Monday 30 July 2018

WHEEL OF TIME TV series announces second writer

Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins has announced via Twitter that the second writer to work on the TV show will be Amanda Kate Shuman, who has already written the second episode, Shadow's Waiting (following on from Judkins' first episode, Leavetaking).

Shadow's Waiting is also named after a chapter in The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time novel. In this case, Shadow's Waiting is Chapter 19, together with the chapters immediately before and after, depicts our heroes' journey into the ruined city of Shadar Logoth.

Intriguingly, this news suggests that each episode will be adapting around 10-11 chapters of the novel, and theoretically the entire novel could be wrapped up inside six episodes. If, as expected, there is 12-13 episodes in the first season, it might well be that the first season is indeed adapting both The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt. This is both heartening news - trying to adapt one book per season when there are fourteen books in the series was always doomed to failure - but slightly concerning given the sheer mass of material they're trying to squeeze into each episode. Each episode of Game of Thrones' first two seasons, for example, very roughly adapted 80 pages of novel material. By contrast Wheel of Time is trying to fit between 140 and 150 pages into each episode.

The news that the second episode has already been written is also intriguing: officially, the show remains "in development" at Amazon and has not been formally greenlit. However, you would not normally solicit multiple episode scripts for a season before it is greenlit, only the first episode and then an outline for the remainder of the season. It is possible that Amazon are pursuing a course similar to what HBO did for Game of Thrones, by "amberlighting" further development, in essence agreeing privately to proceed with the project but not formally announcing it until later on for tactical or business reasons. In Amazon's case it might because there has also been big news this week about their Lord of the Rings TV project and they may be trying to open up some space before making another formal announcement about Wheel of Time.

Amanda Kate Shuman, like Rafe Judkins, has worked on Chuck as a writer and writing assistant. However, she has also worked on shows like Berlin Station, The Blacklist and The Following. She was also a story editor on The Blacklist and a producer on Berlin Station, so has more production credit than Judkins himself.

The addition of Shuman to the writing roster also reflects what some fans had hoped for, that the TV show would use a mixture of male and female writers to help reflect the male/female duality of the novels, which is a key theme of the story.

Judkins is now promising to make further announcements on "Wheel of Time Wednesdays", so hopefully we may hear more information soon.

New Paul Kearney novel announced

Or rather re-announced with a new title and new cover art. In an (I believe) exclusive scoop, I can reveal that the sequel to the excellent The Wolf in the Attic (2016), formerly known as The Other Side of Things, is now called The Burning Horse. It will be released in autumn 2019 from Solaris Books.

Excellent news for fans of Paul's work.

Sunday 29 July 2018

Age of Mythology: Extended Edition

The cyclops Gargarensis has vowed to shatter the gates to the Underworld and release the Titan Kronos back into the world. To this end he has assembled a vast army and set about this task in Greece. Arkantos, hero of Atlantis, sails to the Greek colonies to lend his aid in the Trojan War. Learning of Gargarensis and his plans, Arkantos forges a coalition with the Egyptians and Norse to stand against him.

Age of Mythology was released in 2002 as a stand-alone spin-off from the successful, mega-selling Age of Empires series. The first game in the series to use a fully 3D engine (albeit one cleverly modelled to resemble the 2D engine of the earlier games), it was a step forward in graphics and UI customisability at the time. Although the game was overshadowed somewhat by the close release of the superficially similar WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, it was successful and ultimately sold over a million copies, an impressive feat for a real-time strategy at a time when the genre was starting to decline in popularity.

A few years ago the game was dusted down and re-issued as an "Extended Edition". This update touches up the graphics, has much better water effects and also allows for higher graphical resolution and widescreen modes. This version of the game includes the expansion, The Titans (which adds the Atlanteans as a fourth faction), and a five-mission side-campaign known as The Golden Gift, focusing on the dwarves (although they use Norse units and abilities). For a small additional fee, players can also download Tale of the Dragon, a nine-mission new campaign featuring a new, fifth faction, the Chinese. It's an impressive package, totalling 58 missions and taking approximately 40 hours to play through, which is a formidable amount of content for a real-time strategy game and excellent value, given the low cost that the game usually goes for in Steam sales.

The game is pretty standard as far as RTS titles go: you start with a base, in this case a town centre, from where you can train peasants who construct buildings and work as resource-gatherers. There are four primary resources: wood, gold, food and faith. The first three are used to build mundane structures and units (a mix of archers, cavalry, infantry and siege weapons) whilst faith is used to train "myth units" (sphinxes, dragons, cyclopses, hydras, frost giants etc) and one-off "heroes" (like Odysseus or Achilles). Resource-gathering is a surprisingly flexible system, with multiple ways of getting resources. For example, food can be hunted (peasants kill chickens, bears or pheasants and use them for food), farmed or gained from the sea by sending out fishing boats, whilst gold can either be mined directly, gained through trade at a marketplace or setting up a trade network between your town centres using caravans.

As usual, you amass armies which you can take into battle. The composition of these armies is interesting, with a rock-paper-scissors mechanic complicated by the deployment of counter-units (pikemen who are marginally effective in infantry battles but devastating against cavalry), so assembling a well-balanced force is essential. Units have a surprisingly high number of hit points, so making sure you get unit upgrades from an armoury to improve armour, attack and resilience to specific damage types, like bludgeoning or piercing is also important. As each game proceeds, you can upgrade to a different age, which unlocks new units and building types.

