Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz: In Which Baum Tries to be Jules Verne

The afterword of the previous Oz book stated that L. Frank Baum had finally gotten his act together and fully intended on making a whole franchise of Oz. Since they had been, weirdly enough, gradually getting better, I had a vague sense of hope. Let’s see what the fourth book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, has in store for us.

In this installment, Dorothy visits California to see some other uncle of hers. However, she, her cat Eureka, and some kid named Zebediah (and his horse, Jim) get caught up in an earthquake. Said earthquake sends them falling straight to hell, which in Baum’s mind is apparently a glass city inhabited by vegetable people called Mangaboos.

Starting out, Wizard in Oz is actually not too bad. The setting is relatively creative, for starters. Plant people aren’t a remotely new concept, but it’s done so literally that it gives these plant people a complete disregard toward death; after all, you can just plant a new version of that person. 

To be honest, most of the book stays enjoyable. There’s no jarring smooth-brain plays nor outstanding cases of sexism and the like. Unfortunately, it still has Oz’s ongoing problem of having nonsense worldbuilding. While the setpieces are certainly imaginative, especially for the time, I don’t feel immersed or engaged in any of it. Sadly, I have a feeling that this issue will not be resolved, since Tolkein is the one credited for making the first believable fantasy world, and that wouldn’t be for forty-odd more years. 

Bizarrely enough, the characters are a bit more tolerable, and by “characters” I mean “the Wizard and literally no one else.” For some reason, it was weirdly cathartic to see him swoop in on his balloon, seeing him for the first time since the original classic. He’s quite the resourceful fellow, full of all kinds of tricks, and he comes off as more of a badass this time around. 

Of course, no Oz book can be flawless, and this one falls apart at the end. After their adventures in Baum’s version of hell, we see the first instance of some new plot armor: Ozma’s magic belt, which warps them out of danger and into Oz. And when they regroup, the book basically pads itself out. Baum throws together a contrived climax, which basically plays out like one of those Ace Attorney trial days where you spend ninety minutes figuring out something that the witness already knew the whole time. 

Lastly… Well, actually, it’s something about all the Oz books I’ve been hesitant to put out since it’s a referral to someone who might be still alive. The afterwords for these reprints of the Oz books have all been written by a Peter Glassman (whoever he is), with retrospective commentary on the corresponding book. And going off these, he seems like… kind of a Baum elitist. I first got pissed at him in the afterword for Ozma of Oz, when he referred to TikTok as literature’s first robot. That is wrong, for Frankenstein’s monster is literature’s first robot (thanks, Asimov). For Wizard in Oz, he starts by listing off the setpieces and acts like they are one-of-a-kind and could never be reimagined by someone else. How hero-worship-y must someone be to claim something like that, when you can’t possibly take into account the thousands of media that exist out there? Surely one of them must have something similar. In fact, the Koroks from Zelda are similar enough to the Mangaboos, the only difference being that they’re better (Oooooh snap!). The most elitist line yet is at the end of the afterword. During their recap of Ozma’s origin story, Baum—either by accident or design—retcons the story; he changes key points of it and acts like nothing changed whatsoever. And Glassman, well, he praises Baum for being inconsistent. It’s one of those go-to defenses against any sort of criticism: “You just don’t understand the genius at work!” 

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Final Verdict: 6.98/10

For all intents and purposes, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz is the best Oz book yet, and should be rated a 7. However, most of my enjoyment of the Oz books has been ripping into insignificant details as well as Baum’s unintentional power moves, such as Ozma’s gender-fluidity. And as such, I didn’t enjoy this one so much because it wasn’t “wrong” enough. To be honest, I can’t believe I made it this far. Let’s see how much longer I can go.

Time Castaways: Steins;Gate but for Kids!

We all know time travel is iffy. It’s especially iffy in literature, since it’s something that could get needlessly convoluted very quickly. Despite all that, I looked at Liesl Shurtliff’s Time Castaways book series and thought: “This actually looks good.” Let’s see (and hope) if I was right.

In Time Castaways, three siblings by the names of Matt, Ruby, and Corey Hudson, take the subway to school and end up on the Vermillion, a time machine. Yeah, I don’t get it either. They join the crew, led by Captain Vincent, for literal shits and giggles, and they go on various time missions through time-space. 

This story sounds like one of those “edutainment” series, where the whole point is showing how much random historical trivia the author knows. Fortunately, about halfway into the first book, things escalate rather quickly. The established rules regarding time travel are quite simple, and it never goes to complete and utter BS territory, even towards the end where things would normally get out of hand.

And, well, that’s because the plot is extremely simple. Time Castaways more-or-less follows all the usual clichés of the time travel subgenre. Even the biggest revelation, shown at the end of book two, is incredibly obvious from the start. If you have experience with this kind of stuff, it’ll likely feel very cringe-worthy.

What makes Time Castaways stand out, however, is the power of family. Normally, the parents are like “Time travel? You kids need to go to the place with the nice guys in white suits for a while!” and the mom steals some MacGuffin from the main protagonist as punishment for sneaking out of the house so often. But here, the whole family ends up deeply involved in all the mumbo-jumbo, earning their spots as plot-relevant supporting protagonists.

The second book, unfortunately, suffers the same curse that most midpoints in trilogies have. It’s more-or-less a wild goose chase. It introduces the main MacGuffin of the trilogy, sure. But other than that, there aren’t any real developments until the climax.

Fortunately, unlike many-a YA novel, the final book is insane. It’s slow at first, but things go absolutely off the rails as everything comes together. If you find yourself emotionally invested in the cast, your heart will break into a million pieces at many points in the final book.

However, becoming emotionally invested in the cast is quite difficult. Matt’s only real trait is that he has seizures, and being adopted. His level of suffering is about on par with Okabe in Steins;Gate. But unlike Okabe, who has a whacky personality, Matt is… a kid. RELATABLE (*sarcasm*).

His siblings aren’t much better; in fact, they’re arguably worse. Ruby pretty much exists for an unfunny meme where she arbitrarily gets tossed around by the Vermillion, and that’s pretty much it. Corey, meanwhile, is a turd. He’s both the comic relief, and the “always jumps to conclusions” guy. Pretty much every rift in any relationship in the trilogy has him involved, and it’s annoying.

I think boringness runs in the family, because I didn’t particularly care for ANY of the Hudsons. They’re, well, family, I guess. As cool as it is to have the family be important, the characters themselves aren’t really that fun. I dunno, I’m probably spoiled by the utter god-tier level of Spy X Family’s wholesomeness.

