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Happy Wednesday! Later this week I will have a review of the charming, funny show True Beauty. After that, due to limited time and energy and the need to focus on my own stories, I will be taking a break from blogging, at least until June. Thank you so much for reading. –Pixie

Doctor Prisoner: The Best Villains

Spoilers ahead.

How glad I am that I didn’t give up on this show! Ok, let me back up a second, Doctor Prisoner, starring Namkoong Min is an excellent, over-the-top drama, but the plot quickly becomes repetitive. It is almost–almost–a fatal flaw. Thankfully the characters and incredible acting save it.

In South Korea they apparently have a law where a prisoner can get released for compassionate care. The prisoner has to have some awful disease that they are nearly dying of that the prison can’t treat, so they have to be moved to a hospital. In Doctor Prisoner this is the de facto way that rich and powerful people get out of prison. And doctor Na Yi Je (Namkoong Min) is the best at inventing diseases and helping the criminals get the compassionate release.

As I am still on a Namkoong Min binge, he is definitely why I wanted to watch this, but he is not why I stayed. Although this is a story about rooting out corruption, really it is about villains one upping each other. All of the “good” guys are villains in their own way. The few truly straight and narrow characters in the show are presented well, but blandly: This is not their show, not really. Sometimes it is just fun to watch villains be villains. We don’t have to try to understand why they are evil and give them sympathy. In fact, in this show they actually gain sympathy by their deviousness. Because they are outright evil, it is a joy to see them taken down. Not only that, but there’s an even greater joy as some are reformed.

The opening scene is hilarious as we watch Dr. Na Yi Je in action, meeting with a client in prison, and convincing her to practically kill herself to manifest evidence of an obscure, or even made up disease, to get released. Oh Jung Hee is a rich lady who has been imprisoned for hiring a contract killer on her husband’s mistress. Played by Kim Jung Nan (Tale of the Nine-Tailed), this character is the only woman on the show who’s a main player. She’s spicy, feisty, and awesome, and if one has to be an a woman of a certain age, hey, what a way to be! I absolutely love this actress and so want to be her. She also gets the best costumes here and in Tale of the Nine-Tailed–and her performance in that was great as well. A comparable American actress would probably be Meryl Streep. I can easily see Kim playing the “devil” in The Devil Wears Prada.

Oh Jung Hee also carries the romcom part of the story as she and prosecutor Jung Ui Sik fall for each other in hilarious fashion. Their story is way better than a serious romance with the lead character would have been. Jung Ui Sik is played by veteran drama actor Jang Hyun Sung (Leaves of the Red Sky), who plays a good villain.

But, back to Na Yi Je. Yes, he has a heartbreaking back story about how he turned out this way. By the end of the show, we don’t really care about that, we just want to see him take down more people and bend them to his will. In this cat and mouse game, this guy is always ten steps ahead, and boy, is it fun to watch. He enters into battle with the chief doctor of a famous prison (I can’t remember the name now), Sun Min Sik, played by Kim Byung Chul, who had a super creepy performance as the Wormtongue villain in Goblin.

Kim has so, so much fun here with this ladder climbing turd of a doctor, who wouldn’t recognize the Hippocratic Oath if it bashed him on the head. He uses “evil grin face” to full effect and is so ridiculous that after awhile one almost forgets he’s a villain. He’s an awful man who also has a great marriage: His wife is super supportive and it’s just great, great writing. Kim must have had so much fun playing this role. It’s just too bad he didn’t have a mustache to twirl.

After a few episodes with Na Yi Je and Sun Min Sik taking turns one upping each other, here’s where it gets repetitive, but if one can stick it out, it’s revealed that a different villain, an even worse one, is Na Yi Je’s real goal. It’s someone we’ve already met, the heir to a conglomerate, a chaebol character that frequently populates Kdramas: Lee Jae Joon played by Choi Won Young of Hello Monster (I Remember You) fame. Choi is awesome at playing a psycho, and although his character is necessarily scenery chomping, his physical acting is incredible to watch. An outstanding performance. By the end of the show, his character takes over almost everything. We, the viewers, are almost drawn in to his narcissism.

