Way-Too-Early Reactions to THE RINGS OF POWER

Another week, another multi-hundred million dollar budgeted TV show based on an iconic fantasy author’s universe.

The Rings of Power is the primary show I have been awaiting all year. Of all the MCU, Star Wars, and other mega-IP content to debut this year, I have had the highest hopes and most weighty expectations for Amazon’s foray into Tolkien’s universe.

Part of that is due to history. The massive narrative history of Middle Earth, and the surrounding historiography of it, is an obvious choice for “spin-offs”. Christopher Tolkien himself published stories based on unfinished drafts in his father’s notes.

Another part of my weighty expectations for this show come from a much more recent benchmark. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is epic filmmaking at its finest, a wondrous cinematic adaptation that is just as affecting twenty years later as it was when I sat in the theater at thirteen for Fellowship.

The showrunners for The Rings of Power made a pretty big gamble when they decided to set their series in the Second Age of Middle Earth, thousands of years before most of the characters whom casual fans would know were alive. Middle Earth itself is quite different at this time.

Through two episodes (which is all I’ve seen so far) I’m already getting nostalgia-driven chills when I watch this show. The costumes, the music, the dialog, the settings all feel like Tolkien, and crucially, like the Tolkien we were introduced to in Jackson’s trilogy.

The Rings of Power, wisely, is speaking the same visual and emotional language as it’s cinematic predecessor. When I see characters in thematic clothes, I don’t just see generic fantasy brings. I know them as Noldor Elves, dwarfs of the line of Durin, and yes, even Harfoots, who feel just enough like their descendant hobbits to be recognizable, without feeling copied.

So, this show has already fixed itself squarely within the look and feel of Middle Earth.

I also find the beginning of the story and the characters driving it to be quite compelling.

As usual, I will not get into an episode recap, so I’ll just say that I already feel attached to and invested in Galadriel, Nori, and Arondir as they traverse differing plot lines that seem to be pointing in the same direction: the rise of the shadow after centuries of relative peace.

I don’t know how much more I can say without getting too deep into the details and ending up with 5,000 words for this post.

The showrunners took a big gamble with this show, especially with Amazon beating down their necks looking for a smash hit. Two episodes in, I feel like it’s already paying off.

I’m so excited to continue watching.

Steve D

Review: TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT overcomes Middle Book Syndrome

Towers of Midnight is the thirteenth and penultimate book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I’ve been reading this series off and on for about six years. It took me some time to get through this book, primarily because I wanted to savor it, rather than rush through it to get to the end. That was a wise decision.

I consider this installment a “middle” book for two reasons.

  1. The Gathering Storm (book 12), Towers of Midnight (book 13), and A Memory of Light (book 14) are very clearly the final act in this sprawling series, narratively.
  2. They are also the final act in their production. Sanderson worked with the editor, Jordan’s widow, to split the final act into three books, and produced these three volumes.

This review contains spoilers for this book and those preceding it in The Wheel of Time.

So when I say that Towers of Midnight overcomes Middle Book Syndrome, I really mean that as a transitionary book to build to the climax that is surely waiting in A Memory of Light, this book succeeds.

Towers of Midnight is a compelling read jam-packed with fascinating plot lines centered around our main characters, especially Mat and Perrin, but also Elayne and Egwene. Other staple characters like Faile, Nynaeve, Lan, Galad and Gawyn also build towards a rich narrative.

It is very much a middle book in that these plot lines serve to close out long-running narrative threads, such as Perrin’s rise to leadership, Mat’s shifting focus back towards Rand and the Last Battle, Egwene’s cementing of her power as Amyrlin, and Elayne’s marshaling of power around her throne in Caemlyn.

These characters are shifting, slowly and inexorably, towards the Last Battle. In doing so, Towers of Midnight necessarily takes on the hefty task of transitioning the characters, all of the hundreds of characters, and the reader into Tarmon Gaidon.

That’s not to say that A Memory of Light opens with the Last Battle and is one massive compendium of fighting. (I’m a few pages in and can confirm this is not the case.) But after 13 novels of ever-increasing length and complexity, everyone is facing the same direction: towards The End.

Some sections of the book drag a bit — Perrin’s training in the wolf dream with Hopper and his inevitable face-off with Slayer took me a bit to get through, both because of the tension that had been built and because I wanted to get past it. Still, I understood in the moment that his realization and acceptance of his true self was necessary to Perrin’s facing of the Whitecloaks.

Overall, though, Sanderson churns through these plot lines and still manages to provide some surprises, some poignant moments, and some clean breaks with narrative threads that would no longer serve the end of this series.

After the numerous books I struggled to get through, or even to understand at points because they were so weighed down with characters about whom I could not bring myself to care, I’m honestly still a little awestruck at how neatly Towers of Midnight, and The Gathering Storm before it, have brought us to this point.

Like I said, I’ve already started A Memory of Light. I’m thrilled and simultaneously reluctant to get to the end of this series. That, I think, is testament enough to its storytelling power.

Steve D

THE LAST KINGDOM Finale: Epic TV storytelling

The Last Kingdom TV series recently debuted its fifth and final season, which I caught on Netflix.

The show follows Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a Saxon lordling captured and raised by Danes who rises to become an important warrior and warlord during the reigns of Kings Alfred and Edward of Wessex. This show is the reason I’ve started reading the book series by Bernard Cornwell that it’s based on.

Having now finished season 5 and gotten confirmation that it is, indeed, the last of the series, I find myself reflecting on what, to me, has been a truly great show.

While much of the story of Uhtred himself is fictionalized, the show is realized with impeccable detail in the settings, the sets, and the costumes. Individual fight scenes are well choreographed and the battle scenes are mostly good if not great.

