THE RINGS OF POWER reignites Middle Earth

Season one of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is in the books, and I, for one, am mostly pleased with how this season went. Here is my review of this show, where I will talk freely about everything that happened.

Spoilers ahoy!

Overall, I really enjoyed this show. The car was incredible, each of the storylines was fulfilling and had something to offer. Morfydd Clark’s portrayal of Galadriel is among my favorite performances in recent memory. Clark’s smoldering rage, steadfast determination, sword and riding skills, and empathetic story perfectly encapsulated such an iconic literary character.

The Harfoot plot was endearing and ultimately paid off with our very own Gandalf-like figure. In fascinated by the power this Istar may wield in future seasons.

The friendship between Elrond and Durin was heartfelt and funny. I just wish they hadn’t discovered the massive vein of mithril or woken the Balrog so quickly.

The Numenorean plot was intriguing, but I honestly expected a little more politicking there. Elendil feels like a strong character going forward.

Arondir, Bronwyn, Theo, and the Southlanders had some cool encounters with the Orks. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of Adar, who was somehow a sympathetic character despite wanting to block out the sun.

And Halbrand. I didn’t want him to be Sauron, but it became too obvious not to be true. His confrontation with Galadriel in the finale was legitimately unsettling.

My main gripe with this show is the pacing. I think they could have really benefited from at least two more episodes to draw out Halbrand’s trickery with Celebrimbor. My understanding is the production schedule was disrupted by the pandemic, so here’s hoping season two can be produced and released on time.

The Rings of Power was entertaining and recaptured the magic of Peter Jackson’s trilogy while adding new characters and new lore. I think this show’s biggest achievement is how much it feels like Tolkien, like Middle Earth. That’s a testament to all the details of dialog, set design, and story that the showrunners pieced together.

I’m already looking forward to a rewatch in preparation for season two.

How did you feel about The Rings of Power?

Steve D

Double Book Review: SWORD SONG and THE BURNING LAND and the narrator effect

After not achieving much on the reading front last month, I’ve powered through two consecutive books of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell, upon which the Netflix series The Last Kingdom is based. I’ve slowly picked through this series over the last year or so after watching the Netflix show and hearing about the books from my in-laws.

I really enjoyed this series so far, but I’ve learned that my enjoyment of these books, more so than others I’ve listened to on Audible, really hinges on the narrator.

Sword Song, book 4 of The Saxon Stories

As the fourth book in the series, Sword Song may be my favorite yet. Uhtred has come into his lordship with household guards, an estate, servants, and a family, and he displays stern but fair leadership. Brash and arrogant as ever, he still does not hesitate to argue with or insult the other lords or clergy of Alfred’s court.

Sword Song winds through a closer character story where Uhtred is pulled between his oath to Alfred and his family, and a larger sense of duty to Wessex. This culminates in a battle for London, where the Saxons try to wrest control of the city from the Danes.

This book is also narrated by Jonathan Keeble, who is the best narrator for this series to this point. His various British accents feel authentic, he has an excellent tonal range, and his natural litheness with dialog brings a wit and charm to Uhtred’s character that really overpowers his cocky attitude and makes him likeable as a protagonist.

With the return of some old friends and a little more narrative room to breathe, Sword Song is a great catch-up that turns into a harrowing adventure. I enjoyed this book so much that I jumped immediately into the next installment in the series.

The Burning Land, book 5 of The Saxon Stories

The Burning Land is a less glory-filled story of Uhtred’s saga. Five books in, it’s not surprising that Uhtred’s fortunes start to take a turn for the worse, and that even his decision-making seems clouded by his own pride. This is a story of hubris, where Uhtred’s own comes back to bite him in harsh and tragic ways.

Uhtred tries to free himself of his oath to King Alfred of Wessex, and in doing so, finds himself int he company of the Danes of Northumbria. He dreams of retaking his ancestral home of Bebbanburg, but that dream makes him desperate, rather than savvy.

There are few exhilarating battles in this story. Rather, this story is weighed down by a more somber tone and drama-filled scenes as much of Uhtred’s character flaws catch up with him, even in ways he cannot control.

Unfortunately, this tone is made drab by the narration. Whereas Jonathan Keeble brought a humor and wit to Uhtred’s character and dialog, the narrator for The Burning Land was completely humorless. His narration style sounded more like a self-serious Shakespeare reading, which really dragged the story down for me.

