by boning her.


Standard fantasy stuff, then?

Your Highness is the sort of film that I should have loved. It plays with such traditional fantasy tropes and stereotypes as the Noble Prince, the Grand Quest, the Warrior Maiden. The protagonist, being reluctant and childishly surly, is at odds with the traditional square-jawed hero. It had the potential to be a great Pratchett-style satire capable of tipping the dusty genre of high fantasy on its head. Instead it just gives it a wedgie and laughs at its chainmail underwear.

See that ‘hilarious’ quip up there in title of this post? That’s more or less the calibre of jokes on offer in this film. It’s far from high brow; most of the jokes are penis-related and very unfunny. Not every films needs to be sophisticated, of course – but equally, not every film or genre suits the stoner-comedy treatment. Especially when it’s simply not funny. Laughs are few and far between which is not an especially desirable trait in a comedy. There are long stretches where it would seem as if the film were playing it straight if it weren’t for the fact that every other sentence is filled with ‘humorous’ expletives. Swearing for the sake of swearing isn’t funny. Using the word ‘fuck’ in a grating whiny tone is not always an acceptable substitute for an actual punchline.

The lack of effective jokes also highlights the sub-standard ‘quest to point A to get item B to defeat bad guy C’ plot which would be excusable (even expected) in a parody film such as this. The jokes would serve to ridicule the flimsiness of the plot, not leave it squirming in plain sight trying to be taken seriously. Apparently the film’s dialogue was mostly improvised; perhaps that was a bad idea.

It’s not all negative, though. The special effects were mostly excellent, including a perverted puppet wizard and a well-endowed minotaur. There was a very interesting arena fight scene which had a better CGI monster than most straight fantasy films I’ve seen recently, and you can tell that quite a few of the cast were having a great time. Natalie Portman as the warrior woman was clearly here to blow off steam from the harrowing Black Swan shoot, and she got deliver one of the film's best lines ("It's my duty to stop people who fuck to make dragons." No, you don't need context. Natalie Portman's delivery is context enough). Overall there was a strange sense of enjoyment to be had from the film. When the occasional joke did work then it worked quite well. On the whole, though, it just wasn’t enough.

It’s not a terrible film, it’s just not very good at all. It left me feeling certain that I could probably write a similar film myself far more successfully. I may well try it one day.  In all, I give it two and a half Ye Olde Spliffs out of five.

Having  reread the words I’ve written here, I think I’ll happily give it another chance to charm me. Perhaps an empty cinema isn’t the best environment to enjoy this film is. Your Highness round two will need to involve a large group of friends, snacks and beer. Plenty of beer. A heroic amount of beer.
cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])

Hooray! I’m the first to put up a review! Consider this a massive honour, pleasure all mine, etc. etc. Without further ado, on with the review!

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy novel set in the seedy rough-and-ready city-state of Camorr, where for the poor life is cheap and the rich live in obscene luxury. This state of affairs is maintained by the Secret Peace, an accord between the head of the criminal underworld and the city’s authorities – the thieves won’t rob the rich, and the city guards won’t wipe the thieves off the face of the planet.  Everybody wins!  Enter Locke Lamora and his gang of Gentleman Bastards, Camorr’s first con-men, and they’re set the shatter the Secret Peace and take the city’s rich folk for all they can get.  As you might imagine, though, things don’t exactly go to plan…

Lies is the debut novel by American author Scott Lynch, but the sheer ease with which the narrative flows and the world is painted gives you the impression Lynch has been writing these books for years.  There’s a superb balance between the humour and … well … anything that’s not the humour.  As fellow reviewer Susan put it, this is a book that can make you laugh out loud in delight the very next page after a rather uncomfortably graphic torture scene.  In that respect, Lynch doesn’t pull his punches – the fights are brutal, the violence gritty.  I often found myself wincing at the gruelling ordeals certain of the characters were put through.

The story’s real strength is in its characters.  There’s a very genuine feeling of camaraderie and loyalty between the Bastards and you soon find yourself caring very much about them and their crazy hustle.  Lynch very quickly lets you know that just because you’re growing attached to the characters doesn’t mean he’s going to be kind to them – nearly no one’s safe, everyone’s expendable.  Just because the story’s liberally peppered with jokes and humorous circumstances doesn’t mean this is a fairy tale or family-friendly romp through bright and breezy meadows; the mean streets of Camorr are a dangerous playground and the inhabitants play rough, very rough indeed.

Camorr itself is also an impressive piece of work, evoking lush visions of Renaissance Venice.  This could be due to the descriptions of the clothing, all the canals and the use of Italian-derived words such as ‘capa’ and ‘pezon’.  It’s probably just that I’ve been playing rather a lot of Assassin’s Creed 2 lately and it’s gotten to my head a bit.  Either way, the setting is just familiar enough that there’s a grounding for it and nice and foreign in every other respect, especially the descriptions of such unique features as the Elderglass buildings and the Duke’s fantastically opulent tower.  I don’t know how long Lynch took to create the place, but the result is an effortlessly real location that, if you’ll forgive the cliché, leaps right off the page.

In terms of narrative structure, the book’s put together quite interestingly.  The chapters alternate between the troubled times in the present and Locke’s youth under the tutelage of Father Chains, the man who taught him and the other Bastards the grifters’ way.  This lets you get to know the characters’ past without getting in the way of the present’s events. It can be quite jarring to have a load of past events dumped in your lap willy-nilly, or to start a book with the characters as children and then suddenly jump to their adulthood with barely any explanation.  This dual-narrative method works so much more naturally than the ’20 Years Later’ approach

Put simply, Lies is one of the best books I’ve read in a few years.  Its pacing is excellent, the setting feels very real and the characters are so well fleshed out you really do want them to succeed, be foiled or die very gruesomely indeed.  Though the unrelenting violence means it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s balanced out brilliantly by the lighter moments and the sheer scale of the hustle the Bastards are trying to pull off.  The only real criticism I can think of is that it is at times a tad predictable, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s kept fairly in check.

And that’s my review of The Lies of Locke Lamora!  Agree? Disagree? Have your say in the comments below – all views welcome!


Cirque des Geeks

About Us

Welcome to Cirque Des Geeks! We are a trio of geeks who review books, manga, comics, tv shows, and films as the mood takes us. Our trio comprises Sam (the fez-wearing philosopher), Susan (the book-addled librarian), and Tonks (the shape-changing scientist). Our interests are wide and varied, but generally come back to science fiction and fantasy in all their forms.

Sam and Tonks can also be found working with Black Stump Films (On Vimeo and Youtube) making short films.

We do not have a formal posting schedule, but the current goal is at least two posts per week. If you wish to be kept in the loop of what's happening, please follow us on twitter - [personal profile] cirquedesgeeks.

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