All posts by Michael

Book Report: Constant Princess

Book 6 in Philippa Gregory’s series is The Constant Princess, about Katherine of Aragorn, first wife of King Henry VIII, and takes place between Autumn of 1501 and Autumn of 1513 (barring a prologue and epilogue set years before and after each). Born Catalina, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Katherine is told from her birth that she is to be queen of England. The time and effort it takes for that to come about gives us the title of the book.

The Story

The journey is not easy. Katherine comes to England to marry King Henry VII’s eldest prince, Arthur, heir and beloved son. The marriage is rocky to start, with neither spouse enjoying the other, but an illness forces them to revisit their relationship and they fall in love. For several months, they spend each night with each other, sharing grandiose visions of what they shall do with England once they are monarchs. Those visions are cut short by Arthur’s death in 1502, after only five months of marriage.

On his deathbed, Arthur asks Katherine to promise to claim they did not consummate their marriage, allowing her to marry his younger brother Henry and rise to the throne for their grand designs. The marriage is promised early, but then Katherine spends years in exile, not allowed to be part of the English court, unable to go home. It takes the death of Henry VII to finally bring about the marriage and her installment as queen.

The Next Generation

With this book, the series has moved past the last of the Wars of the Roses queens and into the next generation of characters. Not only do we see the death of Henry VII, the last monarch of those wars, but we get to see the end of Margaret of Beaufort, the Red Queen.

Margaret Beaufort, as portrayed in this book series, struck so many of my character peeves that I looked forward to every slap in the face or minor setback she received from the characters since halfway through Red Queen. The mentality that any action she does, no matter how heinous, is okay because she’s God’s chosen, is so insulting and juvenile.  I enjoyed the snubs that Elizabeth of York gave in The White Princess, and I enjoyed watching Margaret’s decline and death in The Constant Princess. The decision Katherine makes to cut Margaret funeral plans to a more modest size is just the sort of deserved insult that Margaret would find infuriating, and as a reader I find completely deserving.

As the next generation of English nobles rise, we see that they’re going to be different from the generations we read through the Wars of the Roses with. These leaders are men who have not faced the constant warfare of the Wars, whose position is largely secured. As a result, they are arrogant and rude. Henry is a boy in a man’s position, enjoying life, while Katherine rules the country in his name. He views war as an adventure to advance his position; she views it as a way to advance their country and Christendom.

Knowing what I do about what’s coming next for England, I can see how it’s going to come about.

A Spanish View

Katherine’s Spanish origins come into play significantly during the story, not just in differences in leadership and ideology, but as a way of critiquing English (and in some ways Catholic) life of the period. Spain of Katherine’s time was a battleground for Christian versus Muslim rulers, so Katherine is much aware of Islamic learning –  mathematics, medicine, science –  and artwork. All of which, particularly the learning, is missing from English culture.

‘There is not a University in England that studies medicine,’ Katherine said bitterly. ‘There is not one that teaches languages. There is not one that teaches astronomy, or mathematics, geometry, geography, cosmography or even the study of animals, or plants. The universities of England are about as much use as a monetary full of monks coloring in the margins of sacred texts.’

The comments come into play as Katherine experiences worry over not conceiving a child, and finds no one able to provide even a mote of support. The problem is not confined to England; Katherine mentions how her mother would destroy Moorish universities and evict Islamic scholars under the direction of the Pope. Her spiritual desire to follow papal orders wars with her human desire to understand what, if anything, is wrong with her. The one learned doctor she meets – covertly – is an Islamic doctor who happened to be travelling through London. Even there, the arrogance and conceit of Katherine towards him is embarrassing to read.

As a history major, knowing what I do about the coming dominance of Europe over the rest of the world, it’s hard to understand this sort of reasoning. Willful ignorance makes no sense to me, yet here’s an entire civilization that revels in it. I shake my head at the wonder of it all.

Third vs. First

This book has a new style for the series, that jumps between First and Third person.

The majority of the book is done Third Person, and jumps to other characters who aren’t Katherine more often than previous books did. This allows the reader to experience the story that’s happening beyond Katherine’s eyes, almost a necessity since Katherine spends so much of the book in virtual exile.  

The sections done in First Person follow Katherine’s inner monologue, or describe events that are best seen from her perspective. Some of these are instances where she’s remembering home in Spain and what she misses about it. Others are moments dealing with extreme emotions and worries she can’t let the court see.