The best character, though, the best–and really this is a compliment to the writing–is Lee Jae Joon’s younger half-brother Lee Jae Huan, played by Park Sun Seok (Penthouse series). This is the first thing I’ve seen Park in and I hated his character. What an awful person! Jae Huan is essentially the first villain in the show, and for the first few episodes he seems like one of those characters that will get punished quickly and then the show will move on to someone else. It’s true that the show does move on, but Jae Huan stays, at first as a kind of comic relief as we get to see that prison life is hard for him. He’s so funny that we start to hate him less. Spoilers, spoilers! By the end of the show everyone is rooting for this guy! The writers do an amazing job of reforming this character and making him almost a good person. It’s awesome to watch and really makes the pay off with his brother at the end. It’s great writing because it was so unexpected.

Doctor Prisoner is Shakespearean in its scope and theatricality. The epic music almost never slows down, nor the pace. And yet fast pace continued can get dull. If you watch this and find yourself at that point, take a break and come back. The second half is worth it. Actor Namkoong Min holds the show being the solid, main character who is almost as villainous as the rest, but he’s just the ringmaster. Doctor Prisoner is a circus, a showcase of interlinked character pieces that I call: “The Best Villains!!”

A warning, if you ever want to go to the doctor again, this may not be the show for you, for the doctors in this are completely untrustworthy, especially and importantly our hero doctor Na Yi Je. They inject people with dangerous substances at an alarming rate and have an almost superhuman ability to manipulate the human body with drugs. Maybe the show is really just a commentary on our current medical industry? Literally the only tools they have are manmade drugs and surgery and in this show these things are the swords and spears of battle. It gives a patient real pause and concern.

Only One Story Matters

The season of Lent is a time of reflection for the Christian, a chance to soberly analyze the cost of our redemption in Christ. God does not take sin lightly, and because of that, the only way to save us, the ones He loves, was to become our substitute and suffer the punishment in our place. God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, His Son, lived a perfect life for us, and died on the cross for all of our sins–for the sins of the entire world since time began and until it will end. It is a marvelous mystery, a wonderful miracle that has a divine logic that humans can really only understand through faith. The substitute had to be both human and Divine to truly take our place and then to conquer sin, death, and the devil.

These days I find myself in the middle of so many stories, my own, of course, but also too many TV shows, too many books, and even too many writing projects. Reflecting on God’s Grace, and on Jesus’s death and sacrifice helps me to slow down, to remember what’s really important. Even current events, alarming as they may be sometimes, necessarily fade in comparison. In the end, only one story matters, and that is the history of this world, the story God put into motion when He created it and then implemented a plan to save it and also to eventually end it. Someday this, world, this universe, will not exist, but we still will, for we have eternal souls. The believers will be with God in heaven and the unbelievers will live in torment, abandoned by a just God who cannot tolerate sin, although in His loving patience it may sometimes seem like He does. How happy and how awful at the same time, but that is the story. More than that, it is the reality we face. Where one is going to spend eternity is the only thing that matters, for there is no going back, no changing things, no exceptions if you belong to a certain group.

Lent is a chance to ponder the weight of evil. Sin, death, and the devil, cannot and could not be defeated without the shedding of blood. Our Savior paid a dear, dear price. But in looking to Jesus, we can see love and hope; we can see our redemption. Yes, it came at a great cost, but it is ours to have, forever. And it was sealed with Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, signally our own rise from the dead someday. And so Lent is also a time of great joy, almost a painful joy, in a way. The story, the true story of our redemption is the greatest story ever told, and the world itself testifies to that story every single day. May your Lenten season be filled with serious reflection and also joy in your Savior Jesus Christ.