This is all standard, but Age of Mythology nails the details very well. This was one of the first RTS games that allowed you to automatically task newly-built units (so right click on a gold mine to make all the villagers built after this point automatically go over and start mining), resulting in a very smooth and intuitive playing experience.

In terms of gameplay, Age of Mythology is hugely enjoyable, but it does focus a lot on attack. Whilst some games give you impressive options for defence and turtling, like StarCraft and its bunkers, photon cannons and siege tanks, Age of Mythology's defensive structures tend to be less effective, with walls and towers coming down very easily to enemy action (disappointingly, as the game's wall-building system may be one of the best in any RTS game ever made, allowing you to built elaborate fortifications very easily). The game is at its best when you are constantly engaging the enemy, reinforcing as needed and keeping them on the back foot. Tactically, a fine balance is needed between known when to keep up an attack and when to fall back for reinforcement.

In terms of story, the game has a very silly but enjoyable narrative which mixes up the Norse, Egyptian, Greek and Atlantean legends and stories in a manner that's contrived but fun. The story can't hope to match WarCraft III's beautiful cut scenes and in-game plot twists, but it does know when to butt out and not interfere with gameplay (a lesson other RTS games could learn from, even now) through endless cut scenes and major reversals you can't do anything about. Age of Mythology remains a pretty fair game in that sense.

On the negative side of things, the game is very easy to, well, game. Some missions can be completed in minutes if you know where the objective is and if it isn't heavily guarded and difficult to get to. The AI could be better, and it's not uncommon for the AI to be so intent on getting its soldiers from A to B that it it sometimes doesn't stop to fight if you engage them and start slaughtering them on the march. The one-shot-and-done god powers means that the god powers are also not very useful in the game, and half the time can be completely ignored. There's also the feeling that some of the differences between the five sides are fairly superficial (only the Norse, who use soldiers to build things rather than peasants and have mobile resource-gathering carts rather than static stores, feel quite distinctive in that sense). Still, for a game that's sixteen years old, Age of Mythology feels quite fresh and modern in most respects. Even the graphics hold up well, only really dating when the camera zooms down for the in-engine cut scenes that open and close most missions.

More disappointing is the quality of the new expansion, Tale of the Dragon. The Chinese faction is far more generic than the original ones and the storytelling is utterly awful (lots of dodgy Chinese accents and amateur voiceovers abound). There are numerous bugs and errors introduced in this expansion not present in the original game (including the ability for your naval units to occasionally just sail off the edge of the map and die) that make playing it a chore. It's a shame as the new maps are wonderfully well-designed and there's a couple of variants on the standard designs which feel fresh (a massive plain allowing you build your perfect city, and another map where you have no buildings, just two enormous armies to go at it).

Still, this fresh repackaging of the original game is very successful and brings back to life an excellent and underrated RTS game. Age of Mythology: Extended Edition (****½) is available now on Steam.

Narcos: Season 1

Colombia, the late 1970s. Pablo Escobar is an already-notorious smuggler and fence, selling stolen electrical goods and keeping one step ahead of the police. A Chilean chemist nicknamed "Cockroach" introduces him to a method for creating cocaine in small, easy-to-hide labs. Escobar starts selling the drug and smuggling it into the United States, most successfully via ship into California and Florida. Soon he is making tens of millions of dollars per month. Alarmed, the US Drug Enforcement Agency sets up an office in Bogotá and sends in agent Steve Murphy with one mission: to bring down Escobar and, helped by the Colombian government, destroy his organisation.

Narcos is an original drama series which, in its first season, covers and the rise and most successful years of Pablo Escobar, one of the most notorious drug traffickers in history. "Don Pablo" made billions of dollars off the back of the trade, so much he couldn't even spend it or even realistically launder it (resulting in him burying vast amounts of it). In a career spanning fifteen years, including the entire 1980s, he became the most famous criminal in the world and occupied staggering resources from multiple governments in an attempt to bring him to justice. At one point he was responsible for 80% of the world's cocaine traffic and is blamed with the explosive rise in the popularity of the drug in the USA in the 1980s, with devastating results for communities and law enforcement.

Escobar was also a man of the people, beloved for the vast amounts of money he spent on social housing, schools and hospitals in Colombia. He even ran for office before his drug convictions caught up with him. Always willing to use violence, assassination and intimidation, in his later years he became far more ruthless and willing to compromise his Robin Hood or "bandit king" image to further his goals and power. In turn, the Colombian government became increasingly willing to use overwhelming police and military force to try to hunt him down.

Narcos is an unusual series because it isn't strictly a drama series but it isn't quite a docudrama either. Like a docudrama it makes use of voiceovers, contemporary footage and news reports to illustrate the story, but it is all framed within the confines of a drama. So there's no talking heads of the real people involved, but there are photographs and news interviews with the actual real people before we cut away to the actors playing those roles. It's all rather odd and shouldn't really work, but after a while it becomes more familiar and starts working better.