The changes can happen multiple times per chapter, giving us the events that Katherine is dealing with, and her internal monologue as she thinks and responds. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this particular mechanism used, but I’ve never tried it myself. Maybe I’ll give it a shot.

Conclusion

The Constant Princess is a book that leads itself to a lot of ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ questions aimed at the characters and the world they live in. I’d rate it pretty good; it’s not great, but the critique of English life from a foreign view point and the death of Margaret Beaufort both raise my appreciation for the book. We’re not yet halfway through the series as a whole, and the book stands as a transition from the Wars of the Roses to the Tudor era.  I expect to see a lot more of Katherine of Aragorn over the next few books.

April and May Update

Apologies. On the first of last month I was at work prepping the office to move that weekend and completely spaced sending an update. It was a long and grueling weekend but we got the office moved and set up. The new place is fantastic and, to my delight, has a coffee shop nearby I can go write at before heading into work. So I’m getting more writing done, which is always fun. So prepare for two-month update.

Writing

Book 3 is well over 50,000 words and closing on 60. I’m largely writing from the two ends to the middle, plugging away at scenes and fitting them in together. The rewrite is going to involve a lot of polishing.

A number of short stories are underway, including a number of Tales of the Templars. The possiblity of a short story collection in my fantasy world, or something of a sci-fi collection, is also appealing to me, since I’m being on my big book writing projects. Hey, it’s words on the page.

Movies/Tv

Haven’t watched too much new stuff the last few months. I did watch through the Last Kingdom, the Netflix show based off my favorite book series, and did a post about it. That was worth watching, and re-watching.

Reading

I started the two-moth period reading through a series of six short stories set in the Battletech universe (science fiction, large robot combat). These short stories dealt with the espionage and special operations the various factions therein did to obtain the plans to build their own battlemechs. They were a good intro to the world (which I know very little about compared to other scifi IPs), but not a lot of exciting mech combat.  

Then came the next book in Philippa Gregory’s series, the Constant Princess, about Katherine of Aragorn, first wife of King Henry VIII. Expect a book review soon.

Finished up a non-fiction book I was reading as research for Book 3. Small Unit Action in Vietnam: Summer 1966 is a collection of reports from squad, platoon and company skirmished and battles in Vietnam. It gave me some good ideas for the fights of book three, though the tech level of the Renaissance Army series is not at the Vietnam levels. Still, a lot of good bits in there.

Ten Tales of a Dark Tomorrow is a collection of science and speculative fiction stories from Keven A Kuhn, a fellow author of the Twin Cities who I befriended doing the Books and Beers events around town. Kevin’s first book, Do You Realize? left me in tears, and this one was just as striking. True, they were some dark tales, but damn if they weren’t good. 

To top off the list of books for the two months are three Warhammer 40K books. One from the Horus Heresy, Slave to Darkness, which was okay. I’ve read it, don’t need to do that again. Devastation of Baal, about the Tyranid invasion of the Blood Angel homeworld, was a fantastic book that felt like a true 40K novel, with heroic characters, alien mindsets, and jackasses I get to see die. The ending is a big deus ex, but against something like the Tyranids it kind of has to be. Finally there’s Gunheads, which pits Imperial Guards against orks. Lots of tank combat, which is fun, and against orks, which is even more fun.

Games

Have not been playing too many story games lately. Working through Warmachine: Tactics, still, but it doesn’t really hold my interest too well. Most of what I’ve played recently has been Surviving Mars and Surviving the Aftermath, two Paradox games about building communities (either on Mars or post-apocalyptic Earth). Both fun, maybe too addictive.

What’s Next

Keep reading and keep writing. I’m gaining traction on Book 3, slowly knocking scenes out and completing acts. If I’m not working on that, I’m working on some other short stories. Now that I’ve got a morning writing routine again, I’m excited to get into some thousand word mornings.

Cheers!

Show Report: Last Kingdom

The title card from the show

This month I decided to give The Last Kingdom another chance.

The Last Kingdom is a TV series by the BBC and Netflix, based off the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell. The Saxon Stories follow the fictional Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a warlord born to the Saxons but raised by the Danes. Forced into exile in Saxon Wessex, Uhtred fights against the Danes and helps build the modern England.

The Saxon Stories is one of my favorite book series, so when I first heard they were doing a show about it I was excited. It came out, I sat down, watched it, and was very disappointed.

