Captain Marvel

“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

captain marvelI had fun reviewing The Umbrella Academy so I definitely think I am going to try and do more TV and film reviews when I am moved to do so. This time I wanted to talk about Captain Marvel. I may try and do so in two section, the first spoiler free for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, the second includes them. There will be some dead space inserted between the two.

But anyway, I have been looking forward to this film for a while. Definitely about time Marvel gave us a female-led superhero film and it shouldn’t have taken DC succeeding with Wonder Woman to bring it about. It is likely that there will be comparisons to Wonder Woman in the review, mostly because the only other films I can compare it to that are led by women are Catwoman and Elektra and I would rather not.

Please do note that I do not intend to do comparisons to put one against the other. It’s great that we can have more than one lead female superhero. I would like far more than two. In fact it would be lovely if I didn’t have such scant material to draw from, but here we are so I will just have to make do.

So brief overview of the story in case anyone doesn’t know. Vers is an amnesiac Kree warrior who ends up getting separated from her team and crashing on earth along with a number of Skrull shape-shifters who appear to be after a scientist. She ends up teaming up with Nick Fury to try and track down the Skrull, at the same time winds up finding out that she has memories that connect her to Earth.

Of course it ends up being more complicated than that and she finds out that she is a human called Carol Danvers, not only that but her Kree mentor Yon-Rogg killed her previous mentor, Dr Wendy Lawson (who was a Kree called Mar-Vell) and she in turn exploded the engine he was after and the energy from that fused with her being, giving her the powers she possesses. She also finds out that the Skrull are not the enemies, they have been systematically hunted by the Kree for not submitting to their rule and Dr Lawson/Mar-Vell was helping them hide and wanted to get them far away from the Kree.

In the end she defeats Yon-Rogg and the Kree sent to eliminate the Skrull, along with the help of her best friend, Maria Rambeau and a cat called Goose (who turns out to be a creature called a Flerken).

Firstly I want to say that overall I think I enjoyed this film more than I enjoyed Wonder Woman. Mostly because the love interest thing in Wonder Woman really annoyed me, as did the lack of any significant female interactions with Diana after she leaves her home fairly shortly into the film. I am not opposed to love interests in films, but that one felt pretty weak and too quickly formed and it bothered me. Whereas Captain Marvel features a lot of strong relationships between the women in the film and I was all there for that.

So to start with we see her meeting the Kree Supreme Intelligence, an AI being that appears to someone in the form of the person they most admire. In Vers case it is someone she doesn’t recognise, but we later find out is Dr Wendy Lawson. We then find out she designed the planes that Carol and her friend Maria fly. I do wish we had perhaps a few more flashback scenes to get even more of a connection between the two, but the fact that they gender flipped the character to give her an older female mentor was extremely well done.

Then we have the relationship between her and her best friend Maria. Again, similarly to her relationship with Lawson, I do wish that more was seen of this before, but the scenes we do get between the two show a strong bond which is only strengthened when the obvious love and care of Maria’s daughter, Monica. That Monica also looks up to both Carol and her Mum as heroes and inspirations is wonderful to see and I adored it.

My biggest gripe about any female character in the film is that they criminally underused Gemma Chan as Min-Erva and if she doesn’t make an appearance in future films with a bigger role I will be absolutely fuming.

In regards to relationships in the film, they did still centre a lot of it more around Carol’s interactions with Fury, Yon-Rogg and the leader of the Skrull, Talos, which was somewhat frustrating. Personally I would have preferred the film to be braver and take more of a step in the direction of representation of women than they did, but given how long it’s taken Marvel to actually make a female led super hero in the current MCU, I am guessing they were taking baby steps here.

It is frustrating though considering how well Black Panther showcased its excellent female characters, giving them their own stories and letting them show off their talents, even as supporting characters and honestly out of the two films I would generally say Black Panther’s portrayal of women is better, even though they are not the central character of the film. The part when T’Challa is thought dead and is unconscious means that they are actively driving the plot at that point and there is no way he could have managed half of what he did without their help.

