#1000BlackGirlBooks: Amber and the Hidden City

For my next pick from the #1000BlackGirl book list, I chose Amber and the Hidden City by Milton J. Davis. After reading some pretty heavy books, I wanted to get something a bit more light-hearted. I also opted for a middle-grade book so I could read it a bit faster than some of the other novels I’ve covered on here.

And I’m really glad I did! I liked the titular Amber right away, and the writing is solid and easy to get into. Perfect for a middle grade book. There’s also not a ton of waiting around for the plot to start, which I like.

Thirteen-year-old Amber is at a crossroads in her life. After summer break, she’ll be going to a new high school that none of her friends are attending. This is especially daunting because her blunt personality makes it hard for her to make new friends. To top it all off, she just used magic for the first time in her life.

Amber visits her grandma, Corliss, during her summer vacation, hoping to figure out all these changes in her life. Corliss finally tells Amber the secret she’s hidden her whole life: she is from Marai, a magical city that has been hidden from the outside world for thousands of years. The leader of Marai, the Sana, is dying, and nobles are vying for power in attempts to become the next Sana. The villainous Bagule is a strong contender for the title, but his rule would likely spell disaster for the city. He wants to open up Marai to the world, something that other nobles strongly advise against.

You’d be forgiven for making comparisons between the book and Black Panther, even though Amber and the Hidden City was published before the Marvel film. Fortunately, other than both works featuring a mysterious African city, the stories are quite different.

Corliss reveals how she and Amber can stop Bagule’s rise to power. Amber is a seer, and her powers are just beginning to wake. They must travel to Marai, whereAmber can use her gift to select the next Sana, someone who will protect the city and help it prosper. They travel from the United States to Paris to Senegal to Dakar, and finally pass through a magical veil that brings them to Marai. Along the way they are pursued (and sometimes aided) by Aisha, a deadly shape shifter. As they travel, Amber learns to use her powers as a seer to see the inner truth of the people she encounters.

One thing I am always conscious of in fiction is how women are treated as characters. Are they shrinking violets? Are they balanced characters? How much “screen time” do they have when compared to male characters? I know that many male (but not all!) authors have difficulty portraying women in ways that female readers would find authentic.

I was absolutely delighted that female characters played a central role in the story. Amber and Corliss have their moments of doubt and fear, but that’s totally normal in the situations they’ve been thrown into. They also display courage and compassion. Amber also acts like a thirteen-year-old girl actually would. For example, when she has to share her bedroom with a boy, Amber’s pretty freaked out about it. She spends too much time in the bathroom to avoid seeing him and texts her best friend, asking what she should do in this situation.

I also really liked Aisha. She’s definitely a “true neutral” character, who puts her survival ahead of everything else. While others in the book have their own goals — Amber wants to get to Marai, Bagule wants to be Sana — Aisha only wants to do what’s best for herself. Even if this means betrayal. That’s a fine villainous trait to have, but she was just so cool that I could never make myself hate her.

That’s not to leave out the male characters, though! Amber’s great-grandfather is a source of wisdom; his apprentice, Bissau, is crucial to bringing Amber and Corliss to Marai; Bagule is appropriately despicable.

There are a couple things that I didn’t love about this book. The first is that there were still several places with grammatical issues, but nothing that some editing wouldn’t be able to fix.

The second is that we’re told over and over again that opening Marai to the rest of the world is a terrible idea. This is Bagule’s plan, and this is why he cannot be made Sana. Somehow, opening the city will bring ruin to Marai and the world.

We never find out why this is, though. Towards the end of the book, Amber’s great-grandfather implies that Marai is a cage for some dark, evil force. However, no one ever mentions it again, or even says what it is that Marai’s protecting the world from. After waiting so long for an explanation, I was a bit miffed when that was all we got. I imagine it will be expanded on more if there’s a sequel.

At this point, there is one thing left to talk about. You guessed it, it’s race!

I’ve just finished a Multicultural Literature course, and one of the first things we learned in it is basic ways to classify multicultural books. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) classifies diverse books in the following ways:

  • By and about – the work is by a member of a specific culture or group, and about someone in that culture or group (ex. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi)
  • By and not about – the work is by a member of a specific group or culture, but not about that specific group or culture. (ex. The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats)
  • About but not by – the work is about members of a specific culture or group, but not by a member of that group (ex. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot)

Additionally, books can be classified as “culturally neutral”, “culturally specific”, and “culturally generic”.

I would classify Amber as “by and about” – the same category that I’m trying to read more from. I’d also say that it’s “culturally generic”. It features diverse characters, and the cultures of these characters affect their decisions and reactions to events. Even so, the story is not about African cultures that Amber and Corliss encounter. The story is about their journey to Marai.

One other thing worth noting is that all the characters in the book are Black, even the most minor ones. I thought that was pretty cool. Though I’ve tried to read more diverse books, I’m not sure I’ve ever noted ones that have casts entirely made up of people of color.

When I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Spectacular, one of the interviews I got to watch was a conversation with authors Jason Reynolds and Nic Stone. Along with sharing their writing process, they talked about interacting with kids, Black Lives Matter, and writing diverse books. When talking about doing a reading, Jason Reynolds told this story:

This young kid raised his hand and he said, ‘how come you never write White people in your books?’ …He’s not being sort of provocative, he’s like, ten. This was an earnest question. ‘How come you never write White people in your books?’ And I said, ‘You know, in my world, sometimes I believe it’s okay for Black children to live a life uninterrupted, and that’s fine, you know?’ And then I said, ‘does it bother you?’ And he said, ‘Of course it doesn’t bother me, because they’re not that different from me.’ They’re kids! It’s all the adults who are hung up.

Jason Reynolds, 2020

I’d never thought about it like that, but now that I have, it makes sense. I’m glad I found a book with only Black characters, where they can have their adventure, uninterrupted.

Books I Didn’t Pick: The First Girl Child

Picking out a book for someone else can be a challenging task. Everyone has their personal tastes, and it can be hard to find something that suits that person well. Take me, for example. I love sci-fi, but I couldn’t make it though the sci-fi classic, Dune. Other people love it, but it just wasn’t for me. In this not-so-creatively titled series, “Books I Didn’t Pick”, I’ll be looking at books that were chosen for me, most of which I would probably not pick if left to my own devices. Even so, I try to be open to different writers and genres, hoping to find something new that I enjoy.

For the very first edition of “Books I Didn’t Pick”, we have The First Girl Child by Amy Harmon, which was sent to me as part of a writer’s subscription box.

The First Girl Child was billed as a historical fantasy romance, and I figured that two outta three ain’t bad when it came to genres I was interested in. Reading through it, though, I came to discover that it failed at being any of those things.

Historical fiction isn’t something I got into until I was an adult, but I can appreciate the difficulty of writing it. It needs to feel grounded enough that even if the events and characters never really existed, you believe that they could have happened at some point. As I’m writing this, I recently finished a historical fiction unit for one of my classes, and discovered that I’m very picky about historical fiction that I actually enjoy. It either needs to be from an era I have an interest in, or feature spunky girls going against societal norms. The First Girl Child at least had the former: it’s a story about Vikings!

The First Girl Child takes place on the fictional island of Saylok, home of five fierce Viking tribes. I was here for it: high seas, adventures, shield maidens and fierce warriors. At least, that’s what I wanted to see. I got next to none of that. Viking raids are mentioned in passing, the only female warrior we actually see is almost immediately killed off, and most of the book takes place at the main temple on the island. Instead of seafaring exploits, we get shallow politics that feel like they were lifted from A Song of Ice and Fire without the nuance, or compelling characters to carry it through. Aside from an occasional reference to Odin, there is virtually nothing to separate Saylok’s culture from any other generic Medieval group.

It also bothers me that the author only had the characters pray to Odin or her OC Norse god, Saylok, and completely neglected Freya and the Vanir. The book is centered on the island’s residents being unable to conceive female children, but no one ever has the bright idea to pray to a fertility goddess.