The Undateables: More Matchmaking, Please

A sort of subset of Kdrama romcoms are those dealing with matchmaking agencies. The Undateables starring Namkoong Min (Awaken) and Hwang Jung Eum (She Was Pretty) is just such a one. For some reason Hwang’s characters always start over the top and then become normal. Not sure this makes the actress appealing, but it’s definitely a relief when the spastic humor stops. That being said, both leads are decent at comedy, though I prefer Namkoong in more serious fare.

Jung Eum, played by Hwang, is a former diving champion and now a matchmaker at a local dating agency. She’s not great at her job and through a serious of coincidences ends up getting Namkoong’s character, gallery owner and relationship expert, Hoon Nam to help her successfully breeze through a list of the agency’s most “undateable” clients. And of course the two fall in love in the process.

As a whole, the series was a fun watch and was very funny at times. The best parts were when the two leads were working on matchmaking other people. Sadly, this part of the plot was lost in other drama for awhile, but when it got back to that the show was more on track. Nearly all of the characters showed growth and change, which is always great to see, but some threads were dropped and never picked up again, like Jung Eum’s father’s ill health.

The minor characters were often hilarious, such as the prideful agency supervisor played by Baek Ji Won (Sell Your Haunted House), who to save face, bought a hideous pink jacket so expensive that she subsequently wore it every single day. The jacket itself almost became its own character, symbolizing both foolishness and stubbornness. The cutest couple was Oh Doo Ri (who had awesome style like Audrey Hepburn) and Kim So Wool (who has to be tracked via detective work), played respectively by Jung Young Joo (He Is Psychometric) and Kim Kwang Kyu (Pinocchio).

Another fun matchmaking drama is Dating Agency: Cyranro, although I didn’t care for the ending.

Weirdgorden, Episode Two

Author’s note: I ran out of time to finish this for today, so I’ll update it later this week. It’s a work in progress. Happy reading! –Pixie

Weirdgorden — The Store That Doesn’t Sell Anything

Episode Two

A busy street in a Midwestern City with snow on the sidewalks all around.  The store, Weirdgorden’s has all the lights on and the door sign is turned to Open. 

Inside we see Amy sitting at a table with a coffee and notebook in hand. She taps her notebook with the pen and stares at store clerks Charlotte and Larry, who are at the U-shaped counter unloading and cataloguing various soaps, lotions, and creams. 

Larry: Big shipment today.  You think Mr. Gorden’s branching out?

Charlotte:  Isn’t he always?  That woman is here again.  

Larry: I think she likes your coffee. 

Charlotte: (piling lotion tubes in her hand). She should, drinks enough of it. 

Charlotte comes out from behind the counter and starts organizing the bottles on a display rack.  When she’s done, Amy scurries from her seat to inspect the display while the clerks regard her curiously. 

Amy: No price tags—again!

Larry: (snorting) And why would there be, why would there be? (He stacks empty boxes and takes them through the swinging doors to the back. 

Charlotte asks if Amy wants another coffee, but she declines and returns to her seat. 

Charlotte: We close in an hour.  (She organizes fancy bar soaps in a pyramid on the counter. 

Ding! The door chimes as a husband and wife enter, the wife clearly dragging the husband.

Betty: See, dear, it’s a beauty shop!  Oh, just look at all these beautiful soaps and lotions!

Dave: Yes, hon. (He nods to Amy and Charlotte).  The wife’s looking for a gift for her mother. 

Charlotte: Ah, is that so?  (She smiles and goes back to her tasks)

Betty and Dave take some time choosing various soaps and lotions and Betty brings them up to the counter and piles them in front of the giant cash register.  Charlotte continues her tasks and Dave clears his throat very loud to get her attention.  All the time Amy scribbles notes in her notebook.  Charlotte reluctantly walks over to the register before looking hopefully at the door to the back room. 

Betty: The choices you have are so wonderful!  My mother’s in the hospital and they just do not understand beauty care, you know what I mean?

