[Book Review] Consulting sorceress and alternate universes

LetterBook Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

I’m a bit of a Sherlock alt-canon completionism. If it’s a Sherlock Holmes-inspired story, I’ll read (or watch) it. So after a long hiatus from NetGalley, of course The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall was the first thing I requested.

Imagine this: Consulting sorceress Shaharazad Haas (Sherlock) and ex-special military John Wyndham (Watson) end up as flatmates in a crazy world of necromancers, aliens, vampires, and alternate universes. Haas’ ex-flame needs her help; she’s being blackmailed to break off her engagement, and who best to get to the bottom of it all but the world’s foremost consulting sorceress?

It’s a clever take on the Sherlock story, with the narrative “written” by Wyndham (Watson) as if for a weekly serial in a magazine in John’s world. Because it takes manuscript form, littered with dry asides aimed at Wyndham’s editor, the story gets to use some excellent foreshadowing: how does Haas (eventually) die, who of the many characters we encounter ends up being Wyndham’s husband…and so on.

But wait, you ask, does this mean you liked the book?

No, not really. But if the ratings are anything to go by, it seems most folks are loving it. So first, the positive! Here are a couple reasons you might dig The Affair of the Mysterious Letter:

  • Man, this universe. It’s a vast, expansive world in which all gods, magic, and science exist simultaneously, realities overlap, and magic powers can be arbitrary and limitless.
  • All the callbacks. Fans of Sherlock will enjoy the many nods to the original. There’s a superbly fun take on Mrs. Hudson (Ms. Hive, in this universe).
  • Representation! The easy, full acceptance of different gender identities and relationships in this world: Haas’ has romantic entanglements with the most dangerous of ladies, adventuress Viola’s engagement to the charming Miss Beck is the crux of the mystery, and there’s that casual blink-and-you-missed-it mention that Wyndham grew up female…
  • Wyndham is the best. Speaking of Wyndham, he’s the unquestionable star of this book. I came for the Sherlock sorceress, but stayed for Wyndham’s formal (yet) amusingly prudish, wit and dry style. In fact, much like in my recent reading of the (unrelated) The Rook, I fell in love with and wanted to hear more about our narrator’s past self and adventures.

Okay, so that seems pretty great. What’s the catch?

Well, the catch is that the character Haas was (unintentionally?) the worst.

See, the thing is, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter relies on you to know the Sherlock world. In that world, of course John and Sherlock (Wyndham and Haas, in this case) would bond immediately. Of course Haas has a charming, magnetic personality that transforms Wyndham’s life and makes him willing to risk life, sanity and reputation.

Unfortunately, because the story accepts these as given, it never shows the moments that built the foundation on which the characters then interact and go off adventuring. Taken as a standalone novel, Haas and Wyndham’s relationship comes across as rather one-sided and abusive, from Haas endlessly belittling Wyndham, to Wyndham ending up doing Haas’ laundry.

As a consulting Sorceress, Haas researches, consults on sorcery, and occasionally helps friends with cases by threatening (and killing?) people until they tell her what she wants to know. This isn’t a great look.

Without that core relationship, the rest of the story struggles. This book is lucky to be standing on the shoulders of canon, so if character dynamics are your jam, proceed with caution.

But if you’re here for a crazy world with backdrop of a posh historical (Victorian meets Mardi-Gras meets Venice) style sensibility, this could be your next favorite read.

Rating: Five stars for concept and style, two for characters and story.

 

Canaries, have you read this book?
What did you think?

 

Review copy generously provided by the publisher.

 

Book Watching: Yeah, these aren’t happening.

Book Watching

Are these shows even happening?

We’re being skeptical canaries about the chances of these being made anytime soon.

The Fifth Season TV Show

fifthseasonI first heard murmurs in 2017 that N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season was being adapted for TV by TNT, shortly after I finished the book (five stars, all the way). And then things went quiet. Real quiet.