I will definitely continue reading this series. However, this experience is making me wonder whether I really love these stories, or I just really love Keeble’s narration. I think the stories are good, but Keeble’s voicing brings an energy, an authenticity, and a weight to these books that I’m not sure I would find so readily on the page.

Steve D

October Write Day: Still Resetting

September was a strangely long month, but it went pretty well. A lot of my attention has been drawn towards watching House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power and listening to reaction and theory podcasts for each episode. I’m a couple episodes behind on Rings, but I’m really enjoying both of them, for quite different reasons.

I’m also a little miffed that those two shows, plus Andor, plus the start of football season all happened in the same month. So Andor will have to wait, although I’ve heard good things.

But in non-TV news…

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Progress my writing.
  2. Read 3 books.
  3. Exercise 3 times per week.

Let’s see how I fared.

Progress my writing?

Yes, in some small ways, which was really my goal. I transcribed notes from a beat-up journal into a larger, cleaner one. The beat-up journal went through a washing machine because I forgot it in the pocket of a pair of pants. So, many notes were lost to wear and ink-bleed, but I’m satisfied with those I was able to recover through the dried, stiff pages as I peeled them apart.

Lesson learned: don’t use journals that can fit in your pocket. It might sound nice and convenient, but they are too easily thrown in with dirty laundry, apparently.

Part of those notes included the beginnings of an outline for The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy. I’m not good at sticking to outlines with my stories, but there are too many factors at play for me not to be a bit more organized with this story:

  • It has now been five years since I published The Warden of Everfeld: Memento, the predecessor to Legacy, which obviously raises a lot of continuity concerns I want to avoid.
  • I have 60,000+ words written already, but I last looked at them in 2019 — so I kind of have to start over anyway.
  • It’s a fairly complex story, with three broad plotlines that hover around each other but do not necessarily cross.
  • It’s based primarily on established characters, so in addition to getting the plot right, I want to get the voicing and the continued character development right.

So I’m building my outline using a few techniques, starting small and then expanding outward.

  1. First, I write a logline for each major point-of-view character, so I know who that character is and what they want.
  2. Then, I’m breaking that logline down into a three-act story — basically three mini-loglines for the beginning, middle, and end of that character’s arc.
  3. Then, I want to break that down further into 9 parts, 3 parts per “act” to identify how that character’s story progresses.
  4. Once I have a nine-section outline, I want to add general notes for each section to help drive the narrative details that will drive each plot point forward.

I’ve never used this method to outline an entire story before, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

So, while I didn’t do much writing in September, I definitely feel like I’m laying the groundwork for a project that has been screaming for my attention for… 3 years.

Read three books?

Checks Goodreads…

No! I finished one long audiobook that was really a lecture series about linguistics. It was John McWhorter’s series on Language Families of the World, one of the Great Courses offered on Audible. I enjoy linguistics, but this was a long listen. I had been picking away at it for a couple months and decided to just close it out in September.

I then powered through a short military sci-fi story that was pretty good.

Two books isn’t bad, but I’m trying for better in October. I already have one book down and another well on its way!

Exercise three times per week?

Vaguely. I don’t have a set routine so much as I have a nagging feeling that I need to move and do some kind of physical activity on most days. That generally takes the form of some basic stretching and yoga poses and some resistance training, and maybe an extra long walk with the dog.

I want to start interspersing those “lighter” days with power yoga videos again. I’ve gotten away from any set yoga routine and want to start it up again, even if it’s just a few times per week.

So, I’m exercising, just not as much as I’d like to, and with no real goals in mind except not feeling stiff, or lazy, or weak.

Goals for October

  1. Finish 9-section outlines for four POV characters in The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy. Now we return to a more specific and quantifiable writing goal. If I can lay out the foundation of an outline for my four primary characters, then I’ll feel comfortable returning to my draft-in-progress to read through it and start building out my outline.
  2. Read 3 books. Like I said, I’m well on my way. This month’s focus is just reading for pure enjoyment, even if I end up reading three books in the same series in a row, which is a stark possibility. Usually I try to diversify my reading list, but nah. It’s time to just read anything that catches my eye.
  3. Exercise 3 times per week. What I want “exercise” to mean from this point forward is not just a few stretches or a long walk. I’d like to get in the habit of 15- or 20-minute sessions of stretching/yoga mixed with resistance training. I have a basic routine down pretty well that combines some yoga poses with deep squats and push-ups, but I also want to mix it up with guided yoga sessions focused on movement and strength. So I’ll just need to be a bit more deliberate about how much I exercise each day.