Mini Reviews: The Wolf Among Us Vol. 2, Plaid and Plagiarism

I’ve been sitting on these mini reviews for a while now, because I’d been trying to decide whether to even bother writing them. I suppose it didn’t help that I was disappointed by both, though all in all, I did like parts of The Wolf Among Us, Vol. 2 when it was sticking a little more to the story of the actual game. When the story completely deviated in this volume, though, it turned into a messy trainwreck. In any case, here are my minis:

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Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

Food and Fandom: Winter King’s Pirozhki

bearnightingaleNot gonna lie, the entire time I read The Bear and the Nightingale I kept thinking about the old-school baking that was happening in the oven at Pyotr’s hearth. Every single time, Dunya was always baking something, and Vasya almost always tried to steal some of the food that came freshly out of the oven.

Vasya, thinking of cakes, went meekly to her stool. There was a heap of them already cooling on the table, brown on the outside and flecked with ash. A corner of one cake crumbled as the child watched. Its insides were midsummer–gold, and a little curl of steam rose up. Vasya swallowed. Her morning porridge seemed a year ago.

So naturally, I turned to Russian inspiration for this Food and Fiction Challenge, and there were several descriptions of food that made me think about what I wanted to do.

They dined outside, on eggs and kasha and summer greens, bread and cheese and honey. The usual cheerful muddle was subdued. The young peasant women stood in knots and whispered.

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Mmm…apples and cheese are the best.

One thing I did note was that there was a lot of bread and honey involved. So from the get-go, I wanted to do something with bread and honey. And honestly, bread with honey just sounded lovely and traditional and simple (well, not too simple, considering bread tends to take more time with the whole rising thing).

The table was laid with two silver cups and a slender ewer. The scent of warm honey floated through the room. A loaf of black bread, smelling of rye and anise, lay beside a platter of fresh herbs. On one side stood a bowl of pears and on the other a bowl of apples…

Cautiously, Vasya picked up an apple and bit down. Icy sweetness dazzled her tongue. She reached for the bread. Before she knew it, her bowl was empty, half the loaf was gone, and she sat replete, feeding bits of bread and fruit to the two horses.

And then it hit me. Why not put apples INSIDE the bread, too? Isn’t there some kind of Russian dessert that does that?

So I found that there was. Say hello to the pirozhki.

Morozko’s Pirozhki

In essence, pirozhki are baked or fried bread buns filled with stuffing inside. Stuffing can be either savory or sweet, and the dough can be formed into various shapes so long as it holds the stuffing properly inside. Typically, people use meat like beef to stuff inside a pirozhki. Personally, I always go for the sweet stuff, because why the heck not.

This brought me into thinking about the book, The Bear and the Nightingale itself. For the most part, I was struck by the scenes in the winter-king’s home. I swear he always tried to feed Vasya, so whenever Vasya woke, she always found an abundance of fruit, bread, and mead at the table. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Morozko HAD put in some apple pirozhki for Vasya to eat at some point. They sound super-delicious.

I got the recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen, along with the apples and then-some. I really didn’t do anything differently from the recipe, so I won’t re-hash the steps and ingredients again. I mean, there was some point where I ALMOST forgot to put the second half of my divided sugar, which would have been a BAD idea, but I remembered at the last minute, so it was all good.

Just something to think about, though, as far as playing with yeast: I do not have a thermometer (I really need to get one, considering…) nor do I have a proofing chamber, so I improvised by turning on my oven, letting it heat up for a couple minutes, then turned it off again and let it cool. Once it was relatively warm, but not too warm, I put my dough in the proofing chamber and let it rise. The effects were roughly the same as a proofing chamber, and honestly, the bread baked so well that I have no complaints.

I also didn’t process the apples, choosing instead just to dice them and then lightly cook them with sugar. Nothing fancy. Next time, I may add some cinnamon, though.

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I did run out of apple filling, so for the last two batches of dough, I broke them into pieces, rolled them into round shapes, and then doused them with honey before baking them in, too.

Verdict: The results were MAH-VELOUS, dahling. I could taste the warmth of the hearth and of gold and sunshine, etc. etc. Now all I need is a bit of mead…

Russian Folklore Galore || The Bear and the Nightingale Review

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Initial Thoughts:

This was the type of book you needed to read in a slow pace beside the crackling of a fireplace. No, seriously, it’s very reminiscent of old-world storytelling, and it was just so damn lovely. And lyrical. And filled with Russian fae-folk. And a badass girl who is not afraid to stare Death in the face. Literally.


THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE

by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, January 2017
Fairy tale fantasy, historical
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
e-ARC provided by NetGalley (thank you!)

bearnightingaleAt the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Okay, I’m a little late in reviewing this ARC, but I found myself wanting to savor the story, so I took a bit longer in the reading.

