Book Review - The City of Brass

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For a first novel by S.A. Chakraborty, this is a fantastic first entry to a trilogy. City of Brass has a wonderful world set around it. The middle eastern and Islamic setting is wonderfully done. It was exotic and new for a fantasy setting, but grounded in our own world, all while not making me feel like it was too alien to me.

I was enthralled by the context of the deserts, the flying carpets, the Ifrit and more. I was perplexed though with the Djinn culture. At times it seemed wonderfully magical and exotic, at other times a bit too human. The call outs early on in the book to the morning prayers specially stuck out to me, mainly because we never did get a better understanding of what the Djinn religion was, why it mattered, or why Ali was considered devout. These things were all mentioned several times, but never explored, so they felt like they didn't really need to be there. Ali just as easily could have been chaste (which is alluded to) because he was the second born (again alluded to) as it had to due with his religious devotion. I felt Chakraborty, danced around the edges of all of these topics as justifications, but didn't explore any of them deep enough to have them mean anything.

Chakraborty's characters overall I felt were pretty compelling, especially the king and the rest of the actors in the political court. The writing there to show how adept the king was at managing the political balance and teetering civil war was well done. Overall the supporting cast was fantastic.

I had issues with the main three characters though. Nahri, Ali and Dara all frustrated me on how one dimensional their characters seemed to be, especially in light of more dynamic supporting characters around them who seemed to have more depth in their motivations and political acuity. All three main characters were "extremes", so harsh in their views and convictions that I felt them to be unbelievable. Nahri especially had several passages where her self-doubt and self-depreciation came to the point where I said "enough already, I get it". I understand the character has an internal struggle that she is dealing with, but Chakraborty kept driving the point home again and again that it began to detract from the overall story.

The middle section was slow, mostly because of the aforementioned main characters issues I mentioned above. It felt even slower because none of them seemed to really grow or move at all. Nahri still doubted everything she was doing, Ali was still stubborn with his convictions, despite evidence against them and Dara was still an egotistical, angry, zealot, despite several attempts by the story to show interjections of them all breaking those molds. All three inevitably fell back, with almost no change or growth.

The last arc of the book was nicely written. Pieces were set in motion for the upcoming sequel and there were several instances of surprise that genuinely put a smile on my face. Chakraborty did a delightful job in writing suspenseful action sequences and I am genuinely looking forward to the next book. I just hope I can read less of Nahri asking "What? I don't understand." about the events in the world happening around her. A bit less denial and more self-determination would be nice.

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Music Listening: CD - The Wilderness - Explosions in the Sky

 

I was at the library this past week, checking out some new CD's to listen to and I came across this one sitting on the "New Releases" rack. 

Before I get into talking about this more, if you haven't been to your local library lately you should really go. There is a good chance that they now stock all sorts of music, DVD's, Blu-Rays, etc. that you can check out and listen to. It is a really great way to find some stuff. Some libraries even have online resources where you can do this on an app right from your phone/tablet. 

Back to the album, I saw this new CD sitting on the rack entitled "The Wilderness" from Explosions in the Sky. The cover art is what immediately caught my eye and I decided to go ahead and check it out and see what it what was. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a great album here, so much so that I actually went online to find out more information about the band. 

Explosions in the Sky is an instrumental rock band. Pitchfork has them identified as a "post-rock" sound. I have no idea what that means, but I could see how some of the music here would be familiar to those of you who listen to Mogwai or Tycho. There is an ethereal quality to the music, but it still comes across as "rock". Not hard mind you, but there is no mistaking the instrumentation as being guitars, keyboards and drums. I can see this album as being a great one to listen to when you are wanting to relax, perhaps unwind after the day. A vinyl version would almost certainly be excellent for this sort of album as well. Thankfully, they are on Bandcamp so definitely take a list to the link I provided above. I think you all may be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

So how is that D&D gaming going?

Remember a couple of months ago how I stated I was going to be DM'ing a D&D game despite never having played the game before? So, some of you may be wondering how that is going.

Overall, I think everyone is having a great time, including myself. There are certainly some learning curves and road blocks along the way, but I think everyone in the group is rolling with the punches as best we can. There is a quote that I saw online that I think sums up common problems;

 "D&D is a game where a three hour walk takes five minutes and a five minute fight takes three hours."

There has been two encounters so far in the game where the fight dragged on way longer than it should have. Both times the battle took up most of the evening's play time and I could see that several of the party members were beginning to get bored. I wish I was able to do better in those and find a way to resolve the conflict more quickly, but I'll just chalk that up to inexperience and move on from there. 

One of our players and his wife clearly have played a lot, so he has been wonderful to help me out on some rules questions without interjecting himself too much into the role of being a "sideline quarterback". 

Here is a quick smattering of some of the more memorable moments that have occurred in the game so far. 

  • Our Dwarf has decided to carry a door around on his back. He used it as a shield at one point and never stated that he dropped it, so I have just said to him that he still has the door. It has become a funny on going joke. 
  • Our group has decided to pick a fight with almost every person they meet, resulting in the death of several different NPC's that they could have interacted with. 
  • Our Monk promised to help a goblin to oust her tribe's leader, only to end up killing her when she trusted him the most. He actually felt bad about his actions after that. 

Now, we have had a couple of "rough" moments in the game and one of those moments spilled out to a real heated conflict during our session this past Friday. Throughout the game thus far there has been a sort of "mistrust" dynamic between the Wizard and Monk in the group. So far, it had always been a sort of fun mechanic and the two of them had a "Gimli and Legolas" sort of relationship. They would tease each other, etc. Unfortunately, that back and forth spilled out of the game this past Friday and I had my first instance where I had to pull someone aside and talk to them about some conflicts in the game. 