Charlotte: Oh, yes.  These are great items.  Imported, you know. (She looks at Betty expectantly, while Betty looks back equally expectantly)

After a minute with nothing happening, Dave clears his throat again, asking isn’t Charlotte going to ring up the items. 

Charlotte: (Waving a hand).  Oh, Larry’s already done that, dears.

Betty and Dave: Oh. Oh?

Charlotte pulls out a pretty store bag and begins putting the items inside.

Betty: How much…?  (But Charlotte doesn’t answer)

Dave:  (Whispering) Fifty, give her fifty.

Betty scrounges in her wallet for fifty dollars, but when she hands it to Charlotte, Charlotte laughs.  Amy stands up, watching closely. 

Charlotte: I don’t need your money.  Mr. Gorden pays me quite well, thank you. (She nudges the bag to the edge of the counter)

Betty:  Oh, but I have to pay for the soaps. 

Charlotte:  Pay for the soaps?  (She sighs)  And why would you do that?

Dave:  Look here, how much are all these items, anyway?  We want to pay for them and go on our way!

Charlotte:  We don’t sell soaps and lotions here.  Larry!  La—rry!

Namkoong Min: Versatile

Currently I am watching two different dramas starring the same actor, Namkoong (also Namgoong) Min. Namkoong Min is very versatile in his acting, able to successfully and hilariously do slapstick comedy and also thrillers and serious dramas. He first came on my radar in the show In Need of Romance 3, or I Need Romance 3, playing a jerk of a boss. He is also very easy on the eyes and I think it’s cool we are almost exactly the same age. Playing a minor character, he had such stage presence, and I wondered at the time why he wasn’t playing a lead.

Sometimes actors take awhile to reach their stride. Talent sometimes takes awhile to be noticed, especially as the competition is fierce: Everyone is good looking, everyone is talented, etc. Last year I decided to watch 2020’s Awaken, unsure if it was a show I would actually like. The show blew me away, especially the main actor, who I kept thinking looked a lot like that jerk boss from the I Need Romance series. I was seriously amazed to find this was actually the same actor! Min looks so, so different in Awaken and his performance is wonderful. He definitely carries the show.

Now I have decided to check out his other shows, realizing that he is getting cast as a leading man, and am currently watching both Doctor Prisoner and The Undateables. The first is a fast-paced thriller where the actors are all having a grand time being villainous and near glorious scenery chewing. The second is a romcom, alternately slapstick and bittersweet. Min is great with both characters, it’s honestly hard to believe he is playing both of them. He is truly a versatile actor and almost chameleon like. The writing of both shows needs a little help, but they are still worth watching just for his performances. Other shows of his on my list to watch are the thriller The Veil that came out fall of 2021, and an adorable looking one called Hot Stove League from 2019-2020 about a professional baseball team. He is definitely an actor to keep one’s eye on for the future, and of course now I want him to star in something with acting chameleon Seo In Guk.

https://asianwiki.com/Namkoong_Min

Updates for 2022

As I’m not quite done with the surprisingly funny and excellent Kdrama Hwarang about a fighting force of elite flower boys, this week I’m just going to go through some updates.

Writing: As I’m a slow writer and easily distracted, especially by the current events in the past fews years, my writing has suffered. As yet, I haven’t published Trolls for Dust, Season 3. It is still in the works, but is now in competition with a novella idea that has captured my interest. I also would like to write more episodes of Weirdgorden, as I just find the idea of a store that doesn’t sell anything hilarious and want to see where it goes. My main goals for this year are to publish TfD:S3 and the novella. See next the steps I am taking to make sure that happens.

