Book Reviews and Rants, February 2012, Part 2

My rating system is explained here.

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman.  ☼☼☼.  Quick summary: magic users suffer from the ennui of particularly unimaginative gods.

Longer Summary: Quentin is a bright student with a pretty good life which he is bone-achingly bored with.  He read and was entranced by the magical world outlined in the popular series of children’s books, Fillory and Further, as a child, and has never quite escaped the feeling that his life would be so much better with a little magic.  Then he was accepted into Brakebills—North America’s only magical university—and thought his wildest dreams had come true.  Then…

Quentin has just graduated from an extremely exclusive magical university.  He’s got a pretty good life; partying with friends every night, a wonderful girlfriend, and a life of decadence and excess supported by magic and the university’s slush fund for recently graduated students.  He is bone-achingly bored with his life, and can’t shake the feeling that it would be so much better if only Fillory was real and he could actually live there.  Then, a fellow graduate of Brakebills shows up with the means of traveling to Fillory.  Then…

Quentin has traveled to the magical land of Fillory, and his life still fucking sucks.

Review:  The summary is necessary to highlight why I went with three stars.  The main character is extremely lethargic and unlikeable.  Amazing opportunities fall into his lap, and all-too-quickly they become mundane and boring…and he’s depressed again.  The other characters aren’t much better.  This is not because the writing is bad.  I finished the book because, from the way it was written, there were pretty good odds that there was a reason behind all this unpleasantness and ennui.  And there is.  It’s devastating, how much awful sense it makes once the pieces have clicked into place.  If I were grading this solely on the ideas, execution, and how much I enjoyed them, I’d give it five stars.  However, there were a few places where I put the book down and almost didn’t pick it up again because Quentin’s headspace was so unrelentingly and unpleasantly toxic (this was done on purpose, and I doubt the book would have been as powerful if the author hadn’t done it this way, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the experience).  I don’t think I could bring myself to read the sequel, no matter how much I really really really want to know what happens next.  Also, I listened to this as an audiobook (which probably exacerbated the problem, because I couldn’t easily skim over the bits I didn’t like).  Mark Bramhall’s performance of the novel was quite good, and I do tend to be picky about these things.

The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett.  ☼ (unfinished).  I generally think it’s unfair to rate a book on the basis of having read a minority of the pages, but this book didn’t seem to be going in a direction that I am entirely happy with.  I grant that the protagonist is eleven years old, and the author may be making the kid act snotty and holier-than-thou in order to make a reversal of opinion all the more poignant but…I doubt it.  The book doesn’t feel like it’s trying to pull some reverse-psychology on us, or that it’s exploiting the kid as an uneliable protagonist.  It feels dead serious.  Allow me a tangent:

I was at my parents’ house a few weekends ago.  Mom was channel surfing, and came across a show titled Hillbilly Handfishin’.  We watched part of it due to morbid curiosity.  One guy, I’m going to call him “Greenie”, because he’d never done this before, was talked into going by a friend.

Greenie [looks up at the camera, worried]: Wait, we’re going to be in the middle of nowhere?  No doctors nearby, or anything?

An understandable sentiment, yeah?  Wading into a muddy, opaque stream, sticking hands and feet into holes in the rock so that pissed-off catfish (or worse) can bite the hell out of your fingers?  I’d be worried.  Then the voice-over ominously proclaimed in the best hillbilly voice ever,

“He better man up.”

Remember that.

Summary:  Demons materialize whenever the sun goes down, and eagerly devour any person (or animal?  Are all the wild animals extinct now?) who is caught outside the protection of defensive wards.  These demons are many and—here’s the important part—humans have no way to fight them.  Alright.  So the snotty kid, Arlen, is a farmboy who lives in a village with his mother and father.  His family takes in two women who lost all their family when the wards on some houses failed.  Two travelers come into town; a bard-like guy who entertains the children, and another man whose job it is to deliver the mail and sell the villagers salt.  Now, it’s pretty common for people who have survived demon attacks to commit suicide (usually, it seems, by hanging).  Arlen gets the job of showing Salt-guy around the area, and they come across the former-survivor of a recent demon attack hanging from a tree.  Salt tells Arlen that this happens because men instinctively want to fight back against the demons, and that cowering behind wards saps their will to live.  And, you know.  That makes them cowering cowards who are secretly ashamed of their cowering.