I had two large complaints. One, the story had become more about how Uhtred to show the Saxons how to fight the Danes. In the books, they’ve already managed several victories before Uhtred joins them. Second, they kept cutting my favorite scenes! The first season covers the first two books, Last Kingdom and Pale Horseman (Pale Horseman is one of my favorite books), and I had a mental list of what I was looking forward to. Of the seven scenes on that list, they did one.

I didn’t pay much attention to the next seasons coming out, but friends who watch the show tell me it gets better. I’d always thought about returning to give it another shot, so I prepared myself, sat down and re-started.

Initial Re-Reaction to the First Season

I must admit; on the second viewing, the first complaint fell largely flat. Sure, story they were telling was shallow compared to the books, but that’s largely a function of medium. Movies and TV can’t reach the same depth as a book can.

As I was considering the impact of the medium switch on the story, I also realized that the viewpoint had shifted. The books are almost universally First Person, from Uhtred’s POV as he recounts his story in his old age. He recounts events beyond his knowledge as they were told to him later, which makes sense in a book but in a TV show, having Uhtred tell you what happened would be boring. So the show is Third Person, and we now watch those scenes happening. The switch changes the nature of a lot of the characters and gives the show a different feel.

Still bugged they cut my favorite scenes. Le sigh.

Second Season

The second season of Last Kingdom roughly covers the third and fourth books of the series (Lords of the North and Sword Song). Again, they cut out most of the scenes I was looking forward to. Two of them they did include, but they changed them and removed what made the scenes stand out to me.

Beyond that, this is where the show begins to really come into its own. By that, I mean that yes, they diverge from the books, but they’re getting more comfortable telling their own version of Uhtred’s story. They embrace the differences in characters, give them the room to develop their own plots. They condense and consolidate events to streamline the story, and even consolidate characters.

Third Season (Spoilers)

Again, one season covers two books (The Burning Land and Death of Kings), but the series does the two stories simultaneously instead of each book in half a season. The plot is now different enough that it’s hard to fault them for not doing the scenes I was looking forward to, though there is still that small disappointment.   Except when it comes to the dominating event of this season, the Death of  Alfred the Great. This is probably the only event in the story  that I think the show does better than the books.

In the books, Alfred converses with Uhtred on his deathbed, and just before his death confers upon Uhtred a significant amount of land in order to bind the warlord to his son and presumptive heir, Edward. It’s a nice reward for the often snubbed and disregarded Dane-slayer.  

In the show, the third seasons contains a lot of conflict between Uhtred and Alfred. Alfred has Uhtred banished and his children seized, while Uhtred tries to return to the Danes before his oaths bring him back to  the Saxons. Alfred still wants Uhtred bound to Edward, but cannot force Uhtred to do so. And with his death coming,  Alfred is facing the uncertainties of a future without him.

The Specific Scenes

The scene, cut up into several
bits, is fantastic. It is Alfred the Great and Uhtred of Bebbanberg speaking as
equals. Alfred acknowledges his debt to Uhtred, apologizes for his errors and
mistakes, and salutes the man ‘without whom I would not die a king.’ Uhtred’s
part in the conversation is to minimal; this is a scene for Alfred to shine. It
ends with Uhtred receiving a pardon.

Uhtred’s time to shine comes after Alfred’s death. His political enemies moving against him, threatening him with banishment on pain of death. He forces the issue in public, asking for Edward to confirm his pardon (strengthening Edward’s claim to authority). His responses to the accusations are moving. He confirms his respect for Alfred, his commitment to the cause of Wessex. ‘He was my king!’ Uhtred yells before the Wessex court, gaining the support of many while infuriating his enemies.

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There’s an emotional response to these scenes that the books lack. The books have Alfred’s death as a catalyst for the chaos of succession early in Book 6, while the show has it as the culmination of the season’s plotlines. As far as  I’m concerned, they worked really well.

Season Four and Five

The latest two seasons break from the two books per season mode, and with good reason: the books after Book 6 sent to get repetitive.

Instead, Season Four and Five each revolve around the death of a Saxon ruler and how that death is used to further the idea of a unified England. Uhtred is involved, of course, as his personal relationships with the Saxons and reputation amongst the Danes comes into play. A lot of the high points of the later books are fused together or touched upon in their own way, but by this point it’s hard to get upset that the show isn’t doing my favorite scenes or is using a character differently.

