Monday 28 September 2015

Eagles at War by Ben Kane, a Book Review

Eagles at War (Eagles of Rome, #1)Eagles at War by Ben Kane
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think Ben Kane's Hannibal series is his best. Eagles at War seemed to plod for me and no characters really stood out that I cared for. I found that I read a couple of pages a night and didn't feel gripped by the tale. It clearly builds up to a significant battle and it doesn't happen often when the Romans get trounced, but I found the build up over long and the battle -- less than epic. I have liked his other books, but this was too much of a struggle.

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Saturday 19 September 2015

Merlin and Gandalf; Is there a link?

I wrote yesterday about Merlin and that started to make me think about inspiration for Tolkien and similarities between Gandalf and Merlin. I know a lot of purists will say no, but it is an intriguing thought. There's certainly a lot of interest on teh Web in who would win in a fight, Merlin, Gandalf and Dumbledore. 

OK, King Arthur tales didn't have Orcs, but why would they? Being mainly Celts, the villains of the time were Saxons and they were also heathens. What a great enemy. In the medieval times the enemy (in Europe) were usually Christians and that gave knights a massive problem, as the bible said "thou shalt not kill." Bishops around the 12 C often went in to battle, but armed themselves with the mace as that wasn't considered to be a killing weapon. The fact that injuries were so severe that people died later probably didn't occur to them. The crusades were also a blessing, in a sense, as again the enemy were not Christian and so could be killed with impunity.

So at least Arthurian legend had an enemy similar to Orcs, in some respects. 

Merlin came to being in the 12 C, as mentioned in my earlier blog. What is fascinating is that the character Merlin fired imagination sufficiently that he is still around today, nearly 1000 years later. That might be because of the Arthurian legends of course, but it is still interesting that he is considered with some awe today. What makes him so fascinating?

This is perhaps where the similarity to Gandalf occurs. Both were wizards of some renown, dressed in robes and the very familiar pointed hats, I am not sure what the original description of Merlin was in the History of the Kings of Britain, but Disney certainly thought so. The Sword in the Stone (1963) was later than the Lord of the Rings and Disney may have been influenced by that. 

The main discrepancy between Merlin and Gandalf is that Merlin's father was supposedly a demon.  But, certainly Merlin's actions were good and would Arthur have permitted his presence in court if he was deemed evil? There is no mention (as far as I am aware) of Gandalf''s parentage, unless he was one of the original Valar, or at least a minor player of theirs. 

What is interesting is that both men rarely fought and if they did their powers were limited. Neither could destroy an army and both sought to bring men and arms together at the appropriate time to defeat the "enemy". That is very clearly a very strong link between these two great wizards. Perhaps that is simply the art of a good author, for if the wizard was too great then there wouldn't be much of a tale to tell. The wizard would be too god-like and would simply defeat anything sent against him. So although this is a link, there may be extenuating circumstances. 

My thoughts were not to prove conclusively that Merlin and Gandalf are one and the same, but just to explore the similarities. If there are others then please feel free to add a comment. For me though the greatest portrayal of any wizard was certainly Ian McKellen in Lord of the Rings. Marvelous.

Image Courtesy of Wikepedia

Friday 18 September 2015

Merlin - Fact or Fiction

I read the article (linked below) with interest. I loved reading The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. She really brought the legend to life and cast an unusual slant, but a very believable one, about Merlin. His feats, in The Crystal Cave, were relatively minor, but the locals, being superstitious, helped to grow the tale and you can imagine how much the local tales developed over time.

The article was interesting therefore, looking in to the history of Merlin, clearly with some speculation. Fiona Ingram, the author of the children's tale The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, has nicely laid out her views.

It is broadly accepted that Merlin is a fictional character introduced by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the History of the Kings of England. This was written in the 12 C and interestingly when Malory wrote Le Morte D'Arthur (a great book) Merlin was a bit of a villain because having a demon for a father at a time of inquisitions was not a good idea. Perhaps this is why Malory gave Merlin a timely death to appease the witch-finders of the time.

Whether Merlin or Arthur ever existed will probably never be known, but The Crystal Cave remains one of my favourite reads. It is such a shame that so little is know about the 5th Century. Having said that, if it was better known then we might not have such wonderful and rich legends.