Fast forward to that night (or maybe the next night).  Twilight takes the residents of Arlen’s house unprepared.  The humans rush to secure the animals, then sprint to the safety of the house.  At that moment, one of the guests realizes that the dog is still outside, tied to a fencepost.  Despite the falling darkness, she runs out to untie the dog.  On her way back, the demons begin to manifest, and one attacks her.  Seeing this, Arlen’s mother runs out to lend assistance (against the advice of pretty much everyone).  Arlen and his dad stand frozen on the porch as the demons rip the guest apart and then start in on the mother.  Arlen thinks of Salt-guy’s philosophy, and runs out to save his mother.  He manages to bean some demons with a bucket, and knocks enough away that he is able to drag her into the protection of the pig sty.  They wait out the night there.  The mother is very, very badly wounded and ill.  Arlen is very disappointed with his father for not jumping off the porch into the yard filled with demons.  Arlen thinks his father is a cowering coward.  A big problem I have with this book is that Arlen never says (or even thinks), father, you should be brave like mother and the guest.  Because they ran out into the demon-infested lawn, didn’t they?  Hell, his mother left the safety of the porch in order to help a woman she only sort-of knew.  Arlen didn’t jump in and attempt a rescue until his freaking mother was the one in peril.  The guest could (and did) get eaten alive for all he cared.

Also, by all rights the demons should have dog-piled on Arlen the moment his snooty little feet left the porch.  All the numbers in the world indicate that his chance of survival should have been exactly zero.  His chance of affecting a successful rescue mission?  A damn sight lower even than that.

And now Arlen’s all like, Father, you need to fucking Man Up.  Yuck.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch.  ☼☼☼☼.  I almost rated it three stars, but the dénouement alone was worth a star.  Make no mistake—the fact that I haven’t rated this book five full stars is not due to any failing of the book, but is instead due to a personal failing in moral fibre.  I…I know it is pathetic, but I dislike it when the protagonist cheats or deceives people who trust him.  This is the same reason I can’t bring myself to follow the show White Collar (yes, seriously).  And Locke Lamora is a conman.  Indeed, he’s perhaps the most magnificent, extravagant conman you’ll ever encounter.  He concocts grand schemes, steals thousands of dollars, and then just sits on the money (because if he spent it, people would realize that he isn’t the unassuming petty thief he claims to be).  TLoLL is a dramatic, funny, exciting, and intricately plotted book.  The worldbuilding is head-spinning in its scope and complexity.  The book is almost exclusively set in the city of Camorr (and the details and history of that city could be said to fill the depths of the Mariana Trench), but what tidbits we learn of the rest of the world are no less tantalizing.  I think I’m interested enough that I’ll have to read the sequels, despite the confidence schemes.  (Also nice?  Great worldbuilding with no frelling prophesies.)

My rating system is explained here.

My Lovely Sam Soon (a not-review)

I caved.  I desperately needed something to watch, because I’ve still got about 2/5 of this cardigan to complete.  I feel like I’ve watched everything American, Canadian, or British that I could ever want to watch (which is also available on hulu or Netflix instant).  So I gave in and picked a Korean drama.

Shu says Korean dramas are formulaic (in the same way the romance novels are, I suppose), but I haven’t been exposed to enough of the genre to pick out the clichés.  This is kind of like how I enjoyed Eragon back when I read it in middle school, and only now appreciate how utterly derivative it is.

Anyway.

Five episodes in, and I can say with certainty that the main export of South Korea seems to be domestic violence.  (The main export of North Korea is, obviously, darkness.)  Women beat men about the head with whatever comes to hand; handbags, stuffed animals, open hands.  When Jin-heon’s mother pulled him into the bathroom to beat him because she thought he’d entered into a relationship without telling her?  Sam-soon sat there and giggled at the yelps emanating from behind the closed door.

The guys put the man in manhandle.  Bitch wants to leave before you’re finished talking to her?  Bitch wants to ask you questions about your ex-girlfriend?  Bitch is on a diet and doesn’t want to eat the delicious crepe you made for her?  Easy, just grab her by the shoulders, or arm, or hand.  Basically, grab anything you can reach and hold her there until you’re fucking done with her.

Then again, the women aren’t much better.  An old friend showed up to your work unexpectedly, and is about to say something embarrassing about your past while a coworker is within earshot?  Grab and hustle her out the dining room, into the hallway, through the foyer, and onto the sidewalk.  Only explain your actions once you’re outside so that your vict–er, friend can struggle and protest loudly the entire time.