Planning: Like many women my age I have succumbed to the trend of buying pretty, expensive planners. The trick is actually using them well and making them more than just pretty sticker books. This year I decided to use Hobonichi Weeks as a carry planner, continuing to use a Weeks as a writing planner, and using Clever Fox Weekly Planner premium edition as a goal planner. Mostly, I am really into foxes lately, and the color gold/yellow. Don’t know why, but am thrilled this planner is undated, so I can pop in and out of it as I like. It’s a hobby, basically, but so far, especially the goal planner is helping me actually write more frequently, which is awesome, and I pray I can stick with it. Also, I have stepped up and taken charge of planning for groups that I am a part of, so this helps me stay on track with that as well.

Reading: As always, I am reading multiple books. Right now really enjoying a Tesla biography I’ve owned for years, but never actually read. What a crazy time in history, the race to set up electricity for everyone. Although I made it through a couple of the LOTR movies in December, I didn’t get to start rereading Tolkien’s masterpiece, so that is on my list for this year as well as a highly recommended fantasy series called The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Agatha Christie’s will remain a staple, as will other mysteries and some Regency era romances.

Watching: As I just can’t get enough of the awesome Korean Dramas, I will still subscribe to Viki for that, and am also subscribed to Unauthorized TV to watch more LOTR lectures by Rachel Fulton Brown. She’s pretty great, with a fun, positive attitude to boot. Occasionally I do get to watch things on other apps like Netflix or Amazon, and have to say I really enjoyed The Tomorrow War starring Chris Pratt. Some of the acting needed help, but what a rush!! Also looking forward to watching Kenneth Branagh’s version of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. My favorite Kdrama for 2021 is hands down the zombie show Happiness starring Han Hyo Joo (W), and Park Hyung Sik (Strong Woman Do Bong Soon). It’s got a great plot, an awesome leading couple, and a killer soundtrack. It’s worth subscribing to Viki for a month just to watch it. Embarrassed to say I’ve watched it twice now and plan to watch a third time. (As a side note, never did I finish Bossam, it just dragged after awhile and life is too short.)

Conspiracy Theories: I like following alternative news and it’s amazing to see things coming to fruition, especially regarding the Coronahoax and Plandemic. People are really starting to find out they have been fooled. It’s going to be difficult not to say “I told you so,” but I just keep in mind that God’s blessing allowed me to wake up about vaccines and the medical industry a few years ago. He gave me a love of stories that has me chase down these sometimes laughable “conspiracy theories.” I’m not really smart or right or anything, just willing to question and have a story addiction. It’s just so sad that so many people had to die for all the lies, and even more sad, will die in the future, as they now have compromised immune systems. But I am confident that God will find a way around it, at least for some, and already there are a number of doctors figuring out what you can take to neutralize the effects of the vaccines. Following Q has proved beneficial as well, for many things along that coming to fruition, like everything about Epstein and Maxwell being correct, for example. Whatever Q was it got a lot of people digging into a lot of research, and if it was just a political game/psyop, well, it was a fun one that intentionally or not, woke a lot of people up to just how much we can not trust those in authority.

Health: I’ve undergone a lot of health changes in the past year, but the most beneficial by far has been seriously increasing my Vitamin D supplements. Time will tell just how miraculous the sunshine vitamin is for me, but it’s great having increased energy, better sleep, and much improved hair and skin. I’m excited for summer to come around so I can get some actual D from the sun. In addition to that, I made the move to change from years and years of sit down office jobs to one cleaning all day. After a few weeks, my body is stronger and I have more stamina. It’s exhausting and great. I also am very glad I did not take the corona vaccines and will not do so in the future, either. Probably, I won’t take any vaccines ever again unless they are physically forced on me, which, sadly, many world governments seems intent on doing to their citizens. Whether it’s money, power, or simply ill will, those in power have declared they can make medical decisions for individual people. I do what I can to push back against this abuse, but it’s hard as so, so many I know still buy into it and really don’t realize how far our medical industry has fallen in regards to its purpose of health for patients. Also continuing with a mostly carnivore diet and trying to avoid sugar, though it’s a tough addiction to break.