Okay, so the historical fiction element was lacking. Maybe the fantasy aspects would be better? They definitely started out strong. In this world, magic comes from drawing ancient runes, and then activating the runes with blood. In the prologue, Dagmar and his sister Desdemona discover they have “rune blood” after entering a cave with runes carved on the walls. Runes are powerful forms of magic, and Desdemona uses them to curse all of Saylok. She also prophesies that no one but her son will be able to break the curse.

Aside from the set-up, the runes are hardly ever used. Dagmar uses them to pray for protection for Bayr, but they never make a meaningful appearance until the end. Because the runes are underutilized, the resolution felt like a deus ex machina. The book justifies this by saying that rune magic is dangerous, and its secrets are guarded closely. Even so, I’m a bit miffed about the lost potential.

Women were also forbidden from using rune magic. In doing some research for this post, I found that siedh, or a type of Norse magic, was often associated with women rather than men, so there’s another big X in the historical fiction column.

Then last, but not least, comes the romance.

Oh boy, here we go.

I’m not sure how fair it is for me to discuss romance as a genre. I’ve reviewed some romance manga here, but it’s often not something I’ll typically go for. Still, I tried to keep an open mind. Amy Harmon is the author of several romance novels, and she has a following. Thus, I expected the romance between Bayr and Alba to have some of the strongest writing in the book.

The relationship between them just strikes me as rather icky, though. Bayr sees Alba for the first time when she’s an infant and he’s a young child, and immediately says that he loves her. I chose to interpret this as platonic love, because Alba had just been born. It’s not as squicky as, say, Jacob imprinting on Renesmee in Breaking Dawn, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Bayr sees himself as Alba’s protector, and the two have a brother-sister relationship when they’re growing up. Bayr leaves the Temple Mount where they both live when he’s around twelve, and returns years later as and adult man. When he sees Alba again, they are suddenly in love, despite (a) not seeing each other in years and (b) being raised as brother and sister. In fact, Bayr’s lowest point in the book is when he believes Alba to be his biological sister. She isn’t, but it drives the “icky” factor home even more.

Even if I put that aside, I don’t see this as a great romance. There’s no build up; you don’t see them gradually fall in love. They meet, they’re in love, that’s it. Sometimes that’s okay, but we don’t see their relationship grow in any meaningful way. It’s just banal, and what should be the driving force of the book its least interesting aspect.

As far as characters and pacing go…

In my experience, good characters can save a mediocre plot, and vice-versa. I thought the plot itself was fine, though clumsily executed. As far as the characters go…I honestly don’t remember a thing about them. In writing this post, I tried to think of some key traits of each one. Bayr is strong and protective. His uncle, Dagmar, is intelligent and protective. Alba is…demanding of Bayr’s attention? If the only thing I can remember about the heroine of a romance novel is their connection to another character, that’s a problem. Even the antagonist was generically evil in a way that made him neither compelling, nor someone that I loved to hate.

The pacing bugged me. The novel starts with Bayr’s birth, and ends once he (spoiler!) becomes king of Saylok, so it obviously can’t capture every moment of his life in the book’s 400 pages. A lot of Bayr’s life is done in a sort of written montage, with important, specific scenes written out in detail. I think this works well when Bayr’s a kid, but not so much when he’s an adult. Most disappointing for me was when he leaves the Temple Mount where he was raised, and joined his grandfather’s clan. Apart from one scene that depicts his (admittedly badass) initiation into the clan, a lot of his skill and character development during those years is covered in just a few paragraphs. I want to see how he changed from the shy, stammering “Temple Boy” into a leader and warrior, but I never got more than a glance at his journey.

I was obviously pretty disappointed with this book. Even though I have my favorite genres and authors, I like stepping out of my reading comfort zone and trying something new. It can be hit and miss sometimes, and this book was clearly a miss.

I don’t want to end on an entirely negative note, and there were some things I liked about the book. First, despite my complaints, it’s well-written. I may not have cared for the story, but the prose was pretty good. I also think that it started out strong, and the magic system was cool, even if it wasn’t used to its full potential. I also liked the character of Desdemona, despite the fact that she was barely in the story.

In S.R. Ranganathan’s Laws of Library Science, laws 2 and 3 are:

2. Every reader her or his book
3. Every book its reader.

This was not my book, and I was not its reader. But if this sounds like a novel you would enjoy, by all means, check it out! You might be the reader it needs.

Tithe 9: Roiben’s a Jerk

This chapter is full of things that I griped about in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8. This time, however, they’re a bit more justified. This chapter starts from Kaye’s perspective when she meets with the Unseelie queen, and we get to see what being enchanted is like. It makes Kaye feel dopey, but also devoted to the queen, and willing to do anything for her. After agreeing to take part in the Tithe, she is given to Roiben to prepare her for the ceremony. At this point the POV changes to Roiben’s, which I’m actually okay with, because Kaye isn’t lucid enough to make sense of what’s happening around her.

Roiben takes Kaye to his chambers to prepare her for the Tithe, and they have a normal conversation for the first time in the whole book. Every other time they’ve met, Kaye was either saving his life, or commanding him. Here, they just talk about the fae world and books, but without violence or drama.

In retrospect, it strikes me as a little odd that this budding romance so far has been based on Kaye having all the power in their relationship. But it is YA, so that’s to be expected.

The conversation takes a sharp left turn towards Creepytown when Roiben kisses Kaye. At this point, though, she’s still charmed, much like Corny was in the previous chapter. It’s as though she’s drunk, but also programmed to want to please him and the queen. Roiben has a few misgivings about kissing Kaye at first, but he rationalizes them away fairly quickly.

Charmed. He was kissing a charmed girl. [. . .] He wondered what exactly she might think of when her mind was better disposed toward the contemplation of such things. But then, his mind whispered, tomorrow would never come to her, would it? There was only now and if he wanted to kiss her, well, it was only kissing.

Soon after Kaye does give permission to continue kissing her, and Roiben thinks that the enchantment on her has expired. And since we know that Kaye has a crush on him, she was probably fine with it from the start.

What I don’t like about this scene is similar to the problems I had in the previous chapter, which is, of course, consent. It’s more of a gray area here, but what bothers me most is Roiben’s rationalization. He sounds so entitled, that because Kaye’s going to die the next day, he can do whatever he wants with her. That she wants the same thing is almost an afterthought.

To be honest, I really don’t like Roiben much. I don’t see a lot of redeeming qualities in him. What made him attractive to me when I was a teenager was that he was tall, dark, and brooding. But now his self-loathing and constant angst is annoying, and to be honest, I can’t help but wish he would kind of grow up.

She was gazing at the Queen with adoration with an adoration that sickened him. Was that how he had once looked at the Seelie Queen when he had vowed himself to her? He remembered that when his Bright Lady had but once glanced at one of her knights, it was as if the sun shone for that knight alone. His own oath to her had been so easy to say, all the promises he had wanted to make wrapped into those formalized phrases. And he was still doing her bidding now, wasn’t he? He wondered again as he stared into Kaye’s face, as she waited happily for him to betake her into the sunless caverns of the Unseelie palace and pretty her up for her murder, just what was worth the pain of this.

He doesn’t want to see Kaye sacrificed, but even in these critical moments, he’s focusing on his pain, rather than hers. Roiben has every right to be self-loathing, to be depressed. But I feel that by focusing on that right now, he’s missing the bigger picture, and the bigger evil that’s occurring here. He’s focusing on himself rather than Kaye’s impending murder, and uses it as justification to do what he wants with her. Because if she’s going to die tomorrow, it doesn’t matter what she wants.

Tithe 5: Roll Credits!

In this chapter of Tithe, we get some of the answers that both Kaye and the reader have been wondering about. For example, where have Kaye’s faerie friends been, and why did Roiben kill one of them? These are far from the only things Kaye has on her mind when she is awakened at night by Lutie-Loo and Spike, her childhood friends. They take her to see the Thistlewitch, thus far the closest thing Kaye has to a fae mentor.