Jin-heon is the worst, though.  He throws and punches stuff when he’s angry.  What makes him angry?  Pretty much, like, everything.

This shit is fucked up, man.

February 2012 Book Reviews, Part 1

My reviews are becoming increasingly wordy, so I decided to split February up.

Shotgun Gravy, by Chuck Wendig.  ☼☼☼☼.  Oh god.  I know it’s a cliché, but I’m finding it impossible to keep myself from starting this review with “Shotgun Gravy contains all the brutality, the inevitability, and the fucked-up can’t-tear-my-eyes-away fascination of a train wreck.”  Phew.  Got it out of my system.  Oh wait, should novellas be italicized or put in quotes?  Piss off Google, I’m writing here.

Atlanta Burns took a shotgun to her mother’s pedophile boyfriend.  She had good cause.  Now she’s back in town, her mother’s sleeping in the garage, and she’s developing the bad habit of sticking up for the underdogs of her town.  Not-really-spoiler-alert: the bad guys are Nazis.  They’re the last bastion of pure, no-shades-of-grey evil in this world.  And yeah, it’s sorta clichéd.  And definitely, they make an easy big bad.  But y’know what?  I’m ok with that, in this case.  Chuck Wendig knows the approved method of kicking Nazi ass (hint: it involves a shotgun and a can of bear mace), and I would be delighted to read any further thoughts he has on the matter.

An aside: Wendig, for some reason, lives in Pennsyltucky.  I don’t; I was raised in the one of the more civilized regions of the state.  However, my first roommate in college came from that area.  She owned guns.  She couldn’t get cell reception from her house.  She had a dial-up internet connection, and for fun her friends would mount spotlights on their pickups and go deer spotting (seriously, check out #6).  And then I read shit like this.

And then I wish that the vigilante with a shotgun wasn’t the least believable part of Shotgun Gravy.

Changes and Ghost Story by Jim Butcher.  ☼☼☼☼.  Quite honestly, I’m not going to review these books further.  I feel like, if you’ve gotten this far in the series you probably know whether you’re going to read these or not with no prodding from me.  They were epic and fun and featured an (increasingly) complicated world, and I wouldn’t ask for anything else.

Scored, by Lauren McLaughlin.  ☼☼☼☼.  The romance element was sub-par.  If the conclusion wasn’t so tepid, I’d probably have gone with five stars.  Oh well.  Quick, before I continue, watch this video (at least through the first chorus).

“Well the poor keep getting hungry, and the rich keep getting fat.

Politicians change, but they’re never gonna change that.

But girl we got the answer, it’s so easy you won’t believe.

All we gotta do is…rmmph mishmph mmplm.”

 

(The song is poking fun at protesters which claim to have solved all the world’s problems in five words or less.  “All you need is love”, and all that crap.  Real life is hellishly complicated.  There is no one simple answer.  We all know the rich people are getting richer, poor people are getting poorer, politicians never actually solve those problems, etc.  But very few of us examine the underlying causes of those problems, the psychology and economics and ingrained social constructs which prevent them from being worked on.  The mumbled line emphasizes the point of the song: clichéd problems beget clichéd solutions.

I want to be clear, I wasn’t looking for some amazing resolution to all humanity’s problems.  My problem with the ending is that it was too Happily Ever After.  McLaughlin spent almost the entire book exploring essential dichotomy of human existence; how the competing drives for fairness and unequal social groups shape societies and social change.  As the characters spun across the page, duking it out over the plusses and minuses presented by both the status quo (American society as it is now) and the shady corporation’s Scoring regime, I found myself impressed again and again by the feeling that McLaughlin has thought this through and organized it really well.  The next time someone complains about how OWS eschews pithy, quotable cachphrases, I want to point them to Scored, so that I don’t have to explain how pithy, quotable (clichéd) catchphrases would insult our collective intelligences.  Scored shows us the wicked problem, and asks us whether our solution is indeed a solution, or just another wicked problem in disguise.  And then, only then, does her plucky, working-class heroine kiss the entitled rich boy and win the convenient scholarship.

McLaughlin essentially admitted that there were no easy answers to the degenerative arthritis that America’s class mobility has developed.  I just wish that she hadn’t mumbled the conclusion.