Relationships: In this area, I’ve given a lot to God and have largely stopped worrying about things I can’t control. I am increasingly trying to meet people where they are, instead of having my own expectations for them and striving to be straightforward when I want or need something from people. Awesome thing is, that works, as does genuinely being there for those in my life and moving the focus from myself to them. Never will be perfect at it, but goals, goals.

Work: Work can be and sometimes is “life,” especially the good works which God has prepared for us in advance to do. A job is a different thing. I am willing to give up a job and income to stand up to tyranny, mostly because I care so, so much about the world my numerous nieces and nephews will have to live in if no one stands up. Foolish? Maybe. Satisfying on a personal level? A thousand times–yes! I do not fear, for God has never let me down yet, not once. Don’t always get what I want; in fact, I get far more than I deserve. It’s also been so rewarding to move to physical labor. It’s a good tired at the end of the day.

Lifestyle: Moved out of the city to a nearby lake in April. Winter weather is often terrifying to drive in, and of course I have to buy more gas now, but it’s been so worth it. It’s a quiet place where I can think and write, in a tiny apartment with windows giving me a grand view of the lake, and I love it. So much light, so much nature, so much life! And it’s sparked so much unexpected creativity like the designing of some steampunk bookshelves that are a perfect fit. The apartment is easy to clean, as well, and the small size keeps my buying books addiction more in check.

Bible Study: The first shall be last and the last, first. This is the most important one. In recent years I have found much joy and person spiritual growth in group and also personal Bible study. At my church our Sunday Bible study will be going through Galations, which I’m excited about. I’ve also been blessed with the time to attend a second Bible study during the week in which we discuss the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday. This one is populated mostly by retired seniors and what amazing incites they have! For my personal Bible study, I am going through Romans, using The People’s Bible by Northwestern Publishing House and also Martin Luther’s commentary on the letter. It’s my favorite book of the Bible, so I’m super pumped.

Mood: I will soon be coming up on the one year anniversary of my father’s death. I miss him so, so much, but I know he’s having a great time in heaven telling all of his puns and jokes to anyone who will listen. This year has taught me that life is shorter than we think and time with our God and our loved ones is precious. It is foolish to let other things, no matter how necessary we may think them at the time, to get in the way. It’s never too late to start living life well and in true joy, never too late to find work that really is meaningful to you, and never wrong to be generous to others. God blesses us to be able to be generous with our time, talents, and treasure. He asks us to test Him in this and we should trust that He will provide for us. We can give boldy and without fear. Worldly truth is fleeting, God’s truth is eternal and the only thing on which we truly can rely.

Blog: Due to now working full-time again, I will be only posting once a week again, probably, but not always, on Wednesdays. Hopefully you get some benefits out of my reviews, musings, and crazy conspiracy theories. May God bless your year and make it epic.

The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 7: The Last Battle

What a timely title that is: The Last Battle. So many people, including Christians, think we are in the last days, the battle(s) before the end of the world. Maybe that’s true, but who knows? The world’s gone through some pretty bad times before now and still went on. Our times now are projected to get tougher, but, hey, we get tougher with it.

This is my least favorite book in The Chronicles of Narnia. I realized I’d never actually read the whole thing, because Puzzle and Shift and the wearing of the lion skin made me sick to my stomach. No different this time. Ugh. Really, I only liked the very end, when everyone, all the children now grown up, now young again, who had ever visited Narnia get to go to heaven or Aslan’s country.

I so admire Tirian’s bravery and also that of Eustace and Jill. No lack of fighting here. However, I was kind of bored by it and just sad about the false Aslan, the false god. Perhaps it was just too gloomy for me. I also wasn’t sure what to make of Lewis’s including of a character who did not believe in Aslan in Aslan’s country. Going by allegory, it is not theology in line with the Bible, for the Bible says faith in Jesus is what one must have for salvation. But, perhaps this young man always believed in Aslan, or Jesus, and just didn’t know his name? Certainly people before Jesus was born on earth still believed in him, in God’s promise of a Savior, and were saved, so maybe Lewis is getting at something like that. It was perplexing, though, and not clarified well.