At the heart of the series is Escobar, played by Wagner Moura. Moura gives a great performance, reproducing Escobar's mix of ruthlessness and charm with skill (although those with a detailed working knowledge of Spanish may find his Mexican accent somewhat incongruous). Boyd Holbrook is okay as Steve Murphy, but he plays a pretty standard straight-up American guy without much in the way of a personality. His growing addiction to the game of catching Escobar, even to the detriment of his marriage, provides a possibly interesting subplot, but the show never really engages with it. Pedro Pascal (late of Game of Thrones, where he played Oberyn Martell) is more engaging as DEA Agent Javier Peña, whose local connections and knowledge play a key role in helping bring down Escobar. Raúl Méndez also gives a great performance as César Gaviria, the reluctant President of Colombia who ends up leading the political battle against Escobar. Maurice Compte also gives a great, intense performance as Horacio Carrillo, the police chief tasked with taking the war to Escobar and whose position is constantly under threat because of his competence.

Whether you like Narcos or not will depend on if you tune in to how the show is structured and paced. Episodes of the show can span months or even years, with months passing between each episode. Sometimes so much is going on that a voiceover has to cut in to explain what's going on. Major players show up out of nowhere with, again, the voiceover (somewhat apologetically) required to explain who they are and how they fit into the narrative. The story can often feel like it is proceeding in fits and starts, rather than the smooth, slowly-unfolding story of something like The Wire (Narcos also fails to really address the human-level suffering brought about by the drug trade, a couple of shots of coke addicts on the streets of Miami aside). Even more confusingly, Steve Murphy only joined the fight in Colombia towards the end of the 1980s, so the show has to introduce him and then roll back ten years to show Escobar's rise. In the early episodes this can lead to scenes featuring Murphy and the DEA taking on the drug cartel in the late 1980s and us flashing back years to what Escobar was doing back in the day. Escobar's children are also portrayed fairly anachronistically, with the final episode (taking place in 1992) showing his son and daughter as being well under 10, when in fact his son was 15 years old.

If you can adapt to the mindset of the show, however, there is much to enjoy. The performances are excellent and the narrative, if not exactly chronologically accurate, does get across the general story of what happened. More than once this viewer was so surprised by a storyline that I had to look up the real history online to see if these events really happened (and yes, they did). The stop-start nature of the show can be a little bit distracting, but the last couple of episodes unfold over much more focused periods of time, culminating in the infamous police and army siege of Escobar's ostensible prison (but really his prison and stronghold), the Cathedral. The season finale, which unfolds over just one night, is easily the best episode of the season and allows us to get right under the skin of all the players involved in the tense stand-off. It bodes well for Season 2, which spans a period of only 18 months rather than almost 20 years.

The first season of Narcos (****) is a fascinating study of corruption, greed, vainglory and power, although at a remove from the characters which prevents it from resonating in the same way as say The Wire or Breaking Bad. But as a concise summary of the life of one of the 20th Century's most notorious criminals, it is very effective. It is available now, along with a second and third season, on Netflix. A fourth season, which acts as an effective reboot by rewinding to 1970s Mexico, is due for release this autumn.

LORD OF THE RINGS TV show finds its (obscure) showrunners

Amazon has hired producers JD Payne and Patrick McKay to helm their Lord of the Rings prequel TV series.

Payne and McKay wrote the first draft of Star Trek Beyond  (which was later replaced by the shooting script written by Roberto Orci and Simon Pegg) and have also written several unproduced screenplays, including one based on the Micronauts franchise and others under the titles Boilerplate (based on a graphic novel) and Goliath. They are part of the writer's room for the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong.

And that's it. Amazon has hired two guys who've never actually gotten anything in front of a camera before to helm their biggest and highest-profile TV project to date (and already the most expensive TV show in history).

This is interesting but bizarre news. It seems to me that half of Hollywood (not to mention the rest of the world's film and TV industry) should be queuing up to get involved in this project, and the fact they aren't is concerning. There have been multiple reports from Hollywood sources that the project is seen as a bit of a white elephant which could do damage to careers unless very carefully handled, and this seems to be keeping more experienced staff at bay.

Of course, Payne and McKay may deliver an excellent, great TV show when it airs in 2021, but the fact that Amazon had to go with people who've never actually gotten something on screen before is odd. In contrast, Game of Thrones' David Benioff had several novels and multiple screenplays produced before he landed that job, and Peter Jackson had multiple feature films produced in a career spanning more than a decade before landing The Lord of the Rings, and both of them raised eyebrows for the scale of those projects due to a perceived lack of experience. Peter Jackson will at least be tangentially involved in this new project in an advisory capacity.

It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds going forward. With Amazon on a tight time limit to get the show in production before the end of 2019, news on casting, shooting locations and more should emerge in the next few months.

Saturday 28 July 2018


It's been coming for a while, but now the latest sales figures appear to confirm it's happened: sales of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series have surpassed those of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time sequence, meaning that A Song of Ice and Fire is now the most popular epic fantasy series published since The Lord of the Rings (at least arguably).

Of course, with only five volumes available compared to The Wheel of Time's fourteen, A Song of Ice and Fire has had far more readers than Wheel of Time for some time (roughly 18 million to 6.5 million), but the overtaking in terms of outright sales remains a significant and impressive achievement.