Wow, half of this review is the cast! In addition to the Hudsons, we have the crew of the Vermillion. The only one who matters is Jia. She’s the waifu. It’s not even a spoiler that she turns Matt from a boy into a man. That’s about it. Brocco and Wiley are pretty much there. Albert exists to be an utter ass. His motive is supposed to be that he’s a British kid from the late 1770’s, who would naturally hate Americans, but that never comes up again in his character arc. Lastly, there’s Pike, who’s basically a wild card that they tease as someone super mysterious, but she’s more-or-less forgettable.

Finally, we have the main antagonist, epically named “Vincent.” Okay, so technically, saying he’s the villain is a spoiler for book one, but it’s extremely obvious that he’s the villain (he has a pet rat for one thing). He’s not a well-written antagonist. He’s one-dimensionally evil, with no strings attached. His motive for everything is literally him being jealous of someone else dating the same girl that he liked; what a brat! I’m not like those who think that EVERY villain MUST be complex and layered, but I like some fun personality to make up for it, and Vincent has none of that.

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Final Verdict (Whole Series): 8.5/10

Time Castaways is great. It sucks that it’s not that popular, since it’s so much better than what actually IS popular. The books have flaws, but they’re very fun, emotional, and full of family wuv. I recommend it to anyone who likes time travel and actually wants to see it done well.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: An American Magical Girl Series (with a lot of shipping)

Despite me being a big weeb, I am more than willing to admit that cartoons are better than anime by a long shot, at least modern ones. However, a number of them tend to be a bit predictable. One day, due to the impulsive part of the brain that says “F*** it”, I decided to watch a Netflix show called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, reviews of which said it had a lot of depth. However, I was hesitant because it’s a reboot. While I loved DuckTales 2017, I was able to appreciate it because I at least knew the characters from other Disney stuff. But with She-Ra… I never heard of the original 1980s cartoon to begin with. Oh well, here I am nonetheless!

So, uh, the main protagonist starts out being raised as an orphan in… the bad guy place? I feel like that would’ve been too complicated in the ‘80s… Also, the “bad guy” group is called the Horde, and their leader is named “Hordak”, as in, the Horde. Ack. Seriously? Anyhoo, said protagonist, named Adora, ends up sneaking out with her anthropomorphic feline friend—creatively named Catra—to some forest where she finds a sword. After being told esoteric nonsense, our Adora-ble friend turns over a new leaf as the swole Princess She-Ra. 

I should start by saying how awesome this show looks. The art is simple, but effective, with a wide variety of pleasing color palettes and anime-like particle effects. It looks a lot like an American graphic novel, which I normally don’t enjoy, but the animation helps bring life to something that would otherwise be lifeless. Similar to Avatar, the characters are very anatomically correct by cartoon standards. 

Like The Dragon Prince, She-Ra 2018 follows a linear narrative right out of the gate. The show wastes no time getting interesting, as Adora swiftly realizes that the Horde has been shoving propaganda down her throat. Also, in case you couldn’t tell from Catra wearing a lot of red, she becomes the Zuko of this series when she finds out about the whole She-Ra thing. And speaking of She-Ra herself, Adora has to get acclimated with the power starting out.

As with about 90% of all American media for kids/teens, She-Ra 2018 has a pretty explicit theme of identity (which I can assume is not part of the original). Adora tends to be torn between her old life with kitty friend, and her new life with the people who are clearly the good guys. Plus, a lot of the residents of this world (which I forgot to mention is called Etheria) clearly know She-Ra as some kind of public figure. This puts pressure on Adora that is (as much as I hate saying it) something relatable to anyone who’s grown up in a first-world country; we all got told that we have to fix the entire world at least once as kids. 

Despite my hearing that She-Ra 2018’s story had depth, it’s sadly not the case. Well, technically it does have depth to an extent. There is a lot to the story, yes, but it’s incredibly straightforward. Also, despite what they set up between Adora and Catra, there is still a clear good and evil side. Even though certain individuals within the horde get interesting character development, the Horde itself is just one-dimensionally evil for no reason. But you know what, a kids’ show is a kids’ show, and it’s not like I exactly enjoy those SUPER complicated stories in the first place. 

Although it does nothing new, She-Ra 2018 reinvents the wheel quite well. It eases you in, but doesn’t waste time with random antics like most cartoons early on, yet giving you enough time to like the characters before sh*t hits the fan. Fortunately, there is enough humor to go around, even during the trying times. The humor is pretty much the standard for modern cartoons: witty comments and an awareness of its own running themes.

However, there’s a weird issue with season two. While She-Ra 2018 doesn’t waste time with cartoon antics early on, it starts doing just that in the second season. While there are some important developments sprinkled throughout, the second season does have its share of self-contained issues that have the usual lack of proper context. Fortunately, it is the second-shortest season, but it’s still the weakest nonetheless.

As good as the story is, it wouldn’t be crap without its likeable cast. Adora definitely has issues to work through, what with realizing that the empire she’s been serving is bad and all. Fortunately, these are all legitimate insecurities which aren’t even remotely on the level of smooth-brain of most cartoon protagonists (but that doesn’t mean she isn’t smooth-brained, period). The friends that she ditches Catra for end up being incredible supports. One of them is a glimmering princess named Glimmer. She starts off as a pretty typical “nakama”-type, but ends up going in an interesting direction later. Unfortunately, she ends up having a fair number of smooth-brain moments, even if they aren’t as bad as other cartoon characters. Plus, the unspecified limit to her magic is a plot detriment that becomes redundant until a certain point.

The other friend is the only male lead: an archer—an archer—named Bow. Yes, an archer named Bow. I checked IMDB and, indeed, that’s how his name is spelt. Not Bo, Boh, nor Boe; but Bow. His favorite band is probably Unleash the Archers (*laughs while slow-clapping*). Like Sokka from Avatar, he offers most of the comic relief, but he’s also very physically and technologically capable.

Of course, the show isn’t called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power for nothing; i.e. there are other princesses. From the valleygirl Mermista, to the nerdy-ass Entrapta (the names of whom I’m probably spelling wrong), each princess is good at one thing, and they do that thing to the Nth degree. Also supporting the main heroes are the chuunibyou pirate Sea Hawk, and the sassy horse Swiftwind. 

In order to make the show good, however, you need antagonists that are equally as likeable as the protagonists. But despite how big the army is, there aren’t that many people important enough to have names. Fortunately, quality supersedes quantity here. Take Best Girl Scorpia, for example. She’s basically a ten-year-old trapped in a ridiculously swole body, and is almost always enjoyable to see. A bit higher up the ladder is Shadow Weaver, who is—sadly—your typical Saturday morning cartoon villain, who’s all like “I’m bad and stuff”. She does get character development, but it’s quite literally something you’ve seen before. At the TOP of that ladder is the aforementioned Hordak. He seems unremarkable at first, but it turns out that there are a lot of other sides to him.

