Review: Sekigahara (2017)

It was with pleasure I noted during the opening scenes of this film that it is based on a book by Ryotaro Shiba, a true favourite of mine amongst writers. It was even better, therefore, that the movie jumped to a scene where the author narrated a story about the meeting of Ishida Mitsunari and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. These original scenes piqued my interest and turned this into a thrilling story which continued in a similar way. Continue reading “Review: Sekigahara (2017)”

Review: Ryoma!, Ryotaro Shiba

Rating: 5 out of 5

I have been a fan of the writings of Mr Shiba for nearly a decade now — and I was overjoyed when I saw that yet another of his books had been translated into English (or, well, the first volume of one of his books…). That was the beginning of my story of reading ‘Ryoma!’, the first volume of which details the early years of a figure who was to feature very strongly in the politics of 1860’s — the end of the first volume sees the reader through to that decade in a very colourful description of Sakamoto Ryoma’s formative years. Continue reading “Review: Ryoma!, Ryotaro Shiba”

Review: Heroes, Stephen Fry

Rating: 5 out of 5

Most of us probably have some idea of various Greek gods and also their heroes — after all, who has not heard of Herakles or Odysseus? There are other names which could be thrown into this mix, but the point I am trying to make is that Greek mythology has permeated much of Western culture and civilisation to a very great degree. Therefore, it could be said that one should be a bit careful about which author’s take on these myths they should read — having experienced ‘Mythos‘ some time ago, I was keen to take up ‘Heroes’ as soon as I could — and I was not disappointed.

Continue reading “Review: Heroes, Stephen Fry”

Review: The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today, Alison Weir

Rating: 2 out of 5

I was hoping this would be on par with some other works by Alison Weir I’ve read, but I really can’t recommend this short story to anyone. It is without purpose and direction, and while it grasps a historic sense of the moment in the events described, it is without that feeling one expects from a story.

Review: All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

All the King's MenAll the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book took me a long while, indeed a lot longer than I would have thought originally. This stemmed from the author’s style which was rather complex and long-winded. I do not mind this, but I caution anyone going for the novel that if this does not sound like your thing, this book might be especially hard going. Continue reading “Review: All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren”

Review: ‘Dangerous Women’, George R.R. Martin

Dangerous WomenDangerous Women by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to say, rating a collection is tough as it can obviously be very variable in quality. I found this here — a few of the stories were breathtaking in their intensity and beauty while others (the majority, regrettably) not nearly as interesting. For personal reasons, I found the stories which touched on the historic aspect a bit more thrilling but in general the variety was commendable. Continue reading “Review: ‘Dangerous Women’, George R.R. Martin”

Review: ‘Odd and the Frost Giants’, Neil Gaiman

Odd and the Frost GiantsOdd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a delightful tale of old Scandinavia and a winter that people dread. Reading it right after ‘American Gods’ made me think of a bit different an Odin than this tale gives us, but this is foremost a children’s tale as well and the witty animals that entertain us belong here exactly as they are written. More than that, this really is a happy story and I don’t think much else needs to be said: read it.

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Review: ‘Ivanhoe’, sir Walter Scott

IvanhoeIvanhoe by Walter Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ivanhoe is a classic. Yet, it is a classic of the early 19th century which is something we need to bear in mind while reading the novel. Undoubtedly, however, it is also one of the first books (in its many editions and re-translations) which got me into historical fiction and therefore I have some special history with it. Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I took it up again. Continue reading “Review: ‘Ivanhoe’, sir Walter Scott”

‘The Wind Rises’, H Miyazaki

I saw this film only recently, and while I am still considering some of what it showed in the story, I was more hoping to comment on the aspect of a Hayao Miyazaki film in general — for this was the first one I had the pleasure of watching. Maybe this was not the best one to start with, but maybe the others are fairly similar. What I do know is that I enjoyed it, and I would like to watch more of his works.