The first Wheel of Time novel, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990 by Tor Books and was a massive hit, shifting 40,000 copies of the first-run hardcover. The later novels did even better, and every book in the series from The Path of Daggers (1998) through A Memory of Light (2013) hit #1 on The New York Times bestseller list in the week of release. As of Robert Jordan's sad passing in 2007, the series had sold 44 million copies in North America and roughly 70 million worldwide. Brandon Sanderson completed the final three books in the series, with global sales of the series surpassing 80 million by 2014 (according to Jordan's French publishers) and increasing further. Current estimates suggest sales of between 85 and 90 million.

A Song of Ice and Fire, in contrast, was a slow but steady grower. The first book in the series, A Game of Thrones (1996), did not sell well on release and only started doing better with the paperback edition (ironically, apparently due to a Robert Jordan cover quote, with George R.R. Martin himself crediting a cross-pollination of fans of both series for helping increase his story's popularity). The second novel in the series, A Clash of Kings (1998), brushed the lower reaches of the bestseller lists but it only started hitting the big time with the third volume, A Storm of Swords (2000), which reached #11 on the New York Times list.

By the time A Feast for Crows was released in 2005, the popularity and profile of the series had boomed and it had sold over 5 million copies. Despite increasing delays between books, the popularity of the series continued to increase. As of the release of A Dance with Dragons in 2011, the series had sold well over 12 million copies worldwide. That same year, the HBO TV series Game of Thrones, based on the books, was launched and this resulted in a titanic explosion of sales. A Song of Ice and Fire sold over 9 million copies in 2011 by itself and sales continued to accelerate dramatically. Overall sales of the series hit 58 million in April 2015 and 70 million in August 2016, on the twentieth anniversary of the first book's publication.

Industry sales figures now show that A Song of Ice and Fire has sold 45 million copies in the United States alone. The publishing rule of thumb is that global sales once a book series has exceeded c. 20 million copies (with a film or TV adaptation available) are more than double that of the US. We can therefore declare with overwhelming confidence that A Song of Ice and Fire has sold more than 90 million copies worldwide, putting Martin just ahead of not just Jordan, but also the late Sir Terry Pratchett, whose 41 Discworld novels have sold more than 85 million copies worldwide since 1983.

Remarkably, A Song of Ice and Fire's success has spread to the spin-off material, with companion volume The World of Ice and Fire reportedly selling more than 1 million copies since its publication in 2014 as well. Sales of The Wheel of Time's first companion volume (1997's World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time) were apparently much more modest and of the second volume (2015's Wheel of Time Companion) very poor in comparison.

This impressive achievement may only be temporary, however. Amazon is developing a Wheel of Time television series and we can expect an impressive boom in sales for that series when that finally hits the air (most likely in 2020 or 2021), whilst sales of A Song of Ice and Fire are likely to start tailing off once the TV series stops airing next year. And of course, although ASoIaF's achievement is noteworthy, it still has a way to go to catch up on J.K. Rowling's 600 million copies of Harry Potter sold.

The scale of A Song of Ice and Fire's achievement should not be underestimated, however, and this will explain the increased eagerness the publishers have to get their hands on The Winds of Winter.

Amazon CONAN THE BARBARIAN TV show will directly adapt the short stories

Whilst there's been lots of news and rumours about Amazon's two big epic fantasy TV series-in-the-planning, a Lord of the Rings prequel show and an adaptation of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, not much has been said about their announced Conan the Barbarian show, leading some to wonder if it had been put on the backburner. Not so, with the project stepping up active development.

Frank Frazetta's artwork depicting the events of The Frost-Giant's Daughter.

Colony co-creator Ryan Condal is working on the project as producer, writer and showrunner. With Colony recently cancelled after three seasons, Condal is now focusing his attention fully on Conan. Encouragingly, he has confirmed that the series will try the unusual tactic of actually adapting Robert E. Howard's short stories rather than simply putting Conan in a new situation, the tactic employed by all three of the feature films released about the character.

The show's pilot episode will adapt The Frost-Giant's Daughter, chronologically the earliest story of Conan's life. In this story, the teenage Conan, not long peacefully departed from his homeland of Cimmeria, is confronted by a spectral creature who lures him into an ambush.

The ambition of the series is to apparently adapt all of the Howard Conan stories, interspersed with new material forming a serial element to better connect the stories together (this will also be necessary as there are only 26 Howard short stories, and presumably the ambition will be for the show to last longer than 26 episodes). The ultimate goal is to cover all of Conan's life up to his reign as King of Aquilonia.

Friday 27 July 2018

New BUFFY showrunner acknowledges fan concerns

The producer of the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which is in development at 20th Century Fox, has issued a statement confirming she is aware of fan concerns about a planned reboot or remake of the show with a new actress playing the role of Buffy.

However, rather contrary to some media sites which are reaching some very strange conclusions about what the message says, the message fails to confirm that the new show will not be a remake of the original series.