SPOILERS

Someone I like

One thing I’ve come to really enjoy is what the show does with Lady Aelswith, widow of Alfred the Great. In the books she kind of disappears after Alfred’s death, mentioned in passing when she’s mentioned at all. She was always an enemy of Uhtred’s, even after all he does to protect Alfred’s family and further the Wessex cause.

In the show, she remains a character, either trying to counsel Edward on his decisions as king, or protecting her grandchildren from the cut-throat politics of the kingdom. She and Uhtred are not friends, but there is a grudging respect between them.

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Conclusion

I’m glad I gave this show another shot, and that I took the time to enjoy it as it’s own story instead of holding it to the books. While it doesn’t have the depth of the books, it does have a much wider and more inclusive story to tell. One that’s worth enjoying as complimentary to the books. I look forward to the last installment when it comes out.

March 1st Update

Well, February was short.

Writing Projects

I added a few thousand words to Book III, but most of the work was outlining the final campaigns and getting a map together to work out how it goes. Some work towards blog posts on various topics.

Movies TV

Surprisingly knocked out five movies and shows off my list, though to be fair the four shows were all one season or less to watch.

Knocked out Girl Meets World, the sequel series to Boy Meets World, which was hugely influential when I was growing up. Also finished Brooklyn Nine-Nine; while that final episode was not great in the annuls of history, it was a very B99 ending to the show. I think it worked.

Saw the movie The Great War of Archimedes, a historical film about the construction of the WW2 battleship Yamato. Though almost entirely fiction, the movie has an impressive scene showing the sinking of the ship and gets into the warmongering politics of pre-war Japan.

I finished off the month by watching the Witcher Season 2 and Space Force Season 2. The Witcher continues to be a fascinating show, set in a world I want to know more about. I expect to check out the books or games soon.

Space Force is amusing but continues to fall short of awesome. It’s such a short show with short seasons it hard to get any development going.

Reading

Read three books in February. Ordinary Vices by Judith Shklar, a philosophy book that the Good Place brought up. It was an easier read than most philosophy books, but I probably still missed half of its points.

The other two were both Jane Austin books, Persuasion and Northanger Abby. I still have some trouble focusing past the two-hundred-year difference in writing styles and techniques, but both were good stories to get through. I got through most of Persuasion before I looked the plot up in Wikipedia. Northanger I looked up right away. I’ve concluded if I’m reading something that’s very far out there in terms of style, getting a synopsis ahead of time helps understand what’s going on.

Looking forward to spending some time reading some easy sci-fi or historical fiction, get away from the heavy reading of the last few months.

Gaming

Completed the story for Halo: Infinite. It was okay. It just doesn’t feel like a whole game. The entire story between Halo 5 and now, which I was looking forward to, is gone. The game ends but there’s still more to do. A lot of mysteries were brought up but not completed. What’s going on? Who knows?

(I actually looked this up; the story between games is told through some books and another video game, Halo Wars 2, which is a Real-Time Strategy. So I guess there is a way to learn what happened).

What’s Next

March is dedicated to advancing writing projects. Maybe I can’t finish off a rough draft of Book III or my fantasy novel, but I can get words recorded, complete a few of the Acts. Look into some conventions and whatnot. See if I can get something going.

Book Report: White Princess

Philippa Gregory’s White Princess follows Elizabeth of York from autumn of 1485 to the winter of 1499. The daughter of Edward IV, her marriage to Henry VII is a means to unify the country. Her relationship with Richard III must be forgotten. Her duty now is to protect her family by being a dutiful queen.

Rough Start 

As a York, Elizabeth starts the book with many worries about the reign of the Tudors. She worried of her cousins, including the last male York heir, Edward of Warwick. She worries about the revenge of the Red Queen, her future mother in law who’s known for her zealotry. And she worries about Henry, who has lived outside of England for so long. 

Her worries are not without substance. Edmund is quickly taken into custody, and the Red Queen begins to force her will upon the court. Henry is quick to force himself upon her, wanting to know she’s capable of bearing children before committing himself to her (with the full consent and direction of his mother). Henry does not come off well in this story. 

Reign of the Tudor King 

In all the books so far, there is a reoccurring concept about a wheel; the idea that ones fate will rise and fall, up and down. In White Princess, Elizabeth’s fortunes rise and fall, but there is rarely any safety for her. Henry and his mother, used to decades of scheming and plotting, retain their paranoid vigilance through the book. Every minor upset is investigated, and Elizabeth is always under suspicion. Even when she and Henry begin to grow close, the next crisis tear down their connection. 

