The Quest: LARPing is now a televised competitive sport

A few weeks ago I got the following text from my sister:

The shameless fangirling is genetic.

The shameless fangirling is genetic.

Normally I don’t follow reality TV competitions. I’m not a snob about them, they just aren’t my thing. I’ve never seen a single episode of Survivor. Overall, I think I’ve watched more parodies of reality TV shows than actual reality TV shows. However, the concept (and my sister’s endorsement) of this one piqued my interest, so I gave The Quest a try.

You guys.

It’s LARPing.

It is a televised LARP.

 

Contestants appear before the Fates in ABC’s The Quest. Image via The Quest’s official Facebook page.

It’s what would happen if you could play a World of Warcraft style video game in a holodeck instead of whatever lame-o device you’re stuck playing it on. Of course, this means all you have to work with are your own personal stats, not a superhuman digital character’s. So far the challenges have included archery, horseback riding, blacksmithing, running, plus a variety of puzzles that require more brains than brawn. In the tradition of reality TV (so I’m told), one of the three weakest contestants gets voted out every week, so you don’t want to use Charisma as a dump stat.

Although the contestants themselves are fun to watch, I think my favorite thing about The Quest is the NPCs. For you poor, sad people who aren’t familiar with fantasy roleplaying games, NPC stands for non-player characters. They’re the people who exist for you to interact with. Sometimes they’re basically talking furniture. Other times they have distinctive personalities, major roles in the story, and enhance the overall environment of the game. The actors playing the NPCs on The Quest are doing a great job putting themselves in the latter category. I have no idea whether these actors are nerds or not. For all I know, they could’ve taken the job because it was this or a Viagra commercial. But they are SO into their roles. They never break character. Ren Faire Drill Sergeant. The Royal Queen of Queenliness. The Vizier. The Fates. OMG, the Fates. And there is no scenery left, because The Hag chewed it all to pieces.

The Quest airs on Thursdays at 8pm/7pm Central on ABC. As my sister said, it also replays on Hulu (though it’s on a one-week delay if you don’t have Hulu Plus). Click here if you want to check it out!

Oh, and if any producers are reading this, y’all totally need my sister for Season Two.

The Fire Wish: Scheherazade Meets The CW

Reviewing Royal last week put me in a YA fantasy mood. Hence this review of The Fire Wish, a new release by debut author Amber Lough. TL;DR – You’re either going to love it or hate it. I loved it.

The Fire Wish (Jinni Wars #1), by Amber Lough. Click image for Amazon listing.

The Fire Wish is about two teenage girls in a mythical version of ancient Baghdad who switch places with each other. Jasmine Zayele is a reluctant princess who wants to escape an arranged marriage. Ariel Najwa is a Jinn spy-in-training fascinated by the human world and its inhabitants. If this sounds too cheesy to you, abandon hope all ye who enter here. If you’re as much of a sucker for this kind of story as I am, grab your long skinny fork thing and join me at the fondue fountain.

My favorite thing about this book is the Jinni world Lough has created. I’m not as familiar with Middle Eastern mythology as I’d like to be, so I can’t tell how much is adapted from that and how much is Lough’s own imagination. But it’s pretty obvious that the Jinni spy headquarters is influenced by Lough’s experience in US military intelligence. There are intelligence files, security clearance levels, walls filled with magic screens, and, of course, secret missions. Najwa, the Jinn spy candidate, was the more interesting of the two protagonists to me, though ironically she spends most of her time exploring the surface and trying to become Part Of Our World. Najwa could be the only protagonist and I’d still want to read this book.

Not that I don’t like Zayele; it’s just that her story starts out way more familiar. She’s a plucky tomboy in a patriarchal society that wants her to be a proper lady and marry the nice prince her family picked out for her. To be fair, she has some legit reasons for not wanting to get married. She’s still a few months away from her sixteenth birthday, and marriage would mean leaving her blind brother at home without her care. And, hey, it doesn’t matter if a guy is a prince, a musician, a scientist, and a total hottie. If a girl isn’t interested, she isn’t interested. Move along.

