Some odds and ends collected over the last week(s), including magical origin stories, music inspired by a child’s music box, and a time-looping game influenced by Groundhog Day.
This week I’ve been reading…
Tempests and Slaughter, Tamora Pierce (Random House, 2018)
Tempests and Slaughter is a charming book and a thoroughly enjoyable read. It tells the early story of Arram Draper, also known as Numair Salmalín from Pierce’s Immortals series. It follows that well-worn formula of: boy goes to magic school, boy learns to do magic, boy gets into various magical scrapes. This book is not exactly full of surprise and novelty, but Pierce does this formula so well. The magical classes, the teaching masters, and the various deities who pop up in unexpected places make a book that essentially revolves around a school timetable far more exciting and interesting than it should be.
It’s been some time since I read Pierce’s Immortals series, so I wasn’t overly invested in the book as a portrayal of Numair’s early years. I was quite happy to read this as a separate fantasy adventure story rather than an origin story. Reading it as such it’s perfectly enjoyable, although an awareness of what’s to come perhaps helps explain the lack of subtlety in some areas, such as the inevitable breakdown in the relationship between Ozorne and Arram.
I did find Tempests and Slaughter a little lacking in areas. There is very little plot. There are a few areas of tension, but these are not resolved within the course of the book and are clearly meant to unfold over the course of the series. I’m particularly interested in seeing how the tension develops surrounding Carthak’s exploitation of slaves. The one, possibly climactic, moment of tension is resolved within a couple of pages. The result is an enjoyable meander through Tamora Pierce’s imagination, but look elsewhere if you like a plot-filled page-turner.
Thank you to Tamora Pierce and Random House via NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This week I’ve been listening to…
Sound of Cinema: Father/Daughter (BBC Radio 3, 30 June 2018)
There’s nothing I like better than listening to Sound of Cinema on my morning commute (a 45-minute walk through Milton Keynes parklands). Matthew Sweet provides engaging and intelligent commentary, and the music allows me to drift into my imagination while I enjoy the scenery. I love the unapologetic emotion of film soundtracks, and Sound of Cinema always chooses a good mix of familiar and lesser-known scores. This particular episode revolved around the theme of fathers and daughters, and featured tracks from The Little Mermaid, Interstellar, and How to Steal a Million. The classic score of the week was the main titles from To Kill a Mockingbird, composed by Elmer Bernstein. Matthew Sweet told us that in the main titles, Bernstein was inspired by the child’s perspective of To Kill a Mockingbird: using piano, vibraphone, and celesta to remind of a music box. He also confined himself to an octave range – the range of a child’s voice.
This week I’ve been playing…
The Sexy Brutale (Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works, 2017)
I’m not much of a gamer, so it’s a big deal for me to say that I’ve finally completed my first game – all the way through to the final credits. It should come as no surprise that the game I’ve completed is compelling both in gameplay and narrative. Sexy Brutale is an adventure-puzzle game in which the player is trapped in a mansion where the guests are murdered one by one. The player, in the guise of retired preacher Lafcadio Boone, is trapped in neverending loops, Groundhog Day-style, and can only escape if they can figure out how to prevent each murder from happening.
This game has everything – gorgeous visuals, brilliant electro-swing soundtrack, and some very creepy henchmen. The puzzles are challenging enough to be satisfying but not so difficult that I had to cheat (that often). The narrative of each of the individual murders and the overarching mystery of the mansion is cleverly balanced, leading up to a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching finale. The developers say the story-telling style is inspired by immersive theatre, where the story is happening around the audience member, but the audience can also influence the outcome.
It’s fascinating to read about how the game was developed – because the same day is repeated over and over again in different areas of the mansion, the game had to be plotted with pin-point accuracy. Design Director Charles Griffiths said, “It always felt like …‘We can’t go full Groundhog Day’. Because then every piece of music would have to be timed to the second with the actions taking place and every single character’s movement would have to be completely choreographed. That would be tricky to tell the story, that would be tricky to do puzzles, it would tricky to do everything. But it was the cleanest and most exciting form of the idea.” Despite the challenges, they’ve achieved a satisfying, entertaining, and heartfelt game that’s every bit as finely tuned as one of Reginald Sixpence’s clocks.