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Northlanders: Books Four & Five

Northlanders continues to wow, after my initial rough start with Book One. The fourth book in the seven book series was my absolute favorite!

The Plague Widow: Book Four

The story takes place in the frozen Volga region in AD 1020. A plague has come to the seven hundred person settlement in October, and as winter has started, burials in the cold ground are impossible so pyres of dozens of bodies are lit to dispose of the diseased bodies. Frantic with worry the inhabitants listen to their elderly leader plus the local priest Boris. Boris counsels strongly that the settlement go under quarantine and those who show any sickness be banished so those remaining may live. But what they don’t take into account is how claustrophobia sets in, and they find they locked the greater danger inside their walls with them.

Hilda, a young beautiful widow with an eight year old daughter, is caught in the crosshairs as her former status as a wealthy woman is stripped when her husband dies of the plague. Destitute, with a long winter ahead, she struggles to survive and is targeted by Gunborg, who is the second in command and has it out for her after she votes against him in council. Two other men want her as a wife, but each man has different motivations and their jealousy of one another results in bloodshed. A final battle between Boris and Gunborg comes to a head, and Hilda and her daughter are given a chance to escape.

The art by Leandro Fernandez is a perfect match to the story. He captures the isolation of a Viking settlement shown mostly in dull colors with overlays of blue wash, which effectively shows the icy coldness of Russian winters. Some of the changing artists in this Northlanders series have not been to my liking, but the pairing of this excellent story with Fernandez’s precise artwork made this a winner.

Metal and Other Stories: Book Five

After how much I loved The Plague Widow, this book turned out to be disappointing in comparison. Metal is the long middle story, with two much shorter stories book-ending it.

The Sea Road

Illustrated by Fiona Staples who is now known for the Saga series, this short story takes place on the open sea in AD 760. Captain Dag is running cargo along the coast when he suddenly decides to turn the tiller and sends him and his crew westward towards the unknown. Putting his men at risk on a moments whim, he wishes for greater glory but instead encounters storms, mutiny and crew members experiencing hallucinations and going berserker. When they finally make landfall on Greenland, the few surviving members are met with treachery by the captain and their epic journey is for naught. This was an interesting take to show that many unknown sailors died ignobly with their discoveries unrecorded.

Metal

I recently read Boxers & Saints, about how Christianity changed China forever, and how many fought the new religion as it significantly changed their culture and resulted in many old traditions being outlawed.  So it was quite a coincidence that a week later I read another graphic novel story about Christianity changing Norway in AD 700.

Erik is a young blacksmith who is tied to traditional Norse Gods and is against his settlement allowing a new Christian church to be built. He watches as priests and nuns move in, along with a teenaged albino girl whom the nuns mistreat. In the night Erik burns down the church but first rescues the girl Ingrid and they run off together. The story then becomes a Bonnie and Clyde caper, with a strange magical realism aspect, that doesn’t match the rest of the series of realistic fiction. There was no subtlety, it was just Eric slaughtering any Christians he encountered, so the reader could not take his side at all in his wanting the Nordic Viking traditions to live on.

The art by Riccardo Burchielli was awful. Not only was I unable to get into the story, but the people he drew were grotesque looking. Erik is drawn as a hulking troll, not even resembling a human (the picture in this post makes him look normal, the rest of the series does not). Ingrid is drawn slightly better, but there are some sequences that she was drawn so horribly, and I didn’t understand why. In the concluding pages, Erik is drawn so differently that I question if the same artist drew him.

The Girl In The Ice

The best of the three stories is illustrated by Becky Cloonan and is a character study of an Icelandic fisherman set in AD 1240. Jon is an elderly widower who discovers a young girl frozen in the lake ice. He carves her out and brings her back home to investigate who she is and how she died. With no obvious trauma on her body to explain her death, he doesn’t understand why no alarm in the nearby settlement would have been sounded when a girl went missing.  Soon some patrolling soldiers discover Jon trying to hide the body and take him into custody believing he is the killer. He is taken into town to be tried for the murder, and we learn how the girl came to be in the ice. It ends on quite the melancholy note.