To recap, news broke last week that Monica Owusu-Breen was developing a new version of Buffy with an African-American actress planned to take over the lead role made famous by first Kristy Swanson and then - much more prominently - Sarah Michelle Gellar in the 1990s. Joss Whedon was on board to produce and possibly co-write the first episode, but his commitment to a new HBO project (The Nevers) prevented him from taking on a more prominent role on the project.

The fan reaction was hostile, not to the idea of a black Slayer - no less than six black actresses played different Slayers on the original show - but over the idea of recasting Buffy (who, in both the original 1992 movie and the TV series was meant to be the archetypal California blonde Valley Girl) instead of developing a brand-new character that wasn't riding on the coat-tails of the original.

Owusu-Breen's statement is somewhat ambiguous, saying there can only be one Buffy Summers (ignoring the fact we've had two already), but then adding a "but" before pointing out that twenty years have passed and it's time to meet a new Slayer, which could be taken as either a new character (which seems unlikely as Fox will want to keep the Buffy the Vampire Slayer brand recognition) or a new reinterpretation of the Buffy character or even a Buffy: The Next Generation project which fans seem keen on, but seems unrealistic for practical reasons (notably, original cast availability).

This will likely be clarified in the coming months if Fox decide to move forwards with the project or not.

ALTERED CARBON renewed for a second season

After an unusual delay, Netflix have renewed their epic cyberpunk series Altered Carbon, based on the Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard Morgan, for a second season. Avengers actor Anthony Mackie (who plays Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) will play the lead role of Takeshi Kovacs, taking over from Joel Kinnaman.

The first season aired in February 2018 to mixed reviews (mostly from critics who'd only seen the first four episodes and fans baffled by apparently pointless and arbitrary plot changes) and apparently disappointing viewing figures, with the show garnering apparently only one-third the viewing figures of the considerably cheaper Lost in Space, released a few weeks later. It's possible that the show has picked up additional streamings after the initial release which have made a second season more attractive, which coupled with the casting of Mackie (with attending strong crossover marketing appeal to MCU fans) made the second season viable. Reviews also improved significantly once the entire series was available to view.

In an additional behind-the-scenes change, Alison Schapker (Alias, Fringe, The Flash, Scandal) will be working as writer and co-showrunner alongside Laeta Kalorgridis. Kalorgridis is also working on Netflix's Sword Art Online series, which explains the new division of labour.

It is unclear if the second season will be based on the second novel in the Kovacs trilogy, Broken Angels, which sees a re-sleeved Kovacs joining a mercenary army fighting on a colony planet. Early reports suggested that Kalorgridis was planning a five-season show which would mix original stories with adaptations of the three novels. More news as it comes in.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

GAME OF THRONES: THE LONG NIGHT pilot moving forwards, all other spin-off series on hold

HBO has confirmed it is moving forwards with the Game of Thrones spin-off pilot they've ordered from writer-producer Jane Goldman. With the rough working title The Long Night, the news series will be many thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones and will depict the events that led to the founding of House Stark, the Night's Watch and the Wall, including the original rise and invasion of the White Walkers.

The spin-off pilot was expected to shoot in November so HBO execs could assess it in the spring and decide to move forwards; if they do, the first season would shoot later in the year for a spring 2020 debut. However, it now sounds like the pilot might shoot in the spring instead, which could change that timetable significantly.

All of the other spin-off series are currently and officially on hold. A fortnight ago rumours broke that HBO were also considering a second spin-off show, set in the old Valyrian Freehold about a century before the Doom, although HBO have not officially confirmed or denied such a project is in development. If it is, it sounds like HBO have put it on the backburner for now.

HBO also confirmed in the same announcement that Game of Thrones itself will return for its final season in the first half of 2019.

DEADWOOD movie greenlit

HBO has greenlit a spin-off TV movie from its critically-acclaimed dark Western TV series, Deadwood, which aired for three seasons between 2004 and 2006 before being prematurely cancelled.

HBO has been promising a film to wrap up the story almost ever since, but has been stymied by the schedules of the actors of the show, almost all of whom have gone on to be regulars on other successful shows (most notably Timothy Olyphant on Justified and Ian McShane on American Gods). But a gap in the schedules has opened and with creator/writer David Milch and director Daniel Minahan on board, HBO are proceeding forwards with the project, which will shoot in the autumn to premiere in the Spring of 2019.

So far it's not been confirmed precisely which actors will be returning.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Into the Badlands: Season 1

Five hundred years after the old world fell, the Badlands are controlled by six barons. They control the lands between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi; nothing is said to lie beyond their borders except wasteland and death. Sunny, the regent (chief soldier) and most trusted servant of Baron Quinn, is convinced that something does exist beyond the Badlands, a safe home for his lover Veil and their unborn son. His discovery of a young boy with strange powers, MK, catalyses his plan to flee the Badlands, just as full-scale war erupts between Quinn and a rival baron, the Widow, who is also searching for the boy.

Into the Badlands is an American pulp action series airing on the cable channel AMC, very loosely based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. The series depicts a post-apocalyptic feudal society that has developed after the collapse of modern society, where a few cars and some electricity have survived but guns have not, forcing everyone to use martial arts and swords in combat. The show has a highly contrived premise (to put it mildly) but it doesn't really matter because the show is so much fun.

