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Category: Fantasy Realms


Next week fans of Dungeons & Dragons will see the re-release of two Forgotten Realms adventures that started off the 5th Edition renaissance of D&D back in 2014.  Both the thinner adventure modules Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat have been combined and repackaged into one volume, Tyranny of Dragons.  This extra-thick compilation book, the first like it in the 5th Edition, is available in a single exclusive edition with artwork by artist Hydro74–featuring what may be his best cover design yet.  The release is part of Wizards of the Coast’s celebration of five years of 5th Edition adventures.

In addition to the Forgotten Realms module Hoard of the Dragon Queen, the Tyranny of Dragons storyline has pulled in at least fifteen D&D Adventurer’s League “Expedition” tie-in adventures since 2014, when players first encountered the Cult of the Dragon and its plans to free Tiamat, the goddess of chromatic dragons, from the Nine Hells.  The storyline was continued in The Rise of Tiamat module later that year.  Don’t look for a specific errata section in this new edition–Wizards of the Coast says it has updated the adventure within by incorporating feedback to “smooth out the curve” for new players.  The two campaigns are fused into 17 chapters (as many fans wanted in the beginning), and a new appendix provides some never-before-published concept artwork.

 

The biggest feature is that all-new appendix containing 32-pages of double-page poster-worthy art showcasing scenes from the storyline, plus concept artwork, including sketches and trial pieces.  These were not previously included in prior fifth edition volumes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We scuffled.  He had a gun.  So did I.  I’m alive.  He’s dead.

Twenty years before Jessica Jones, there was Ms. Tree, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty′s 1980s private eye with the clever homonym name.  Her husband a cop, killed by the head of a crime family, she sought her revenge and went to jail for it.  Now she’s back and the killer’s sister is looking to get her own revenge.  A private detective running her own agency, she finds her son has fallen in love with the niece of his father’s killer, the daughter of the woman who is now reaching out to her.  That’s where readers meet Ms. Tree in the first chapter of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, a new collection of classic stories that will bring readers unfamiliar with Ms. Tree’s exploits current as she’s embroiled in her never-ending conflict with the Muerta crime family.  The 268 pages play out like a crime TV series, like Magnum, p.i. or Simon & Simon, maybe with some Rockford Files thrown in thanks to Collins’ ever-present noir style.

Ms. Tree is her own character.  She doesn’t have the quirks and antics of progenitors like Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Cool or the meticulous process of a Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher.  But she does have the edginess we’d later see with Veronica Mars and Jessica Jones.  She’s a bit older, and because of Terry Beatty’s classic artistic style (reminiscent of Crime Does Not Pay and Dick Tracy), you may just wonder if she’s going to duck behind the curtains and emerge with a Miss Fury catsuit at some point.  Drawn by Beatty like a V.I. Warshawski era Kathleen Turner, she’s also not Jackie Brown–this woman plays by the rules, but the aura of her agency has that feel of Max Cherry’s agency in Elmore Leonard’s story.

With a style (in both writing and artwork) like Mike Grell’s Green Arrow, Collins populates his story with a variety of supporting characters like you’d find in the world of his Quarry series.  Characters like her friend on the police force Rafe Valer, and her colleague Dan Green, who has a hook for a hand in a call-out to J.J. Armes, the famous real-life detective in the 1970s (who had two hooks for hands).  The first book in this series, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, includes reprints of the stories Gift of Death, Drop Dead Handsome, The Family Way, Maternity Leave, and One Mean Mother, with an appendix featuring Collins discussing why Ms. Tree hasn’t made it to the small or big screen, and a related tie-in short story with a more modern take on the character (and without the pictures), Inconvenience Store.  Ms. Tree was featured in an earlier Hard Case Crime novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved.  In this volume Ms. Tree reads like it must have been the inspiration for Marge Gunderson’s storyline in Fargo, and the final seasons of In Plain Sight’s Mary Shannon.

Take a look at Beatty’s use of color, 1980s style, in these excerpts from the book:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of epic adventures, maybe first that comes to mind is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or George Lucas’s Star Wars.  Maybe the cinematic stories of Akira Kurosawa, like The Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Rashomon.  Or maybe your epic adventures are more fantasy, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Conqueror, or historical, like Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, C.S. Forester’s Lieutenant Hornblower, or go farther back, like Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte De’Arthur, the Maya’s Popul Vuh, the Old English Beowulf, the Old Norse Poetic Edda, or even the stories of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey.  What if someone wrote an equally exciting, rich adventure in the 1950s that has been read by more than 300 million readers, and you missed it, simply because it hasn’t been translated into English yet?  That would be the first English edition just released of A Hero Born, by Jin Wong, the pen name of Chinese author Louis Cha.  His novels sold more than 300 million copies internationally over the past 60 years, but the series is finally available to U.S. readers.