Elizabeth is caught up in some of the moments, as her relatives are among those plotting against King Henry. But while previous characters in this series have had influence over events, Elizabeth’s story is marked by her lack of it. Most of her actions are taken to protect her family members from facing cruel charges and unjust treatment, even when their actions may warrant it.  

About the only enjoyment Elizabeth has – and that I, as a read reader, get to experience – is watching the Tudors panic when things go wrong. Given my dislike of Margaret Beaufort as she earned the name ‘Red Queen’, watching her panic is amusing. Elizabeth is able to push some buttons along the way, some pointed barbs that strike home. For every exchange where the Tudors come off as pompous, there’s an exchange where Elizabeth leaves me chuckling..  

The Princes in the Tower (Spoilers) 

In The White Princess, the story of the Princes in the Tower continued on to the next chapter; that of Perkin Warbeck. Historically, Perkin claimed to be the lost Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger of the two princes. He gained some support and invaded England a number of times before his capture. The Tudors imprisoned Warbeck for two years before his execution. His true heritage was never proven one way or the other. 

Gregory strongly hints that Perkin is the young Richard: he bears a strong resemblance, has the natural York charisma, and is ‘confirmed’ by several persons who were close enough to have met the prince. Elizabeth never outright confirms it; she is aware that her brother escaped the Tower, but does not know if this man is her brother or not. Even after his capture the question remains.  

This ambiguity does pose a problem for Elizabeth. When she and her mother heard the death chimes (presumably for Edward IV) they levied a curse against the man who killed him. The curse was that his line would die out after a short time. Now, with her husband Henry on the verge of executing the possible prince, her worry is that Henry’s line, which now includes her children, may fail. Even if he was not responsible for the first death, he may be responsible for the second.  

With the execution of Perkin Warbeck, White Princess may be the last book in the series to address the Princes in the Tower in any real manner. If the next book takes place concurrently, then maybe we’ll see the same story from a different angle. Guess I’ll find out next book. 

Final Thoughts 

White Princess is a pretty good book by itself; middling in terms of the stories so far. Elizabeth is a very sympathetic character overall, a victim of the Tudor family, fighting to save what lives she can. The Tudors do not come off well in this story, nor should they. As frustrating as I found her experience, I feel this is a good wrap up for the War of the Roses. I look forward to the next installment.

February 1st Update

How is it February already? I just woke up from New Years and suddenly in the next month!? Ach.

Book Projects

I got a lot of writing done on Book III, some of it multiple times after Cloud syncing errors wiped out some documents. What I didn’t write I got planned out. Did some planning and prep work for my fantasy novel and some short stories. Lot of work done, still more to do.

Movies and TV

Finished up What we do in the Shadows, at least as far as it’s been released. Very enjoyable show, and they actually managed to surprise me a bit with the end of the season. Continued with Book of Boba Fett. Not sure where that’s going but it’s got a bit of potential left.

Did watch two new movies this month: the MCU’s Eternals and Godzilla vs Kong. Eternals was a pretty good movie, but since I wasn’t familiar with the characters or their place in the MCU, I’m not sure how to integrate it. I know the characters are all themed off ancient folk legends and gods, which was fun to contemplate. But how it fits in? Don’t know.

Godzilla vs. Kong was a fun movie to watch, but I thought the daughter character (Millie Bobbi Brown) was kind of shoehorned in. Her arc didn’t really mesh with the rest of the story, and the conspiracy theory guy just bugged the hell out of me. At least the fight scenes were fun.

Reading

Only finished off two books this month. A Study in Violet by Michael Merriam is a Sherlock-style mystery set in an alternative history where a mystical fairy court exists and has diplomatic relations with Victorian England. The story includes elements of magic, steampunk and fantasy. A good story, if short.

The second was A Prayer for Owen Meany. I read this book after my dad mentioned it was his favorite (it’s also my mom’s favorite book, so that’s cool). After finishing it, I have to say it’s on my short list of favorite books as well. The story’s main character is friends with Own Meany, an extremely small boy with a loud voice. The story covers growing up in 1950’s and 60’s America, exploring the impact of Owen Meany on the people around him, particularly the main character. Very good book, highly recommend.

Gaming

Nothing decisive in the gaming world this month. Working through a few minor bits of HZD; playing through Halo Infinity and Warmachine Tactics. Didn’t complete either, but still enjoying both.