The very end is great, Lewis’s vision of heaven is pretty neat, although it is sad that the Pevensies all died in a train accident. Fortunately they don’t care and are on to bigger and better adventures. How great it was to have all the characters of all the stories together. What fun they will have!

Maybe someday I will read The Last Battle again and appreciate it more. I know a lot of fans of the series really like this one.

To conclude: My favorite is still The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, though it was fun reading all seven books. I realize that in many ways I have grown up and maybe can’t appreciate the series the same way in which I did as a child. Being grown up isn’t so bad, though, we have our adventures too.

Elantris: The Cursed City

Elantris is the second book I’ve read by Brandon Sanderson (third one I’ve tried–the main character and the writing in Steelheart got on my nerves). Although I don’t find it quite as awesome as The Emperor’s Soul, this was a very good, if long, read. Sanderson is a great world builder and clearly a deep thinker as well.

In the land of Arelon there is a city called Elantris, a dead and crumbling city that was cursed ten years ago. Before that, Elantris was powerful, gorgeous, and full of magic, as were it’s citizens, the Elantrians, who were much like superheroes or gods on the earth, using special ruins or Aons to access the Dor, or the “Force” of the universe and using that power to do great things. One day, suddenly, the magic stopped working, the Elantrian’s silver skin and white hair disappeared and they found their appearance changed to that of diseased corpses instead. For the neighboring city of Kae, Elantris is now a place condemned. Whereas before, any person taken by the power and made into an Elantrian lived in splendor, now those taken by the same power are thrown into the same place to rot and likely die.

Elantris follows three main characters: Prince Raoden, who is heir to the Arelon throne, wakes up one day to find he is a cursed Elantrian. He is thrown into the city which dwarfs his own, to rot and to starve. His family and nations considers him as dead. Princess Sarene is a princess from the nearby country across the water, Toed, and arrives in Arelon to marry Prince Raoden, but finds that he is now dead and that per Arelon law she cannot marry another and will just remain a widowed court lady. Hrathen is a priest of the country of Fjordell. He has come to convert Arelon to his religion, Shu Dereth, and convert him he must, or they will all die as Fjordell plans to attack and invade them for their unbelief.

This book, like many high fantasy books, is long and so takes awhile to get going. But much world building needs to be done for the reader and Sanderson is great at that. We get to follow Raoden as he finds a new life in Elantris and even works for the good of his country despite his circumstances. We follow Sarene in her disappointment and then watch her rally as she forays into political intrigue in the Kae court. We see Hrathen confident, then continually thwarted in his plan to convert the city of Kae and Arelon. We learn more and more about what Elantris was before and what it is now.

The biggest theme that stood out to me in the story was the power of positive thinking. Raoden takes grime and decay and in his own way makes it beautiful and useable. Sarene does the same, making the best of her circumstances. Although there isn’t a lot of their romance in the book, it is neat to see how they work together for the good of their country as a couple, even if neither really know they are still a couple. They two are indeed kindred spirits and how in tune their minds and objectives are despite the distance is romantic. Even more exciting is when Raoden realizes who she is, but Sarene doesn’t know who he is. What fun.

The parts with Hrathen I found interesting, but also tedious. There are a lot of religious themes going on, but it is never clear what his religion, Shu Dereth, really teaches. The biggest message is basically convert or die. For the opposite religion, Shu Korath, there is a general feeling of kindness, but few specifics. Obviously the author left the religions purposefully vague, which on one level I found irritating, but on another level worked: By the end of the book, Hrathan has a full on questioning of his faith in Shu Dereth, and that is essentially the point of his character. He is bent on converting those to a religion in which he doesn’t really believe. However, he keeps faith in the god both religions share.