The specific bits of acknowledging women’s issues were on the lighter end of the scale and not dealt with in much depth either. We have the comments about Maria and Carol not being allowed to be combat pilots in the 90’s and this being because they lacked the necessary equipment to be in the cockpit.

At one point she is told she should smile by a random biker, who she ignores at first but after he goes into a shop she steals his motorcycle and some clothes and rides off.

There is also a theme of comments from Yon-Rogg throughout the whole film about Carol being too emotional, about her letting her emotions get the better of her and that’s why she can’t beat him in a fight without using her powers. The weird thing there is that she isn’t particularly emotional at the start, somewhat jokey at times, but generally she’s calm and level-headed for a good chunk of the film. I did appreciate that her accepting her humanity and being more comfortable with her emotions did not make her weak and in fact helped her to unlock the powers they had tried to control in her.

Right at the end she fights Yon-Rogg (I also loved that she actually got to fight many men in this film and not in the overly sexualised sorts of fights we tend to get) and he taunts her to try and get her to fight him without powers and she blasts him and then just says “I don’t have anything to prove to you” and I honestly loved that.

Overall it is an good film, doesn’t quite have the sparkle I would have liked to see and I honestly think that is because they played this too safe. If they had pushed more into the exploration of a female hero and did more than the brief nods to what being a woman can be like, I think they could have had something as special as Black Panther.

Still, it’s doing well at the box office so I have every reason to believe that future solo Captain Marvel films may well appear.

To end with here’s a picture of Goose, everyone’s favourite scene-stealing cat (Flerkin).

goose

The City of Brass – 4*

Book: The City of Brass by S A Chakraborty.

This is a fascinating book based in middle eastern mythology I think, sadly it’s an area of mythology I don’t know much about so I can’t speak with any certainty on the matter. It’s a source of perpetual annoyance to me that I can get hundreds of books on Celtic, Norse, Greek or Roman mythology and very few on any other area of the world.

But anyway, enough of my personal gripes (though if anyone has any good recommendations for books on Myths and Legends by all means contact me!) This book follows a young woman called Nahri who grew up alone on the streets of Cairo and now makes a living as a conwoman, though she has some strange powers she does not really understand.

Her life is changed when she accidentally does magic and attracts the attention of a creature that seems to want to cause her harm and other that insists on taking her to the City of Brass, a place where all the Djinn/Daeva live.

It’s incredibly well written and carries you along with it into a strange world populated by powerful, yet somehow very human beings (who would loathe being referred to as being so). There are politics between factions in the city that are done very well and the relationships in general are excellent. One of the other things I love is how the book plays with the concepts of what is moral, what one faction thinks is good, another thinks is evil and you learn all the various motivations for them which makes it much harder to believe that any of them are entirely correct.

The only complaint I have about the book is that the ending is a bit too sudden. The rest of the book takes its time unfolding and it felt a bit to me that everything then happened all at once at the end and that was a shame because it meant that some of the elements felt more forced than they should have been.

It’s a pretty minor point though as the book is utterly gorgeous and had me on tenderhooks as to what was going to happen. I am currently greatly disappointed in myself for reading things only in paperback (I find kindles awkward and my joints won’t let me hold up most hardbacks without pain) as now I have to wait until the paperback is out and that is frankly going to be an agonising wait.

City of Ghosts – 4*

Book: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

I have been pretty excited to get hold of and read this book since I heard of it. I know that the author has now moved to Edinburgh and it is a place that is very close to my heart. I grew up in Fife, the county to the north of Edinburgh and we visited a fair few times when I was growing up. When I went to University I went to Edinburgh and I fell in very deep love with the city. Even though I have been living in England for the past eight years now, I still miss it and whenever I go back to visit it always feels like I am coming home.