Is it really a spoiler that Najwa is interested? Or that Zayele ends up falling for the ripped, leather-clad, Special Ops Jinn-next-door that Najwa totes friendzoned? It’s predictable, but it works. Prince Kamal is a great match for cautious, curious, scholarly Najwa. Atish, the Shaitan warrior, is everything impulsive, decisive, headstrong Zayele could want in a guy.

But, cute pairings aside, The Fire Wish manages to avoid being a romance novel disguised as a fantasy. Most of the focus is on the war between the humans and Jinni, how people think the war started vs how it really did, and both sides’ behind-the-scenes efforts to gain the upper hand. It’s an intriguing setup, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the Jinni War in the inevitable sequels.

If a made-for-the-CW magic carpet ride sounds like your idea of a good time, click the image above or this link to enter A Whole New World.

Thalia’s Musings 3 is here!

The first chapter of Unraveled (Thalia’s Musings, Volume Three) is online at ThaliasMusingsNovels.com!

Unraveled (Thalia's Musings, Volume Three)

Unraveled (Thalia’s Musings, Volume Three)

I’ll be posting a new chapter every Monday for the next seventeen weeks. This blog will keep the same format and content – weekly posts with geeky pop culture fangirling reviews and the occasional commentary on current events. I’ll also be doing short posts like this one linking to the latest Thalia’s Musings chapter every Friday. That way subscribers to this blog will still get updates on the series, but subscribing to Thalia’s Musings is the only way to get updates as soon as the chapters go online.

Miss my usual media review content? Click here for a review I posted yesterday on Royal, the latest book in Anthea Sharp’s Feyland universe.

Royal: Return to Feyland

Last year I reviewed Anthea Sharp‘s Feyland trilogy and the first book in her Feyguard spinoff series. Last month, Anthea sent me an advance review copy of the second Feyguard book, Royal. I unfortunately wasn’t able to finish it before the release date, but I enjoyed it as much as the rest of the series, and am now happy to recommend it to my readers.

Royal (Feyguard #2), by Anthea Sharp. Click for Amazon listing.

Royal “Roy” Lassiter didn’t figure much into my review of the original trilogy, so here’s a recap. Roy is the son of the CEO of VirtuMax, the gaming company that developed Feyland. He’s first introduced in The Bright Court (Feyland #2) as a spoiled, entitled little bitch. A glamour spell makes him the most popular and intriguing student at his new school. He’s the guy all the guys want to be and all the girls want to be with. Until he loses the glamour spell, and the rest of the school sees him the way protagonists Jennet and Tam do – a mediocre person with a lot of style and little substance. I don’t know if this was intentional on the author’s part, but I saw him as a parody of Edward Cullen.

The Twilight Kingdom (Feyland #3) left the readers with the impression that Roy did have some substance after all; he’d just lacked the opportunity (both on- and offscreen) to develop it.  He gets that opportunity in Royal. As the title implies, this time Roy is the protagonist, with Jennet and Tam in supporting roles.

Roy is now a member of the Feyguard and of Jennet, Tam, and Marny’s inner circle. He’s happier with this small group of friends than he ever was with throngs of followers. But Jennet and Tam’s happy couplehood is a constant reminder that he’s struck out with every romantic prospect he’s had since moving to Crestview. The reader can guess that he’ll get a chance with Brea Cairgead, an emissary from the Dark Queen disguised an exchange student from Ireland.

Brea and Roy are particularly well-suited for each other. They were both brought into the world as tools for a narcissistic creator’s own purpose, and they’re both trying to discover and cultivate identities beyond that origin. Roy is the only child of a materialistic corporate mogul who’s been grooming him to take over her empire from birth, right down to naming him Royal. Brea was just a fish (no, really) living a simple, carefree life in the waters of the Unseelie Realm until the Dark Queen remade her as a naiad and sent her to the human world to lure people into Feyland. Neither queen accounted for her creation having a will of its own. Roy doesn’t care about business or technology, and would rather develop his hidden talent as an artist. Brea would rather befriend humans than feed on their mortal essence. They both long to be seen for who they really are, but continue to hide it because they’re legitimately terrified of the consequences.