Sorry, that was a spoiler, but it’s pretty easy from the beginning of the story to see where his character arc is going. His battle with Sarene is amusing as she continually thwarts his efforts to convert the masses. She and her country of Toed are followers of the kinder religion, Shu Korath.

The religious aspects were fascinating to me because all the characters clearly had some matter of faith, but it was also as if they didn’t fully understand or know what they were believing in. Here, the vagueness didn’t quite work for me, for even believing children will know specifics. It just wasn’t flattering to any of the characters. Yet, can we say in the real world, those of us religious believers, that we really and truly understand specifically what we believe in? For me, yes and no. It depends how far I have pulled away from God at any given moment.

The magic of the world is similar to the stamps in The Emperor’s Soul and makes sense and both worlds are in the same universe. I was very much rooting for Raoden to figure out what went wrong in Elantris, why the magic suddenly stopped working. And although he does figure it out, it’s almost by mere chance that it works, and after I wondered just how he would manage to keep the magic permanent in the future. The Aons are beautiful things, both artistic and powerful, and the entire world of the story is built around them. Good world building, indeed.

Elantris is great on many levels, but Sanderson really found his stride here especially with family and friend relationships. They are all warm, real people one could imagine meeting in real life, with strengths and flaws all on display throughout the story. Maybe it’s just me being a woman, as we tend to be more interested in relationships, but I was so glad there was very little battle time and that I as a reader just got to, well, “live” in the world of Arelon. There is quite a lot of politics in the book, so if one isn’t interested in that, that or the religion, that could be a turn off. Somehow Sanderson manages to write about the most controversial topics in the real world, but in this story they are things to be pursued and studied, rather than avoided in conversation at all costs. Again, the vagueness helped in this, allowing him largely to avoid offence to the readers, while getting them interested in the story.

This was a great, if long, read and enjoyed almost all of it. It is definitely a book I’d like to read again someday and of course has made me more interested in Sanderson’s other books set in the same universe. The magic he uses in his books is very specific, a science, almost. Looking forward to reading more of him in the future.

The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 5, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

As a kid this was the Narnia book for me. None of the other books came close to the adventure in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. After having reread it as an adult, my opinion is the same: This is the best of the lot.

So, what makes it so special? Nothing spells adventure like a ship, plus its a ship with a quest, carrying quite a few characters we’ve already met in the series and an important new one. The quest is twofold, Prince Caspian wishes to track down 7 Narnian lords that were banished long ago and never returned, and he wants to reach the end of the world, which is Aslan’s country, or heaven, if one is keeping close to the Christian allegory.

Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are stuck visiting their horrible, annoying cousin Eustace Scrubb. Things go wrong from the start as they start arguing about a painting and end up smack dab in the middle of the sea in Narnia. Fortunately, The Dawn Treader is close at hand and soon all three are brought up on deck to be greeted by Prince Caspian, his men, and the mouse Reepicheep. This entrance to Narnia isn’t quite as iconic as the wardrobe, but it’s close.

Everyone is happy to see each other and be in Narnia except for Eustace, but then, he’s never been there before. And then, the ship is off on the quest to find the lords. Each island they pass too, it just gets better and better and I like this end of the world stuff and the whole poking at the flat earth idea. So many of the characters get challenged: Lucy, Caspian, and Reepicheep particularly. Eustace has the most dynamic change, and we quietly acknowledge along with himself that he does belong in Narnia and that he may be back. I also like all the unexpected turns in the plot–so often there appears to be danger, but then they find things aren’t as they seem and sometimes the more dangerous things are closer to the heart, like Lucy and Caspian longing for things they cannot have.

Basically, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has it all: sword fighting, sailing, a quest, a dragon, gold, princesses, water people, unending feast, a wizard, storms, a sea monster, and a teensy bit of romance thrown in. It’s a great read and if I kept any of the Narnia books on my shelf it would be this one. For me, the other ones just still don’t compare.