Two men, Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang, grow up together around 1200 AD.  Becoming best friends and blood brothers, they get married and have their firstborn both due at the same time.  They swear loyalty to each other, including a vow binding the futures of their family together that will survive these men, just as intruding warriors divide and even kill members of their family, leaving the friends and their families to disperse and flee.  Enter the Seven Heroes of the South (known by their enemies as the Seven Freaks of the South).  When the two friends are feared dead, this elite Magnificent Seven of sorts, a fabulous mix of warriors with every type of skill and weapon, makes a bargain with one of the revered seven Immortals, Eternal Spring Qiu Chuji.  They will separately train the offspring of the men, and in 18 years return for a showdown to see who are the better masters or shifu.  To one of the women a boy is born, named Guo Jing, and it is his story–his mythic hero’s journey–that the reader follows in this first adventure, which takes him from birth into adulthood, toward a destiny he may not be prepared for.  Guo Jing does not know his life and training is all based on a wager.  What does it take to have honor, to have character, to be a hero, and what surprises will he stumble upon on his way to meet his destiny?

Books like A Hero Born are why we have words like “epic.”  First published in Chinese in 1957, A Hero Born is the first of 12 novels in Jin Wong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes series set in the 13th century, following the life of a family in a community under the Song Empire who escaped to join Genghis Khan and his people.  It’s hard to believe the novel wasn’t written a hundred or hundreds of years earlier, or that George Lucas didn’t base his entire Star Wars saga on this story.  Anna Holmwood′s use of prose in her translation is pure artistry–A Hero Born reads seamlessly as if the novel was originally written in English.  Holmwood conveys the meanings of the hundreds of Chinese terms without seeming to explain them, weaving cultural nuances, the unique characters, the rich history of China, the Mongols, and Jin, the Taoist philosophy, and visual kung fu choreography into easy reader understanding.  The world-building will suck readers in and leave you wanting even more.  Luckily the entire series has been translated now, to be released over the next few years.

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It looks just like a remake and update of African Queen, and a great set-up for the next big Disney franchise follow-up to Pirates of the Caribbean.  The first trailer is out for Jungle Cruise, and the theme park ride turned big-screen adventure could hardly look more fun.  Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Mary Poppins Returns) seems to have walked right into a role written for Johnny Depp, as she teeters through a clever Rube Goldberg-inspired scene as we’re introduced to Lily Houghton, a scientist embarking on a journey with her brother in the Amazon, via riverboat, where they meet an unusual ship captain.

With Hollywood’s #1 box office draw Dwayne Johnson still entertaining us with his Jumanji jungle series and international tours in the Fast & Furious movies, there’s hardly a better person to cast with Blunt in this kind of new team-up, and possibly a new franchise.  Here he looks a lot more like Popeye than Humphrey Bogart.  Johnson has referred to Blunt’s character as “a female Indiana Jones.”  For most of the world–who haven’t ever been to a Disney theme park–it may help to know the movie Jungle Cruise is based on a theme park ride like Pirates of the Caribbean.  As much as the latter began as what seemed like a Disney attempt to make some more money off its theme park intellectual property in a new venue, the Pirates films ultimately were a big hit with audiences and a treasure trove for Disney.  Will Jungle Cruise find Disney’s next pot of gold?

The great Paul Giamatti (Lodge 49, American Splendor, Paycheck) co-stars with Black Mirror’s Jesse Plemons, with a rousing score by composer James Newton Howard (Dave, Waterworld, The Postman, The Sixth Sense, The Dark Knight, Snow White and the Huntsman).  Check out this trailer for what could be a fun amusement park ride of a movie, Jungle Cruise:

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A Curse Dark as Gold cover Elizabeth C Bunce

The trees are turning red and orange, and Halloween is only three weeks away.  If you’re looking for a ghost story to get you into the mood of the season, check out borg.com writer Elizabeth C. Bunce’s novel A Curse Dark as Gold, available in hardcover, paperback, and E-book editions from Amazon and other booksellers, first reviewed here back in 2011.  The audio book as read by British actress Charlotte Parry, known for her roles in Tony Award winning Broadway plays, is a great way to immerse yourself in this ghost story.

A Curse Dark as Gold is set in the Gold Valley in that far away land where fairy tales reside.  Charlotte Miller is a girl in her late teens whose father dies and leaves her the town of Shearing’s woolen mill, which serves as workplace for most of her community, along with the care of Charlotte’s younger sister Rosie.  Unwanted responsibilities fall into the lap of this young woman from page one.  From a framework standpoint A Curse Dark as Gold at first is a spin on Rumpelstiltskin-type “helper” tales of the past, but this story takes on its own life.  Shearing is at once lovely and pastoral, yet dark and creepy doings begin to permeate the corners of the town.  A mysterious uncle arrives and begins to interject himself into the girls’ lives, pecking away at their sanity.  As if sick itself, the mill begins to respond to the death of Charlotte’s father, with boards crashing down, textile machines failing, and the fabric of Shearing seeming to unravel.