What’s Next

I’m focusing on Book III right now, trying to get that done so I can begin revisions. Still need to set up for some events this summer, try for another Pop-Up Bookstore. And want to get some more blogging done, work on a process for that. February is likely to be short and full of writing.

Until next time. Cheers!

Michael

Book Report: Kingmaker’s Daughter

Book four in the Plantagenet and Tudor series is The Kingmaker’s Daughter. This book follows Anne Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, nicknamed the Kingmaker due to his influence on the throne of England. The Kingmaker’s Daughter covers about twenty years of her life (May of 1465 – March of 1485), and is the first book in this series that does not end at a later date than the previous books: everything we see Anne experience is something we’ve seen from another viewpoint.

The Kingmakers Daughter

The story

Anne Neville is introduced as a young girl, scared of the ‘Bad Queen’ (Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI) and enamored of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV. The story begins as her father’s influence over Edward is waning, and he begins looking for other, more complaint claimants to the throne, including Edward’s brother, George, and Henry VI. Anne, with no influence of events, watches her sister be married to George and herself married to Henry’s son, Edward of Westminster.

When the rebellion leads to the death of her father and husband, Anne is received back in court as a pariah, tainted by her association with both names, yet because of the wealth of her inheritance, she cannot simply be cast away. She is eventually rescued by Richard, Edward’s brother and marries him to secure her safety. This puts her in position to influence Richard and eventually become the queen.

The character

I found Anne’s growth in the novel to be primarily guided by fear.  As a young woman, she is afraid first of the  Bad Queen, then as an adult she becomes fearful of of Elizabeth Woodville. The Kingmaker’s scheming cost the queen several family members, and married Anne to a rival king, giving the Woodvilles several reasons to hate her. She has no control but suffers so much for the actions of her family.

Her first true decision in her life is to marry Richard. That gives her some agency and control. But her decisions are still guided by fear. She is afraid of the Woodville family and their supposed magic, fears poison and strange influences. This fear influences how she interacts with Richard, though its left unclear if Richard shares her worried or uses them for political gain.

The Princes in the Tower (potential spoilers)

We saw Richard reacting to the disappearance of the princes before, that he would be saddled with the responsibility even if it wasn’t his fault. His sentiment here is similar. What this book adds is Anne’s own contribution to the confusion.

Once Richard has seized power, Anne is fretting about the shifting loyalties of the major players of the kingdom. Lords who supported Richard turn against him, while others who defied him become allies. Anne mentioned to a Richard’s choice for Constable of the Tower that things would be easier if the Princes were to disappear.

When the Princes disappear, Anne becomes worried that she had accidentally ordered their death; that the Constable had heard her musing and taken it for an order. It’s not until much later that she finally gathers the courage to ask. The Constable says he did not – and would not have – killed the boys. He does not know where they are, or if they are alive.

Is that true? Who knows? Like all the other queens who’ve added to the confusion, Anne’s will is being acted by other agents, which adds a layer of potentially unreliable narrators to the story. I continue to doubt we will ever get a solid resolution, though there may be some subtle hints I’m missing.

Conclusion

Kingmaker’s Daughter is not a step above the previous books; I’d rate it the lowest of the ones I’ve read so far. That doesn’t make it bad. Anne is letting us see the whole story from another perspective, from the view of the king who was an antagonist in the previous two queens. It finished off the three queens of the end of the Lancaster and York families, and sets up the Tudors dynasty. But the way the fear drives her character development is frustrating, especially as we’ve seen these events through the other women’s eyes and we have good reason to believe she’s overreacting. Still, a good book to read.

January 1st Update

December was a fine month; got a lot done, and still had time to celebrate the holidays. All while psyching myself up for 2022.

Book Projects

Added several thousand words to a number of projects, but the big news is I figured out all the plot points for The Colonel Lieutenant and I’m in a good position to complete the draft by the end of the month. Of course, I said the same thing a month ago. Will it work this time? I’ll let you know in a month.

Movies and TV

Continuing with What we do in the Shadows. Finished off Hawkeye and started Book of Boba Fett. Also worked through the second season and various single films of The Goes Wrong Show which is outright hilarious. In terms of film I got out to see Spider-Man: No Way Home, which was a fantastic movie. Loves it, can’t wait for it to get released.