Last and yes, definitely, absolutely not least is who I can only assume is everyone’s favorite character: Kitty-witty Catra. She’s like Zuko and Azula in one, busty cat body. As Adora’s childhood friend, she becomes very livid very fast when Adora is all “Hey, I like these other people instead”. But for Catra, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… uh, wait, that phrase doesn’t work here. Basically, she uses that anger as fuel to become the biggest bi—wait, she’s a cat. She becomes the biggest, er… *asks Google what a female cat is* Molly (apparently) in the Horde. 

However, her character arc is way more complicated than that. In fact, I was legitimately impressed by Catra. As the series goes on, she battles very clashing emotions and insecurities. I’m willing to bet that she would’ve just been some twinkie who said brilliant one-liners such as “Hey Adora, cat got your tongue?” in the old show. But on the other side of the coin, she can just be written off as “an angsty emo kid” like Sasuke from Naruto. She-Ra 2018 needs a re-watch just so you can really take in exactly what causes Catra to go awry and when; you’ll need to understand how people work REALLY well in order to get why (and if it makes any sense).

If you couldn’t tell, the whole show revolves around a single love triangle: Adora, Glimmer, and Catra. Since the show’s done, there is at least an answer to that now, but I imagine that the fandom was very toxic while She-Ra 2018 was still airing. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Throughout the show, I felt like there was a massive multitude of potential ships, made evident through various context clues, such as Glimmer being jealous when Bow goes to a party with another girl. So no matter what happens, there will be at least five different reasons for you to unconditionally hate this show. Fortunately, they don’t drop the ball and have every ship either sunk or unaccounted for; there ARE clear winners, you just have to do the unthinkable and deal with it.

And for the record, this show is really good at not feeling like a reboot at all (which is a compliment). In DuckTales, I had a pretty good hunch of who was carried over. But in She-Ra 2018, everyone felt so modern that I have no idea if anyone was carried over at all. It could’ve been everyone, or even no one. I can only assume that everyone is carried over because of how uncreative their names are. 

If there is any real, substantial flaw with the show—minus its god-awful opening sequence, nakama-powered Deus ex Machinas, and abundance of fake deaths—I felt like Etheria itself was faulty. The setpieces are very pleasing to look at, but there’s no real sense of space in this show. As far as I’m concerned, the different kingdoms feel like they’re within a hop, skip, and a jump from each other. There’s also one character whose existence is implied early on but they never actually appear in the show. Furthermore, there’s no reason to care about anyplace. They make you give so many f***s about Bright Moon, but there is literally nothing there but the castle and its whopping six occupants. But you know what, it beats filler episodes where the cast stops at nondescript villages that never show up again to solve self-contained Saturday morning cartoon antics!

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Final Verdict: 8.7/10

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power ended up being a much better cartoon than I expected, even though I prefer The Dragon Prince (assuming its remaining seasons are just as good as the early ones). I’m especially glad that it wasn’t just ham-fisted P.C. Feminist propaganda; they actually put in the effort necessary to convey it through context. I can’t remotely imagine how the old She-Ra would’ve fared by comparison, let alone imagine what the plot would’ve been. I recommend She-Ra 2018 if you like magical girl shows but want a bit more class than what Sailor Moon offers.


P.S. with Spoilers

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, but I feel mixed about the ending. Sure, it’s good that they resolve everything cleanly and cohesively. However, the fact that the Adora and Catra ship actually got to sail felt like pandering. Their love is definitely not shoehorned in at the end; it’s readily apparent since the very first episode as long as you know how writing works. Look, I’m saying this without looking up other reviews of the show, but I feel like they ended Catra’s character arc that way just to pander to a fandom that would’ve otherwise berated them. If they planned it to be that way from the start, then cool. But man, though, it just so happens that the biggest ship actually sails? Since when does that ever happen?

Ozma of Oz: Literature’s First LGBT Protagonist?

The Oz series has been an absolute acid trip thus far. Book two, The Marvelous Land of Oz, had a startling number of ups and downs, along with all the usual controversies of the time period. However, despite me insulting L. Frank Baum’s intelligence numerous times in my previous two reviews, he wrote a gender-fluid character: Princess Ozma, a girl who had been identified as a boy until magically sex changing back into a girl. So yeah, considering what Baum did to Feminism with the Army of Revolt last time, I can’t wait to see how much he offends a people that he didn’t even know about in book three: Ozma of Oz!

In Ozma of Oz, we reunite with Dorothy, who’s sailing to Australia with her Uncle Henry. After yet another cyclone, she (and a yellow hen) end up in the Land of Ev. It’s like Oz, but… worse I guess? Anyway, she has adventures and eventually meets Ozma.

First, I must once again point out the author’s note in the beginning. Like the previous book, Ozma of Oz was written because of fan mail. However, he wasn’t just compelled to write this book, but actually followed suggestions from said fan mail. It’s almost like a precursor to the Drawfee Show on YouTube, but at the same time, it’s like that guy in Bakuman who tried to write a manga with fan suggestions (and if you read Bakuman, you know how well that turned out).

Fortunately, the novel starts with what I think is the most hilarious development yet. The first monsters Dorothy and the hen encounter are these humans with wheels in place of their hands and feet. And they’re called… the Wheelers. I don’t know anything about Yu-Gi-Oh outside of Drawfee (and other horror stories I heard about the actual card game’s system being BS), but I at least know a character was localized with the name Joey Wheeler, and had a New England accent in the dub. As such, I imagined Dorothy being chased by an army of Joey Wheelers with wheel appendages, and it was quite a laugh.

Baum also makes another unintended prophecy. Forget Orson Scott Card and Philip K. Dick; Baum was the first to predict social media, in the form of a robot named… Tiktok. Yes, spelled that exact same way. Tiktok. 

Baum once again had the opportunity to go further, with the potential to beat Isaac Asimov to the punch. But alas, he drops the ball pretty much the instant Tiktok is introduced. It is explicitly and repeatedly stated that Tiktok isn’t alive, despite the fact that he literally has a setting dedicated to thought. As someone who’s seen the Data episode of Star Trek Next Generation, I groaned at this cop-out. I mean c’mon! I’m pretty sure the phrase “I think, therefore I am” was at least established at the time! It seems someone hasn’t learned from Jack Pumpkinhead in the previous book.