A Curse Dark as Gold audio Elizabeth C Bunce told by Charlotte Parry

The story is set at the dawn of an Industrial Revolution.  Water wheels are about to be replaced with steam power and the smoke-filled cities that come along with that new technology.  Charlotte has inherited her father’s acumen as a savvy businessperson, yet pressures including competition from big city wool firms and unfair attempts to squeeze Shearing’s mill out of the marketplace cause the mill to lose its workers.  The economic issues are only the beginning of Charlotte’s problems.  A strange neighbor lady is a follower of old world ways, superstitions and magic, and tries to help.  Charlotte is steadfast and stubborn, relying only upon her own intuition as she turns away from everyone near her, including sister Rosie and her new husband.

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Every single episode of season five left us breathless and anxious for the next.  History’s Vikings is returning in early December to begin its sixth and final season, and the network just released the first trailer and poster for the show, based on the sagas of the Vikings in medieval Scandinavia, England, and France.  For followers of the series it’s goosebump-inducing stuff.  Action-filled, bloody, and dramatic, the series has seen brilliant characters in Ragnar Lothbrok, his sons Bjorn and Ivar, Lagertha, and Floki.  It’s also seen some powerful guest stars with roles taken on by the likes of Donal Logue, Linus Roache,  Adam Copeland, Kris Holden-Ried, and Gabriel Byrne.

Series star Katheryn Winnick has lead the way with her powerful, historical character Lagertha.  Credit goes to creator and showrunner Michael Hirst for his vision and smart writing, getting viewers to this season, and as the trailer reveals, some kind of a resolution between Bjorn and Ivar, for better or worse.  It’s great television, and if you haven’t been watching, you have two months left to catch up.

Alexander Ludwig is back as Bjorn, with Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki and Alex Høgh as Ivar.  Here is the new trailer for the sixth and final season of Vikings:

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Sometimes the marketeers get everything exactly right (one of our favorites is still that Coma ad pack we received 7 years ago).  And that goes for a new roleplaying game from Wendy’s.  Yep, that’s right, a fully fleshed-out roleplaying game from everyone’s favorite fast food restaurant that serves Frostys.  And best of all, it’s free (you can download the entire 97-page rulebook and campaign guide below).  Not only is it capitalizing (“capital” as in in-your-face, unapologetic commercialism) on the recent wave of interest in Dungeons & Dragons that was re-kindled by Stranger Things, the new roleplaying game Feast of Legends will probably divert at least a few groups of Wednesday night gamers to join in on a fun (and humorous) new adventure.

Feast of Legends is another good introduction to roleplaying games and springboard to the real deal.  It includes a Rule Book and Game Master’s Guide with five campaigns to be led by your designated Game Master: Take on The Queen’s Quest, Trouble at Frosty Canyon, Lighting of the Bacon Beacon, The Biggie Vale, and The Deep Freeze, plus there’s a chapter on expansion play.  Make your own character, join one of the 14 orders, or use pre-designed character sheets via a “quick start guide” to get on your way, with instructions on how to do so.  This isn’t your typical throwaway giveaway.  Players have five levels to achieve, and the book has all of the details on gameplay, adventuring, and yes, you will use food, specifically Wendy’s menu items, cleverly incorporated along the way.  One of the underlying themes is Wendy’s advertising fresh meat over frozen, so a key villain here is the Ice Jester–a not-so-subtle jab at Ronald McDonald.  His lair?  A playhouse with tunnels and a colorful ball pit.  Brilliant!  Constable Von Freeze steps in for Mayor McCheese…  Beware the Mimic Meal…  Can you help Queen Wendy, by sneaking into the Deep Freeze and stop the Ice Jester before he can march on Freshtovia and start a new Frozen Age?

Although we wish we could credit by name the Wendy’s inside marketing team that wrote these rules, a big shout-out is owed to Alex Lopez for illustrations that mash-up the visual style from both classic RPG and Wendy’s iconography.  Neither Lopez nor mapmaker Collin Fogel appear to have created illustrations before for D&D producer Wizards of the Coast, but this rule book should help them get their foot in the door (if D&D is really their thing).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Prime viewing for October and the Halloween season, and a movie you probably skipped in the theater, is the rebooted Hellboy, now on home video.  Far better than critics would have led you to believe, director Neil Marshall′s Hellboy is every bit loyal to the Dark Horse Comics character, stories, and mythos.  Both Mike Mignola and Mike Richardson produced this third film in the series, and if you don’t agree it matches the quality of the first Hellboy you’ll likely agree it’s better and more memorable than its sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

In fact this Hellboy–this time with Stranger Things’ David Harbour in the red, sawed-off horns and hammer arm–is that kind of dark, violent, monster movie that would have appealed to fans of Freddy Krueger or Hellraiser in the 1980s.  It has that same kind of hard R rating that would have prompted 12 to 16-year-old boys to sneak into the theater to see what they were missing.  So if you don’t care for the kind of monster movie with innocent victims getting ripped apart by giant demons, re-stitching a witch together, watching another creepy witch and her cauldron of kid stew, and making it through several blood-bursts and beheadings, backed with a never-ending volley of F bombs, by all means run away now.

