Born to the Blade 1.11: All the Nations of the Sky by Michael Underwood: Season 1 Wraps Up in a Strong and Sufficient Manner — but will leave the audience wanting more

My post about 1.10 was supposed to run 6/22, but I apparently only saved it as “Draft,” so it went up late on 6/28 (so glad I pushed off sleep last week to get it done), and then my thoughts about episode 1.11 were delayed a couple of days by not being able to push off sleep, but assuming I clicked the right buttons you still will get to read them when they’re fairly fresh. In a day or two I’ll have some thoughts on Season 1 of Born to the Blade as a whole — which will include some interaction with comments Bookstooge left a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, on to All the Nations of the Sky, the season finale.

All the Nations of the SkyAll the Nations of the Sky

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.11

Kindle Edition.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 28, 2018
I’m going to try to keep my thoughts to this episode, but I won’t promise that I’ll succeed.

Somewhere between episodes 10 and 11 Michiko made a pretty big decision. Okay, she made a huge decision — and we only get to see the result, not the thought process — this is annoying, but I can live with it, if I have to (and, by the by, we know she found something in the paperwork that her predecessor left of interest to the current goings-on, but we’re not told what, this also is annoying). Part of the story-telling style that Born to the Blade is employing leaves us open to this kind of thing, so it’s to be expected — I’m just not crazy about it. Still, while I’m excited for what this means for Michiko, her nation, and the narrative opportunities for Season 2, I do regret what it means for some of the character interaction I’ve been enjoying all along. That’s all I’ll say about that now.

Also, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the progress made between Kris and Adechike last week has been walked back a bit — some of which I understand, most of which I want explained before I can get on board wholly. But I don’t see that happening. Still, I liked (both as a fan and as someone who’s trying to look at the series through an armchair-critical eye) what both Adechike and Kris did throughout this episode.

We got a long-awaited duel in this episode (like last episode), it didn’t end the way my fan-boy impulses wanted it to, but did end the way it needed to. It’s the kind of thing I think I expected the series to be built on — and if a certain little war hadn’t happened, probably would have.

Every jot and tittle about Ojo in this episode was perfect, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I can’t say any more, but this was spot-on.

I’m not sure what else to say at this point without venturing into spoiler territory, so I guess I’ll wrap it up.

Now, it’s easy — very easy — to forget about one nation of the seven — Tsukisen, and their warder, Hii no Taro. Yes, it’s explained a few times — but anytime Tsukisen is mentioned, it only seems to underline how often they aren’t. This can be improved — Underwood had a great opportunity here to fix that, and he passed. Which is okay, he’s not the only one who had the opportunity, and I can only assume that this means that there’s a plan behind it. I do hope that’s rectified quickly in Season 2. And this point probably belongs more to the season-long wrap up post I’m trying to do, but I wanted to get it down before I forgot.

This has been dubbed as “Season 1” since the beginning, so we knew everything wasn’t going to wrap up nicely. In fact, there’s a lot that’s left hanging. But we got enough resolution to leave readers satisfied with where things left off. I do hope that Serial Box gives this team another shot to tell their story because I’m very curious about a few things and characters. But for now, we’re left with an optimistic, but not a rose-colored glasses, ending — true to the vision of the initial episodes, but with a darker undercurrent than one might have guessed from the first couple of installments. I’m not wholly sold on everything that happened this season, but I’ve come to accept and appreciate 96% of it — and I will probably come around on the rest eventually.

A good story, a good cap to the season and a good launching point for a potential Season 2. I’m just going to stop before I say “good” again — pick up season 1 now, if you haven’t yet.

—–

4 Stars

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Born to the Blade 1.10: Shattered Blades by Marie Brennan: An exciting penultimate episode that’s sure to please

ACK! I apparently never took this off of draft mode! I thought this ran last Friday! Whoops!!

Shattered BladesShattered Blades

by Marie Brennan
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.10

Kindle Edition, 58 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 21, 2018

           The Warders’ Circle was supposed to prevent this kind of thing. It gave the nations a way to settle their disputes without warfare, with the limited and ritualized violence of a duel. But that only worked if people believed in it. It was a game, and everyone had agreed to play by its rules.

Until they didn’t.

Sure, there were still warders on Twaa-Fei. Juniors thrust into the role of seniors, unwilling and unprepared and, worst of all, unsupported. Their nations had abandoned them to play out what remained of this farce, while behind that disintegrating cover of civility they prepared for and carried out war.

Nations on the brink of war (well, just on the wrong side of the brink), almost everyone’s favorite diplomat the target of assassins (favorite of readers and almost every other diplomat), relationships torn apart — the home of the Warders, Twaa-Fei itself, is being ripped apart by violence. The stakes really couldn’t be much higher.