But wait, there’s more! Baum screws up again thanks to the aforementioned pee-colored poultry. The Ozma reveal was brilliant, but the yellow hen ruins it. The hen is a female, and is named Bill. While that in itself is still cool, Dorothy is disgusted by the concept and insists on calling the hen Billina. Why does Baum do this?! If he was just as uncomfortable with breaking gender conventions as anyone else in the 1900’s, then why did he have the Ozma thing in the first place?! This also applies to the sexism issue from the previous book. After I made that post, I remembered that he also had Dorothy kill the Wicked Witch of the West herself in the first book; a real act of Feminism, yet he quashes it in the sequel! I know that most old books are sexist, racist, etc., but at the least they’re consistent.

At least Baum managed to predict one thing properly: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The main antagonist of the novel is the Nome King, who turned the royal family of Ev into antiques since the old king literally pawned them off to him. While the Nomes are arguably a precursor to the dwarves from a novel that wouldn’t be published until forty-three years later, they are most definitely a precursor to the Grinch. The illustrations show them as green fuzzy humanoids; just like the Grinch! I’ll also admit that the Nome Kingdom is the most creative setting yet… is what I would say if we got to see it for more than five minutes. OH! At the very least, Baum predicted Gundam with the giant robot guarding the entrance!

Here we go… the cast, who are about as awful as ever. If you couldn’t tell from the Billina thing earlier, I officially hate Dorothy now (not like I enjoyed her before). Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion come back, but they are pretty much unchanged. Tiktok is also a pile of crap. He’s not just unutilized potential, as discussed before, but he’s about as inconsistent as Baum’s policy towards Feminism. Tiktok says that he cannot harm anything, but ends up doing most of the fighting throughout the novel. YOU HAD ONE JOB, BAUM. 

Fortunately, we have a silver lining. Billina is a pretty decent character, despite caving in to Dorothy changing her name. She’s sarcastic, and lays eggs whenever she darn well feels like it. Additionally, the Nome King ends up being the most interesting antagonist yet, mainly because he’s NOT one-dimensionally evil like a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He’s honest and reasonable, but is also a bit sadistic, given the challenge he gives Dorothy and Co. to save the Evs. Unfortunately, Baum drops the ball by making him 180 into a Saturday morning cartoon villain during the climax. At least he’s learning?

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Final Verdict: 6.95/10

Just a little more, and I’ll rate an Oz book at a seven or above (unless they start to degrade from here)! Ozma of Oz was a lot more creative than previous volumes, even if it still pales in comparison to some modern stuff (and Tolkien). It looks like I’m in it for the long haul for sure. Wish me luck (I’m gonna need it)!

Disney’s Frog Isekai: Amphibia Season 1 Review

If you’re reading this, then that means I’ve decided to get a bit experimental with my blog. While I would normally review a TV show in its entirety, I decided to review Disney’s Amphibia (created by Matt Braly) season by season. Having already caught up to season two (which was still airing while writing this), I realized how different the show was after season one. So, yeah, let’s hope season three ends up being a drastic tone shift or this idea will end up sucking hardcore.

Amphibia doesn’t beat around the bush, as it starts with its main protagonist, Anne Boonchuy, already in the titular other world, specifically in the town of Wartwood. She runs into a little frog boy named Sprig, and they hit it off pretty quickly. Anne wants to go back home, but instead of trying to haul ass out of there, she kinda just hangs out in Wartwood (hey, another isekai tradition!).

What immediately jumps out (no pun intended) about this isekai is its setting. For starters, almost every animal, from cows to birds, is either a bug or a worm of some kind. Amphibia uses a crap-ton of yellow, blue, and green in its aesthetic that is very appealing. Although the opening sequence shows a massive, lilypad-shaped world, this season is mostly confined to Wartwood. It would be a nice town, except that it’s intentionally not a nice town. The motto is, literally, “Slow to accept, even slower to respect.”

In terms of story, Amphibia operates like most modern cartoons. It starts off with a series of episodic stories, the conflicts of which have absolutely no prior context or foreshadowing, and teaches us an assortment of valuable, American life lessons. As with most shows of its kind, this first season gets us acquainted with the main cast through these Saturday morning cartoon antics. Many of these episodes are extremely predictable if you have experience with this kind of show, and having to see these needless conflicts unfold is about as truly cringe-worthy as any other cartoon.

The biggest hurdle in this season is the cast of the show. I know that no character should be flawless, but the level of smooth-brain in modern cartoon characters makes Patrick Star look like a genius (without the need for brain coral). Anne is perhaps one of my least favorite cartoon protagonists ever. Not only does she continuously make poor judgements regardless of how many lessons she learns, she also loves trashy TV shows, reads clickbaity headlines, and even dabs! DABS! Oh, and a small trigger warning for some people: she hates pineapple pizza. Sprig, on the other hand, is just about as bad (minus the pineapple pizza thing), except he’s a frog. 

At the very least, Polly and Hop Pop end up being the best of the main group. The former is just a tadpole, but she’s a fierce and furious young’un who somehow ends up being the voice of reason. And when Polly’s not the voice of reason, Hop Pop is. He’s your typical “old fart”, but he very much cares for his family. And similar to a certain Grunkle in another show, he’s got some plot-twisting secrets stuffed up his booty. Despite being more tolerable, Hop Pop and Polly end up having their smooth-brain moments because EVERYONE NEEDS TO LEARN THEM ‘MERICAN VALUES!

Similar to Gravity Falls, the locals of Wartwood are quite likeable (even if the town’s slogan says otherwise). From Wally the village weirdo, to the guy who grows tulips, the little stinkhole is full of colorful characters. Even the lousy mayor, Toadstool, ends up being pretty entertaining in a weird way.

As you can expect, the plot decides to kick in for the season finale. It’s not THAT amazing, but it is a good precedent for the stuff that’s to follow. The only weird part about it is what feels like a very out-of-place use of ‘Lean on Me’. But hey, maybe it was meant to be unfitting on purpose.

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Verdict: 7.65/10

Like many-a cartoon, the first season of Amphibia lays the groundwork, and gets you ready for next season with a tone-changing finale. You have to get through a lot of episodic hijinks that you have probably seen before, and since it does the “two short episodes” formula, it’ll feel twice as long even though the season is forgivingly short. From what I’ve seen in the next season, I think it’s worth it… provided you actually enjoy childrens’ cartoons as an adult.

DuckTales 2017: The Reboot I Have Zero Nostalgia For

PREFACE: I know I’m supposed to be on hiatus, but I ended up backed up with way too many posts. I finished THREE more Oz books in this time, plus I decided to review Amphibia by each individual season. I also have a several that have been ready to go for months, but never had the time to publish them. Since I deactivated my Twitter, and don’t even read posts on my Facebook outside of the bands I follow (thank goodness they have a Favorites system), I should have no worries about spoilers for the Attack on Titan finale coming out very soon, especially since the final season of the anime is getting a part two.