Why I enjoyed it is a different question — ‘The Wind Rises’ has a very interesting subject matter, the Mitsubishi Zero. Not knowing the engineers who designed it previously by name or anything else, I was able to divine that in the first few minutes of the film. I am not sure whether that was a good or a bad thing, but past that point it always felt to me as if I knew what was about to happen. After finishing, I had the feeling that I had seen it beforehand despite knowing it was the first time. It was a very weird feeling, trying to sustain belief in these thoughts whilst seeing that what went on in the show was moving in the same direction as my mind wanted to take it.

In addition to the previous, it constantly felt to me as the cultural references and borrowings were familiar, or at least some of them. It is difficult to describe what I mean, but say the theme of the film, the ‘Das gibt’s nur einmal, kommt nicht wieder’ song played in my mind for a long long time afterwards. I looked it up to see whether I had known it before (and I can’t divine anything obvious on whether I can).

My conclusion is that the film was a whole, a whole so beautiful and fitting that it all fit together perfectly, creating the sensation of familiarity — quite possibly one of the best gifts that any entertainment can have.

The ForeWorld Books

A man did not need to understand the words to know what was being said. Music, like violence, crossed all languages.

I have been absent for a long time, but I would hope that this post is a worthy reintroduction. Namely, of the books I have read over the last few months the books in the ForeWorld saga are the ones which I would consider best. Best for several reasons, that is, and the last of those would be the quality of the writing. Do not misunderstand me here, the books are written well but individually they are all far weaker than the universe together, a true sum of the parts being more than the parts individually.

So, what is ForeWorld? ForeWorld is an alternative history series of books that spans many years — I have only managed to acquaint myself with the ones that deal with the Medieval Era thus far, and I have not read all of them. I have gone through the five-part main series though, starting with ‘Mongoliad’ that spans three books, and continues in ‘Katabasis’ and ‘Siege Perilous’. I have also read approximately six of the SideQuests which introduce new or existing characters in greater detail.

The message in the books is vague while I am trying to pin it down right now, but reading all of the books gave me an understanding of something. The storyline that continues from the first book to the fifth one is so loosely connected in some ways and yet more binding than anything that could have been created.

The other bit which impresses me so very much is the fact that the story, while not unrealistic in the sense of success/failure, feels as if it is highly unlikely. And there it starts to differ from so many other highly unlikely quests that we have read about (say Frodo to Mt Doom) for in ForeWorld death is common and people know the value of their lives. Some battles are worth it while others are not.

The main protagonists are knights of a military order, Of the Virgin Defender, which is created as a mythical and mystical home for the magical warriors and is generally referred to as the Shield Brethern. The members are all different, a master strategist, a healer, warriors, longbowman, and so forth. The Order began apparently in the Greek times when it was created as a way to embrace and worship Athena in fighting under her name and banner, and then later converted to the Christian ways — ensuring that not all of the members care that much about the Church.

The antagonists are far more varied in character and ability. Some of them are ephemeral (drinking) while others are far more defined (Knights of the Livonian Sword Brethern). Likewise, it is very difficult to give a good overview of them without going into much detail but suffice to say they are thorough in their attempts to do what is good for themselves (as everyone generally does).

What is the main quest, you may be wondering at this point… These knights of the Shield Brethern are such grandiose warriors that in 1240, when Hordes of Mongols threatened to swamp Europe under their hooves, they formed a party with the explicit reason of riding into the far East and finding the Mongol Khan of Khans. And killing him.

Seems slightly insane, doesn’t it?

And, yet, why it feels strange is probably because of the scope of thought involved. What can man not do? Why is this not the way forward?

“How strange it is that we who claim to rule the earth so rarely chance to touch it.”

Maybe what I like most is the fact that a lot of the characters have their own weird sense of humour which sometimes comes up with profound sayings whilst most of the time it is not as sophisticated. The story and the characters feel real, and that is the best that can be said about anything.

Each of our lives have no meaning, except that which we give them by our deeds, and by how our comrades remember us.

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