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

Advertisements

Born to the Blade 1.4: The Gauntlet by Michael Underwood: Kris’ opportunity finally knocks in the most satisfying episode yet.

The GauntletThe Gauntlet

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.4

Kindle Edition, 53 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: May 10, 2018
Since Episode One, we’ve been waiting for this: Kris Denn of Rumika facing the gauntlet. A series of 6 duels against the members of the Warders Circle of Twaa-Fei to gain a seat at the table for Rumika. Failure here means a decade (or so) before the next potential warder from Rumika has an opportunity. That’s pretty much the whole episode in a nutshell — can Kris make it?

Ultimately, I don’t think anyone will be shocked at the outcome — it’s about the journey, how the outcome is reached. Underwood nails it. A couple of weeks ago, I linked to a piece he wrote about how fight scenes can reveal character (he also tweeted about it this week), and this episode is him displaying that theory in practice. It really works — not only do we get a better idea about who Kris is, but we get a better understanding of the other Warders. Sure, we may not actually learn anything about Lavinia and Ojo — we just get more evidence of what we already know — but there are other duels.

This is longer than the previous two episodes — and it helped. The extra length gave things a chance to happen. I assume that’s not something we’ll see next week, but I can hope, right?

I’ve liked the previous episodes enough to justify the purchase of the season and to keep going, but I just flat-out liked this one. Good fight scenes, good character moments and the plot moves ahead. Where this goes next, I’m not sure, but having concluded this initial arc, I’m ready to see it. These authors took their time establishing this world, and carefully built up to this point and what lies beyond. I’m looking forward to see what else comes on this foundation.

—–

4 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.3: Baby Shower by Cassandra Khaw: Yup. Baby Shower. A literal baby shower, just what every fantasy series needs(?)

Baby ShowerBaby Shower

by Cassandra Khaw
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.3

Kindle Edition, 35 pg.
Serial Box, 2018

Read: May 4, 2018

Huh. I’m still trying to figure out this series, I admit, but the one thing I didn’t figure was that one episode would feature a party soaked in political intrigue. But it works — it really, really works.

Yeah, there’s plenty of magic and swordplay in this series. But there’s almost as much going on when it comes to diplomacy and politics. It’s subtle, it’s harder to follow in this world than you might be used to (but it’s getting easier the more time we spend in this series) — but it’s rewarding. This episode’s focal event is the perfect setting to focus on the subtle games and moves going on with these characters.

Michiko seems to take a step in a constructive direction — and if this goes like I think it will, I might actually like her as a character. Ojo’s still the most interesting character in this series (with the possible exception of Michiko’s secret relative, but he’s interesting for completely different reasons), and I continue to like how he’s being used. I think I might like Kris a bit more now than I have soon.

One thing the series seems clear about is that Lavinia is a bad person — good warrior, savvy at her job, but she’s a bad person. Maybe not King Joffrey bad, but someone in that vein. Which is odd, it seems that the series is going out of its way to show you things from (for example) Ojo’s point of view, but also what Penelope, Kris and Michiko think of him and his actions. The same goes for everyone but for Lavinia. There’s only one perspective presented for her. Now, honestly, I’m not sure I want to look too far into her head — so I’m not sure this is a bad thing, but it just strikes me as odd.

This has a great closing line — it definitely made me want to read on. The episode on the whole does that, too — by the end, I probably feel more settled in this world than I have before and I can start to enjoy things. I wouldn’t appreciate a novel taking this long to get me into the story, but given the starts and stops of these episodes, I’m much more willing to go along with it and three episodes doesn’t seem as big an investment.If you haven’t decided to take the plunge, this might be the time.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.2: Fault Lines by Marie Brennan: I’m still feeling the promise of the series, but want more.

My intent has been to comment on these the week of release, but I just haven’t been able to keep up with everything — today I try to fix that (or get closer, anyway).

Fault LinesFault Lines

by Marie Brennan
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.2

Kindle Edition, 44 pg.
Serial Box, 2018

Read: May 1, 2018
So straight out of the gate, this makes me happy: there’s a “previously on” section — which is great, and something we need to see more of) — and a Dramatis Personae (with a cast this big, a major plus).

The question is, can episode 2 build on the goodwill that the ending of 1 caused? Ehhh…sorta? We get to know the island this takes place on a little better, the culture there — and some more about the nations represented (and those representing them). There’s some revealing interaction with Kris and Michiko, and it’s clear that’s where our focus should be. but I sorta want more time with Ojo than with them. That’s more about Ojo being interesting than the other two annoying me by their actions at the end of the episode. But not much.

For a fantasy world, I like the strange governmental structure — a mix of diplomacy and single combat — that they’ve developed for this series. In reality, ugh. But this is fantasy. so sure, why not? But I’m not sure that I’m buying it. There’s a seeming lack of advisors for these diplomats, which is hard to swallow (though narratively neater), especially with Michiko and Kris there’s a naiveté that screams that these people shouldn’t be left to their own devices. They’re like college students out on their own. Yeah, they might be capable, but they need some more wisdom. Letting an entire people’s futures to be determined by what a young, untried warrior (no matter how talented) who’s easily swayed by elders and friendliness is . . . suggestive of problems.

I think I like this series, but I’m not sure. Goodwill toward a couple of the authors will carry you for a bit, I’m just not sure how long it’ll last without the series doing a better job of entertaining me. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just not totally sold. This many pages in, I should be. I want to be — but I don’t think I am yet. I still assume it’s coming.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.1: Arrivals by Michael Underwood: The Start of a Promising Series

ArrivalsArrivals

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.1

Kindle Edition, 61 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: April 21, 2018

Publisher’s Blurb:

For centuries the Warders’ Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei has given the countries of the sky a way to avoid war, settling their disputes through formal, magical duels. But the Circle’s ability to maintain peace is fading: the Mertikan Empire is preparing for conquest and the trade nation of Quloo is sinking, stripped of the aerstone that keeps both ships and island a-sky. When upstart Kris Denn tries to win their island a seat in the Warder’s Circle and colonial subject Oda no Michiko discovers that her conquered nation’s past is not what she’s been told, they upset the balance of power. The storm they bring will bind all the peoples of the sky together…or tear them apart.

So there’s the setup for this “season” of 11 novella-length episodes, releasing weekly. Episode 1 — Arrivals is very much a pilot episode. After an action-packed opening, the story settles into introducing the pretty large cast of characters and the world the inhabit.

I found most of what follows pretty dry, and I had a hard time maintaining interest. It reminded me of the Game of Thrones pilot — at least for those of us who hadn’t read the book — so many names and places to learn that it was hard to pay attention to any story. It’s a rich world and most of the characters seem well-developed and complex — I just don’t care about any of it yet.

It is not the most accessible world, with a specialized vocabulary, and political and magic systems that the reader has to dig in to really understand. This isn’t a complaint — it’s just something to know going in. There’s no real pay off for the effort now, but you can assume it’s coming.

But those last couple of pages? Hoo-boy, there’s the hook — I might have had to wait longer than I wanted to just to get to this point, but it was worth the wait. I think that gave me enough motivation to read at least a couple more episodes. Given the strength of the list of authors involved in this one — Michael R. Underwood (the author of this installment), in particular — I’m confident that I’ll be singing the praises of Born to the Blade soon. You might want to jump on board now and enjoy the progress.

—–

3 Stars