As networks start looking around for the next “Game of Thrones” epic fantasy success, this could be a contender. Then again, part of the power of this novel was its three interlinked but non-chronological timelines, making this a harder post-GOT sell than the more linear Wheel of Time or Lord of the Rings.

Likelihood of being made? Until I hear different, I’m downgrading this adaptation to “Unlikely.”

The Dark Tower TV Show

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If you had asked me last month, I’d have given this show a negative 5% chance of being made. Between the source material—a first book that reads like someone telling you about their half-forgotten, meandering dream—and the fact that even Idris Elba couldn’t save the 2017 movie adaptation from it’s 16% Rotten Tomatoes rating, I was a skeptical canary.  But, apparently, an origin story reboot is in the works, thanks to a push for content by Amazon.

Showrunner Glen Mazzar (The Walking Dead) is on board, along with actors Sam Strike (Nightflyers) and Jasper Pääkkönen (BlacKkKlansman) who will play Roland and The Man in Black respectively.

Likelihood of being made? Yep, it’s being made.

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Book Watching: Do we need another Lord of the Rings? (Also: Game of Thrones & Narnia?)

Book Watching

This week, I got movie adaptation of fantasy classics on my mind. Here’s the latest on The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and The Chronicles Narnia

 

Lord of the Rings (Prequel)

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Welp, canaries. We’d pretty much come to terms that we wouldn’t be getting any more Tolkien adaptations from Warner. What with the Tolkien estate all but saying that they’d rather set their entire archive on fire before letting Warner Bros get their mitts on any more properties. (No, they didn’t actually say that, but they probably thought it.) Then, just last month, they went and disavowed Disney’s Tolkien biopic in no uncertain terms.

So the ball has been bounced over the Amazon who came in stage right and dropped $250 million to get the rights make a Lord of the Rings prequel series (like, thousands of years before The Hobbit) with an option for spinoffs. It’s early days, but with Amazon pouring in a gazillion dollars and filming scheduled for August, I’m gonna call it a done deal. We’re getting a prequel.

Though, to be honest, canaries, I just can’t seem to work up an appetite. After the exhausting slog that was the Battle of the Five Armies, do we really need more Lord of the Rings? And with the time jump going way back thousands of years to the second age, does it even matter than it’s Tolkien’s universe?

Writers J.D. Payne and and Patrick McKay (whose only IMDB credit so far is Star Trek Beyond)  are attached to the show so far. So there’s that.

Release Date: Meh. 2020?

Game of Thrones (Prequel)

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Remember when Breaking Bad was the show to watch? Then it ended and got a critically acclaimed prequel spinoff that no one really talks about at the office cooler? And then there’s the’s Fear the Walking Dead that, dispite mixed reviews is still going strong towards a fifth season.

So yeah, there’s clearly a market for spinoffs.

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[Book Review] In which I re-evaluate my bias against magic libraries

 

Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Canaries, this is the book I was looking for when I had my ill-fated encounter with The Eyre Affair in 2017 and swore off all book-themed fantasy novels. Little did I know that The Invisible Library was out there.

Two years later, here I am, eating my words. Fantasy books about books can be excellent.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (and the rest of the series) combines the high stakes of a spy thriller with the shenannigans of fantasy novel, populated with colorful characters, an intriguing and competent main lead, and several series level mysteries that kept me hooked. Continue reading

Book Watching: This Golden Compass trailer is everything

Book Watching

Oh my. Canaries, this trailer is everything I could have asked for from a Golden Compass/His Dark Materials TV show adaptation.

His Dark Materials

Last month, we were twittering our excitement about this show’s star lineup (Logan‘s Dafne Keen as Lyra? Yes please.), and this month we got a treat. The trailer for Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials adaptation is out!

We’re so ready for this show.

Don’t fail us now, HBO.

Release Date: Sometime “later this year.” And we can’t wait.

How excited are you about this adaptation?

 

Book Watching: Two Pratchett shows and another try at Dune.