But this episode isn’t about the stakes for the nations (not that those are uninvolved — it’s just not the focus): it’s about Michiko making some important choices and acting on them, in ways that will leave her life (and potentially the lives of the people she represents) changed forever; it’s about Takeshi finding what’s been missing (I hope); it’s about Kris and Adechike getting all their priorities straight; and about a few other things that I can’t talk about.

In the midst of all this character growth, character development and conflict — we get two knockout duels. Not the civilized, controlled, formal duels of Kris’ trials, either — we’re talking two people who unleash everything they have — magic and swordcraft alike — at each other. Brennan absolutely sold this part.

This episode was everything I wanted — great character moments, better action sequences — and every character (finally) not worrying so much about playing politics, but about doing the right thing (even if it’s the wrong thing for someone else). My notes have me writing twice “this is the high point of the series (so far),” and there’s at least one other candidate for that moment in these pages. I’m hoping that the season finale continues the uptick we’ve been on for the last couple of weeks.

—–

4 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.9: Assassination by Malka Ann Older: Many things happen — some even positive — in this very strong entry to the season.

AssassinationAssassination

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.9

Kindle Edition, 43 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 14, 2018

I take it all back — every hesitation I’ve expressed over the last couple of weeks — this episode fixed everything.

Well, no, not really. But man, it’s close enough to justify a little hyperbole. This has none of the weaknesses or shortcomings of the last couple of episodes — there’s some good action, the plot moves forward, there’s some great character moments and the reader isn’t left wondering about what’s going on. There’s one character’s action that you can’t be positive about, and there’s something that happens in the closing paragraphs that you can’t know everything about — but you will soon into episode 10. But those are different from being aware that there’s a lot going on and you don’t get to see or know about it.

This takes place in the shadow of the events of last week’s episode, kicking off mere hours later, and carries you at a great pace through the next events.

Adechike and Ojo have a confrontation about their nation’s actions (and some of Ojo’s) and I found myself rooting for the junior warden — not something I’d have expected even a week ago. Michiko’s investigation bears some fantastic fruit. Takeshi learned more than he expected to — and possibly kicks off another sub-plot (who doesn’t want one so close to the end?). And the other wardens find themselves forced to react to the embryonic war.

This far into the series, it continues to be difficult to talk about the events without ruining things for people who have yet to start the series, so hopefully this was enough. This was a very strong entry — the strongest since episode 4 or 5, and one that bodes well for the end of this season.

—–

4 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.8: Refugees by Malka Ann Older: Pretty much everything goes wrong for everyone

RefugeesRefugees

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.8

Kindle Edition
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 7, 2018

Argh. I just don’t know what to say here — clearly, this should’ve posted on Friday, but I only got one sentence down that I didn’t delete. This is only posting today because I didn’t let myself cut anything. This episode is too short, I think. When I consider everything I want to complain about, it all boils down to length (I’m not even seeing page counts on Amazon/Goodreads for the last couple of these). I do think the episode length is a legitimate problem, but at the same time, it’s part of the design of the series, so I should just shut up about it.

Which is just a long way of saying, I think I liked this episode, but I’m not sure — it sure didn’t satisfy my need as a reader to get a chunk of story big enough to appreciate what’s happening around these characters. I’m not saying these need to clock in at 250 pages or anything. Just 10-20% more?

Which is a crying shame — because there’s real opportunity in these pages for Michiko and Kris to get something done (both to help their people and the readers who like them as characters), but there wasn’t time. Ojo doesn’t seem like the same man anymore — which is completely understandable, but I’m having to do too much surmising to get to my understanding. I did like Adechike’s portion of this episode — that was really well done.

Oh, and Lavinia continues to be just the worst person in this world. but that’s not a surprise, really.

The action here revolves around this world preparing for the looming war — I get why the characters don’t know what actually happened to set off the conflict, but it’d be cool to let the readers in on the secret. There’s preparations for war — both in getting fighting forces ready, and refugees from affected/soon to be affected areas streaming into Twaa-Fei. Which is going pretty horribly — between the stress that an influx of refugees brings to an area and a healthy dose of subterfuge on someone’s part.

Speaking of Twaa-Fei, I’d have preferred to see more examples of this compact on between the nations working (however well it actually functions) before seeing it on the verge of collapse. It’s hard to appreciate just what they’re close to losing without seeing it more.

I’m still in this ’til the end, I think I’m still enjoying this — but I feel the authors are holding out on us, which bothers me. I’m trusting they’ll win me over (again) soon.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.7: Dreadnought by Cassandra Khaw: Things continue going from bad to worse

DreadnoughtDreadnought

by Cassandra Khaw
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.7

Kindle Edition
Serial Box, 2018
Read: May 31, 2018

I don’t know what to say here without spoiling — this series isn’t making it easy for me to write about it.

As bad as things looked last week — there were plenty of avenues that were easy to see for things to work out. Not necessarily easily, but possible. It’s still possible now, I’m sure, but it’s not easy to see how. There’s so much distrust in the air that even people who need to be working together won’t. In fact, everyone’s going out of their way to make it more difficult and less likely to work with each other.