I really like the variety of Fae in this book, of all different…races? Species? What exactly do you call the different categories of fae? Either way, Lutie is what most people would think when they hear the word “faerie”. She’s small and silly, and flies on iridescent wings. Spike is more feral and rugged, and the less kind of the two. The Thistlewitch has only a minor appearance in the book, but she also has a wild appearance, with reeds and briars covering her.

The Thistlewitch tells Kaye that she is a changeling, or a fae that was glamoured to look like a human, and left in place of a human child. Kaye takes the news surprisingly well at first, saying that it all makes sense, considering her unintentional magic. She gets over the shock pretty quickly, not even bothering to question her friends about her origins. For me, she just accepts it way too easily.

There’s a couple reasons that I’ll give this one a pass though, and the first is that faeries cannot tell lies.Having fae friends during her childhood, Kaye would have likely known about this rule, so she wouldn’t have any reason to disbelieve what they’re saying. The second is that curiosity gets the better of her later in the chapter, and she acts more like a teenager who’s just been told their entire life is a lie.

Later in the night, Kaye does remove her glamour, against the advisement of the Thistlewitch, and discovers what her “true self”, such as it is, looks like. Grass-green, with liquid black eyes and an extra knuckle on each of her fingers. Kaye doesn’t know how to put her glamour back on, and can’t find anyone to help. She winds up finding Corny to help her out. Their friendship might have seemed unlikely, but thinking about it, Corny is the perfect person to go to. He’s a well-established nerd, and if there was anyone I’d want on my side in a situation, it’d be a fantasy geek.

In other words, I may never be a fantasy heroine, but at the very least, I’d be a great genre-savvy sidekick.

The Thistlewitch explains exactly why they had to bring Kaye back to New Jersey and reveal her true nature: She is going to be selected for an Unseelie ritual known as the tithe, in which a mortal is sacrificed by the Unseelie Court of fae. When the ritual is complete, it will bind the fae without a court to the Unseelie Court for…reasons?

There’s a lot of lore in this chapter, and my background as a fantasy geek means that I can keep up with a lot of it. But I was never totally clear on why, exactly, the solitary fae are bound to the Unseelie Court. Even if the Thistlewitch tries to explain:

‘Why do the solitary fey trade their freedom for a human sacrifice?’

‘Some do it for the blood, others for protection. The human sacrifice is a show of power. Power that could force our obedience.’

‘But won’t they just take you back by force then?’

‘No. They must obey the agreement as we do. They are bounded by constraints. If the sacrifice is voided, then we are free for seven years.’

That’s one of the things about fae lore: a lot of it is just ‘because I said so’. It’s one of the things that make them so interesting to write and read about: there are a lot of rules they have to obey, and fae are clever tricksters who find ways to bend those rules without breaking them. This is exactly what’s happening here: the tithe will be performed, but voided once they discover that the sacrifice is a faery, not a mortal.

But I still wish there was a better explanation than that.

Tithe 3: YA Parenting Tips

After a run-in with magic and a literal faerie knight, Kaye’s life returns to the mundane. For the most part, anyway. The majority of this chapter gives us a snapshot of what Kaye’s life looks like now that she’s in New Jersey. There’s only a few hints of otherworldly fae in this chapter at all. The first comes at the beginning of the chapter, when Kaye dreams of the old faerie friends that visited her as a child. It’s a weird and eerie scene, and I’m still not sure what some of the images in it are supposed to represent. But, it’s a dream, and doesn’t have to make sense.

The only other instance of magic is when Kaye receives a note from her old friends, delivered via acorn. The note informs her that one of her fae friends is “gone” and that “everything is danger”.

One thing I realized I liked about this book as that Kaye never really stopped believing in her so-called imaginary friends, Spike, Lutie, and Gristle. When she comes back to New Jersey, she still looks for them and wants them to come see her. Janet has accused Kaye of making up stories about them, saying they weren’t real, but Kaye never says they were fictional. This saves us a lot of time: she doesn’t need to be convinced they are real so that she can start the adventure. There’s no point in denying them, since the reader already knows that this is a fantasy story that will involve faeries at some point.

Throughout the day, Kaye contemplates the note, but mostly ends up daydreaming about Roiben. This is something I would normally give a female protagonist crap for, but I was a sixteen-year-old girl once, doing the same kind of thing. Coming home giddy after finding common ground with a boy and quickly developing crushes were just part of my repertoire of tricks. But I think Kaye is balanced out better than other lovestruck teenage girls in YA novels. Her romance with Roiben is the B-plot of the book, and there’s enough pushing her – finding out what happened to her friend Gristle, for instance – that her story’s interesting, and not all about the boy. So I’ll allow some daydreaming on her part.

And though Kaye acts like a teenager, so does her mother. This is a trend I’ve noticed in YA novels: the majority of the time, the protagonist’s parents are totally incompetent, out of the picture or distant, if they even bother appearing in the story at all.

I paused while writing this to take a look at the YA and middle-grade novels sitting on my bookshelves and think about the protagonists’ parents in each one. In several of them, the parents are dead or mysteriously absent throughout. In fact, the only novel I could find (though I’m sure there are others) which heavily featured parents was The Book Thief, where Liesel’s strong bond with Hans is one of the book’s main themes.

Kaye’s father is absent, but Kaye’s mom doesn’t really fit any of the aforementioned categories. She loves her daughter and stays in her life, but she’s also selfish and immature. She’s been drunk or drinking in all her appearances so far, and still dreams of the day she “makes it” as a musician. She even looks down on old friends who have gone “respectable” by starting a business of their own and leaving music. In some ways, she’s more childish than her teenage daughter. That said, I do like her relationship with Kaye. She obviously cares for her daughter, even if she doesn’t understand just how to take care of her.

I only noticed this trend after a friend (who is also a mom and a YA author) asked just why so many parents are so bad at taking care of the protagonists. That is, if they haven’t died horribly before story begins. The best answer I could come up with is that parents who are really paying attention to their kids lives are not going to let them go off to magical danger zones so they can save the world.

Dead parents are a catalyst for adventure, neglectful parents allow the adventure to happen, and dedicated parents are obstacles.

So if you discover that your child is part of some world-saving prophecy, just leave ’em alone. They’ll be fine.

100 Post Celebration

We’ve made it to the 100th post! I wasn’t sure that I’d make it this far when I started this blog. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it past The Supernaturalist, never mind Eragon. For 100 posts, I’ve cajoled, mocked, praised, and over-analyzed authors’ choices, re-reading through my childhood and adolescence, one chapter at a time. So I decided it’s time to get a taste of my own medicine.

When I was in junior high, I was obsessed with Lord of the Rings. I’d seen the movies multiple times, I tried to teach myself elvish, and I tried my damnedest to read the books. It wasn’t until I got into Return of the King that I realized I hadn’t absorbed a word of the hundreds of pages I’d read.

This did not deter me from writing an entire fanfiction trilogy of my own. I had high hopes for these stories. I thought that someday, Christopher Tolkien would read and publish them, adding them to the Middle-Earth canon. That dream never came true, and for that, every Lord of the Rings fan should be grateful. These stories are truly, truly terrible, and have never seen the light of day.

Until now.

I would like to present to you the first story of my trilogy, which has never been given a title, exactly as I wrote it when I was thirteen years old. To be as true to the original text as possible, all spelling errors, author’s notes, and every embarrassing, canon-defying moment have been left intact. I’ve also added a few footnotes of my own, and hope that you’ll forgive the less than elegant coding for the page jumps.

Please enjoy yourself, and I’m sorry.


Chapter I
The Shire Meeting

“Dear old friends” Aragorn started, and glanced around the room. He was at Sam’s home-Bag end, because the Sackville-Bagginses had decided to move, they gave it back to Frodo, though he had move to the Grey Havens, bought himself a home and gave Bag End to Sam, Rosie and their kids.1

“Dear old friends” said Aragorn again. “I have called you here today because I have a feeling that something involving Sauron and I fear the Shire may be involved.” Gandalf stood up “I know he is right. The Orcs have been acting restless. Several travellers disappeared while leaving Bree. The Orcs are moving closer to Hobbiton.”