This isn’t Ron Perlman’s kinder, gentler demon.  But this presentation more closely matches Mignola’s stories, including steeping this tale in a variety of classic lore.  Here that means the vile Baba Yaga as villain, complete with her chicken-legged mobile house, and a film full of twisted King Arthur legend.
Missing is Doug Jones’ wonderful Abe Sapien, or Selma Blair’s fire-wielding friend Liz.  Trying to make up for that is the booming presence of Ian McShane (Magnum, p.i., Dallas, The Golden Compass, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Deadwood) as Hellboy’s father, and Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil series, The Fifth Element, Ultraviolet) as a banished witch trying to return to the present to smite out humanity with a plague.  Both McShane and Jovovich are good in anything, as they are here, even when the special effects aren’t up to that Peter Jackson quality we all hope for.

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For Harry Potter fans and especially those who want to see every view of the film behind the scenes, your next find is probably going to require clearing off an entire shelf.  Beginning this month is a new series of books about the Harry Potter films, and it’s sporting the “film vault” legend.  We’ve seen “vaults” published for Star Wars, Terminator, Batman, Spider-Man, and all things DC and Marvel, but for Harry Potter the franchise needed 12 volumes to tell its story.  It’s Titan Books and Insight Editions’ Harry Potter: Film Vault and we have an extensive preview for borg readers below.  If you decide to collect the entire series, the spines will line your shelf to reveal the Hogwarts coat-of-arms, reminiscent of the Time-Life encyclopedic book series from the 1970s and 1980s.

With a franchise spanning eight films, you’d expect them to have collected tens of thousands of images of concept artwork and photographs of every scene, set, costume, and prop, and that becomes even clearer inside the pages of this series.  Beginning with Forest, Lake, and Sky Creatures, readers can dive into several areas of the story mythos, on to Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express, and the Ministry, to Horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows, and Hogwarts Students.  Later volumes feature Creature Companions, Plants, and Shapeshifters, Hogwarts Castle, Quidditch and the Triwizard Tournament, the Order of the Phoenix and Dark Forces, and more.

 

Each volume has illustrations, design sketches, and behind-the-scenes photography, plus a look at the creative process that brought to the screen Harry and his friends with the help of costumes, makeup, and props.

Take a look at 26 pages from the first four volumes below, and a peak at the first eight covers:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Your next creepy movie for fall is waiting for you now on Netflix.  It’s director Stacie Passon′s 2018 adaptation of award-winning author Shirley Jackson′s 1962 mystery thriller, We Have Always Lived in the Castle And although it is not technically a story about one of our favorite horror tropes, creepy little girls, you will meet two very creepy young adult sisters who live alone on the hill at the edge of town with a secret that may not be all that secret.  Taissa Farmiga (The Nun, American Horror Story) stars as Mary Catherine Blackwood, called Merricat, the stranger and younger of two siblings, with Alexandra Daddario (White Collar, True Detective) as the older sister, Constance.  No doubt inspired by the acquittal in the murder trial of Lizzie Borden, the movie (as with the original novel) takes places six years after the poisonings of the sisters’ parents, with Constance as the sole suspect.  Who really poisoned them?

Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Alice in Wonderland) delivers possibly his finest performance as Uncle Julian.  Present at the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law, Uncle Julian was also poisoned, but survived with an addled mind and failing body.  Constance seems to have never recovered from the accusations, and the townspeople certainly will not let the family forget.  Constance has a smile fixed as she goes about surviving each day, a PTSD victim ready to snap at any time.  Merricat is left to venture out once a week to get groceries and get lambasted by all those that looked down upon the family for their wealth and scandal.  Yet Merricat is happy with the status quo, burying her father’s possessions to ward off evil spirits and bad fortune.  As she tells us as narrator, Constance is the most precious person to her in the world.

But the sisters’ world comes crashing down as a cousin, played by Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Winter Soldier), appears in a sports car and begins taking over the house.  Worse for Merricat, Constance seems to be falling in love with him, and the new couple begins to make plans for the future.  In a world of oddities out of Great Expectations, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, can anyone in the house find normalcy or have any hope of getting their lives back?

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