There’s not many of the sort of books I tend to read that are set in Edinburgh, which I have always though was a shame given it’s long history and very gothic architecture. So a ghost story set in Edinburgh? Yes, sign me up please, the city has a wealth of ghost stories to draw from and I was really curious to see how the book would read.

The book is the story of Cassidy, or Cass, a young woman with ghost hunting parents who can actually see them herself and whose best friend is a ghost called Jacob. Her parents get their own TV show investigating the most haunted cities in the world and their first stop is Edinburgh where Cass stumbles across a really scary ghost who could threaten everything as well as meets another young woman with the same abilities that she has.

One of the things I really loved about this book is how well it gets the atmosphere of Edinburgh right. It helped that I know the city so well I was walking the places with the main character and it made me really happy. The other fantastic thing is that the main character had never been to the city before so I got to see my city from the perspective of someone totally new to it and it made me think of it a little differently.

It’s a YA book and pretty short on length, in fact that is about the only thing I can hold against it. The story moves along at a pretty fast clip and I suppose I would have preferred the ending to be a bit more drawn out and perhaps a little scarier, but then of course would that fit the main market it’s being aimed at so I can see why the author made the choice that they did.

Still, the characters are very clear and the ghost stories within it are suitably creepy. There’s plenty of information in the book that comes straight from Edinburgh’s history and ghost stories, which I absolutely adored. The Mackenzie poltergeist in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is well known and has his own ghost tour (Edinburgh has many ghost tours). So all of the weird and creepy places in the book are real and you can go there.

As someone who loves both Edinburgh and ghost stories I admit that it would have to have been pretty bad for me to hate it, but I had every faith that the author would deliver on the potential of this idea and to me she very much did not disappoint. I am looking forward to seeing what other places future books might explore. I hope that she manages to bring them to life the way she has done to Edinburgh.

The Silent Companions – 4*

Book: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

I bought this book after meeting the author and listening to her doing a reading of her new book, The Corset, at a Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meeting. I don’t read much horror these days but I do love gothic novels full of weirdness and this promised to deliver so I picked it up.

The book follows the story of Elsie and covers multiple timelines from her current life inside an Asylum, to her past spent in the ancestral home of her late husband. The book slowly unravels what happened to Elsie that led to her current state and it does so whilst building up wonderful atmosphere and suspense.

One of the reasons I don’t read much horror is that I am very much a fan of subtle is better. Where you may see monsters or know for sure exactly what is going on with no questions left unanswered, I will often feel dissatisfied as a result. I am the same with horror movies, usually the second I see the creature I am bored. So this book was a lovely, refreshing change where I found out bits and pieces of the puzzle but still had unanswered questions at the end in ways that leave a shiver down your spine.

Also I love that the story is centred around the tales of women and for a horror story to do that without sexualising what happens to them or being full of many other irritating tropes was a joy.

So I loved this one and I am definitely going to be picking up The Corset when it’s out in paperback. If you like more nuanced horror that leaves you unsettled and wanting more then this is worth a look.

The Copper Promise – 3.5*

Book: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

This book has been hard to get round to reviewing because I really did enjoy it and I definitely want to read more of the series, but there were elements of it that threw me and the most confusing thing is that I am not sure I can think of a better way they could have been done so I don’t know exactly why it didn’t quite entirely come together for me.

But anyway, brief overview of the book is that two friends, Wydrin: A woman who is excellent with knives and Sebastian: an ex-Knight, are off into a dungeon that used to belong to very powerful Mages along with a nobleman called Frith. The two friends are in search of a friend of theirs who already went into the dungeon and didn’t come out, the other is paying them to get him into the place as there is something in there that he wants.

The book doesn’t actually stay as long in the dungeon as you might expect, in fact the number of directions the book takes can be dizzying at times. I am an avid roleplayer and at times it felt like a party of PCs who refuse to follow the GMs instructions and keep haring off on their own in different directions, which can be disconcerting at times. But every split up and reunification makes perfect sense in light of what is going on so the most I can say is that it doesn’t fit what you might expect from most fantasy books.