Does Fantasy Artwork Need to be so Damn Sexy?

For me fantasy is about heroes and villains, good against evil. Yet fantasy artwork is all about scantily clad women in very small and ill-fitting armour. Not that that is a bad thing and there is some very fine artwork in this vein. Boris Vallejo is a good example of this and I have to admit this video is very watchable.

I use artwork for inspiration and female characterisation is a distraction (for obvious reasons) rather than an inspiration. Yet many authors have written tales of beautiful women being rescued by some hero so clearly gorgeous, voluptuous women is a key to many tales, otherwise they might not be rescued. (Shrek being a notable exception :) ).

Today's fantasy seems to turn that on its head and an author needs to have as many female leads as male. Certainly many of  the fantasy artwork depict Amazons with spears and swords who seem vary capable warriors.

Myself, I still like artwork that inspires and the Tolkien artwork below does just that (and not a naked woman in sight).

Wednesday 9 September 2015

A book review - Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine.

Lady of HayLady of Hay by Barbara Erskine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

OK, I was spoilt with River of Destiny. Lady of Hay, I found, was way too long. The premise was good but somehow it failed to deliver in the same way as River of Destiny. In the latter, there was more of a ghost theme and that worked well. The regression in Lady of Hay to past lives was a good idea but the sheer length of the novel caused a problem for me. I found I only read a few pages a night and it has taken quite some while to read it all the way through. The period (early 12 C) was good and the depiction was very believable. The author does a great job researching the background information. King John and Matilda are very well portrayed as are many of the other characters. Some aspects are a little less believable although some of these aspects combine to form a neat twist at the end. I enjoyed it but not as much as River of Destiny.

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Best Ever Fantasy PC Game?

Diablo I fitted all the qualities for a good role playing game. I loved this game and recently replayed it again, although it really struggled with Windows 10! It's a great shame that Diablo II was no where near as good and the reviews for Diablo III look really poor.

So what made the original game so good? For me it was the weapon and spells you found along the way and the leveling up. It was also really great that the monsters leveled up in a similar fashion, the deeper in the (dare I say?) dungeon you went. I usually play more than one round of the game as the items get better the second time around. Even then you might not find all the best items and spells and my recent sojourn left nearly half my spells missing. That is my one complaint...why make it so difficult to find "good" stuff? That also seems to be a complaint on Diablo III.

The other thing I liked was that the levels were clearly bounded. The edge of the dungeon made it very clear. In Diablo II I often got lost in too large an area and lost site of the plot, as it were.

I tried the on-line version but that was very hard. You couldn't save the game in the same way and you lost all your items when killed. I also ran across a couple of other people online and they brutally killed me and took all my "stuff". Gits.

Back to Diablo, I liked the Rogue as she was the quickest to escape danger. Don't ask why but she was called Edwina the Bold. I played on Guild Wars which was quite like Diablo but a large online game. As per usual I had a character called Edwina the Bold which sort of worked against me. Some lads tried chatting me up, assuming I was as female as my character. That put an end to that game very quickly as it felt sleazy giving the wrong impression, From now on I'm Baldric the Brave!

For fantasy fans this was a great game. Sorcerers, magic weapons and armour and a host of horrible creatures to battle.

Great game.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Edgar Rice Burroughs - Highly Imaginative Fantasy Books

What an imagination he had. 140 years old today, I believe.

His books were amazing in their day and surprisingly easy to read today. I loved the Mars series and his imagination knew no bounds. There was usually a theme, guy meets girl, girl gets abducted and guy spends novel trying to rescue her. However, there was some seriously good imagination in all his books. Tree creatures with blood sucking hands, giant white apes, creatures morphed form separate head and a body creatures.

Tarzan was a great creation and spawned many, many films. Yet the book is far better than any film and so far the film industry has failed to recreate the magic of the books.

Of the recent John Carter reviewer said that he'd seen it all before and there was nothing new. Edgar R Burroughs wrote this book in the early 1900s, well before modern fantasy authors were  even born. ERB must have had a hand in the birth of the fantasy genre. To say his work had nothing new is a travesty and lacks understanding of these epic books.

Great books...and so many to chose from.