A Case of Russian Fairy Tales

I was recommended this book by NetGalley upon the insistence that if I had liked Uprooted by Naomi Novik, I would easily love this book, too. Well, I loved Uprooted, and The Bear and the Nightingale has a similar feel. Both books are drenched in Slavic fairy tales, they are both set in villages too close to a dangerous forest, and in some sense, they feature females who come into their power through sheer necessity. While Novik takes Uprooted to a fantasy world sandbox, Arden brings hers straight to Old World Russia, where villagers still give their thanks to household spirits.

“Let’s go to Sarai, Sashka!” She turned to look at him. “Or Tsargrad, or Buyan, where the sea-king lives with his daughter the swan-maiden. It is not too far. East of the sun, west of the moon.”

I loved that this book was filled with Russian folklore. And it was filled to the brim, I must say. Right from the beginning, Dunya launches into the story of Morozko, the Frost-Demon, and the maiden he was supposed to marry. Then, as though that wasn’t enough, a few other mini-stories litter the pages, producing a fabulously rendered backdrop of old Russia.

Pyotr’s house was alive with devils. A creature with eyes like coals hid in the oven. A little man in the bathhouse winked at her through the steam. A demon like a heap of sticks slouched around the dooryard.

Okay, I do have an obsession with fae folk. This stems from years of reading and writing about them. And it so happens that some of my favorite fae are Russian fae. The rusalka, the domovoi, the bannik…all of them feature in TBatN, and it made my giddy little heart squee with delight when these creatures were brought forth to become important figures within the story.

“Then she must have a husband,” said Dunya simply. “The sooner the better. Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, the bird-prince and the wicked sorcerer–they only come for the wild maiden.”

Not to mention the fact that the book reads very much like a fairy tale. It’s what you would expect from someone telling you a story by the fireside. It just has that kind of feel and poetry. Even the words and descriptions lend well to the type of narration Arden uses (limited, multiple POV), which, if found in a different type of story, might not work as beautifully as it did in this particular case.

Dread settled over the village: a clinging, muttering dread, tenacious as cobwebs.

Seriously, I can so imagine the dread, you guys.

“I’m not sure you’d like to live in the woods,” said Olga. “Baba Yaga might eat us.”

“No,” said Vasya, with perfect assurance. “There is only the one-eyed man. If we stay away from the oak-tree he will never find us.”

I love Vasya. She’s that type of female character who breaks societal norms, especially during the general time period (considering Russia is largely controlled by the Golden Horde, I’d say late 13th century at the earliest) where females are really only faced with two things: matrimony or the convent. Vasya is neither the marrying kind nor a convent girl, and she defies even her father for the type of freedom she wants. Also, she’s nice to horses. That’s always a plus. And while she’s not the type of girl to get tied down by any means, I wouldn’t object to her falling in love with a certain demon…um. Just saying.

“Because I am not Kaschei the Deathless,” said Olga with some asperity. “And I have no horse to outrun the wind.”

I will admit that The Bear and the Nightingale was a little slow to start, and most of it was really just an introduction to characters who disappeared a third into the book. I felt like there wasn’t much discussed regarding Olga at all after her marriage, which was a shame, because there could have been a lot done in Moscow in her perspective. Same with Sasha, who gets talked up so much that I was a little disappointed that we don’t get to see more of him after the halfway point.

You could even say that much of the introductory plot points are just a lead-up to later sequels (which is pretty much happening according to the author, who said that book #2 is already in the editing stages). This is great, because there are a ton of unanswered questions. Well, not so much questions as me going: “THAT CAN’T BE IT. I WANT MOOOORE.”

“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”

“I still do not understand.”

“That does not mean you cannot learn.”

Seriously, though, if this isn’t a build-up to the sequel kind of quote, I don’t know what is.

But yes, other than that slow start, and perhaps the lack of action until the third part of the book, I thought the book captured old-school fairy telling perfectly. Arden had the mood and setting just right, and even the dark and scary bits were sufficiently dark and scary.

“The Bear is awake.”

“What bear?”

“The shadow on the wall,” said the rusalka, breathing quickly. “The voice in the dark.”

For an evil spirit that inspires fear in the hearts of many, this description of him is spot on.

One by one, her family fell silent. Someone outside was crying. It was little more than a choked whimper, barely audible. But at length there could be no doubt–they heard the muffled sound of a woman weeping.

And NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. I would be noping out of there so fast if I heard a woman crying outside my house in the dead of night.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! I kind of wished this was a standalone, but at the same time I really want to next book, if only to continue my ride along with Vasya.

This book counts as #3 of the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge.