There is quite a lot of emotion in the book and it definitely packs a good punch at a couple of points. I think I would have liked more slow bits at times and less frantic action (though again, given the plot the frantic pace makes sense). The characters make you very fond of them and their very human flaws are wonderful to see.

I will definitely be picking up the rest of the series at some point and I am also bearing in mind that this is Jen’s debut novel and I know she has recently won a British Fantasy Award so I think overall there is great potential here for her later books to be even better.

So worth a look if you don’t mind imperfect gems and I am sure her later series is definitely worth a read (and I shall certainly be doing so at some point!)

Note that I gave this book 4* on Goodreads because I feel that it’s much better to round scores up rather than down. 3 would be doing it a disservice.

Empire of Sand – 5*

Books: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I have been wanting to read this book since I found out about it at FantasyCon and was lucky enough to meet the author and chat to her a bit. Sadly I missed out on picking up one of the five advanced copies they had on sale, but was lucky enough to get one at SFXCon on the 10th, so a few days before it’s actual release on the 15th.

I’ve been reading quite a few debut novels lately and I am very much enjoying this as you get to see such promise in them and they are often a breath of fresh air, something new and different to read, and Empire of Sand definitely meets that promise. One of the reasons I was so keen to read it was because I found out it was based on the Mughal Empire of India.

Now in case you start thinking that you can’t possibly relate to a story from a culture not your own, this story is a very human tale of love, loss, family, despair and hope and there is plenty for you to relate to, even if the culture it is based on is not your own. It’s not my culture but I absolutely adored this books.

The language does an excellent job of making you envision the world, I had a really good idea of what everything looked like in my head as the story swept me along with it. I loved the characters too, especially the fact that they get quite a lot of development time and the motivations felt very real, even those of the antagonist.

One of the things I loved was that the book does get quite dark in places, there is some nasty violence particularly towards women (though no sexual assault) and in places it also deals with forms of slavery and lack of free will. Despite this, the book never loses its sense of hope and the characters never entirely lose their agency either. None of the violence feels gratuitous or done just for effect either, it has a point in the story and also real consequences for the characters.

I read a lot of books with female protagonists and one of the reasons I loved Mehr in this book is that she is not a fighter, she doesn’t kickass through everyone who tries to hurt her, but she doesn’t need to do so to be strong. Her courage in getting through dark times, in trying to protect her family and those she loves is wonderful to behold and her own journey of realising what she is capable of and her place in the world is fantastic.

Well I have gushed quite a lot so far on the book so did I think there were any issues with it? To be honest I have only one minor niggle. There is a bit early on in the book where the main character details that men get to remove their marriage sigil at a certain point, though it’s clear she doesn’t know when and then later on she gasps when someone removes his when he hasn’t earned it. There is an explanation then of how she found that out, but it still felt jarring as where she learned it is skipped and so that scene didn’t quite work for me.

But seriously, I can’t really think of anything else bad to say about the book, it’s better than many books I have read that were someone’s third or fourth books, let alone being their first.

Having read the brief blurb about the second book in this series you can be guaranteed I will be awaiting the next instalment with baited breath.

Under the Pendulum Sun – 5*

Book: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

I first heard about this book last year at Nine Worlds, but I only made a note of it in the margins of my panel notes (like a fool) and then got distracted by life and forgot to track it down later.

Thankfully I then heard about it again at Nine Worlds this year and then it was for sale at FantasyCon when the author was around so I managed to finally pick up a copy and get it signed (just before she won an award for it too!)

When talking about the book the author described it as “come for the faeries, stay for the theology) which is a pretty apt description of how things work. The book is told from the point of view of Catherine Helstone, the sister of a missionary who has been sent to spread the word of God in Faerie and she follows him there to help with that task.