The problem started when our Monk indicated that he was part of the Zhentarim faction. The group had run in with some NPC's from this faction near the beginning of the game and our Monk was not yet playing with us. When he revealed his membership, he did so in such a way that the people playing the game knew about it, but that their characters would not. This resulted in some problems where one of our members began to unreasonably challenge and question our Monk and in the end he actually just decided to stop actively participating in the game at all. 

It resulted in a pretty awkward situation for everyone sitting around the table. I talked to the character and I hope that everything has been smoothed over and we can continue without any issues as we move forward. 

Overall though, I have to say it has been an enjoyable experience playing and DM'ing so far and I can see myself doing more of it. 


Music Listening: AAC - Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Soundtrack - Jeremy Soule

My most recent album pickup is the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Soundtrack. What is this album you might be asking? Well, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (also known more commonly just as Oblivion) is a fantasy role playing video game. The soundtrack here is orchestral and if you are a fan of orchestral film soundtracks like the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter you will certainly find something that appeals to you.  Now the Skyrim Soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule is the most recent game released by Bethesda and is one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. It is three hours of just fantastic orchestral music. What's more is that being designed for a video game it works perfectly as background music for reading, writing or just relaxing. 

The Oblivion soundtrack doesn't quite have the breadth or volume of music that the Skyrim soundtrack has. Skyrim is Sole's masterpiece of compositional work. Oblivion though is all of the precursor to Skyrim that it is positioned to be. The soundtrack is still extremely well made and well worth adding to your collection if you enjoy orchestral music. 

My First Time Transcribing Music

As big of a music nerd as I am, I have never really taken any music theory or composition classes before. Surprising, considering that I write electronic music. I have lately taken an interest in playing my clarinet more, beyond just the once a week band rehearsal that I go to. I have found though that it is near impossible to find some good solo books or pieces to just play for fun. Everything that is out there seems to be geared towards beginners, not advanced players. 

I was posting around over on the /r/clarinet sub over on Reddit (yeah, it exists) asking for some suggestions and someone stated that I should just start transcribing my music. I brushed that comment off at first as a sort of "jackass" comment, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. 

There is a fantastic free and open source music notation software out there called Musescore. If you haven't checked it out, you really should, if you have any interest at all notation or writing. I downloaded it yesterday and within about an hour I was up and inputting notes into my first transcription. 

Right now I am taking a piece from our band repertoire that we are working on that features the clarinet section heavily. I feel this is a good piece that I can transcribe to a solo clarinet piece rather easily. It also helps that the original score is in the public domain and can be found over http://imslp.org. If you haven't heard of that place, it is basically a repository for public domain sheet music. I am sure it will be a great resource as I move forward with this. 

I have a screenshot up above of the piece I am working on. Can anyone guess what it is?

New Track - Summer Subsidence


I got a new track out and recorded today. This one surprised me since  actually wasn't planning on working on this one very much, but I wasn't making progress on something else and decided to switch over to this. I started out the day basically with just the percussion line (which I have been sitting on for months) and I was able to flesh everything else out. I like how this one turned out. 

January 2016 Reading List

The winter is always a good time to sit-down and find some books to read. Some people think summer is to time to read, but for me that is the time to get outside and do something active. The winter weather though is a great excuse to read some good books. 

As I previously mentioned, Megan bought me a Kindle Voyage for my birthday and I have had a great time reading some books on it over the past few months. 

I was able to finally polish off "Toll the Hounds" which was the eighth book in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen Series.  As I have noted a few times before, those books are huge. This one in particular was 800+ pages and it took me a better part of 2015 to get through. It was difficult in part because I just wasn't that into the book. I am going to continue to soldier on through though and finish that series here in 2016. There are only two books left to go.

Once I finished that I needed to find something that was a little bit lighter in reading. I picked up "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" from the Kindle Lending Library to read over the Thanksgiving and winter holiday. No surprise, I loved the book as I have with all of the Harry Potter books I have read thus far. At the same time I also picked up an audio book from Librivox to listen to.  That book was "The Double Traitor" by E. Phillips Oppenheim. This was a nice, low key spy novel. It didn't have much action in it, but it was more about deception and double-crossing by the characters. There was a lot of exposition in it, but it worked out in the end as a good book. 

I am now working on another "light" novel and reading the "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes". This is a great book so far. Very light stories and this particular novel is a collection of short stories. I didn't realize that it was actually the third Holmes book, so I will have to definitely pickup the other two. These books are all in the public domain so you can get them for free over at Project Gutenberg or on most of your ebook reader stores. 

Music Listening: AAC - Backstar - David Bowie:

The most recent music purchase i picked up over the past week is David Bowie's latest (and last) album titled Blackstar. As most of you probably know by now, David Bowie passed away this past week from an 18 month battle with cancer. There isn't really anything here that I can add to that conversation that hasn't already been said. 

I had this album on my radar for a couple of weeks leading up to its release. David's passing only solidified my purchase and I am certainly glad that i did pick this album up. I don't own any other Bowie albums, but I have always appreciated his songs. This album is very much crafted as a whole piece, a true album. I don't really think there are many radio hits that come off of this album, and perhaps Bowie is not looking for radio hits at this point, but when you sit down and listen to this album from start to finish it really does present a fantastic piece of work and one that is poignant against David's death. 

It is impossible to look at this separate from his death, but the music here stands on its own. There is a beautiful blend of avant-garde jazz and even some elements of electronic music mixed in with the signature Bowie vocal. This is the perfect sort of album that you can both sit-down and listen to, but also put on as a quiet background sound while you want to relax. In fact I find that the impact of the music here is most aptly felt when the album is played quietly. 

This is something I picked up just as a digital download, but also an album I want to now follow up and pickup on vinyl. There is some great music here.