I have the last two volumes on hold and look forward to wrapping this series up. My only real complaint is that the art in the various volumes is so inconsistent. While I liked the first and last illustrators in this book and the cover art throughout by Massimo Carnevale was top notch, when a story has sub par art the entire story suffers.

-Nancy

Book One

Book Two & Three

Book Six & Seven

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The Source

And now for something completely different: a review of a music CD!

And I just gotta talk about it okay plZ BEAR WITH ME

The Source is the latest progressive metal album by Ayreon, aka Arjen Anthony Lucassen, a project of his in which he writes metal operas. He writes and plays most of the music for his albums, but invites vocalists from different (mostly metal) bands to sing the parts. Many of his albums follow a science fictional story. This album, The Source, reveals the origins of The Forever, the alien race that is at the center of the story.

Alpha, the planet The Forever originally inhabited, is dying. It’s being shut down by the Frame, the computer system that controls the entire planet. It thinks that in order to solve the ecological and political problems of the planet, it has to wipe out the entire race. Ten of the Forever manage to escape in a spaceship called the Starblade. They head for an ocean planet near the Star of Sirrah. In order to adapt to their new aquatic environment, they take a drug they call “the Source” or “Liquid Eternity” to change their bodies and minds. They alternately mourn for their fallen race, worry that they will forget their origins and repeat their past mistakes, and rejoice in their new world, the new start they have for their future. But… deep in the depths of the ocean, there is one robot who stayed faithful to their masters thus far… whom the Forever have forgotten.

The cast of vocalists is incredible: Tommy Karevick of Kamelot, Russell Allen of Symphony X, Simone Simons of Epica, Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian (both of these bands my boyfriend and I have seen in concert), Floor Jansen of Nightwish, and many more. They all sing together at multiple points in the album, and have lots of duets together, making it feel more like an opera than previous Ayreon albums. All the vocalists do an amazing job of conveying the emotions of their characters. Each song flows seamlessly from one track to the next, so that the music and the story are uninterrupted. There is a serious lack of continuity listening to the playlist of the album on YouTube vs. listening to the album on iTunes. Even the few seconds it takes for the next video to load is too long, too jarring.

There are parts that are epic, parts that are pure headbanging metal, parts that are tragic, parts that are funky with an amazing bass, parts that are creepy. It adds up to a sweeping, awe-inspiring whole. For previous fans of Ayreon, there are multiple references to past albums, both in the lyrics and within the music. For new fans, I am so sorry you have to listen to this one first, because no other Ayreon album will come close to this for you. I was completely blown away by it and it’s been on repeat since it dropped. This has permanently replaced my favorite album, 01011001… and my favorites are incredibly hard to replace!

Thank you for being patient with this late Wednesday post… and listening to me rant about metal, no less!

– Kathleen

The Concert of a Lifetime

I have some very exciting news for all of you!

I’m going to Europe next year!!! =D

My boyfriend and I are metalheads. (It’s really fun to tell people that in real life; they do a double take. I guess I don’t look like the kind of girl who would be a metalhead XD) There is a band we both like called Ayreon: it’s a project of Arjen Anthony Lucassen, who’s been composing and playing music for years. Arjen writes all the music and lyrics for the Ayreon albums, most of which are beautiful, multi-layered metal operas. He plays most of the instruments for the albums, and invites artists from other bands to sing the parts of different characters and as guest musicians. Because of the peculiar nature of his music, Ayreon concerts are not a thing.

Until now! Last week, Arjen announced the first ever Ayreon concert! And we were able to get tickets!! All three shows sold out within 48 hours, so we were very lucky to get them!!! The concert will take place in Tilburg in the Netherlands next September.

I’ve been dancing on clouds ever since we purchased the tickets. Going to Europe has always been a dream of mine, and now it’s finally happening! This concert may very well be a once in a lifetime experience, and we’re so happy that we’re going to be able to be there together ❤

I will, of course, be telling you guys all about it when the time comes =P Until then, have some of my favorite Ayreon songs!!! >:D

Counting down the days already! (288, if anyone was curious =P )

– Kathleen

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