Legolas stood up. “Saroun was destroyed. Without him, the orcs can stop. they won’t have enough to take over anything larger than a sheep farm.”2

Gandalf sighed. “I wish it was true, but if Orcs can take over Moria against the dwarves, they could take over Hobbiton very easily.”

Frodo asked, in a very small voice, “Why?”

“I think you know the reason.” Gandalf said.

Chapter II
Alarming News

In the next few months, The Fellowship came in and out of the Shire, to check up on things, make sure everything was normal. After 3 months, Rosie was very tired from cleaning up muddy Ranger’s footprints, and asked if they could talk outside, please. Auttom was on its way, so the days were warm, the nights, cool.

Soon, after one prittcularly crisp, Auttum day, Gandalf rode in with alarming news.

“The orcs have two stations, one is 12 miles from the end of the Anrion and the other is too small to locate. I think, we should move, they are indeed seeking revenge for their strength.”

Rosie exploded. “Samwise Gamgee! How dare you leave me, again! I don’t care where you’re going except that it’s away from us, your family.

Sam embraced her. “I’m sorry I’m always leaving home. Rosie, I promise, that soon, everything will be alright.”

Chapter III
A new Arival

As they left the Shire, A small hobbit appeared. She seemed to be about 33, though a bit short for her age. She had dark hair, a few inches shorter than Rosie’s, which looked slightly wet. She had a green dress and white apron on, not to mension a white hankerchief on her head. When she saw the Fellowship, she ran up to them and just started Gabbing.

“Hello! I’m Tigerlily Underwood. You know, Acutlualy, we used to live in the Shire. Are you going on an adventure? You’re all packed. Can I come, please. It will only take a moment to get me my things. I really love adventure, even if it is odd. I was born here, and I don’t travel often. Won’t be more than a mouth, will it?” But the “it” was never heard. She was off, and came back a moment later like she said, in traveling clothes, on a pony she called Daisey.

“Fine.” Aragorn sighed. “Keep this sword close.” he said as he tossed her one. The fellowship stared. “Never know when you might need an extra.” Aragorn shrugged. Soon, they were off to Bree.3

Chapter IV
The Road to Bree

Heading to Bree should have been easy, even with Tigerlily, but it wasn’t. They had been traveling off the road where they found a strange creature eating berries. He was blue, and had dark blue stripes across his back. His beak was orangeish-yellowish with talons on his feet. He had gigantic wings, but was small enough for a hobbit to ride. The wings were cloud colored-greyish and white. Because they were so huge on him, it looked as if a breeze could carry him away. His eyes were the most amazing thing about him. They held a fiercness in him that no one could see in him anywhere else. The fire in his heart was seen through his eyes. He could probably paralyze a mouse with that stare. But right now, his fiery eyes were closed and he was almost smiling, if his beak would allow a smile, and the creature was happily munching berries off the bush.4</sup

“MOVE!” Legolas yelled and pushed the creature out of the way and the creature snarled at him, but not after a speeding orc arrow hit a tree Then the creature attacked. Flying high, he hit the orcs with such force, Sam seeing Tigerlily fumbling with her sword, showed her an old tecqnique of his-hitting the orc on the head with a frying pan. In the end, only one group remained – It was the fellowship. Legolas looked for the creature and saw it at his feet. The creature told Legolas his name was Griffith, and he’d be honored to do anything for him. Legolas asked him something that Griffith could not expect. Legolas had asked him to join the Fellowship, for Legolas could see that he was brave, snarling at the king of Mirkwood, and that his aggresiveness and fiernces meant that he would be good in battle. Tigerlily walkes around for a bit, thinking. What kind of Adventure was this, full of killing? And yet, as she looked at Griffith, returning to the berry bush to eat while everyone else sat down, she knew this adventure could be full of saving, too.

Chapter V
In Bree

As the fellowship walked into Bree Pippin didn’t even need to ask if they could stop at The Prancing Pony. They were worn out by battle, and Pippin wanted a pint.5 After they got rooms, They explored the bar. Tigerlily wandered into a quieter section, looking for someplace to practice her letters and writing words. She had been taught them, but still needed to practice them.6 The quietset corner had grim men smoking thier pipes and talking almost in whispers. It was too dimly lit to even practice letters and  word, but she kept wandering it, until she saw a piano sitting in a corner and so she began to play it. Her song began:

I have a gift for you
My love
No time or distance can separate us now.
We have become
the beauty of one
love.

The song continued for sevral more verses. Each verse was written by Tigerlily with Passion for her love of music and her younger sister – Saphire, and for her future husband.

She had become so entranced in her song, that she did not notice the bar had become quiet, nor that Pippin had approached her.

When she back to reality, she looked at Pippin.

“I…uh I really think your singing is good”

“Thanks Pip.”

“Well, we’ll be over there, Tigerlily.”

In the morning, Pippin could think of nothing else. As Sam, Merry, and Frodo went down for breakfast, he hardly paid attention to what he was eating. All he could think of was her.

After packing and leaving Bree Aragon annonuced to the Fellowship that they would pass the night at Weathertop. Frodo didn’t look too excited.

Chapter VI:
Weathertop

The fellowship walked up to Weathertop, and with some suprise noticed a small fire on top of it. “Legolas, what do you see?” Gimli asked.

“Someones up there. We should find another place to spend the night.”

“Tch! It’s jut an elf! and one with light eyes, at that. He won’t turn on us.” Griffith landed. “These wings make no sound.”

They were on top of Weathertop. The elf already there was gone, however, his fire was still there, so Legolas scowled the idea that the mystrious elf was still here.

Legolas knew him on sight. He looked like The mystrious elf’s sister. His father had drawn a picture of the mystrious elf’s family line, complete with pictures for all of them. Legolas couldn’t belive what he was seeing–Beoran.7

Before Legolas was born, his father fell in love with a beutiful elf maiden, yet she was a loner. Her whole family was. A loner is an elf who travels alone – they live in no villages, cities, or towns of elves, except by themselves or with small family groups. Loners are looked down upon by other elves, especially from Rivendell.

Now, Beorans sister was ready to move in Mirkwood and start her life as queen. Legolas’ father (seince killed in battle) was head over heels for her. As she was getting ready to move in, her brother reached out to her. He needed help. He had been hurt badly in battle, Sauron was rising, and asked his sister to tend to him. After two years she went back to Mirkwood, but was killed by a band of orcs along the way. Legolas had never know she was trying to come back, All he knew was that she broke his father’s heart by not returning, and so, he figured that Beoran was the reason she dumped his dad. If Beoran was here, it could mean trouble…for Beoran.8

 Chapter VII:
Beoran

“What are you doing here?” aske Legolas

“Do I know you? relpieded Beoran

“Not by name. I am the elf king of Mirkwood, but no need to ask who you are. Muddy clothes, and alone. You are a loner. You have a sister, and your name is Beoran.”

“Yes Legolas I had a sister, And if you took the time to verify the facts, you may have found the truth. My sister was trying to go back to Mirkwood, yet with Saraun rising, the road can become too dangerous fore a lone elf.” Beoran repled, and Legolas said

“She did not have enough courage for the one she loved!” Legolas and Beoran were circling each other, Legolas pratically spitting.

“No, Legolas, she braved the road to come home – to Mirkwood, but couldn’t”

Legolas opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t say anything because someone was calling him over for dinner.9</sup

Chapter VII:
That Night

“So, who’s your friend?” Sam asked while serving susages.

“Not a friend-just someone I knew. I thought it would be polite to talk to him.”

Soo while they were slepping, Beoran heard a muffled scream.  He was away from the group, but from what he could see, only nine people were slepping over there. Someone was missing. Beoran sat bolt upright. Someone was missing, and noticed something he had not before. It was a crude building, made of sticks and branches with two floors. each had one room.