Twenty Palaces prequel, by Harry Connolly.  ☼☼☼☼☼.  I suppose I should say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I really like this author’s writing style.  I read his blog, and on it he mentioned that he usually writes in a sleep-deprived daze (because that’s the only way to smother his inner critic enough to actually get the words on the page).  I’m probably seeing connections where there are none, but I feel like this contributes to the dreamlike feeling of the books.  I’m not talking about the hazy, vague, logic-less impression I get when I look back on dreams after I’ve woken up.  No, this is in-the-moment dreamlike, where everything feels brutally real no matter how bizarre the situation gets.  Where events keep evolving out from under my feet, and I have no choice but to accept each new development and try to keep up with everyone else (who seem to know so much more about what’s going on than I do).

Ok.  Maybe I’m the only person with dreams like that.

Anyway, this book details the events leading up to where the first-published book in the series, Child of Fire, starts.  Ray Lily is released from jail and moves in with his aunt and uncle.  He gets a job in a copy shop, and promises himself (and his uncle) that he’s going to become a proper, Law-Abiding Citizen.  That’s all shot to hell (sorry, sorry) when his childhood friend, Jon, shows up at the copy shop sans wheelchair.  When they were both teenagers, Ray had accidentally crippled his friend for life using a gun he’d found at Jon’s house.  And now Jon’s made a miraculous recovery.  Even better, Jon’s willing, nay, insistent on having Ray back in his life.  It’s heartbreaking how deliriously happy Ray is that Jon wants anything to do with him.  Also, now I understand why Annalise wanted to rip Ray’s arm off and beat him with it.

Valor’s Choice, by Tanya Huff.  ☼☼☼.  I’m always annoyed to read reviews by people who hated a book because they had quite obviously (and accidentally) stumbled into the wrong genre, and yet didn’t bother to factor that into their review.  These are the type of people who review a Stephen King book and rate it two stars because “there’s too much horror”.  So.  Caveat time: I don’t like military SF.  The fact that this book is military SF somehow escaped my notice when I was choosing to request it from the library.  I’ve never made it past the first 30 pages of Forever War.  I managed to finish the first Honor Harrington book, but I suspect that was only because Baen was offering it for free online and I desperately needed something to read.

With that said, I guess this book delivers everything you’d want from military SF, if military SF happened to be what you were looking for. A smart protagonist who generally manages to maneuver her green commanding officer into making the right decisions.  Dastardly political maneuvering by those higher up the chain of command.  Fighting, bloodshed, death, and a final victory when all seemed hopeless.

Coulda been worse.

The Better Part of Valor, by Tanya Huff.  ☼☼☼☼.  Sequel to Valor’s Choice.  I got the omnibus edition with both novels, so I figured that I might as well read both.  I actually liked this one more; I had a difficult time putting it down.  The very, very end hinted at an approaching novels-wide story arch.  I was a bit disappointed that the guy she ended up sleeping with is a jerk.  He’s charming, too, but he tried to intimidate her by getting in her personal space (which always makes me feel uncomfortable.  There’s no non-jerk explanation for that behavior).  I would read more of the series if I didn’t have other library books to read.  As I do, they win out over military SF.  (On the record, my problems with military SF stem from a) whether my favorite supporting characters make an appearance rests on the whims of the military higher-ups and b) whether my favorite supporting characters make it alive through the book rests on the whims of the author.  In both cases, emotional involvement is uncomfortable.)

Kitchen Adventures, One

[Flashback]

“Hey Shu?”

“Yeah?”

“I just want to ask: why did the apartment smell like Mexican food yesterday morning?”

“Oh, sorry.  I opened the window to air it out.”  She had, too.  A window in the kitchen had been left open all night.

“It worked.  For the kitchen, that is.  Everywhere else, not so much.  Anyway, I looked for anything that remotely resembling Mexican food on the counter, but I only found those stale chunks of bread, dried out dip, and the dodgy looking peach-blueberry cobbler thing.”

“I didn’t make Mexican food.  I just used coriander and cumin.”

“Really?”  I asked, because I know more about the elements of the periodic table than food spices.  I went into the kitchen, sniffed at the coriander and cumin, and realized that Haoshu was right.  Those were both smells I associate with Mexican food (I suppose I should clarify that my only expose to such comes in the form of Mexican-American food).

After that, I craved quesadillas for two days straight.