Well, almost everyone. Kris and Michiko seem to be acting like themselves — although, since we’ve met them their behavior has basically been summarized by “try hard, ask a lot of questions, and be somewhat confused,” I’m not sure that it’s that helpful. The rest — whether it’s internally imposed, or naturally occurring, doesn’t matter — are stand-offish, distrustful, and taking steps to isolate themselves.

The carefully constructed peace is in grave danger — the questions that need to be answered are: who started and/or is continuing to orchestrate the events that kicked off this unraveling? Who is gaining from all of this? If the answers to these questions are discovered, does anyone have the ability (singly or as a group) to effectively push back? I have my suspicions, but I’ll have to wait and see.

This was well done, and an installment that had to happen — but it’s hard to really judge this until we get more of the picture. I liked it enough, I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure just how good a job this episode did. But I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from here so have a better idea.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.6: Spiraling by Marie Brennan: Just when things were looking up . . .

SpiralingSpiraling

by Marie Brennan
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.6

Kindle Edition, 47 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: May 24, 2018
Yesterday, Serial Box tweeted:

Defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory as warders Ojo Kante and Kris Denn search for answers and their superiors grow eager for war.

That’s about the best way to sum up this episode without getting into too much detail. As much as last week’s episode was a reaction to the events of the episode 4, while setting the table for the next arc — this episode was a reaction to the final chapter from last week.

Which was a doozy and deserved these 47 pages of fallout. I’m not going to say anything about the main story because I’ll just ruin things for people who haven’t read it yet. I will say that I could not have been more wrong after last week’s episode when I guessed what was on the horizon. While I found what Brennan did with the characters most obviously impacted (Kris, Ojo) with this — Michiko was by far the most interesting character this time out, and had a lot more to do than one would expect.

I have no real clue about what’s going on with Lavinia and Bellona in this episode — which is pretty cool, because you know that’s going to explode in a week or two. I have a theory or two about Lavinia’s actions, but am halfway convinced that I’m wrong and that the writers have something far better in store. I can’t help but assume that Bellona’s plans will fail — mostly because that seems in keeping with the character. But if she succeeds, it’ll make Lavinia eat a little crow. Either will work for me.

I’m looking forward to episode 7 more than I’ve looked forward to any of the others. For the first couple of weeks, I talked about the promise of this series — it’s being fulfilled now, and I’m glad I stuck with this through my initial ambivalence.

—–

3.5 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.5: Trade Deal by Malka Ann Older: Tying up loose ends and loosening some new ones

Trade DealTrade Deal

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.5

Kindle Edition, 25 pg.
Serial Box, 2018

Read: May 17, 2018


After all the excitement last week, we get a little bit of a breather here as we see some of the fallout from what happened in Kris’ trials. Michiko has to answer to Lavinia for the way things went against Kris and she finally updates her ancestors on the same events. Not for the first time, I wondered if the advice and counsel she’s able to draw upon from her ancestors is really more of a curse and burden than a gift and help. Still, between her own self-doubt and the scrutiny of just about every authority figure in her life, Michikio seems to be reconsidering things and maybe making some positive steps. I have high hopes for her as a character.

While Michiko is under the microscope, Kris is could maybe use a little scrutiny. Between becoming a Warder and completing is first acts as one Kris is starting to settle in. It’s a lot of fun watching the new reality settle in. There’s a sense in which Kris didn’t give a lot of thought to how things were going to be after the trials. I can’t tell if that’s because no one really thought it’d happen, or Kris needed to focus on the immediate challenge first. I’m not sure that Kris has been as interesting before — showing questionable judgement, and an impressively growing awareness of what the future can be.

There’s a little bit of action that’s not really fallout from the gauntlet, but is what we’ve been waiting for, pretty much centering on the person of Ojo. Kris and Ojo finalize the trade deal they promised to make, and then the final shoe drops with what’s been going on with Penelope. While this is happening Ojo gets some news from home that colors everything he does. He’s still the character that interests me the most, even as I’m sure the series really wants me to focus on Kris and Michiko.

This installment isn’t just wrapping up what was left dangling after episode 4, it sets up the stories the series will be focusing on next. This isn’t going to be your typical fantasy series, and will a lot of fun to see what it ends up being — although reading the characters and plots will be better. Given the last paragraph, it’s going to get exciting soon.

For me, the character of Takeshi stole this episode. I liked watching him at work in Episode 4, but honestly, I didn’t pay all that much attention to him before. But between his attitude, his secrets, and his non-Warder activities, he really seems like quite the guy (watching the reactions of the younger Warders running into the concept of non-Warder activities was great, by the way.).

While there wasn’t much transpiring in this episode, I really appreciated it for the character moments, and what it seems to be setting up for the future. I’m feeling better about Born to the Blade as a whole, too. In short, this was good stuff.

—–

3 Stars