Monday, April 18, 2011

Doubleshot of...well, stuff

Hello and welcome to my castle! Where I rant and rave about books (mainly the fantasy and science fiction variety) and music (mainly the metal variety).

Since it's my first post why don't I start you all off with a doubleshot of the good stuff: a book review and a concert review! w00t.

Stealing Fire by Jo Graham

Stealing Fire starts out from the death of Alexander the Great, and our hero Lydias of Miletus trying to decide which of Alexander's would-be successors he'll throw his lot in with. We don't really get to see his decision; somehow he ends up with Ptolemy, and becomes instrumental in Ptolemy's attempt to hold Egypt (involving the theft of Alexander's body from rivals in Persia..) But this is a lot more than just a story of political intrigue and wars waged for power.

First of all, it's the story of Lydias, who was born a slave, but escapes to freedom, eventually becoming one of Alexander's Companions (elite cavalry) and then Ptolemy's general. We find out a lot about him through flashbacks. He has this very matter of fact voice and personality that carries him through all kinds of adventures and ordeals mostly unscathed, but at times one sees hidden pain leaking through - a lot of pain. He lost a lot, and this is the story of him finally finding a place to belong and people to live happily ever after with.

Secondly, it's also the story of Alexander's vision for a world of different peoples united in brotherhood (albeit brought to this state by violence..) Lydias and Ptolemy often discuss Alexander's ideals, the things that never will be now that he's gone, and the things they still want to fight for - mostly peace in Egypt and Alexandria for Egypt's people and all the diverse peoples that make up Ptolemy's army, to live together in something like equality (relatively speaking for that time period..) This is what makes the novel more than just another bland power struggle.

Thirdly, it's the story of how Ptolemy managed to become Pharaoh of Egypt, and this is the thread that makes me a bit uneasy. Gods, generally Egyptian, speak directly to Lydias and occasionally Ptolemy, helping and guiding them (although ultimately the decisions for how to save Egypt rest with the mortals). Divine intervention is something I don't really like to see in fiction (although I'm guilty as charged); it seems too easy, like god-modding in role-playing. Of course the heroes will win because the gods are on their side.

Overall, though, I liked the book and would recommend it to fantasy or historical fiction fans. The emotional depth of the characters, especially Lydias, was very engaging, and the way Ms. Graham encapsulated the sweep of history in one character's experience was at once epic (battle scenes!!) and human (romance :) ). PG-13 for violence and sex.

Next review: Riot in Chang'an by Han Han or One Jump Ahead by Mark L. Van Name - whichever I finish first!

And now..

A Sound of Thunder, Kat Atomic, Sabaton, Accept - 4/13/11 at Jaxx, Springfield, VA

So, you should know that my concert reviews will be overwhelmingly positive, as first of all I'm not nearly as knowledgeable or picky about music as I am about books, and second since I only go to concerts of bands that I really like anyway, I'm kind of biased from the start.

I went to this concert to see Sabaton - a power metal band from Sweden that is really into military history; almost all their songs have to do with World War I or II. I knew one song by Accept that gets played on the radio, and wasn't planning to stay for them as it was a school night. I was also trying to get there late so that I wouldn't have to sit through the opening bands.

That plan failed; I got there right as they started letting people inside. However, I'm glad I did, because A Sound of Thunder knocked my socks off. Their name fits; their sound was like thunder shaking the building. I didn't go on the floor but I should have (I think I was too embarrassed because I was surrounded by older people..) "A Sound of Thunder" and "Archangel" ("Metal Wings") were my favorite songs from their set. I got their CD, and obviously, the thundering sound doesn't quite come through (unless I turn the stereo way up! But with a kid in the car, that's not always an option), but I'm still impressed and hooked by Nina's intense vocals. She has an amazing voice, powerful and also beautiful, that can be lyrical ("Wood and Steel," "Flesh and Blood") or evil ("My Name is Doom," "Blood Vomit"). Those would be my favorite songs from the CD; I'm looking forward to their next release that will have songs they played at the concert.

The second local band, Kat Atomic, was a little more laid back, and did mostly (all?) covers. I recognized Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark," Heart's "Barracuda" and a couple others. The songs were energetic enough to get me moving although I wished there was more oomph to them. (Then again, I'm not a huge 70s/80s metal fan, primarily because it lacks that "oomph" :P ) Kat Atomic got cut off mid song, apparently because Accept's management was really anal about the schedule, is what I've heard from discussions after the fact. That wasn't really very nice.

Sabaton was as awesome as I expected, although of course their set was too short. If I remember correctly, they started with "Ghost Division" and finished with "Primo Victoria" and then "Metal Machine." After they finished, I heard several people commenting about their "great energy" and I think that's a perfect way to describe it - their fast-paced, overwhelming sound where the music, the beat and the lyrics just carry you along. It's definitely battle music. It wasn't at all hard for them to get people jumping for "Primo Victoria," in fact the singer, Joakim laughed at us (the audience) because we wouldn't stop jumping XD Apparently this was their first ever North American tour - no wonder they were so excited about the crowd's (hugely positive) reaction at Jaxx. And I just read that they're coming back this fall with Evergrey - can't wait!

As for Accept, well, I left before they came onstage, so my impression of them remains that created by hearing "Teutonic Terror" on the radio, namely, a decent band. If it hadn't been a school night I probably would have stayed and enjoyed it. Oh well, some other time.

Next concert: Amon Amarth - 5/2/11 \m/