The two orcs made Tigerlily run to the crude building, which smelled really bad. In the first room, There was a chair and a desk. The two orcs bound her hands behind the chair, not with rope, but with nettles. Finally a tall orc stepped in. He had a great need for some braces, tic-tacs, a shower, a shampoo, and a fashion designer.

“So halfling.” He said in a rough gravelly voice.

“Curse you – curse every halfling! Halfling used to mean nothing. Now Haflings have destroyed the Ring, Destroyed Saroun, destroyed our STRENGTH! Where are you going?” He bellowed.

“I-I don’t know” Tiger Lily responded in a trembling voice.

“Well, let’s give you a night to think about it” He cut the nettle-rope and called two orc gards the led her down into a dongeon. The denugen was actuttaly a hole in the ground, underneath the building. There were bars on the stairs lead up so no one could escpae.

Oh my God, I drew a picture.

Tigerlily leaned on one of the earthen walls and sighed

Suddenly someone emreged from a showdy corner. It was an elf, dark hair, but light color eyes. “My name is Beoran. I’ve come to help you.”

Soon they both were running up to Weathertop. When they got there, Breathless, Tigerlily tried to explain what the orc had told her.

“So it is true then.” Aragorn said. “But they will try to destroy the hobbits before the elves can destroy the orcs. The elves are regaining their former strength,  But the Orcs are losing it. We must go back to the Shire.”10

Chapter VIII
Return to the Shire

They rode as fast as they could to the Shire. As long as they got there, Sam felt, that Rosie and his family would be safe. He urged Bill on.11

They raced to Hobbiton. The sun was sinking in the west. No hobbits were out. The ground was muddy and dirty. The only plants that grew were nettles and pricker-bushes. Doors were broken and windows were smashed. Hundreds of hobbit feet made footprints in the mud. The holes were disgusting, the broken windows, pieces of furniture on the streets. Were hobbits in those holes? Where was Rosie? But the most disturbing thing was not the nettles or the mud, but it was an old pigpen, with hundreds of child hobbit footprints.

Chapter IX
The Discovery of the Hobbits

The hobbits dismounted, Sam pratically crying. He was the only one married w/kids, and he had promised Rosie everything would be fine.

“Run!” Beoran urgently whispered. But it was too late the orcs had come upon them Beoran, Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Tigerlily, but Sam tripped over a root and twisted his ankle.

He fell down and got back up. He started running, yet very slowly. Sam reached for his sword, but the orcs grabbed it first and tossed it away. Then they dragged him back to Hobbiton.

Frodo was fighting Aragorn’s arm, restraning him. Frodo fought, but Aragorn’s arm was just too strong. Frodo finally had to give. “We must go back tomorrow, before sunrise.

Aragon promised Frodo they would.

Chapter X
The Rescue, The Elves, Rivendell

Finally it was morning and before sunrise The fellowship and Beoran snuck into a building, which was made of mud. Branches on the inside gave it shape.

Inside there were strange little beds where all the hobbits were sleeping on.

Beoran and Legolas snuck in quietly, not saying a word to one another and took a sleeping Sam out and to where the rest of the fellowship was.

When Sam woke, at sunrise he looked, not relived, but worried or even scared. “Please, Rosie’s still there. We have to save her!”

The fellowship & Beoran would be hoplesssly outnumbered to take out an army on there own, even w/11 companions. Anyway, they had to try.

The orcs were getting the hobbits ready for a day of work at the mill.

The fellowship rode into hobbiton. Pretty soon the hobbits were amazed to hear horses’ feet and then saw the commanding orc heaad get copped off. Suddenly the battle broke out! There were so many orcs pratically all the hobbits save Sam, Frodo, Merry, Pip, and Tigerlily ran for cover – not in the mud building, but in their old holes. But More orcs just kept coming. It was wall 11 to hundreds.

They had pratically all lost hope until Beoran gave a small gasp.

Miles away, three beutiful elf maidens stood in a line, clapped their hands once and then put them next to each other’s hands, touching them. They all were whispering something.

Suddenly a blue flash occured, and then imdeatly after that there was a yellow flash and a green flash. Soon all the orcs lay dead.

“Who did this?” muttered Gimli.

“Three elf maidens. I saw them” said Beoran.

Legolas didn’t belive him. “I was looking in the same direction, and I saw no one.”

“Legolas,” Beoran said “You do not live alone. When you do live alone, the only person who can look out for you is yourself.”

The hobbits in the Shire were free, but now the beutiful Shire was full of mud and junk. No one could make the plants grow back quickly.

Soon, these three elf maidens Beoran saw came. Their bare feet made footprints in the mud, which produced small sprouts where they were seconds later.

Legolas and Beoran knew at once they were elves from Above. Elves from above lived higher than Middle earth – some people said they lived in cloulds. They could call the sun, clouds, snow, and rain, and they could heal almost anything just by touching it.

The first one started to whisper to they sky in an anhiet form of elvish. She had long, dark brown hair and sea-green eyes. She wore a white dress tinted with light green. After whispering to the clouds a gentle rain came down on the ground, and young plants popped up.

The second elf had shoulder length golden hair. She had bright green eyes and began to whisper to the ground. The young plants grew. Trees grew trunks. Flowers grew buds grass popped up.

The last one had bright blue eyes and rich, auburn hair.

She wispered to all the young plants, and all of them began to grow as fast as she could speak. Weeds grew up faster, but died seconds after they group up. There were no weeds in the Shire anymore. Also the hobbits became more alive.

“Sam! Sam!” Rosie came running towards them.

Sam embraced her and said, “Don’t you rember? I said everything would be okay.”

As the color returned to the stricken faces, someone finally asked the mystrious elves “Who are you?”

The elf who called the rain said “I am Falmarin (name meaning: Sea Spirit) I come from the Lands Above. My closest friends, more like my sisters, have come for a year of training, unless we have reason to stay.”

The elf who whispered to the ground said “I am Wenval” (name meaning: powerful maiden)

The last one said “And I am Erlant” (name meaning: lone bridge)

Then she said “The Shire is now protected. No orc dares to touch what the elves from the Lands Above touches or heals. Please, go quickly. There are other places that need protection.” However, it was getting late, so Sam suggested they spend the night in the Shire, and go first thing in the morning.

Legolas and Erland stayed up half the night, giggling, talking, even a bit of shameless flirting here and there.

After a few more hours, Legolas fell in love, but Erlant only liked him-liked him. She wasn’t ready for love yet. Soon they agreed to go to sleep, but not before Legolas whispered “I love you.” In her ear. Suddenly Erlant new why she couldn’t love him… yet.

“I can only love you back when you fully trust your companions.”

Falmarine, Wenval, and Erlant left before anyone else did. The fellowship and Beoran head out at sunrise. The plan to ride straight into Rivendell, and all the elves have moved back, becaus they felt so secure about the ring being destroyed.

It took them two days and one night to get to Rivendell. THey were going at breakneck speed, Shadowfax leading. Oh well, Bill was getting chubby.

At Rivendell they all had a great feast in a grand hall, and Elrond mostly hung around Aragon, asking how Arwen was and his kids.

“They’re Twins. And they’re all beatiful.”

They stayed for four days before They left. When they left, They were presented with cloaks that would stop them from frezzing to death or getting frostbitten as they crossed Cardaras.

Chapter XI:
Cardaras

The cloaks were much needed as it was very cold. They prett much decided not to go to the Mines of Moria for obvious reasons. Legolas and Beoran were especially helpful. Snow was thicker this time of year, so the elves (Elves rock my socks!) finally picked up the hobbits, and Aragorn also carried one.

Frezzing, they trudge up the mountain. Until they saw something odd. It was a building on a wide ledge. They decided to not stop becase no one knew who lived there.

They were stopped anway, by a strange looking creater. It was black and had for yellow rings around its stomach. It was like a large dog, with floppy ears and tough paws.12</sup It pratically forced them back to the building. They fell throug the backdoors.