Before we begin (Hooray! Another preface!), I have a confession to make. I was a sheltered nineties kid. I never watched Spongebob Squarepants until I was well into middle school because it and other cartoons were too extreme for me (and, well, because I would’ve probably mimicked some of the dangerous cartoon stunts and killed myself). As a result, there were a LOT of popular shows from the late 20th Century through the turn of the 21st Century that I never watched, and would always feel a little disconnected whenever my favorite YouTubers would discuss them at length. I never got to see Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Wild Thornberrys, Hey Arnold… and even as a budding Disney fan, I never got to see DuckTales (I was only allowed to watch Mickey’s House of Mouse, among some of the stuff on Disney Jr. back when it was Playhouse Disney). But because I heard good things, I reluctantly dove into the 2017 reboot of DuckTales without any of the nostalgia and prior experience that I would’ve wanted to have going into it. Well, I suppose I can view it OBJECTIVELY then. Oh, by the way, since I know nothing about the old DuckTales or the other ‘90s Disney shows, I don’t know what’s new or old (also, I didn’t bother looking any of it up).

In DuckTales, Donald Duck is unemployed (not surprising). So, he dumps his three nephews onto his rich Uncle, Scrooge McDuck. The guy doesn’t give a rat’s arse about them… at least not until after they end up accompanying him to the lost city of Atlantis. After that, the boys go on all sorts of wild adventures with Scrooge (and plucky girl-duck, Webbey), where all kinds of hilarity ensues.

But it sure doesn’t feel that way sometimes. Similar to Gravity Falls, DuckTales has some semblance of an overarching narrative, but it’s disjointed in season one. Some early episodes end in unresolved cliffhangers, and made me do a double-take a couple of times. Fortunately, once season two starts, it’s practically a straight-up linear narrative, with episodes picking up from where the previous ones left off. Sometimes.

Unfortunately, the context of the thing is also not entirely clear. I figured that, as a reboot, it would have a number of nods and carry-overs from the original show for the sake of being faithful. However, the way everything is all reintroduced leads me to believe it’s a sequel. The villains clearly already know Scrooge, after all. At the same time, it could be a prequel, because it’s established as the first time in a decade that Donald speaks to Scrooge, plus it’s the first time that the triplets see Scrooge at all. Also, Daisy Duck is introduced in Season 3, and it is very apparent that they had never met her before. But then… how do you explain the lack of Webby and others in stuff like Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas? OR MAYBE it’s in a different universe entirely?! Regardless, DuckTales definitely expects you to be acquainted with Donald Duck, his three nephews, and Scrooge McDuck at the very least. If you grew up with a TV, then you probably passed that part.

So, enough about structure… is the SHOW actually any good?! The answer is a resounding “Yes, Definitely, Absolutely!” (Oh wait, wrong show…). DuckTales has the same modern and clever sense of humor that Disney has consistently been able to nail since the start of the 2010s (knowing what audiences find funny is part of being as mainstream as Disney). There are also some great meta commentaries, like the first Darkwing Duck episode, which is a commentary on reboots of popular I.P.s (and a commentary on the show itself as a result). The show also sets out to answer some of the age-old questions surrounding the cast… such as the identity of the triplet’s mother, Della Duck. Additionally, I’m pretty sure that this is the first time in Disney history that they started making fun of Donald’s… er… accent. Unfortunately, there is some melodrama at various points in this series, but it’s a bit more justified than Gravity Falls, as it helps resolve flaws that these beloved characters have had for decades. It’s so weird seeing new developments for these characters who’ve been around for so long… and I love it (and they probably did half of this stuff in the old show).

As expected, DuckTales has a large ensemble of memorable characters. Scrooge is pretty much exactly the same as he always was: daft, yet a freaking bad-ass. Donald is also the same, which I’m not complaining about, because… well… he’s been my favorite out of the three O.G.s for twenty years. I know he can be a big S.O.B., but I dunno, I always loved the guy. Also, whenever he enters his berserker state, it’s a show of force that should place him on any Top Ten Most Powerful Anime Characters list. Like I said before, he gets amazing new character development thanks to the whole Della thing, but you also get inside Donald’s head on a much more intimate level than ever before, and possibly the most in Disney history.

Most surprisingly, the triplets are legitimately enjoyable… at times. Huey, Dewey, and Louie were once all little turds who always caused trouble, but now they’re little turds who always cause trouble while having defined personalities. Huey’s brainy, Dewey’s reckless, and Louie is… er… unchanged. They also must’ve entered puberty, because they actually sound like people instead of high-pitched Donalds. They get great character development that helps resolve their shortcomings, which is why I thought this was a sequel, because they’re definitely turds all the way through in older stuff. Unfortunately, due to the fact that this is a Saturday morning cartoon, it hardly feels like they really grow. Louie can learn to not be a greedy jerk in one episode, but then proceeds to keep being a greedy jerk in another episode. These characters need to have poor judgement, or else… Who can teach our kids important American values?!

In addition to the main ducks, we have some newcomers… I think (this is what happens when you don’t watch the old show!). One of them is Webbey (whose grandmother is swole as all heck, and may or may not be in a doujin with Donald). She is literally Mabel from Gravity Falls (down to having a grappling hook), so I have no complaints here. What I do have complaints about is a girl named Lena that she befriends early on. While I have no problem with her personality, the audience is shown that Lena is in cahoots with one of Scrooge’s old nemeses (who I presume is carried over from the old show?). This results in, yes, an American Dragon-type situation, and if you read my old review of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades, you’d know how I feel about that. (at least that whole arc concludes by the end of season 1). 

Fortunately, there’s always a silver lining, and that lining is Launchpad. He’s basically Soos from Gravity Falls, except even more brawn-over-brain. His dialogue and lovable idioticness is always entertaining. In addition, there’s Scrooge’s kind-of-evil mad scientist, Gyro Gearloose. Gyro has an intern named Fenton, who ends up becoming a tokusatsu hero named Gizmoduck. A ways into season 2, Della does return to the McDuck household. Other than being—pardon my French—a hot mom, she doesn’t have much experience at being a mom, and she has a lot of character development to go through. They also integrate some obscure characters, such as the aforementioned Darkwing Duck, as well as the Three Caballeros, to introduce them to a new generation (and me). 

