Seven Days in Concord: The Old North Bridge

So…I never said it would be seven consecutive days would it? It has been a lovely summer thus far. The weather has been wonderful and on days it was too hot I realized that one of the things I *love* about being back in the US is air conditioning. Yes, sometimes it’s too cold and it’s not that great for the environment but man, sometimes it’s also just that little bit of heaven to step in from a 100 degree plus day right into the coolness of refrigerated air. So sue me…I’m human.

On day two of your virtual journey to Concord we will tour the old north bridge. For all you Americans and history buffs out there…this is where the revolution began. Combine your love of American history with the love of poetry and you come to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s lovely poem to commemorate this event in 1837 in his poem “Concord Hymn.” I am not much of an Emerson fan but these lines surely resonate to the anti-colonialist in all of us:
IMG 2396 - Seven Days in Concord: The Old North Bridge
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.”

I consider our current times some of the darkest days of American history when the GOP is trying to drag us backwards with their no-evolution, leave sick people to die, let’s invade the world stances, the economy is in a slump it’s not been in over 50 years and there is close to 10% unemployment. Then I remember the shift made by the people whose descendants still live in the Lexington-Concord area. They went from being British subjects to rebels, rebels with a cause. The revolution was not led by people who wanted to go back, they took up arms, these embattled farmers so they could go forward, to become citizens instead of subjects. And citizens are engaged, they have a voice but they also want to know the truth. I hope, for my adopted country, that we become engaged. Even if we are philosophically conservative we can be intelligent. We can believe in God (if we do, I don’t) and still believe in evolution. It’s not an either/or scenario. Yes, this is what I thought as I ran my hands across the warm wood of the bridge that day and looked across at Daniel Chester’s French’s statue of the Minuteman with Emerson’s quote engraved on the pedestal on which it stood. By the way you might know French from another statue he made: the Lincoln Memorial statue. Ring a bell? But I digress.

IMG 2399 - Seven Days in Concord: The Old North Bridge

I wonder what the real Minutemen, those brave men who faced down the British empire would think of the pretenders in their name? They were willing to die to liberate their country. They didn’t hunt poor, desperate Mexicans on their borders. They were the underdogs, they didn’t create the underdogs.

Even as I walked past the peaceful bridge and looked across at the picturesque boat house and the intrepid people canoeing and boating down the Assabet river I was filled with a sense of strange belonging. America and India are not that far apart when we think of our shared colonial past. And our anti-colonial past. We too fought…albeit without guns…to liberate ourselves from the British. We shared a dream. And to various degrees both countries have veered from their onward paths. But paths loop back don’t they? I hope both my countries will loop back to the place where we can go forward again.

You have been warned: places with histories like the old north bridge make me sentimental and optimistic in the most sickening ways…as chick-flicks do to others.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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