The book is written in the style of a Gothic novel, with all the haunting imagery, strange occurrences and mystery that this generally evokes. It’s beautifully crafted, not just the use of words but the establishment of the different characters and the slow unveiling of the plot until you are finally brought to a crashing conclusion that you do not quite want to believe.

It makes you root for things you would never expect to be rooting for, has twists and turns that can be seen ahead if you manage to stop being swept up in the story, but even then I don’t think if you do work out what is happening that it will actually ruin anything for you (though I shall have to wait and see how a second reading plays out).

There’s so much I could say, but I am very cautious about putting anything that could be spoilery into this review because I honestly do not want to ruin the experience for anyone else who reads it.

I will say that the book deals with themes of sin, belief, the nature of souls, religion and a great deal more and it does get incredibly philosophical at times. If you are expecting a fun light-hearted romp with fairies then this is not the book for you,  but if the gothic novel style appeals then this will be right up your street.

The main character is very well written, I found her journey to be very relatable, the story of a woman restricted and restrained by the time period she is a part of and trying to make what she can of herself as a result. The complex relationship with her brother is excellent depicted and the depths of it unravel in a very intriguing way, as well as how she relates to the other people/Fae in the house.

The setting of the book is also mostly around this crazy rambling mansion called Gethsemane, which is incredibly fitting for the gothic style and brings it’s own mystery as to where the house came from and why it looks the way it does. Even the otherworldly nature of the land, with it’s pendulum sun and moon made of a fish chasing a lantern, give you an excellent picture in your mind of how this strange land might look and how it might feel to those not from there.

One of the other things I loved were the quotations at the beginning of every chapter. I grew up reading books like Watership Down and I have always retained a love for these sort of thematic inserts that tell you something of what might be about to happen, without saying so directly. The ones in this book are a mix of real historical pieces of writing, or altered ones to fit with the Fae theme more. Either way I found they added a depth to the work that put it on a whole new level.

The fact that this book is the author’s debut work blows me away and I can only hope that there will be many more in the future!

The Sudden Appearance of Hope – 5*

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

This is me trying to get through my backlog of books I have read this year but haven’t reviewed yet. This one I bought back in February at SFXCon after I met the author and decided she was cool and I wanted to get something and get it signed and this one stood out to me from the books on offer.

It’s a story about a woman who everyone forgets, the amount of time it takes her to be forgotten depends on how long the interaction has been but as soon as she is out of sight the process starts and after a short while they have removed all memory of those interactions. Given it’s hard to hold down a job or a place to live when everyone forgets you, she makes her way in the world as a thief. The story takes place with the rise of a social media device that aims to make people “perfect” and she gets involved with someone who wants to bring that device down.

I don’t want to go into much more detail than that because otherwise it will get too spoilery so instead I am going to gush about some other things instead.

Basically I loved this book, one of the best things I have read this year. The writing style is very interesting, there are a few places in the book where she plays with how the words are written on the page to invoke certain feelings and effects and it really works. The language is also lovely and evocative and results in a very clear idea of who the character is and isn’t.

Also, how often do we get to see a book with a female protagonist who is a thief and yet still has a clear moral code despite her situation in life and the aching loneliness that is forced on her. Hope is a flawed person portrayed in a very realistic way and you find yourself desperately rooting for her and the ending of the book is both lovely and also in some ways still unexpected.

Seriously, read this book because it is wonderfully written and carries you along with it through a fascinating and very well crafted story.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – 4*

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin.

We did this one for our Science-Fiction and Fantasy book club. It caused some interesting debate, seems to be one of those books people either really love or they hate.

Personally I really enjoyed it quite a lot, I also own The Fifth Season, but I haven’t started reading that yet (it’s the series she won the Hugo awards for) and I am now very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into it.