While Royal probably has the least actual gameplay out of the Feyland and Feyguard books, it keeps all the factors I’ve loved about the series so far. What gameplay there is shows a familiarity with real fantasy RPGs. Roy, Jennet, and Tam are all learning alternate characters in this volume, and they play them like competent gamers unused to a new class with new powers. There’s still no femmephobia or catty girl-hate. Brea is as literal a Manic Pixie Dream Girl as possible (a trope that can be handled positively imo), and neither Jennet nor Marny is threatened by her wispy fey mystique. Gender stereotyping is ignored in-universe. No one thinks twice about a girl playing a knight or a boy playing a caster who draws with light. Roy’s mother does have a meltdown when she finds he’s been drawing flowery pictures of faeries, but it’s not because the pursuit is insufficiently masculine; it’s because she doesn’t see any money in it. (One has to wonder how much she paid her graphic designer.) The fact that Brea has never played video games isn’t brushed off as “Meh, she’s a girl”. Instead, it tips Jennet off to the fact that she isn’t human.

Ultimately the focus on the characters is what makes Royal worth the read. It’s great to see Jennet and Tam’s relationship, officially established at the end of the Feyland trilogy, progress with little angst or drama. Marny continues to be everything. I really hope she gets her own Feyguard book complete with a worthy love interest, because she’s one of my favorite things about this series. Although one of the best things about her is that she’s happy and confident without a boyfriend, I want to see someone love Marny as much as she loves herself. And, of course, the heart of the book is Roy and Brea finding the truth about themselves and each other. The end of their story is bittersweet without being tragic, and hopeful without being easy.

If you’re already a fan of Feyland, click here to add Royal to your collection. If you have yet to enter the Realm, click here for the Feyland trilogy, and here to continue the story of the Feyguard with Spark.

It’s Okay to Try

You don’t have to try
Take your makeup off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror
At yourself
Don’t you like you?

- “Try,” Colbie Caillat

If you’re at all engaged in social media, you’ve probably seen Colbie Caillat’s new music video for her song, “Try,” in which she starts out looking like a Kardashian and ends up looking like Colbie Caillat.

It’s a beautiful video with a beautiful message. The girls and women featured in it look incredible in the before and after shots, which is the whole point. I’ve seen my female friends moved to tears this week as they passed this video and Colbie’s commentary around Facebook. I have no trouble seeing “Try” as a sincere expression of Colbie’s story, and I also believe that the women who were moved by it see their own story reflected in it. Which is a wonderful, powerful thing, and I certainly don’t want to detract from that in any way.

Colbie Caillat, still adorable with no makeup.

Personally, though, I was struck by how different Colbie’s story of self-acceptance and embracing self-expression looked from my own.

I rarely if ever experimented with makeup in my teens. I know for sure that I didn’t own any. I think I was 19 before I tried so much as shaping my eyebrows, and then I felt absurdly guilty about it. Makeup wasn’t for me. I was an intelligent, talented, virtuous young woman. I wasn’t one of those vain, frivolous girls whose value was in how attractive they were to boys. I was smart. I was accomplished. I was responsible. I was respectable. Why on earth did I need to be pretty on top of that? More specifically, why did I need to put any effort into being pretty? Wasn’t pretty one of those things that you just are or aren’t? And why did I even care? I didn’t care.

Except I did. A part of me that I’d stopped listening to a long time ago wanted desperately to be pretty. Not because society was telling me I should. In fact, the society I inhabited was specifically telling me that I shouldn’t. That putting any thought or effort into outward appearance meant I was a vain seductress like the worldly women in magazines I was discouraged from looking at and movies I wasn’t allowed to watch. That, sure, a few lucky girls had the gift of being pretty without trying, but this was more curse than blessing. It made them targets for boys who would never appreciate their True Inner Beauty because they were so blinded by their outer beauty. Charm was deceitful, beauty was vain.

As I grew up, I exchanged patriarchy for feminism, and was told almost exactly the same thing. Don’t tell little girls they’re pretty. Women’s value shouldn’t lie in their looks. Women should take pride in accomplishment, intelligence, talent, and integrity. The World tells women they have to make themselves sexually appealing for men, so we waste so much effort in these vain pursuits that could be spent achieving things like men are taught to from infancy. A Real Man (not that you need one anyway) will love you for being A Real Woman, not one of those made-up, photoshopped, underfed women in misogynist magazines and movies. Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain.