Unlike Gravity Falls, DuckTales has some great antagonists (Oh snap). Flintheart Glomgold (who I assume is a carryover?) is basically the Scottish villain from Kim Possible combined with Drakken from Kim Possible, making him a fun guy with hilariously over-the-top plans—I mean—schemes. There’s also the Beagle Boys (who are all brothers from a single mother), and Mark Beaks, a living incarnation of social media and clickbait. Oh right, and there’s Magica de Spell, who is just Duck Maleficent.

Disney doesn’t cheap out (well, not always). The animation in DuckTales is fluid, vibrant, and appealing, with a neat, comic book aesthetic. The new designs aren’t as jarring to get used to as the thing that I refer to as “Modern Mouse” (unless you can’t handle Donald’s EDGY, BLACK sailor suit). The instances of CG are pretty obvious, but that’s probably my anime-watching PTSD talking.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

This version of DuckTales has been fantastic from start to finish. Of course, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely my favorite Disney Channel program (sorry, Gravity Falls). I recommend it if you want to see classic Disney characters in a new, modern light.

Raya and the Last Dragon: Disney’s Equivalent of Dr. Stone

If anything good came out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that movie studios have started streaming premieres. And one quarter into 2021,with the vaccine still underway (which is totally necessary and definitely not a moneymaking scheme), it looks like they’re going to keep at it. At least Disney is, because Raya and the Last Dragon IS STREAMING ON DISNEY+ WITH PREMIER ACCESS AND I GOT TO WATCH IT AT FIVE IN THE MORNING! Let’s effing GO with this review!

In Raya and the Last Dragon, we are taken to the formerly great realm of Kumandra. There was a big plague called the coronav—I mean—the Droon, which turned people to stone. When the titular last dragon, Shisudato, used some gem thing to imprison the Droon, people went batshit crazy over it, and divided Kumandra. When the Droon is unleashed once more (because of course it would be), Raya has to find the last dragon and fix the MacGuffin.

Since the turn of the 21st Century, Disney has had a track record of making several movies that adhere to their traditional “movie musical” formula, then breaking it up with something darker, more violent, and with no singing. Raya is the latest in the latter part of the equation. The world here is effed up beyond belief. Everywhere she goes, there’s strife and discourse. 

It’s also cynical, very cynical. Raya, narrating the opening exposition, straight-up says that the fighting over the gem started because of “people being people”, as if humans are born evil (instead of being influenced by lousy parents and the media). There’s a load of Top Ten Anime Betrayals, just to shape what a hopeless mess everything is.

As I said before, Raya is also quite violent. There’s martial arts, swordfighting, and more throughout the movie. But compared to Atlantis and Treasure Planet, Raya is perhaps one of the most anime Disney movies ever; probably more than Big Hero 6. There’s crazy jump-cuts, parkour, and a sword that’s also a grappling hook. 

Anyway, since American cinema just HAS to be influenced by its social climate, Raya is more about racism than the coronav—I mean—the Droon. Sure, the actual source of the conflict, in the context of the movie, is greed or whatever, but that’s just what you call “subtlety”. Throughout the movie, there’s a consistent theme of “Hey maybe if we just shut up and talk to each other”, which Raya ignores, and resorts to violence instead. It’s a symbolic, hopeful message that more-or-less applies to every problem that humanity has had with itself. But of course, considering what happened last year (and the fact that constantly talking about the issue of racism is why it’s still ongoing), even Disney should know that it’s not THAT simple. 

But of course, it’s a Disney movie. Even their darker animated features adhere to the usual traditions to an extent. If you have experience with their filmography, then you know how Raya will turn out, start to finish. It tries to be grimdark, but it still has the marketable mascot, along with explosive diarrhea beetles and kung-fu babies. Also, there’s still humor, even though it’s all dark and stuff.

Keeping all that in mind… I’m just gonna be frank: I LOVE THIS MOVIE. It goes completely off the rails in every way. There is personality injected into every single shot. Honestly, it’s redundant having to keep reiterating Disney’s unique attention to detail when it comes to animation. I’m just going to put that paragraph here, since I’m sick of making a separate one for it. Anyway, the movie is gorgeous yadda-yadda, it’s Disney.

Normally, I resent most of the characters in anything, but not this time (what a surprise!). Raya herself is a fierce, but still relatable, young girl who fits almost too perfectly with the current month (Disney, are you being P.C.?). She has a real arc where she’s all like, “Distrust and violence will never end bleeeeeeh”, and inevitably has to learn how life actually works (and by “life”, I mean that sentimental crap that’s in those hopelessly optimistic self-help books that aren’t The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (which you should buy because it’s really good)).

Raya finds Shisu very early on, and good thing, since Shisu is Best Girl. She has a lot of the funnier lines in the movie, and is a hopeless optimist who clashes with Raya’s mindset. The two also gain a number of really lovable allies,of wildly varying age ranges. I kinda don’t want to talk about any of them, just so you can experience them for yourself. Unfortunately, the weakest character in the movie is the mascot, Tuk Tuk. Eff that thing. Disney, just stop making these, please. You already reached the zenith of mascot with Hei-Hei from Moana; there’s no point in making any more!

Last, but definitely not least, is Nemari, with her Cammie Gilbert hairdo. Disney movies might have abandoned villains, but they haven’t abandoned antagonists. Like a lot of characters in the movie, Nemari loves her people and wants to protect them from the Droon. She’s just about as much of a badass as Raya is. But sadly, her character arc is quite predictable, if you have experience.

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Final Verdict: 9.1/10

Raya and the Last Dragon is a really great movie. It has definitely and absolutely dethroned Atlantis: The Lost Empire as my favorite of the darker variations of Disney animated features. It might go over your young ‘uns heads, but since this generation is being forced to become adults overnight (thanks COVID), Raya will probably help them with that transition instead. It goes without saying that any diehard Disney fans should watch it, just for the sake of completion (and the fact that it’s a banger of a film). 

Wings of Ebony: I Can’t Come up With a Clickbaity Headline because it’s SO DARN GOOD

It takes a lot for me to pick up a YA novel. What compelled me to pick up J. Elle’s Wings of Ebony was not because of the main character being Black, but because the cover looked badass as f***, and the title wasn’t just “Noun of Other Noun and Other Other Noun”. The irony in my saying that is because I JUST SO HAPPENED to have read it during Black History Month, which I swear is a coincidence!

In Wings of Ebony, a girl named Rue is forcibly removed from her family through two methods. 1) Her mother is brutally shot to death, and 2) her dead-beat dad whisks her away to some magic continent, and away from her little sister, Tasha. Rue is—you guessed it—a special snowflake, who has magic genes and is the only Black girl on campus. You can probably imagine how things will play out…

…But you wouldn’t be entirely correct. I don’t normally go over character first, but Rue is what makes Wings of Ebony stand out amongst its massive ilk. She’s more-or-less unbreakable. Now, normally, when you have these YA girls who make like Melissa Bonny and be all “I Am the Storm”, they tend to break out into tears the minute something goes awry; just in time for the love interest to get them back into shape! That’s not the case for Rue, however. Ain’t no mountain high enough, and no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough! She’s fierce, angry, driven, angry, steadfast, ANGRY… Oh, and she loves Tasha. More on Rue later.