Reading

Slowed down a bit in December; only finished three books. One is a book with advise on how to make tabletop wargames (oddly enough, entitled Tabletop Wargames). Just for fun, in case some of my other projects take off.

Both the other books were hard reads: White Princess¸ Book 5 in the Plantagenet and Tudor Series, about Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII, who is often forced to submit to the whims of her husband and his mother (the Red Queen of Book 3) in humiliating ways.  The second is Last Girl by Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman from Iraq who was a slave for Isis. It is her story, and while not graphic, it is not a happy read. Worth reading, yes, but not happy.

Gaming

I finished the story for Horizon: Zero Dawn but I’m still playing through the side-bits. Lots of little quests and errands to run. Also finished the main story for Star Wars: Squadrons, the VR-flight game. That was also a lot of fun, but knowing how the Star Wars sequel trilogy goes sapped a lot of my enjoyment of the end video.

Started up two other story games. Halo Infinity on the console and Warmachine: Tactics on the PC. Halo is a first person shooter, but unlike other Halo games there’s an open world element to it, which I’m having fun exploring. Warmachine: Tactics is a game version of the tabletop wargame (which I also play). I kickstarted it a long time ago but never got around to actually playing it. Now I will.

In Pen and Paper, we finished up the Alien RPG, which was phenomenal, though since we were playing through a pre-planned adventure, I’m not sure how a custom built campaign would run. My Pathfinder 2E game is moving along nicely, and I’ve worked out some of the endgame for that.

What’s Next

I do not have anything on the schedule at the moment; during January I’m going to sign up for one or two conventions this spring and summer, and send some emails to breweries for Books and Beer events. Hope to get back out there soon.

Happy New Year!

Michael

Game Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

Who doesn’t like robotic dinosaurs.

Many months ago I picked up the video game Horizon Zero Dawn while it was available for free on the Playstation Store. I knew nothing about the game, but the cover image had a giant metal t-rex, so I thought it would be worth looking into. What I did not expect was one of the better video game stories I’ve experienced in some time.

Horizon Zero Dawn is an adventure game set in the far future, amongst the ruins of our world. The tribal peoples of the area live amongst numerous giant robots that take the place of large wild animals such as deer, bulls, wolves and tyrannosaurs. Each of these robots has their own strengths and weaknesses, that the player must exploit to defeat. The tech level of the humans is bow and arrow level of technology.

The main character, Aloy, obtains a device early on that allows her to interact with surviving ancient computers and eventually the machines. Her effort to become an adult member of her tribe initiates the storyline of the game, and her exploration of the region (the Denver, Colorado, area) advances the story and explores the background.

Aloy, Huntress, Seeker of the Nora.

What I like (Spoiler Free)

There are two aspects of the game’s story that I want to bring up, and if I can do so without spoilers I will.

First, exploring the background and history of the world. I believe that the producers and directors of the game spent a lot of effort to ask themselves ‘what questions is the player asking right now? What can we answer, and what can we allude to?’ Each major point of the main storyline builds on the previous ones, and sets up the next, superbly. By the time you get to the big reveals, you know enough to be prepared for what you’re about to learn, but not enough that it spoils anything.

Second, setting up and executing the final battle. Final battles can be tricky; they need to be challenging, but no so hard that they break the continuity of the game, while also providing an end to the story. HZD did this very well. Not only did they draw together several different threads, but the final battle felt like a final battle. It was a series of tough fights, and none of them were boring. So, kudos for a final fight that felt like everything was on the line.

From here on, there be spoilers.

My favorite scene (Spoilers)

HZD is not just a game that takes place in a Sci-Fi world; I would say it is a full sci-fi story. In the mid-21st Century, a line of bio-powered self-replicating warbots breaks its programmed shackles and begins eating everything, threatening not only humanity but the entire biosphere of the world. They cannot be defeated, and the program to hack them will take too long to finish. The solution is Zero Dawn: to save humanity by repopulating the planet with clones after the machines have destroyed everything. This plan includes re-educating the population with thousands of years of human history and culture.

Yet the world Aloy explores lacks any knowledge of the previous world. What happened?

Horizon Dawn was controlled by an AI called Gaia, aided by several subordinate intelligences who focus on one specific aspect of the plan: Demeter, to replace and rebuild the plants, and Poseidon to detoxify the water. The intelligence dedicated to educating the new humanity, Apollo, is deleted by the madman genius who started the machine plague in the first place, to keep the new humanity from making the same mistake.