Inside the building it was warm and dry. The creaturs offered the fellowship food, which they all refused — just for safety.

The creatures wouldn’t let them leave until the next morning.

No one knew it, but the creatures were Narions, who could be very ferocus, but most of the time were kind and hospitable, and the reason Gandalf made the stay a night was because they would be very offended if they dared to refuse it.

As they began their desent down the mountain, they saw Falmarin, Wenval, and Erlant. Wenval said, “Be careful and alert. There are orcs nerbye, perhaps marching up the mountain at this very moment. They wouldn’t come up this high, but still…” Frodo pulled out sting. It was faintly glowing around the edges. Soon, Falmarin, Wenval, and Erlant departed.

After one mile, Sting was bright blue. Frodo had been constantly checking it. Everyone got there weapons ready – including Tigerlily, as she had gotten a bit more handy with a sword.

The orcs surronded them – about twenty in all. Suddenly, Beoran and Griffith were gone. “Knew he wasn’t one of us.” muttered Legolas. Griffith did a nice little sky-dive body slam combo, but Beoran was truly with the fellowship. He had just went to a higher place than the others. It was safer, and he could aim better. Soon there was not an orc standing.

The fellowship came down the mountain, the first place they even thought of going was Lorian.

“Greetings from Lorian.” Said Galdrel, yet it was not the Galdriel they rembered. She had a scar around her left ankle and Celeborn was no where to be seen.

Beoran went to talk to her later that night. “Please, what is wrong? You can tell me.”

“Oh, Beoran.” She sobbed on his shoulder. “Oh, Beoran. He’s gone. I can’t belive it. He’s gone. He’s gone. He had to go out.”13

“It’s alright, it is. I lost my dear sister the same way. Trust me. Everything will be fine. I promise.”

Chapter XII:
The Final Battle

Galdreil smiled at him and squezzed his hand. Her eyes shone. “Oh, Beoran.” Was all she said.

* * *

Every night, Beoran went to talk to Lady Galdriel. She loved to hear of his adventures. She always had. On the third night, however, she gave him a hug to say goodnight. On the fourth night, however, instead of saying good night, she asked him to stay and look at the orc base for her. It was pretty hard to see because it very far away and it was night. this is what he could see:

“The orcs fortress has two doors. There are dark shapes being handed out from the lower door. The look like swords but there are some bows. Many of the swords are being dipped in a bucket.”

“They are preparing for battle” Galdriel said.

* * *

It was true. The next night war crys were heard and thousand of feet and armor.

Not that Lorian was unprepared. They had two lines – one in front and one in behind them. Also, the Narions had heard by the wind that Lorian may be attacked, so they all headed there to help the fellowship by delaying the elves from battle.

The fellowship was surprisingly in neither of these lines, as they were heading to the end of the great river. It had now been twenty-four hours seince Beoran had aroused14 them from sleep and told everyone to get ready, Legolas muttering something about “untrustworthy git” yet they all were praying in there mind that the fight was still on.

* * *

They banked there boats and continued on foot, Aragon leading, until at exactly 12 miles from The great River they saw a fortress. It was made of round stones and mud. A medium sized mound lay in front of it. It had pink and blue flowers spouting up from it and woods behind it. Why the orcs did not touch this area remains a mystery.

Beoran said “they have one last source of strength. It lies in shadows in the dungeon. Be on your gurd. Orcs don’t all battle at the same time.”

* * *

 Soundlessly they crept through the earthenware corridors into the dark dungeons of the rock fortress and down to a far cornor in the back. Suddenly, the fellowship heard a scream coming from an upper room. Someone was in trouble! The fellowship could either go up or stay down. Legolas and Beoran went straight up. The knew what the others did not–The scream came from an elf maiden.

The fellowship followed Aragorn and Gandalf down a shadowy hole to the next level. In a showdy corner, There was a black and red glowing ball that seemed to be floating.

* * *

As Legolas and Beoran climbed and reached the exit, Beoran was behind him when he suddenly pushed Legolas down on his face. Beoran let him up a few seconds later.

Legolas turned around to see an arrow in the building, for Beoran saw what Legolas did not. Legolas saw Beoran get up and rushed over to his side “Thank you, Beoran. I can now truly trust you.”

* * *

The glowing ball had an axe, several swords, and Gandalf’s staff pointing at it. Gandalf whispered something to the ball and it devolped cracks and glew w/a fiercness not yet seen. “NOW!” He yelled and everyone stuck their weapon in. Gandalf whispered again. The ball vibrated, rubbing off on the weapons until they could hardly be held then

POW!

The ball exploded with blinding flashes and all the orcs turned to ash. And the wind blew the ashes away into the sea.

* * *

Legolas and Beoran were still searching for the screamer.

She came running to them, her dress drenched with blood–black and red. She came gasping to Legolas and fell at his feet. He lifted her up.

He almost cried when he discovered it was Erlant. He picked her up and ran to the mound. He set her down there. “Now I can finally love you.” she said, and kissed him.

Falmarin and Wenval came running towards him. “Please, Legolas, give her to us. She’ll die if she stays here.” It was Wenval.

“Legolas, please. If you truly love her, you will give her to us. Its the only way she will evr live.” That was Falmarin.

Trying hard not to cry he carried Erlant’s almost dead body to Falmarin and Wenval. They disappeared and Legolas was left alone. All that was left was sparkles.

Legolas took his golden arrow that Lady Galdriel had given him and stuck it into the ground where Erlant had laid. He bent down and cried. He cried and cried until Beoran came. The mound now had a name. It was Teardrop Mound. And Legolas had given it that name.

* * *

Legolas slept–a lot. He rarely ate. He often took long walks when he wasn’t sleeping, usually around the boats, as if he was toying with the idea of going to Tearddrop mound. One morning Beoran wasn’t surprised he was gone. He looked and saw Legolas sleeping near the mound. Beoran saw that he was not alone. Falmarin was with him, rubbing his back. Soon all Beoran could see were sparkles and Legolas waking up.

He got in the boat and rowed back to Lorian. When he returned the next morning, the first thing he did was ask for breakfast.

THE END

1. This story breaks canon not on the first page, but in the first paragraph. [Return]
2. How do you spell “Sauron” right in one paragraph and not in the next? And why a sheep farm? What kind of example his that? [Return]
3. Wait, what? Who is this random hobbit and why do they take her with them? [Return]
4. It’s probably worth noting that this character was based on the Eyrie neopet, because I was 12. [Return]
5. I was too young to know that pints were the standard beer size. [Return]
6. I wanted to show off that I knew hobbits learned to cook before they learned to read, but couldn’t figure out that adult hobbits wouldn’t need to “practice their letters”. [Return]
7. I sincerely thought “Beoran” was an original name when I wrote this, even though I’d read The Hobbit just a year before writing this nonsense. [Return]
8. That’s it. I will never write anything better than the story of Thranduil’s love life. Please consider this my retirement from fiction. [Return]
9. This is how I end all my confrontations. By going to dinner. [Return]
10. Here’s the thing: I knew that the elves had all left for the Grey Havens. I just chose to ignore it. [Return]
11. Likewise, I knew that Bill the Pony had not been in the picture for some time, but refused to write him out. [Return]
12. Let’s not kid ourselves. I wanted to have umbreons in this story but change it just enough so they were original. [Return]
13. Oh, and Celeborn is dead because no canon is sacred in this terrible, terrible story. [Return]
14. “Aroused” doesn’t always mean the same thing as “roused”, but I didn’t know that at the time. This could have been a very different chapter if I had. [Return}

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Some time ago, I did a review for An Ember in the Ashes, with a one-sentence review for each chapter. I had a lot of fun with it, so I thought I would bring a similar format (with a couple added sentences) back for Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krüeger. Spoilers ahead.