This is her first novel I believe, and as such I do forgive it quite a bit because obviously the first time someone is learning what works and what doesn’t and their work is unlikely to be perfect and polished. There are some definite flaws to the book, the romance is a little weird, though no weirder than many supernatural romances to be fair. There is a particular description in regards to a sex scene I won’t put here, but that did make me chuckle quite a bit.

Overall though it’s a story that goes in unexpected directions at times and I really liked that. Often the protagonist of a tale does everything right, or things just happen to end up going their way, often in a typical and choreographed fashion and that just wasn’t the case here.

The main character could do with some more exploration of what it is to be her, perhaps a little more agency in places, but overall I found it an interesting look at what someone who is wholly unprepared for the position she is thrust into does to deal with all of that, especially when she is relatively young and inexperienced with politics.

The setting was something I found particularly striking. I love mythologies and have been reading myths and legends from all over the world since I was a very small child (though the earliest ones I read were heavily sanitised versions of them) so the mythological aspect of the world building particularly appealed, with all of the stuff about the gods being some of my favourite parts of the book.

I don’t want to go into spoiler laden territory, I will say that aspects of the ending are telegraphed quite strongly in the book, perhaps a little too heavily in places where it might have been better to do more show than tell, but I didn’t find that it ruined the story for me (though it was a sticking point for other members of our book group). The ending itself surprised me in some ways given that it is a trilogy and I am curious about where the story is going from here, but I enjoyed the book enough that I will pick the others up at some point and find out.

Overall I personally recommend it, it’s a fun read with an interesting world and it’s good to see more books with diverse voices doing well in the world.

 

The Hate U Give – 5*

The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas

So this is a break from my usual Fantasy and Science-Fiction reads, but I have been wanting to read this book since I first read about it and with the film coming up soon I bumped it up my reading list so I could read it before I see the adaptation.

Firstly I want to say that the fictional take on a subject which I seem to read about more and more is not an easy read, but it is definitely worth reading. I am white, I am British, the experiences in this book are pretty far from mine. I have read about various police shootings in America, I have even read things about police violence in Britain too, but it’s not something I am likely to experience first hand but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and understand it.

I think it’s really important to read the stories of people with experiences you will never have and this was a powerful one. It’s easy to judge situations from the outside of them. To fail to understand why poverty and oppression can make entire communities places of rage and pain. I’ve never had to be afraid of the Police, I’ve never had to be afraid of people in my own neighbourhood but this book gave me a window into the lives of people for whom that sort of thing is a painful reality.

The story deals with the shooting of a young, unarmed black man from the perspective of the young woman who was his friend and companion at the time. It shows you her life, the life of people in her family and how what unfolds affects them and their wider community.

I saw a review of this book on Goodreads where a white guy had a massive rant because at one point in the book one of the characters makes a comment to a white character about how he cannot really understand their experiences and how this was massively racist and unfair.

Look, fellow white people. I get that hearing people who are oppressed rag on your skin colour in general can hurt your feelings and make you defensive. If you are male and straight then it is likely that you have never really had the sort of experiences that generate this sort of rage and no, that is not your fault, but also remember that the rage isn’t really directed at you, but at institutions that you benefit from without realising it.

I get that angry about feminist issues for similar reasons, so whilst I have not experienced racism and oppression related to it, I do know what it feels like to walk the world as a woman and to have to deal with that set of issues. Different experiences but the rage is very similar.

So please, give this book a chance. Not just that, read widely into the subject matter of police shootings. Don’t just assume the person shot did something to deserve it, to cause it. Don’t dismiss the pain and rage of the communities where this keeps happening. Listen to them, really listen and then ask how you can help and do what they say.

I am tired of this world not being as wonderful as I know it can be. I am tired of us treating each other like shit for arbitrary differences that we have no control over (you can control your opinions so please don’t assume I mean it’s OK to be a bigot, it’s not).

Read this book, watch the film, learn and then act on that and maybe, just maybe we can all do a little something to stop this shit from happening.