Kitchen Adventures, Prelude

“What is that?” I asked.  Shu had just taken a semicircle of something out of the fridge.  The texture looked dough-ish, but the color pointed more toward cheese.

“Dough.”  She replied, sniffing it.

“It wasn’t always green, right?” I persisted.  It was mottled a bit like wheat dough, but it was a very fetching forest green color, which wheat dough doesn’t generally come in.  “It was more tan, when you first put it in.  I think.”

“Yeah.”  She confirmed.  She unwrapped it from its cocoon of saran wrap, and sniffed it again.  “It’s still good.”

“But, what kind of dough is it?”  I really hoped it wasn’t cookie dough. I like cookies, but I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to taste them after witnessing its transformation over the last week or so.

“Spaghetti.  Pasta.”  She molded it experimentally with her fingers.

I laughed.  “This is going to be very interesting to wake up to.”

Blueberries

I think, for the urgency of this conversation to make any sense to laypeople (a.k.a., people who have never been forced to live with me), I need to provide some background. Here it is: I hate mold. It’s ridiculous and annoying, yes, but I figure I’m allowed my one silly phobia. I’m the person who vanquishes the millipedes while my friends stand on chairs and shriek. In return, I’ll occasionally ask them to deal with moldy food. It’s symbiotic.

The other night, I waited until Shu came back from work and I asked, “Hey, when you get a moment, could you throw out the blueberry muffins that’re on the counter?”

(They were in an opaque container. I hadn’t checked to see if they were moldy, but they’d been sitting there for a week and a half so it seemed a fair bet that they’d passed from the land of the edible.)

Shu: The muffins you made? Why didn’t you eat them?

Which is a fair question. Usually I am careful to either eat or freeze the things I make before they go bad.

Me: I forgot that I don’t like blueberries. No, wait. I knew I don’t like blueberries, but convinced myself that I do.

Shu: Haha. What?

Which rather succinctly summed up the crux of the problem. What, indeed. I do this sort of thing, occasionally. Back in high school, for a month or so I successfully convinced myself that I like cantaloupe, despite all evidence to the contrary. I ate some with lunch every day, until reality caught up and triggered my gag reflex. Then again, that eventually happened to just about any food that I ate for lunch everyday (which speaks more about the sorts of things I was stuck eating for lunch than about my ability to eat the same thing every day ad infinitum).

But this is not a discussion about bread which manages to be cold, stale, and soggy at the same time. This is about blueberries.

The fact that I don’t like blueberries has puzzled me for most of my life. I mean, they’re a fruit and, generally speaking, I tend to like fruit. Plenty of other people don’t have a problem with blueberries. In fact, I’ve never heard a single other person go “yelch, blueberries!”. I know why I don’t like cantaloupe (the taste is unpleasant). I know why I don’t like pears (the taste and consistency are unpleasant). I can eat a food involving blueberries without any problems. However, by eating that food with blueberries in it, I have decreased my likelihood of ever wanting to eat the blueberry version of that food again. This works with waffles and pancakes, breakfast bars and dried fruit, muffins and bagels and coffee cake and scones.

So I made blueberry muffins. I ate two or three. And then I completely and totally lost my ability to want to eat more. I had fresh muffins sitting on the counter, and I instead defrosted muffins from earlier, blueberry-free batches to eat as a snack. My eyes and thoughts slid off the container of muffins until I subconsciously decided that enough time had passed that, instead of thinking I should probably eat those when they caught my eye, I could instead think:

Those fuckers are probably moldy.

Shu oh-so-kindly confirmed my suspicions, and then took the trash out for good measure. I think the image of moldy blueberry muffins which my mind has so helpfully conjured will serve as a deterrent to blueberries in general. At least until I manage to, once again, convince myself otherwise.

Book Reviews, January 2012

I spent most of this month reading Liaden Universe books, but those’re getting a post of their own.

Books other than Liaden ones which were read by me in January, 2012. My rating system is explained here.

The Crown Jewels and House of Shards by Walter Jon Williams.  ☼☼☼☼.  There are actually three books in the series, but I got the omnibus through interlibrary loan and was forced to return it before I got to the last one.  The Maijstral books are funny.  Maybe not laugh-out-loud funny, but in the very least off-beat-funny (the title of TCJ takes on new meaning when you find out what the conflict is really about, haha).  They are set far into the future, after humanity has been conquered by and then achieved autonomy from a gigantic alien empire.  However, like any properly conquered group, they’ve assimilated quite a lot of the conquerors’ culture, and aren’t quite sure what sort of customs and traditions would be properly human.  The conquerors have also assimilated bits of human culture, though they did it rather haphazardly which leads to wonderful exchanges like this:

      Nichole: Can you come at sixteen?  I have to witness an Elvis impersonation at eighteen, and you can be my escort.