The novel follows Bailey Chen, a recent college graduate ready to flex her new business degree. She’s not exactly taking Chicago by storm, though, instead working as a lowly barback in The Nightshade Lounge, owned by her best friend’s uncle. While closing up the bar one night, she discovers that cocktails, when made exactly right, grant the drinker magical abilities. Bartenders, like her friend Zane, imbibe these drinks to fight off monsters called tremens, demons that prey on drunks. Bailey eventually joins the ranks of the bartenders, mixing magical drinks and fighting demons while navigating her career and the politics of Cupbearer’s Court.

Last Call is a fun romp through Chicago, and there’s plenty of humor throughout the book. There’s some funny and self-aware moments that really made me smile. Some of the jokes do fall flat, particularly the character Bucket’s Canadian pride. The gag goes on so long that “Canadian” becomes Bucket’s one and only character trait, culminating into the reveal that his van has a huge Canadian flag on the side. I wanted to laugh at this, but after 90 or so pages of Canadian jokes, it just got old.

I was a little wary about a female protagonist being written by a male author, because it’s not uncommon for men to write women very poorly. This could be anything from oversexualizing female characters, having goals that only center around men, being a ditzy doormat, or just being a boring badass. (If you really want some entertaining examples, search “describe yourself like a male author would” on Twitter). I was pleased that I didn’t encounter any of these pitfalls. Bailey’s smart, ambitious, and she’s not afraid to take risks to do what she thinks is right. She makes mistakes and has to learn from them. Ultimately, her tenacity is what lets her triumph over her supernatural and mundane adversities.

The love triangle was far more problematic for me. Bailey develops a crush on Zane, who she had hooked up with once shortly after her high school graduation. Zane, however, has already found love with his fellow bartender, Mona. Mona is serious and quiet, and…that’s about it. The problem with this love triangle is that it doesn’t challenge the reader. The story structure is pretty predictable, so we can already guess that Bailey and Zane will end up together. What solidifies this, even before the end of the book, is just how boring Mona is. She’s great at killing demons, but she doesn’t share any of the characters’ excitement, or their interest for making a legendary Long Island Ice Tea. Mona had the potential to be a really intriguing character, but just ends up being flat and dull.

Because Mona is so boring and at times downright unlikable, there’s no reason for the reader to want to see her stay with Zane. The love triangle is cut and dry. We all know how it ends long before Bailey and Zane kiss.

Overall, though, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a fun, light read, for anyone who likes cocktails and magic.

Now, the (mostly) one-sentence chapter breakdown!

Prologue: Is the cop going to show up again, or is this just in media res for no reason?

Chapter 1: The writing is actually funny, if a bit predictable.

Chapter 2: Hooray, the main character knows what the audience should have already known just by reading the back of the book.

Chapter 3: It’s moving pretty simply so far: Call to Adventure, Meeting with the Mentor and now answering the Call to Adventure.

Chapter 4: I’m hoping that the love triangle becomes somewhat more interesting, but I’m not holding my breath.

Chapter 5: Finally, we get to see Bailey fail at something!

Chapter 6: I’ll forgive the kiss because adrenaline makes us do crazy things, but I really doubt Bailey hasn’t seen Zane since high school.

Chapter 7: Good, an escape from the love triangle.

Chapter 8: The author does a good job making sure that Bucket being transgender is no big deal, but never stops reminding you that he’s Canadian.

Chapter 9: Okay, this was pretty awesome.

Chapter 10: How does Zane make the leap from “we just fought off an army” to “we need to make the alcoholic version of a philosopher’s stone”?

Chapter 11: The stuff at Bailey’s interview is funny, but could the book yell, “these guys are douchebags” any louder?

Chapter 12: I don’t know if I should complain about Mona’s blandness here, or the obvious foreshadowing that she’s probably immortal.

Chapter 13: Man, it’s awfully convenient that the person trying to brew the McGuffin is giving Bailey a job interview.

Chapter 14: Vincent’s my favorite, but being the mentor character, he’s about to get written off.

Chapter 15: YOU KILLED THE DOG?!

Chapter 16: Curious how Vincent thinks Bailey stabbed Bowie in the back by…using what he taught her to accidentally stumble on a devastating secret that will get people killed if she doesn’t do anything about it?

Chapter 17: I want to appreciate the Sailor Moon reference in this chapter, but Tuxedo Mask doesn’t wear an actual tuxedo. He wears a white dinner suit, which is one of the many reasons why Tuxedo Mask is just the worst.*

Chapter 18: Oh no, whoever thought the boring, stoic, and mysterious Mona would be the bad guy. Gasp.

Chapter 19: After watching Bailey kick ass throughout the book, she needs to get saved by someone at the last minute.

Chapter 20: Oh my God, Bucket. You’re Canadian. We get it.

*This is the most pedantic thing I’ve ever written, but seriously. Get your shit together, Tuxedo Mask.

Eragon: Final Thoughts

Sometimes, after watching a bad movie or reading a bad book, I like to think about what could improve it. If there was one thing I would change about the movie The Warriors, for example, I would have cast younger actors. Not even necessarily better actors, but younger.

As I read through Eragon, I wondered what might the the one thing I that could have been done differently to improve the book. Most of my complaints about the book were related to its characters. The majority of the cast just wasn’t interesting or sympathetic. But saying “make the characters suck less” is much too broad of a generalization. “Give Eragon a personality” is better, but I came upon something truly befitting the spirit of Eragon.

A formulaic story needs some formulaic improvement. As it stands, Eragon isn’t a well-developed character; he’s just reaction. To give him some depth and make him more relatable, my suggestion would have Eragon go through the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief. Eragon loses so much over the course of the book: his uncle, his home, and his mentor.

When Garrow and Brom are killed, Eragon cries a lot and tries to honor the deceased. Then he adds their names to the list of reasons to kill the Ra’zac. And…that’s kind of it.

But if you’ve ever lost someone that you care about, you know the grief doesn’t just go away. It’s surreal, there’s a pain you can’t describe, and it never really goes away. Not totally.

Or, as Lemony Snicket put it so perfectly:

It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.

It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.

We’ll start off with denial. To summarize, denial is when you can’t believe that the loss really happened. Suddenly your world is flipped upside down.

Denial can be over in hours; it can last for days. Looking back through the book, it seems like Eragon skips this stage entirely. In fairness, when Garrow and Brom die, there is a sense of urgency, and he can’t take the time to fully process what’s happened. And while we see him cry, we don’t see him shocked, or numb.

But let us see him turn ahead, thinking he saw Brom out of the corner of his eye. Let him believe, however falsely, that someday he can return to his home village a hero. Then the true weight of his loss becomes apparent and tangible to the reader.

Next in the Kubler-Ross stages of grief is Anger. Anger in grief can be directed at anyone and anything: yourself, your family, a co-worker, God. Since Eragon’s first instinct is to vow revenge on the Ra’zac who killed Garrow and Brom, he’s kind of got this one in the bag. But we could do more with it.

What if, instead of just vowing revenge, Eragon turns his anger towards Saphira? After all, without her, Garrow wouldn’t have been killed. Maybe if she hadn’t been so scared of the Ra’zac and stayed to fight them, he would still be alive. Or if she’d tried to fight them after she and Eragon were captured, instead of giving in? These are questions that Eragon will never know the answer to. He lashes out at his dragon, his closest companion who has done everything in her power to protect him. He blames her for their deaths, wants to send her away. But their minds are connected forever, all the while Saphira tries to remain close to Eragon, no matter how he claims he hates her. That is something that I would like to read.

Next, we move on to bargaining. Bargaining might be easier to understand from the perspective of someone who’s dying, or someone whose loved one is in the process of dying. “God, if you let me get out of this one, if you let me live until Christmas, if you give me a few more years, I’ll do whatever you want.” After a loss, bargaining can manifest itself in regrets and “if onlys”. If only I had prayed harder, if only I’d really given the doctors a piece of my mind, if only my actual dragon hadn’t run away or surrendered so quickly. This could easily feed into the hypothetical anger Eragon might have had towards Saphira nicely.

After bargaining is depression. This is probably what most people think of when they hear the word “grief”. Depression is sadness, but it also runs deeper than that. Depression is a feeling of hopelessness, where every day can be a struggle to get out of bed. It steals away your energy and replaces it with feelings of worthlessness. People tell you to keep your chin up, but you can’t see a way out.