Book Watching

This week, I got movies on my mind. Good Omens, The Watch, and a possible Dune adaptation (yes please).

Good Omens

Based on the humorous romp through the end of times in Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. This six episode series is coming to BBC and Amazon Prime at the end of the month, and I am looking forward to checking the reviews and then maybe diving in. Full disclosure, I have a I-love-it-but-I-hate-it relationship with the book.

But there’s definitely a list of votes in this show’s favor. For one, I’m delighted to see David Tennant playing the demon Crowley and Benedict Cumberbatch coming on as Satan. Douglas Mackinnon (Sherlock) is directing, with Neil Gaiman as the writer (woohoo!).

See you all on the other side.

Release Date: First episode airs next week, May 31, 2019

The Watch

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Speaking of Terry Pratchett…BBC America is looking to do an adaptation of another one of Pratchett’s books, this one from the Diskworld series.

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[Pitch Slapped] A blurb shouldn’t need a glossary

Today’s blurb is brought to you by sci-fi fantasy sequel The Anmorian Legends: Legacy of the Sentinels by indie author Dhesan Neil Pillay.

Here’s the blurb that landed on our sacrificial altar:

“Following the battle between Thaedis and Rezaaran, The Anmorian Legends: Legacy of the Sentinels sees the young War Mage embark on a journey of redemption. However, in the wake of Thaedis’s victory on Zynoo, the Intergalactic Revolution of Independent Systems (IRIS) has lost a considerable margin against the tyrant’s Obsidian Dominion. The hope of freedom seems ever more distant.

Despite the odds, Rezaaran remains steadfastly determined and endeavours to unite a group of fabled warriors. But will this be enough to save Anmor from the coming darkness and defeat the nefarious villain who has bested him once before?”

The first, feathery impressions:

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You can probably tell that I was thoroughly confused.  Are Thaedis and Rezaaran names of countries or different factions? Is Zynoo a place? What’s the connection between the young war mage, Thaedis, Rezaaran, Zynoo, Anmor, Obsidian Dominion, and the Intergalactic Revolution of Independent Systems? what is a “journey of redemption” and why? How is finding fabled warriors a redemption plot?

I went back and read the blurb for book one to see if that might help me figure things out. Continue reading

[Book Review] Why Consider Phlebas did nothing for me.

Book Review: Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

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So. After everything I’d heard about the AI-driven utopian world of “The Culture” in Iain M. Banks books…I was expecting a bit more, well, utopia in my Science Fiction read.

Instead, Consider Phlebas delivered a gritty military science fiction: A disconnected protagonist, rotating cast of loosely sketched out supporting characters, relationships based on alienation, violent conflict, lots of slow-build tension and suspense, and a loosely connected series of action sequences. Oh and a bunch of exposition on democracy vs theocracy (life vs AI, systems vs chaos, the meaning of being alive, etc etc) that I grimly power-read my way through.

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Book Watching: Not every day a movie gets called “unreleasable.” Also Dracula.

Book Watching

This week, I got movies on my mind. Books-to-movie adaptations, that is. Here are some of the book-related movies on my feathery radar…

Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness

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I haven’t read anything by Patrick Ness, but when I heard that his series was being turned into a movie, I went straight to the synopsis: “A dystopian world where there are no women and all living creatures can hear each others’ thoughts in a stream of images, words, and sounds called Noise.”

And my first thought was: Immersive visions of other people’s thoughts? Can you even do that through a movie?

Turns out, maybe not.

Between a release date that got pushed out from March 2019 to sometime 2020, news that the movie is undergoing major reshoots, and the word “unreleasable” floating around, it’s definitely not good news for this adaptation. Fede Alvarez (The Girl in the Spider’s Web) has come in to do the reshoots, which will cost the Lionsgate another $15 million on top of the $100 million already spent on the movie.

On the bright side, this does mean I have some extra time to read the books.

Release Date: 2020?

Dracula 

Writers Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and Steven Moffat (Sherlock, Doctor Who) are teaming up for a three episode miniseries adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for Netflix and BBC.