Another plus is that Elle knows full-well that we’ve seen this song and dance hundreds of times. As a result, she cuts out all the middlemen. The book opens after Rue’s first year in magic-land, with her having broken out to contact Tasha. Normally, this sequence would just be the first chapter; get us all confused, and then spend the bulk of the first book showing us how she got to her current situation via flashback. But nope, that doesn’t happen either. We get a few flashbacks, they’re all short and exist to introduce specific story beats when necessary. By cutting out all the stupid “high school drama” crap, we get right to the good stuff.

Unfortunately, nothing’s perfect, especially not in a YA novel. There are a fair number of grammatical errors and typos. I know that happens to be best of us, but it felt like there were more than usual. I also noticed at least one instance of an inconsistent character description. The n-word ends up presenting itself a lot, but Rue ends up being the one who uses it the most often.

Minor flaws aside, the writing in Wings of Ebony is some of the best I’ve seen in a YA novel. It’s fast, it’s impactful, and it hurts. It has a lot of the same clichés that most YA novels have, but the prose greatly offsets it. Even the death of some random red shirt has genuine emotional impact.

The characters are also some of the better I’ve seen in YA… at least for the most part. Rue, as discussed earlier, is a legitimately headstrong YA protagonist. At first, I thought she’d be so empowered that it would be pushed to the Nth degree. But don’t worry; she has a couple of breakdowns to show that she’s just a teenage girl. And these are real, necessary breakdowns, not the stupid “Oh my God, this palace is so luxurious! Trash like me doesn’t deserve this crap! Look at me I’m definitely not a self-absorbed brat!” which permeates most YA novels. Rue’s dad, Aasim, is also more than just the “lousy dad who abandons his kid so that kids with divorced parents can relate to the main protagonist”; he ends up being a pretty chill guy once you get to know him.

Unfortunately, that’s about it for the good characters. Most of the others are plot devices. Tasha exists to motivate Rue, some old lady from Rue’s neighborhood exists to hide Tasha, Rue’s wizard friend Bri exists to supply helpful gadgets, etc. The main antagonists are more-or-less your textbook racist White guys, and they don’t get any real characterization nor substance because we all know we’ll automatically hate them because racism.

And speaking of racism, the worldbuilding is perhaps the biggest disappointment. The secret magical continent of the week is called Ghizon, and it’s… there. They’re super racist against regular humans, the reason of which I don’t even recall being addressed. Furthermore, the big “secret history” of the place is extremely predictable through various context clues. I get that a lot of this stuff is meant to be this way for the sake of social commentary, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been done about eight hundred times before.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Wings of Ebony was a pleasant surprise. Luckily for me, there’s at least one sequel coming up. While I would normally post single reviews of the whole kit and kaboodle for these kinds of series, I think I’m going to take a risk and post a review of Wings of Ebony by itself. I have a feeling that the sequel will be very different, for better or for worse (hopefully, it’s different enough for at least six paragraphs). I recommend this book if you’re a young person who needs empowerment, or to anyone who actually wants to experience a legitimately great YA novel.

P.S. which has spoilers of the ending

Okay, I love this book, but screw Jehmal. Rue knows him for about ten minutes, and yet, she’s practically having sex with him at the end of the book. I hate it when they introduce a character who isn’t a love interest just to make them into a love interest at the last minute because “sex sells”. This is probably going to color my impressions of the sequel by quite a lot.

The Marvelous Land of Oz: The First of Many Oz Sequels

I didn’t like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but I was curious about its future installments. However, when I opened up the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, I was immediately presented with an author’s note, straight from L. Frank Baum himself. To paraphrase, it said that he was compelled to write a sequel at the behest of his fans. 

This further cements my original point with the first book. Similar to modern bad isekai, the writing was bare-bones, the characters were brain-dead and inconsistent, and the world lacked any semblance of rhyme or reason. And the cherry on top… he’s making it up as he goes along! Well, as someone who loves battle shounen, I can’t immediately rule out the possibility that Marvelous Land could be enjoyable. So without further ado, let’s begin!

In The Marvelous Land of Oz, a boy from the northern parts named Tip has a crap life. He’s stuck slaving away for Mombi, an annoying old coot that nobody likes. As a prank, Tip creates a vaguely humanoid figure with a jack-o’-lantern for a head (creatively named Jack Pumpkinhead by the way). Mombi uses this Powder of Life she (illegally) bought and brings Jack to life, after which Tip grabs him and they haul ass to the Emerald City.

Right off the bat, most of the issues from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are present here. The story is, once again, incredibly haphazard, with every action feeling incredibly arbitrary. In fact, Tip and Jack don’t even know why they want to go to the Emerald City in the first place. 

I can at least appreciate the gumption that Baum had at the time. The creation of Jack, followed by the eventual creation of the saw-horse (a log with a horse-shaped head) is a pretty direct defiance of God. Frankenstein, which was a hip new novel at the time, did the same thing. But since this was a kids series, what Baum did was much more controversial. And while Frankenstein is supposed to be a social commentary on how humans shouldn’t play God, Baum doesn’t even remotely make any ethical quandary out of Jack and the saw-horse. Of course, now that every other fantasy world has an evil religious cult, the ballsiness of Baum’s efforts are kind of… non-existent by modern standards.

But you know what, there was something else about Marvelous Land that can be considered pretty groundbreaking. The main conflict of this novel ends up being the Army of Revolt, who usurp Scarecrow from his throne at Emerald City. The big humdinger about this is that the Army of Revolt are all women, tired of sexism. Unfortunately, like before, this is another case of an already-existing novel for older audiences conveying themes better. Feminism was already a thing thanks to Jane Eyre (thank you, Friends episode, for teaching me that without me having to read it). 

Also, Feminism is presented poorly in this novel. First off, the Army of Revolt is incredibly stereotypical. Their primary motivation for storming Emerald City is to use its tax money on clothes and jewelry. Plus, their weapons consist entirely of knitting needles, which can definitely hurt, but are still very “womanly”. Furthermore, the reader isn’t allowed any form of interpretation or moral ambiguity when it comes to the Army of Revolt; they’re antagonists, which means they’re evil.