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Have you read this book? What did you think?

 

A Fabletown Mystery || The Wolf Among Us Review

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Initial Thoughts:

Reading this volume really made me want to play the game again, if only to redo some of my crazy decisions (like trying NOT to get certain people killed, hem hem). That said, this was highly entertaining to read, and I adored the addition of random fairy tale summaries as told by various Fables characters (honestly. Gren’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood was THE best.)


FABLES: THE WOLF AMONG US, VOL. 1

by Matthew Sturges, Dave Justus (writers)
Vertigo, November 2015
Graphic novel, fairy tale fantasy
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

wolfamongusEven before the first issue of Fables , there were stories to be told, shadowy avenues to explore, and lives hanging in the balance! Bigby Wolf has seen plenty in his time as Sheriff of Fabletown…but nothing can prepare him for this…

It all starts with a simple domestic disturbance. But when Bigby learns that his old nemesis, the Woodsman who has an axe to grind, is part of the scene, things go downhill fast. And how will Bigby and Snow White keep their heads long enough to crack the case when they get caught up in a grisly murder mystery?

So there’s this series I’ve enjoyed the past couple of years called Fables. I had heard of it a while back because of course I had, being a fairy tale enthusiast and an admirer of comic books. I mean, come on. Fairy tale characters living in secret in the Bronx because some crazy Adversary took over each of their worlds. That’s the kind of shit I’d read in a heartbeat. Admittedly, the Fables series didn’t really pick up for me until I’d read the text story of how Bigby met Snow White in Volume 2, and from there, I was hooked.

When I’d first heard that Telltale was actually doing a game based off of it, I was pretty damn excited. Heck, it was one of my first posts on this blog.

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Needless to say I have since played The Wolf Among Us game and loved it. And then I realized that they made a graphic novel of TWAU, which was based on the works of Bill Willingham. Funny how that happens, but I went ahead and decided to read it just to see which route the writers went and decided was “canon.”

That can sometimes go either way, to be honest. Either you’re the type of person who likes having a canon story to fall upon, or you like paving the path of your character with your decision. In any case, it’s not really feasible, making the graphic novel a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure kind of thing, and in this case, I’m not the type of person who minded so much that it didn’t. So generally, I enjoyed it.

What I Loved

First off, the illustrations. The artwork in TWAU is stellar, and I absolutely loved the issue covers as well. I’ve always adored Bigby, but his rendering in the TWAU graphic novel is definitely my favorite of the lot (that said, Bigby in the actual Fables comic will always win out for me).

Character retellings of fairy tales. The major difference in the game and the graphic novel is definitely the addition of visual retelling in the novel. Where the game focused on a showing-not-telling format and an action-packed pacing, the graphic novel took a few breaths in the pages by getting characters to color the retelling of a story in their own words. Gren’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and Bigby Wolf’s past has got to be my favorite. Bigby’s own retelling of Gren’s past was just as good.

Bigby’s sardonic humor is still there. Honestly, I always play scumbag!Bigby, but his sarcasm in the graphic novel is even better. Especially where Colin is concerned. Colin’s a lovely pig.

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The tie-in with Ichabod Crane and Bigby, as well as some interesting backstory. I really loved that Bigby’s backstory is a bit fleshed out here. We don’t really see much of what has happened prior to present-day Fabletown, so seeing a glimpse of how Bigby and a few other of his fellow Fables dealt with living in New York throughout the centuries is an eye-opener. I liked that they put Bigby in Salem during the witch trials. Gives you an idea of how the whole thing might have gotten instigated by Fables living among the mundies, haha.

My ONLY caveat of having a graphic novel (and a story) take place way before Fables: Legends in Exile, is that Snow and Bigby are going to be dealing with so much sexual tension and absolutely NOTHING WILL HAPPEN. I can tell you that much. Unless they completely change the canon. I’m hoping to see more Snow/Bigby moments anyway, even if Bigby doesn’t get the girl until Volume 5 of the actual series. And OH. No Cinderella. Bummer. She was definitely my favorite of the Fable women, hands down.

4 out of 5 cookies! I’ll have to hunt down a copy of the second volume, just to see how Bigby canonically deals with a few baddies that have yet to show up in Volume 1.

This counts as #1 of the Graphic Novel Challenge Reading Challenge and #2 of the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge.


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Have you read this book? What did you think?

TTT: Fictional Cosplayers

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For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here.

I was going to do another “Top Ten Fictional Characters I’d Dress Up As For Halloween” but I think I did that one already and there aren’t really any new ones I’d be, considering I still haven’t made my way through the previous ones (technically, I only managed to dress up as Azula once, and it wasn’t a full-blown costume…). Well, I suppose I’d totally try to dress up in Kell’s coat, but that’s another story altogether.