I’ve watched this show from the beginning, and had eagerly anticipated each of the last three seasons in particular as the show really hit its stride. Alexander Dreymon’s portrayal of Uhtred evolved from that of an arrogant, if skilled, young warrior into a admirable, honorable, and relentless lord who manages to fight both for what is right and for what he is owed.

The rest of the cast is stellar to the point that you might as well read through the cast list on IMDB, because I don’t think there is a poor actor in the entire series. This is the type of show where I recognized basically none of the actors when I first saw them, and now I can only think many of them will go on to do incredible things in television and film.

Alright, that’s enough reflecting. The main element of this show I wanted to call out is the storytelling.

Beware spoilers for season 5, including the season and series finale.

The Last Kingdom’s Epic Storytelling

The main arc of the story centers on Uhtred in his quest to reclaim his ancestral seat as the lord of Bebbanburg. Throughout the first four seasons of the show, Uhtred is desperate to retake his homeland, but is always called by duty, by oath, by extortion, or by his heart to fight different battles. These are so often at the behest of King Alfred of Wessex that by season four, it is almost laughable, except the relationship between Alfred and Uhtred has grown into the dearest of friendships, and you can’t really blame Uhtred for being loyal to one of his biggest patrons.

Season 5 presents a key opportunity for Uhtred to attack Bebbanburg – held by his estranged cousin – at the head of the armies of Wessex and Mercia, now joined under King Edward (Alfred’s son and Uhtred’s liege lord).

In the season and series finale, Uhtred fights to take Bebbanburg, Edward’s armies are nearly thrown over a cliff into the sea, and the enemy they fight tries to burn Bebbanburg to the ground.

This is the moment that any long-time watcher of this show has been waiting for, and recognizes what the show is doing. They literally and figuratively bring Uhtred to his knees, so close to achieving his lifelong destiny, within the walls of his home, and it burns to ashes in front of him.

And then the show takes another predictable turn that is just perfect. They show a montage of previous scenes from the show, focusing on Uhtred’s friends, allies, family, all lost in the turmoil of the previous five seasons (and some 20 years) of Uhtred’s life.

Going into this episode, I was not aware that season five was to be the final chapter of this show. But this montage was so perfectly executed and attuned to the emotional weight of the moment that I immediately knew that this was the end of the series.

After the montage, the sky breaks open into rain, drowning out the flames that would engulf Uhtred’s home, and in a last desperate act, Uhtred and King Edward’s forces emerge victorious. Uhtred claims Bebbanburg and becomes Lord of Northumbria.

This moment would have been meaningless – or perhaps cheap – if the show had not had the patience to lead the viewer through five seasons of loss, failure, and shortcomings with Uhtred. Or if they had tried to drag the show out to extra seasons for no reason. They chose their moment to end the story, and they stuck the landing, something that more than a few shows in recent memory have failed to accomplish.

Finale Thoughts

I did not go into season 5 of this show expecting to write a review on it. I think I’ve only mentioned it in passing before on this site. That finale hit home to me, to the point that I’d like to rewatch the entire show at some point.

I’m also even more stoked to continue my read of the book series.

Please watch this show, if for nothing else, to give me someone to talk about it with!

Steve D

#Review: THE RUIN, Dervla McTiernan, a strong detective mystery

The Ruin, Dervla McTiernan, Cormac Reilly #1, mystery, detective, novel

I just finished listening to The Ruin on Audible, and I’m hooked on the series.

I came to this novel length opener to the Cormac Reilly series after coming across McTiernan’s short stories: “The Sisters” and “The Roommate”.

I had enjoyed McTiernan’s writing style, her characters, and Aoife McMahon’s narration, the quality of which cannot be overstated, so I wanted to give one of McTiernan’s full-length novels a try.

Continue reading “#Review: THE RUIN, Dervla McTiernan, a strong detective mystery”

#Review: BRIGANTIA – an excellent part 3 to the Vindolanda saga

Brigantia by Adrian Goldsworthy, historical fiction, Roman Britannia, war, military

Brigantia is the third novel in the Vindolana saga, Adrian Goldsworthy’s epic historical fiction set in Roman Britannia during the early years of Trajan’s reign.

The third installment of the Vindolanda saga is as compelling and full of twists as the first two. New characters are introduced who bring renewed depth to the story, but the mainstays all have their part to play.

The plot also uncovers even richer and more intricate details about Ferox’s past and his dueling identity as both Roman Centurion and Silures Prince. Continue reading “#Review: BRIGANTIA – an excellent part 3 to the Vindolanda saga”

THE LONG PATROL Still Captures the Imagination

Sometimes a story just sticks with you. The words pass from the page through your eyes and are spun into vivid images in your mind. Occasionally, those images linger somewhere within you. Their presence may not always be obvious, but their echoes reverberate in quiet moments, reminders of those fleeting images. Continue reading “THE LONG PATROL Still Captures the Imagination”

PARABOLIS Review: Engaging the Audience in Layers

I think the best stories come to us in the most interesting ways. Yet again, I have encountered an author and a world in the most unexpected of places. I first saw Parabolis  in an imgur post a couple years ago. I bought the book immediately. I regret that it took me this long to read.

Continue reading “PARABOLIS Review: Engaging the Audience in Layers”

ROGUE ONE Re-Affirms Disney’s Commitment to STAR WARS

[Spoiler-free review]

I saw Rogue One on Saturday morning with Present Wife.  I have been excited for this film ever since it was first announced shortly after the release of The Force Awakens last year. It was amazing. Continue reading “ROGUE ONE Re-Affirms Disney’s Commitment to STAR WARS”