The show succeeds thanks to its cast, who play their parts (mostly) to perfection. Chinese-American actor Daniel Wu was cast as Sunny for both his impressive martial arts skills but also his charisma and brooding presence, occasionally tempered by moments of vulnerability (especially where Veil is concerned) and his tortured loyalty to Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas). Orla Brady brings an impressive amount of class and presence to the role of Lydia, Quinn's older wife who is locked in a battle of wills with his new, younger bride Jade (Sarah Bolger, finally allowed to shine after being criminally underused in The Tudors). Aramis Knight is effective as the mysterious MK, but doesn't have a lot to do apart from looking permanently confused. Madeleine Mantock (The Tomorrow People, the forthcoming Charmed reboot) also impresses in a small role as Veil. Emily Beecham proves to be a great antagonist as the Widow, with Ally Ioannides impressing as Tilda, her teenage protege whose loyalties are also tested as the story proceeds. A weak link is Csokas, who's never been particularly great (his Celeborn in the Lord of the Rings movies was arguably the weakest link in an otherwise exceptional cast) and here veers between high camp and scenery-chewing ham with no layers to be found.

The other key element to the show's success is the action. Elaborate fight sequences and impressive stunts abound, with fights that move from clinical, brutal efficiency to epic engagements featuring impressive wirework. More than a touch of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon can be found here.

The show's first season also benefits from its low episode count. In just six episodes the show has to set up the world, establish a large cast of characters and let a complex storyline run its course, complete with big action scenes and moments of impressive dramatic action. This focus benefits the season, also the budget does not. Like its network mate, The Walking Dead, Into the Badlands is clearly operating under a very low budget compared to many of the other shows on air at the moment and sometimes struggles to sell larger and more epic moments on screen, relying on pre-existing locations and the impressive stunt team to overcome the clearly limited number of sets.

The first season of Into the Badlands (****) is not high art, but it's pulp fun with a mostly great cast and some very impressive fight scenes which overcome questionable worldbuilding and limited production values. The season is available now in the USA (DVD, Blu-Ray). It is also available to watch for Amazon Prime subscribers in the UK.

First WHEEL OF TIME TV episode named

Rafe Judkins, the producer-writer-showrunner of Amazon's Wheel of Time TV series, has shared a picture of the title screen of his script, confirming that the first episode will be called Leavetaking.

This is interesting, as Leavetaking is the name of the tenth chapter in The Eye of the World, the first novel in the Wheel of Time series, suggesting that this episode may cover all of the events up to the end of this chapter (in which Rand al'Thor and his band of friends depart the village of Emond's Field). This seems a lot to pack into one episode: Hollywood wisdom is that 100 pages of text in a paperback novel equates to one hour of screen time, as exemplified by The Lord of the Rings (1,100 pages in paperback, 11 hours long in the Extended Edition of the trilogy). Leavetaking concludes on page 148 of the paperback edition of the novel.

This is even more challenging when you consider that this episode will also presumably include the opening prologue set at the end of the Age of Legends. When Red Eagle created an amateur pilot episode (albeit one starring Billy Zane) based on this sequence, it ran to 25 minutes by itself.

It is possible that the episodes will not be limited to one hour apiece, and it is also possible that Judkins has made the elementary error fans had been hoping he wouldn't: devoting an entire first season of 10 or 12 episodes to The Eye of the World by itself. Consisting of 14 novels, The Wheel of Time really needs to get two books adapted per season to wrap things up in a reasonable 7 seasons, and starting out with the attitude of, "Well, let's see how it goes," will only cause bigger problems later on. An alternative solution is that Judkins and Amazon envision the first episode as being a double-length affair.

The other curiosity is the title of the episode: Leavetaking is something of a prosaic name. Given the inventiveness of the chapter titles, using them for episode titles is a no-brainer, but in this sequence titles like Dragonmount, Winternight, Strangers or Tellings of the Wheel would be superior choices.

As yet, Amazon has not formally greenlit the Wheel of Time TV series. Assuming they like the pilot script, we might see the show in 2020 or 2021.

Monday 23 July 2018

Wertzone Classics: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Madmen, seers and witches proclaim the coming of the Whirlwind, a rebellion of unprecedented ferocity, a scourge that will wipe the subcontinent of Seven Cities clean of the pestilence of the Malazan Empire. The rulers of the Empire pay no heed, denuding the occupied territories of troops to reinforce the faltering campaign in Genabackis. From that continent comes an assassin, a thief and a former plaything of a shadowy god, who are the unwitting harbingers of the prophecy, and from the east comes a broken women and a shattered priest, who will defy it. As the Whirlwind is unleashed, the Malazan Seventh Army is given an impossible mission: to escort thirty thousand civilian refugees from Hissar to Aren, more than a thousand miles, facing constant attack all the way. This is a task that no ordinary human can handle, only a legend.

Deadhouse Gates is the second novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, succeeding (but not a direct sequel to) Gardens of the Moon. Deadhouse Gates relocates the action to the continent of Seven Cities with an almost entirely new cast of characters and a whole new storyline. Although having read Gardens of the Moon will be a help in reading this book, it is not necessary and it is indeed not unknown for readers to be directed to Deadhouse Gates as their first Malazan novel. This unusual recommendation has a solid rationale: Gardens of the Moon is a fine novel, but one that has to overcome a confused and somewhat incoherent opening before it starts to make sense. In contrast, Deadhouse Gates ranks comfortably as one of the single greatest works of epic fantasy ever written.