Depression sucks, and it’s hard to shake. It’s also not often considered socially acceptable for men to express depression and sadness. In fact, it’s not uncommon for depression to manifest in men as anger, because anger is an “acceptable” emotion for men to display.

This would make adventuring pure hell. Eragon accepts that he and Saphira couldn’t do anything to save Garrow and Brom, and understand that there is nothing that can bring them back. He is apologetic for his anger at Saphira. But he begins to see himself as helpless. After all, he’s the first new Dragon Rider in decades, and yet he can’t protect a small village. Should he continue this journey, or just cut his losses and go somewhere no one can find him, away from the Empire? Every day is a struggle to continue towards the Varden. Because, surely, they’ll see how weak he is, that Saphira should have chosen someone else to be her Rider. He keeps these feelings of inadequacy quiet, but Saphira knows how they trouble him. Despite all the times he’s lashed out at her, she stands by him, reassuring him that she made the right choice, offering him the support he needs to get through this dark time.

As we come to the book’s climax, Eragon also begins to reach the stage of acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean that Eragon’s “okay” with his losses or has somehow overcome the pain of them. It means he acknowledges that Garrow, Brom, and that his life will have to go on without them. As he battles with the Varden against the Urgals, Eragon thanks Brom for his training and guidance, without which he wouldn’t have made it far. He can think of his home, knowing he can never truly return, but also knowing that when he fights against the Empire, he is fighting for Carvahall. When the battle is over, he can look back at all the things he’s learned, and will grow from it. After contact with Oromis, who will become Eragon’s next teacher, he is able to re-emerge from his grief know that there is a future.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I would improve Eragon.

Eragon 60: The End

This is it.

We made it, guys. We did it.

Nearly 500 pages and a couple unplanned hiatuses later, Eragon is finally finished.

I would normally call for a celebration at this point, but after the trials that Eragon and I both faced getting to the end of the story, I’m not sure a party isn’t what we need. No, the proper way to send off Eragon is with a stiff drink and quiet contemplation of what we’ve been through.

Or I could just review the final chapter like normal, I guess.

Eragon has finally killed Durza, and the Shade’s memories and mind flow into his. He struggles to separate himself from Durza, “weakly at first, and then more strongly”. This being the last chapter, I promise not to fuss too much about the adverb abuse in that sentence. Instead, I’ll just say this: ick.

Eragon then receives a telepathic message from “The Mourning Sage” or “the Cripple Who Is Whole”, but this mysterious person never gives Eragon his actual name, just his titles. It bugs me a little bit. Why keep your name a secret?

It’s Oromis, by the way. His name is Oromis. Was that hard?

Oromis tells Eragon that he and Saphira need to travel to the elven land, Ellesméra, and promises him answers to all Eragon’s questions. Then he instructs Eragon to stay quiet about talking with him. Which again, I have to ask, why?

I don’t really remember how the group decides to bring Eragon to Ellesméra in the second book, but if Eragon’s not allowed to talk about Oromis, it could be really awkward.

“Let’s go to the elves!”
“Eragon, why are you suddenly insistent on going to the elves?”
“You know…dragon…stuff…”

At this point Eragon knows almost nothing about Oromis or Ellesméra. I’m sure one of his companions would love to help him out and give him more information, but he’s supposed to keep it secret.

Eragon’s reunion with Saphira after the battle did make me smile, but for the most part, this chapter is just a lot of talking heads. Arya, Saphira, and Murtagh explain the results of the battle, but no one has any real emotion. Arya looks sad again, but that’s about it.

Yeah, this is what I want at the end of my exciting action-adventure story. Bland summaries of the cool stuff we didn’t get to see. The book doesn’t even end on a satisfying note. Just having it end after Eragon kills Durza would be great. You could have a heartwarming reunion with his friends, they sum up the battle, and then look hopefully towards the future together. But we get the introduction of another character, with Eragon pledging to go see this person we know nothing about.

But for sixty chapters, I’ve mocked, ridiculed, and occasionally yelled at this book. But I want to give Eragon and its author, Christopher Paolini, some credit. It really wasn’t all bad; I think there are very few books that are 100% terrible. I can see how it would appeal to teenage fantasy lovers, like it did to me so many years ago.

There are things that Paolini did well over the course of the story, and I want to acknowledge that. First, he put a huge amount of effort into worldbuilding and lore, and it paid off. Sometimes it did get a bit bloated, but it also made me seriously consider finishing reading the series. I still want to know what the Vault of Souls is!

Paolini’s descriptions, particularly of flying, were great as well. Like the lore, sometimes it could drag on for too long, but it was never difficult to visualize the various settings. A lot of the action sequences were clear and easy to follow, and had I not read them before, would probably be pretty exciting.

The storyline was formulaic, but even a generic plot can be saved by great characters. This is the real problem with Eragon: most of the characters have no personality of their own, and rarely stand out.

To be totally honest, this novel is an achievement for a teenage writer, and was way better than anything I could have come up with at that age. And it was perfect for me as a fifteen-year-old reader, who loved escaping to a world of dragons and magic.

You know, the last Eragon book came out at least five years ago. I wonder what Paolini’s working on now…

Eragon 58-59: They Did Something Smart!

I need to take a moment to applaud both our heroes and our villains for doing something smart for a change. The Varden discovers that Urgals are planning to attack their stronghold by coming up from the tunnels that run under the mountain. They respond with some strategic planning, including collapsing several tunnels so they can control where the Urgals will come out.

Even Eragon is relatable. Unlike the other fights in the book, this is the first battle that he has forewarning about. He’s filled with dread and apprehension about the upcoming fight, as most of us would be. He’s still a little dumb though, as when he’s presented with armor for Saphira, he can’t figure out that it’s not meant for a human.

Most of this chapter is about building tension for the upcoming battle, but drags out too long. The book is pretty formulaic, and doesn’t divert much from high fantasy tropes. We already know that Eragon and Saphira are going to come out on top, and that the characters that we care about are more likely than not to be fine. This isn’t A Song of Ice and Fire. Our main characters aren’t going to die, and most likely, neither will anyone we’ve just met. Maybe one or two named characters will get killed to show that the Urgals are dangerous, but not all of them. We also haven’t known these characters long enough to provoke a real emotional response if they were killed.

And then there’s this paragraph.

The men were silent, ironfisted. Their hair flowed loosely from under their helmets. Many warriors only had a sword and shield, but there were several ranks of spear- and pikemen. In the rear of the battalions, archers tested their bowstrings.

In the midst of paragraphs talking about battle preparation and how brave and stalwart the warriors are, there’s just one out-of-place sentence describing their hair. I assume that this is what Paolini pictured, and he wanted to reader to get the same image, but…it’s just so weird.

This trend of a single sentence throwing me off continues in the next chapter, when Arya announces the battle has begun “with a sorrowful expression”. Why does she look sad? She’s facing off against the people who tortured her for months. Shouldn’t she be angry, or determined to protect the Varden, or something?

That said, I actually caught myself getting sucked into this chapter. Battles are difficult to write. I appreciate that Paolini gives us details about the fight, rather than general statements like “there was a flurry of blows”. It’s also pretty easy to follow and visualize what’s going on. The only point when I was confused was during Eragon’s final confrontation with Durza. The Shade has the upper hand in their duel, and badly injuries Eragon’s back. Except they were facing each other, so I’m not really sure how his “sword smote heavily across Eragon’s back”. Perhaps an actual swordsman could explain this to me, but for now, I’m just confused.

The battle was still exciting to read, even if I knew how it ended. Arya breaks the giant star sapphire, Saphira breathes fire for the first time, and Eragon finally kills Durza. It was a satisfying climax to an otherwise unsatisfying book.

Even if there’s a scene where Eragon uses a giant slide to get from the dragonhold at the top of the mountain back to the battle. That will never not be silly.