What’s it gonna look like? Sounds like it’ll be a period drama retelling of the 1897 original, with Claes Bang is attached to play Dracula himself.

Release date: Many question marks. Moffat and Gatis finished the script in January 2019.

War of the Worlds

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The classics, they are a-coming. As BBC miniseries.

Here’s another one. H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is coming to BBC for an eight-episode alien invasion sci-fi period drama thriller. Much like BBC’s Dracula adaptation, this War of the Worlds adaptation will also stay true to the book’s historic period and will be set in Edwardian London. (Though it sounds like its two main characters will be new additions.)

Gilles Coulier (Cargo) and Richard Clark (Versailles) will each direct four of the eight episodes.

Release Date: Sometime in 2019.

Watchmen

Somewhere beneath all the Game of Thrones chatter and hype, HBO is coming out with another book(ish) adaptation. It’s the comic book, Watchmen, back for another stab at the screen.

Check out the ten seconds of footage at 0:12

The fact that they already have footage gives me hope that we’ll see the show soon. Looks like screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Cowboys & AliensPrometheusStar Trek Into Darkness, and Tomorrowland) will be doing a more loosely inspired adaptation of the comic. After the almost painfully faithful (yet not-quite a hit) panel-for-panel Zach Snyder’s 2009 movie adaptation, I’m totally ready to see something new and current from this ten-episode show.

This adaptation promises a pretty good lineup of talent, with Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune), Regina King (The Leftovers) and Golden Globe-winner Don Johnson (Miami Vice) taking lead roles. They filming in spring 2018, so we should be getting a official trailer or promo soon.

Release date: Sometime in 2019.

What adaptations are you most looking forward to?

 

Book Watching: Fairies, daemons & Catch-22.

Book Watching

I’m back, and here are some book-to-movie trailers to distract you from how long I’ve been away. Enjoy!

Artemis Fowl

Based on the canary favorite Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, the first trailer has us exchanging cautious looks. With director Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express, Thor, Cinderella, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) at the helm, it could turn out to be a lot of things. Plus, when one of the book’s cornerstones is its humorous writing style, how do you translate that into a movie?

Actor lineup features a couple new (or relatively new) faces. Artemis Fowl will be played by newcomer Ferdia Shaw, while Captain Holly Short will be played by Lara McDonnell. Of the more established names, we have Judi Dench and Nonso Anozie to play Commander Root and Butler respectively.

Let’s see how it goes this fall.

Release Date: August 9, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If fun fairy spy adventure romps aren’t your thing, but you still end up at a theater on August 9, we’ve got you covered. Looks like everyone’s favorite traumatic childhood memory has now been adapted for the big screen.

Horror director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) is leading this adaptation, and if you want to know more, you’re gonna have to look it up yourself, because memories of this terrifying collection are flooding back and I am noping my way out of this post.

Release Date: August 9, 2019

His Dark Materials

Okay, so this one is actually, honest-to-goodness happening and I am stoked. We last chirped about this show in fall 2016, and between the trailer and actor lineup, it looks like His Dark Materials will be well worth the wait.

I mean, James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda? Yes, please.

More excitingly, main heroine Lyra will be played by Dafne Keen. If Keen’s showing in Logan is anything to go by, she will rock Lyra’s half-feral fierceness.

Plus, chatter is that this 16-episode show has already been confirmed for two seasons. Looks like it’ll be airing on BBC One and HBO.

So yeah. Let’s do this.

Release date: Not soon enough. (Filming wrapped December 2018, with a 2019 release.)

Catch-22

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22.”

Check out what just dropped in trailer-world. Joseph Heller’s dark satire about war is coming to the screen in the form of a Hulu miniseries. And though I’m definitely on the fence about adding another show to my list, the supporting actor has me intrigued. See: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie and Kyle Chandler.

Release date: Friday, May 17

Canaries, what adaptations are you most looking forward to?