So instead, I went another route and decided to twist it by thinking of fictional characters who’d rock cosplaying fairy tale characters. Because I can, and it sounded like a good idea at the time. Um…great, now I totally just remembered Snape in Neville’s grandmother’s dress…

Aww, that just made me slightly sad. I blame myself. Just a bit.

Ten Fictional Characters Who’d Rock At Cosplaying Mythical/Fairy Tale Characters

Alucard from A Gathering of Shadows (V.E. Schwab) as Sinbad the Sailor. I mean…Sinbad isn’t a pirate, but he certainly has that flair. Also, it wouldn’t be a far stretch for Alucard, who’s practically a sailor already. Though honestly, I think Alucard might find Sinbad a bit boring, considering the flair he possesses just dressing up as himself. But hell, I’d love to see Alucard in a Sinbad costume, so does that count?

Cersei from A Game of Thrones (G.R.R. Martin) as The Queen. I mean…not that she isn’t a queen already, but I feel like she’d definitely dress up as any version of the Evil Queen in any of the fairy tale stories that have Evil Queens. I’m particularly thinking of The Queen in the Snow White tales, where she had stopped at nothing just to try to get rid of her pesky, meddlesome step-daughter. I mean, hiring a mercenary to cut out her stepdaughter’s heart? Yeah, that’s such a Cersei thing to do. Just saying.

George from Lioness Rampant (Tamora Pierce) as Reynardine the Fox. Okay, not the romantic bits. I don’t think George is that much of a cad, but he’s certainly a tricky fellow. If he had a patronus, it would most certainly be a fox (oh yes, I’m mixing fandoms here!). As is, he would be the type of person who can manipulate and deceive people. He is, after all, the Shadow Man.

Aerin from The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley) as the Paper Bag Princess. Yes, okay, I totally went for a more modern fairy tale story! This was a 1980’s tale that reversed the princess and prince stereotype, especially when it came to fighting dragons. And nothing says dragonslayer better than Aerin. She’d totally rock it in a paper bag, too.

Sazed from Mistborn: The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson) as Anansi the Spider. I mean…after The Hero of Ages, I doubt Sazed would even be contemplating dressing up as something, but if he chose to, he’d totally rock as an Anansi. This fairy tale creature is a knowledgeable one, often believed to be the holder of stories. Sazed already passes for a storyteller, albeit one who tells stories of religions, but hey, that’s still thousands more stories than most people know, so why not.

Sabriel from Sabriel (Garth Nix) as Orpheus. Yeah, okay, another dude. But I think Sabriel might actually spin this and genderbend the parts. Her Eurydice would more than likely be her father, the previous Abhorsen, and she wouldn’t be interpreting it as a tale of tragic romance. In any case, I bet if Sabriel actually was Orpheus, she’d be more than likely to send the dead back to the Land of Death than to actually drag them back. Oops?

Mercy from Blood Bound (Patricia Briggs) as Gretel. Every time I think of a German fairy tale character, I swear my head goes to Mercy, because of her whole studying German history in university or something like that. Why Gretel? Gretel was the type of fairy tale character who relied on her instincts and smarts to get out of a situation. I found there was a situation in Blood Bound that was kind of similar to the “Hansel and Gretel” tale, where Mercy had to save caged friends from a psychotic witch–erm, vampire. Also, I’m sure one particular Alpha werewolf would enjoy a bit of roleplaying on Mercy’s part. Hem hem.

Katsa from Graceling (Kristin Cashore) as Finn MacCoul. Honestly, I don’t see Katsa emulating any fairy tale princesses, even if maybe a few of them are badasses. She’d totally want to be a cool warrior dude from some Celtic mythology and then-some. Finn comes to mind because he is a cool warrior-dude from Celtic mythology. Katsa would totally be all over Finn’s spear, because it’s pretty darn cool.

Zuzana from Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Laini Taylor) as Okiku. I totally see this happening. First off, because Prague and haunted walks, and Zuzana would totally take the haunted walk and make it her own. She would pull from Eastern tales instead, just to bring freshness into her scare, and what better costume than to be the ghost of a spirit from the well? She’d totally rock the creepy Okiku look, that’s for sure. If nothing else, she’d totally do a marionette show of it, which would be even more awesome.

The Darkling from Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo) as Koschei the Immortal. Not so much because both share similarities in their backgrounds or because Koschei is derived from Russian fairy tales (and so is the world of the Grisha, really), but because of course the Darkling would love to portray a king. He’d pull it off because he’s the effing Darkling. That is all.

Do you see any of your favorite fictional characters cosplaying and rocking fairy tale looks?