Maijstral: I’ll dress formally, then.

Maijstral, by the way, is an Allowed Thief, which means that he can get away with stealing as long as he does it with style and within an explicit set of rules.  There are thief rankings, and the thieves record their exploits and sell the media rights.  It was all quite entertaining.

After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn.  ☼☼☼☼.  I liked this book.  It was a comfortable, easy read.  Vaughn works within the familiar confines of the less weird superhero stories (if you aren’t well acquainted with how supremely weird comic books can get, you’ll still be fine).  The main character is the squib daughter of Commerce City’s two first superpowered superheroes.  As a result, she spends a good portion of the book as Celia, the girl hostage.  I tried to feel bothered by this, but couldn’t manage it.  I’d accepted that this book was created to exist comfortably within the tropes and restrictions of superhero comic books.  As such, I was willing to overlook the occasional, “He’s pure evil.  How could you have sided with him?  You’re not the person I thought you were!” followed by a melodramatic flight from the room.  That’s just the sort of thing that comes with the territory.

The romance bit was nice, too.

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall.  ☼☼☼☼.  Wikipedia says the title is a play on the phrase Rorschach Tests, which makes me love it even more.  Most of the book was truly and wonderfully bizarre.  It starts out with the increasingly clichéd set-up, a man wakes up with no memories, but that is not so much a plot device as a side effect of the plot.  What I mean is, there are stories which use memory loss to propel their main character to go to new places and meet new people.  There are stories which use memory loss to simplify and chop up a complicated mystery into bite sized pieces.  And then there is The Raw Shark Texts, which uses memory loss as a sort of re-do, or rewind.  We recover bits and pieces of the First Eric Sanderson’s life and goals while the Second Eric Sanderson is constructed and flounders and struggles and grows before our eyes.  The memory loss, the fact of the memory loss, was the least fantastical part of the book.

I have only two problems with the book.  One, the ending was too happily-ever-after.  I can’t stomach a happily-ever-after from a book which was, otherwise, so complicated.  Second, did Eric ever have a cat called Gavin?  I don’t understand why Clio would have lied about that.

Favorite quotation;

“There are two types of people in the world, Eric.  There are the people who understand instinctively that the story of The Flood and the story of The Tower of Babel are the same thing, and those who don’t.”

Tangent Time!

On a related note, I love that quotation partially because it’s the sort of thing which makes perfect and beautiful sense within the confines and axioms and postulates of the Raw Shark universe, but which loses its impact when released into the wider world.  It is perfectly evolved to exist in the Raw Shark niche, and I imagine that, by putting it here and divorcing it from its proper context, a bit of meaning flakes off and withers every time someone reads it.

Discord’s Apple, by Carrie Vaughn.  ☼☼☼.  I read this because I liked After the Golden Age, but it wasn’t as good.  It’s an apocalypse-with-gods sort of book.  Evie writes comic books about a military squad.  This isn’t too surprising, as the world she lives in is wracked with war.  Her mother was killed by an attack from a suicide bomber.  It’s impossible to travel through small towns (let alone major cities) without running into checkpoints to search your car for weapons and explosives.  Evie becomes intimately caught up in the apocalypse-with-gods when she visits her dying father and learns (rather unwillingly) of her family legacy.  I had two major problems with this book.  Well, one major, one minor.  The minor problem is that the romance bit felt forced.  The major problem has a few parts: A) if this is the apocalypse-with-gods, where are all the gods? (There’s really only one god, plus several magical or mythological people.  Don’t expect me to assume they all died.  The fate of the Greek pantheon is the only one truly discussed) and B) was the apocalypse supposed to succeed?  By which I mean, why the hell were a couple people from Arthurian legend called back up if they weren’t actually supposed to accomplish something?  Who or what is responsible for resurrecting them, anyway?  If the gods are dead or weak, who’s left pulling these strings?  The plot didn’t make much sense to me.  If the other bits are sufficiently good, I can overlook that failing.  In this case, they weren’t.