One of my biggest issues with Marvelous Land in particular is one scene that, honestly, makes me question whether or not Baum ever received an education. Tip and Co. obtain a magic item, and the conditions to activate it require them to count to seventeen in increments of two. Since seventeen is an odd number, this seems impossible. One logical solution is to count by halves in increments of two, thus counting in increments of one whole number as a result, which sounds like the solution that actually gets proposed. However, they count to .5, then to one, then just count in increments of two from there. I reread their explanation for how that’s supposed to have worked at least five times and I legitimately did not get that logic. Does the magical item round to the nearest whole number when decimals are worked in? If you’re a calculus major or something, then please comment as to how that’s supposed to work.

Fortunately, this novel has a far better sense of humor than the previous novel… I think? The thing about media from decades’ past is that we modern people find things funny that weren’t at all intended to be funny. One line of dialogue I actually chuckled at was them encountering some asshole, and Jack casually commenting “What a nice guy!” It was funny because I had no idea if it was actually supposed to be sarcasm or not (since Jack was just born). Also, someone needs to make an Oz tier list fast. In the previous book, we learned that winged monkeys are SSS-tier, even more so than any of the Witches of the Cardinal Directions. In Marvelous Land, we learn that twelve mice are more powerful than professionally trained military personnel. Again, I have no idea if it was meant to be funny or if Baum was off his rocker (since the whole story was improvised). 

The characters are also much better… to a point. Jack would be an interesting “robot” character, but he’s pretty much sworn absolute loyalty to Tip; add breasts and he’d be no different from your typical objectified waifu. Since he considers Tip his father, it’s probably a consequence of that fact that dad was the end-all-be-all alpha-and-omega of the household at the time. Sadly, that’s about it for the cast. Tip and Mombi aren’t too interesting, and Jinjur—the leader of the Army of Revolt—is too contradictory for her ilk.

However, there is a potential silver lining. Of all the returning Oz characters, the most interesting ends up being Glinda the “Good.” Notice the quotation marks? Since she’s Miss Helps Everyone, Tip and Co. end up asking for assistance to deal with the Army of Revolt. Bizarrely enough, violence is her first solution every step of the way, despite how good she’s supposed to be. This could be setting up for a very complex character later on (since she’s the star of that ominous-looking final book and all). Unfortunately, I could be reading too deeply into this. After all, this was the time when extremism in Christianity was more prevalent, and it was understood that any heinous crime is justified as long as the victim is “evil.”

One of the biggest redeeming factors comes at the end. Of all the gutsy things Baum tried thus far, the big reveal in Marvelous Land is legitimately huge, putting the book about a century ahead of its time. In fact, I don’t even think Baum himself knew how significant it would be when he was writing it!

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Verdict: 6.85/10

The Marvelous Land of Oz isn’t great, but it’s better than The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (also, the illustrations are no longer superimposed over text). It at least gives me hope that the series will gradually get more and more trippy (and better) moving forward. Here’s hoping that I’m not wasting my time!

Shades of Magic: More Londons, More Fun. Four Londons!

I’ve never had an interest in adult Western fiction, and I still don’t, mainly because a lot of it looks the same. I don’t know why people bother taking out books that all have the same back of a car, front porch of a house, or topless man enveloping a busty woman on the cover. But if one set of grown-up books stands out, it would have to be V.E. Schwab’s fantasy trilogy: Shades of Magic. I’ve actually known about its existence for a while, but it took me until the production of the movie for me to actually read through it. Go figure.

In Shades of Magic, a young magician named Kell is an errand boy who delivers mail to different versions of London in parallel universes. One day, he ends up with a very powerful and illegal magic stone. His fate then becomes intertwined with the tomboyish thief, Lila Bard, who goes on adventures with him to stop whatever inevitable mass conspiracy theory is threatening to tear the multiple Londons apart.

The big appeal in Shades of Magic is the worldbuilding. The four Londons are color-coded, based on various properties: Magicless Grey London, Relatively Okay Red London, Dystopian White London, and the source of all the trouble, Black London. The drawback with these worlds is that none of them is particularly interesting by themselves. Grey is just our world, Red is the Harry Potter world, and White is the Game of Thrones world. Black is by far the coolest, but it’s explored the least. In fact, the potential of the multiple Londons schtick is undermined by the fact that more than half of the story is set in Red London. I hate assuming the author’s intentions, but the worldbuilding feels like they just combined two inherently appealing things—parallel universes and the United Kingdom—just because those things are inherently appealing.

Fortunately, the writing is very elegant and makes the books addicting to read. If you’re intimidated by their length, they’re broken up into pretty short chapters, with many shorter subchapters in each. The action scenes are, for the most part, pretty darn good too.

But even with great prose, the characters leave something to be desired. They don’t really have much personality beyond their established archetypes. Kell is just… a dude, and Lila is just… a dudette. Sure, Kell has some kind of battle of temptation with the MacGuffin in book one, but it’s not particularly interesting. Lila has that YA protagonist trope of being a special snowflake for no reason, AND IT’S ANNOYING. Many reviews on Goodreads have riffed on her enough, so I’d only be repeating them if I elaborated on Lila in detail. Just know that she’s a pretentious, obnoxious brat. Of all the characters, Kell’s rival, Holland, is by far the most fleshed out, but he’s not quite enough to offset everyone else. If it wasn’t for the great writing of the actual story, these people would’ve made reading Shades of Magic very tedious.

Also be wary that Shades of Magic follows the tradition of “the second book being awful” very faithfully. A Gathering of Shadows was an absolute slog to get through. The whole thing revolved around some tournament that wasn’t even plot relevant in the first place, and was chock full of rushed and unexciting fights. Only the last sixty pages or so are important, as they lead into the events of the final book.

While the final book, A Conjuring of Light, is definitely an improvement, it isn’t that much better. Despite the urgency of the situation established at the beginning of the novel, a lot of it is spent wasting time with inconsequential characters that I didn’t even remember. One thing that blows my mind is how some authors are able to write entire chapters that serve no purpose to the main story. Fortunately, Shades of Magic is nowhere near as bad as Keeper of the Lost Cities, whose seventh book spends FOUR HUNDRED PAGES IN THE INFIRMARY, but it’s noticeable.

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Final Verdict: 7/10

I really wanted to like this series. But as the old saying goes: Quality over quantity. What’s the point of having four Londons, when they each have such empty design and worldbuilding? I’d rather read Lockwood and Co., which is set in one, fleshed-out London. Shades of Magic is an example of the sheer idea behind it being what sells, rather than the execution of that idea. It’s not the worst fantasy out there, but it’s VERY overrated and outclassed. You know what, the movie might end up being a better alternative, since it’ll probably only adapt the first book; the only one that matters.