Ever come to loathe a character in a very short time? Boy, did I come to hate Ted Faro. Good job, game writers.

Conclusion

Obtaining and playing the game was a whim, but I am very glad to have done it. The story was fantastic, the world was immersive, and the game play was fun. It was a great game to experience, and I’m looking forward to the second one, coming out sometime next year.

Book Report: Red Queen

The Red Queen (2010) by Philippa Gregory is the third book in her Plantagenet and Tudor series. It follows the life of Margaret Beaufort, a staunch Lancaster supporter and mother of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, from the Spring of 1453 to the summer of 1485.

I liked this book, much as I did the rest of the series so far. But what I found fascinating about this story is how the character stays the same, yet somehow goes from sympathetic young woman to Machiavellian plotter.

Pious Margaret

The Margaret Beaufort we meet is a young child who believes she has been destined for greatness as the English counterpart to Joan of Arc. But as a descendant of King Edward III, her children would have political value. Thus, her belief in her divine destiny was ignored, in favor of marrying her young (only 12) to bear her only child at 13 in a painful labor, made more horrific by her mother’s assertion that the child was worth more than she was, particularly if it was a boy.

Between the world ignoring her views and the horrible experience with childbirth, the first portion of the book left me with great sorrow and compassion for this young woman. Alone, with no real support, and no real say in her future, I found myself rooting for her to grasp and claw any ounce of authority or control over her life. And after some time, she’s able to do so, and I think, ‘great, now she has control of her life. Now she can have one.’

Zealous Margaret

Alas, denied the life she believed ordained to her by God, she comes to believe her destiny is to be mother to a king of England. In the war of Lancaster versus York, Margaret begins plotting for the safety and eventual ascendancy of her son, Henry Tudor.

Know the saying ‘the road to hell is paved in good intentions’? This is where, at least for me, Margaret Beaufort became a villain.

As she was divinely chosen, Margaret shows little care for law or morality when it comes to advancing her son. Her second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, initially supports the Lacastrian cause but is forced to make his peace with the Yorkist King Edward IV; Margaret, however, continues to plot and scheme, sometimes to the detriment of her husband’s affairs. She even chooses her third husband specifically for his shared interest in accumulating power. Together they plot to survive the wars successfully.

Favorite Scene

My favorite scene in the books comes during her third marriage, to Thomas Stanley. In it, her husband calls her out for her divine belief and how divine it may actually be.

‘I am guided by God!’ I protest.

‘Yes, because you think God wants your son to be King of England. I don’t think your God has ever advised you otherwise. You hear only what you want. He only ever commands your preferences.’

I sway as if he has hit me. ‘How dare you! I have lived my life in His service!’

‘He always tells you to strive for power and wealth. Are you quite sure it is not your own voice that you hear, spearing through the earthquake, wind and fire?’

What I love about this scene is how he is so perfectly encapsulates Margaret’s villainous motivation, or that of anyone who believes they’re special. She’s God’s chosen, so she can do no wrong. She is so firm in her belief that even when she does pray for guidance, she still gets the answer she wants.

This isn’t a moment of eye-opening for the character; her husband continues to say that this was their agreement; she helps to promote and protect his family, he helps to promote and protect her son. He doesn’t particularly care about her scheming. But it does put in strict contrast the different between pious and zealous Margaret.         

The Princes in the Tower

This book’s tilt at the Princes in the Tower takes on a decidedly serious tone. Margaret conspires with Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV (from Book 2) to raid the Tower of London and save King Edward V and his brother. But her motive is not rescue; she conspires to get her men close enough to kill the boys.

The raid fails; neither the rescuers nor assassins can get to the children. And once again, the mystery of the Princes comes in. They disappear and rumors abound. Margaret seizes on the rumors to her own ends, but the fact that she doesn’t know

At this point, I’m of the mind that Gregory isn’t going to answer the question in her stories of the War of the Roses. It’s going to be a mystery that will be interpreted by the current character independently. Which I think is a pretty cool way to do it.

Conclusion

The Red Queen is an apt title for this book, given the main character. When I finished the book I figured she would be returning as an antagonist in future books, and sure enough she has (but more on that later). Margaret Beaufort may start as a sympathetic young woman, but by the end of the book she’s spent her sympathy. I can understand why she turned out the way she did, but I can’t appreciate the lengths she’s willing to go to, in order to secure the future she wants.