As I continued to internalize these messages, they enabled a deeper, more insidious message I was getting from my own brain chemistry as I battled clinical depression: There’s no point in trying. Why bother running a brush through your hair? Who’s going to see it? Who cares if all you’ve done to your face in a week is splash water on it every other day? It’s not like you can improve it that much. Screw personal hygiene. No one’s getting close enough to see how much you’ve been neglecting it. On some level I knew how repelling my appearance was.* This time, I really, truly, didn’t care. I couldn’t care. My brain had forgotten how.

I got help. I learned how to care again. I felt happiness again and learned how to take conscious actions conducive to that feeling. I learned how to deconstruct the ideas I’d internalized about what I was supposed to be, and how to sift through the pieces and uncover who I really was.

I discovered that who I really am is an intelligent, talented, accomplished, courageous woman who freakin’ loves makeup, accessories, and clothes. I love decorating my face and my body with bright colors. I love knowing how different cuts of clothing can change the way my body appears. Dressing and grooming feels like an opportunity to create a new work of art every day. Fashion has become one of the most powerful depression-fighting weapons in my arsenal. It’s not about pleasing men or women, though I’m happy if it does. Honestly, sometimes I worry that my bright colors and sparkles make people think less of me. But, like Colbie in her video, it’s not about them liking me. It’s about me liking me.

And ironically, it was only after embracing all this that I learned to love my face without makeup. I don’t need makeup to like the way I look. I go out with a bare face plenty of times, usually if I’m in a rush or if I’m going to a movie that I know will turn my eyes into a waterfall. A movie with beautiful women whose beautiful makeup I’ll probably challenge myself to replicate sometime. I won’t look just like them, and that’s okay. Because I’ll look just like me. And I like me.

I like me enough to try.

Full disclosure: Foundation, concealer, highlighter, a four-shade eyeshadow palette, mascara, blush, and lipstick.

*Just to be clear, I’m not implying that women are repelling when they don’t wear makeup, shave their body hair, or style their hair in a conventional, feminine way. I’m talking about neglecting very basic hygiene, which can be a sign of clinical depression regardless of gender.

Sailor Moon Crystal: Random Observations

Sailor Moon Crystal, the Sailor Moon reboot series that has been emphatically pitched as a new adaptation of the original manga and NOT a remake of the 90s anime, premiered on Saturday.

Sailor Moon Crystal

My overall impression: It feels like a remake of the 90s anime. But a good remake. Here, in no particular order, are a few more particular impressions I had during my first viewing.

The animation is beautiful. My favorite aspect of the original animation, the over-the-top flowery pink girliness, is still there, and this time around there’s a new grace and elegance to it. The opening theme and transformation sequence are different from the original, but they’re just as enjoyable to watch, and I think they’ll soon become iconic in their own right.

Sailor Moon Crystal title card

The boys are quite crushable. Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Mask/Tuxedo Kamen has a spark with Usagi from the beginning that I felt was lacking in the original series, where (imho) their sparring often came across less as romantic tension and more as people genuinely disliking each other. This incarnation of Mamoru feels more endearingly awkward than just plain bitchy. I’m curious to see how long it takes this Usagi to figure out Mamoru and Tuxedo Mask are the same person since he was wearing a freakin’ tuxedo when she met him.

Usagi meets Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask

However, despite all of Mamoru’s adorkably romantic charm, Motoki is still my favorite. He’s sweet, attentive, helpful (especially at video games), and he looks like a male Haruka Tenoh. What more could a girl want?

Motoki, surrounded by roses.

Crystal feels more like a cohesive story with an ongoing arc. While I did enjoy Usagi’s episodic adventures in the original anime, it took awhile to indicate that it was telling a bigger story than “random kid gets superpowers and fights a new monster every week.” In the new series, the eponymous crystal is introduced as the Magical MacGuffin right away, we get a first look at Ami (Sailor Mercury) before the end credits roll, and those end credits give us a beautiful image of Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion.

omg it’s the back of Ami’s head!!!

Usagi is still Usagi. Clumsy, a bit of a crybaby, chronically late, and way more interested in video games and shopping than homework. And of course, a hopeless romantic. I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of the Sailor Senshi and watching them fight together by moonlight.

Sailor Senshi

Want to check it out for yourself? Click here to watch Sailor Moon Crystal on Hulu, or watch the pilot video embedded below.