Indeed, the year 2000 may go down in history as one of the finest for fantasy fiction. That year also saw the publication of China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History and George R.R. Martin's A Storm of Swords, three of the defining works of the modern fantasy genre. Deadhouse Gates sits very comfortably in such company.

Compared to the potentially confusing opening to Gardens of the MoonDeadhouse Gates follows four storylines in a much more linear fashion. In one storyline, and the most epic, the Malazan Seventh Army must cross the entire subcontinent, escorting a refugee train to safety. With echoes of Xenophon's Anabasis (itself later fantasised as Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousand), or even Battlestar Galactica, this is a story of epic battles being fought as the innocent are defended in the face of a remorseless enemy and - sometimes - their own hubris. It's here that Erikson establishes some of his most memorable characters, such as the Imperial Historian Duiker, the indefatigable Bult, the warlocks Nil and Nether, and of course, Coltaine of the Crow Clan, High Fist of the Malazan Empire having formerly been a bitter foe of it. Their story - the Chain of Dogs - is a stunning and gripping narrative in its own right, every league of the journey bringing with it new formidable obstacles to be overcome, new enemies to be defeated and new tragedies to endure. The Chain of Dogs is Steven Erikson's Red Wedding, except drawn out to the length of a novel: an emotionally taut and increasingly shocking story of heroism and betrayal on a colossal scale.

Most novelists would have settled for that, but alongside that epic story we have Erikson's most emotionally intense and internalised struggle, that of Felisin Paran (sister of Ganoes Paran, a key protagonist from Gardens of the Moon). Felisin, a pampered and spoiled noble girl, is arrested and sentenced to exile on a distant island, to toil in criminal slavery. She endures horrors that afflict her soul and she becomes brittle, angry and bitter. Eventually the story takes her to a destiny that she was not expecting, and a responsibility she steps into for both vengeance and self-realisation. Felisin's story is hard to read but impressive in its emotional resonance. This is a realistic story, albeit also an incomplete one, with the other half of the story waiting to unfold in House of Chains (the fourth novel in the series; Book 3, Memories of Ice, returns instead to Genabackis and the story of the Bridgeburners).

Next to that we also have two smaller quest narratives: the story of Icarium and Mappo, two wanderers out of the wastelands whom we gradually learn are cursed to live a life of friendship, trust and bitter deception; and the story of some familiar characters from Gardens of the Moon, namely Apsalar, Crokus, Kalam and Fiddler, who are on a journey back to Quon Tali and a confrontation with the treacherous Empress, but who are sucked up instead in the chaos of the Whirlwind.

These four storylines - which ultimately combine to a degree - give the novel a sense of unifying coherence missing from Gardens of the Moon. Instead of the start-stop opening to that book, Deadhouse Gates starts much more slowly and traditionally, the novel gathering a relentless and inexorable pace as it evolves. Erikson's prose is vastly superior to Gardens, the result of the nine year gap that fell between the two books and slightly awkward circumstances that led to its creation: originally Memories of Ice was the second novel, but Erikson lost the manuscript to a hard drive error when he was halfway through writing it; unable to face it, he instead switched to writing what was supposed to be the third book in the series instead, inadvertently giving us the continent-hopping structure of the saga that would become one of its hallmarks. The result is a novel that fairly seethes with intelligence, memorable prose and ambition.

Weaknesses? A first read will occasionally brush against confusion (particularly the introduction of a certain jade statue and the events that spiral out from it), but beyond that there are none. Deadhouse Gates takes all of the strengths of Erikson's writing and loses almost all of the weaknesses.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen is many things. It is a comedy and a drama, but it is also a tragedy - as the title implies - and it is a series about compassion and humanity. Arguably later books in the series suffer to a limited degree from Erikson's increasing introspection at the cost of plot and character, but no such weakness is present here, or in the book that follows it. Deadhouse Gates (*****) is a fantasy novel that does that rare thing and makes you think and feel. It is a good encapsulation of the entire series. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Friday 20 July 2018

First trailer arrives for UNBREAKABLE / SPLIT sequel

M. Night Shyamalan has dropped the first trailer for Glass, the film which will act as a simultaneous sequel to two of his best-received movies: Unbreakable (2003) and Split (2017).

Unbreakable saw David Dunn (Bruce Willis) gain superhuman powers but also a nemesis in the form of Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), a physically weak but intellectually formidable opponent. Split explored the character of Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), a mentally disturbed man with 23 split personalities inhabited his psyche, at least one of which seemed to have unusual powers. Glass will see the titular villain trying to join forces with Kevin, with David determined to stop them.

The film will be released on 18 January 2019.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER reboot series in the works

20th Century Fox are developing a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which will be set in the modern day and feature a fresh take on the story.

Details are still thin, but Monica Owusu-Breen (Agents of SHIELD) will be the executive producer and showrunner of the project. Joss Whedon is involved as executive producer and may co-write the pilot, but his involvement will be limited due to his commitment to The Nevers, a new genre show for HBO.

Reports suggest that a new African-American actress will be playing the role of Buffy, suggesting a total reboot of the franchise. However, the same reports suggest the show will be "building on the mythology of the original series." Buffy ended with the magical limitation that there could only be one Slayer being lifted, allowing thousands of new Slayers to arise all over the world. For a long time fans have speculated that a "Next Generation" show could launch years later with a team of Slayers as the core cast with maybe a couple of returning actors to work as mentors and parental figures. However, the suggestion seems to be that this will be a contemporary reboot instead with a new Buffy, although this seems to contradict Whedon's statement last year that a new show would feature the same actors.

More news as it comes in.

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Season 2 gets a trailer

CBS All Access have released a trailer for Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery.

Picking up shortly after the events of the Season 1 finale, Season 2 of Discovery sees the crew of the Discovery rendezvousing with the USS Enterprise. Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) assumes command of the Discovery in order to use its superior scientific technology to investigate strange signals emanating from deep space.

Season 2 of Discovery will apparently be focused on getting back to a sense of space exploration and fun with a looser story arc, following complaints about the dour first season of the show.

Star Trek: Discovery will air on CBS All Access in the United States and Netflix in most of the rest of the world in early 2019. Before that, though, will be a series of four short episodes (10-15 minutes long) featuring Saru, Tilly and Harry Mudd, called Short Treks. These will air later this year.

PATHFINDER: KINGMAKER gets a release date

Pathfinder: Kingmaker, an expansive computer RPG set in the signature Pathfinder world of Golarion, will be out on 25 September this year.

Kingmaker is a Baldur's Gate-inspired CRPG which allows you to both take part in traditional roleplaying activities, like quests, monster-slaying, dungeon-delving and romances, but adds on a strategic layer of realm management (similar to the old Birthright setting for Dungeons and Dragons). As you progress through the Stolen Lands - a sort of unclaimed no-man's land in the middle of the River Kingdoms (the pen-and-paper incarnation of which was contributed to by China Mieville, slightly randomly) - you gain more control and influence over the local population, allowing you to build a town and rule over it as a tyrant or a benevolent ruler. As the game progresses your influence over the region grows.

The game's storyline was co-written by the omnipresent Chris Avellone, who has contributed to games including Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol, Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of NumeneraDivinity: Original Sin II and the forthcoming Dying Light 2.

Pathfinder was, for a while, the world's most popular pen-and-paper roleplaying game. Created as an alternative to the unpopular Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (which not so much threw the baby out with the bathwater but hurled it into orbit), Pathfinder developed from the D&D 3rd Edition rules and sold many hundreds of thousands of copies. After the release of the considerably better-received D&D 5th Edition, Pathfinder lost its crown for a while but is now looking to reclaim the spotlight with a 2nd Edition of its own game rules, a recently-released SF variant (Starfinder) and now its first spin-off video game.

Director James Gunn fired from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3

In an unexpected move, Disney has fired James Gunn, the director of the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, over seven-year-old tweets.

Apologising for the remarks on Twitter, Gunn claimed he made the "provocative" tweets when he was interested in edgy and dark humour and no longer ascribes to such jokes.

The move has complicated the Disney schedule, as Gunn was beginning pre-production on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 which was expected to be released in 2020. Disney will be looking for a director who can step in at short notice to take on the project. I strongly suspect they are putting some urgent calls in to Taika Waititi right now, whose Thor: Ragnarok aesthetic would make a good fit for the Guardians sub-franchise.

Although Gunn's tweets are clearly unacceptable and inappropriate for the director of a franchise which has a strong appeal to children, it is less clear why Disney have taken action only now, as the tweets have been widely reported on for years, during which time Gunn directed two movies for the company, as well as providing some assistance and advice on other Marvel Cinematic Universe projects.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Disney and Lucasfilm resurrect THE CLONE WARS for a new mini-series

In a surprise but welcome move, Lucasfilm and Disney are resurrecting The Clone Wars for one last huzzah, a mini-series that will tie in the incomplete series with the start of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

The Clone Wars was an animated series which ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2013. Set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, it took a broad view of the war, switching between planets, groups of characters and timeframes with relentless energy. After a rocky start, the series garnered critical acclaim for its voice acting, the constantly-improving quality of the animation and for its increasingly accomplished storytelling.

The Clone Wars was abruptly cancelled whilst production on Season 6 was underway, leaving that series to air separately as a 13-part series on Netflix. Producer Dave Filoni was allowed to release animatics and materials detailing plans for the rest of the season, including a story arc that would reunite wrongfully-disgraced, ex-Jedi Ahsoka Tano with her former master Anakin Skywalker as they launched a military campaign to liberate Mandalore from ex-Sith apprentice Maul. This would lead directly into the events of Episode III.

Lucasfilm clearly hated leaving unfinished business behind, so this story is now being completed with a new Clone Wars mini-series that will air in 2019, with the original voice actors returning. More interestingly, it looks like this mini-series will be one of the launch shows for Disney's new adult-oriented streaming service in late 2019. Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars TV series and a new Marvel Cinematic Universe show will join it on the service, along with a formidable amount of Disney content (and, when the deal goes through, 20th Century Fox's utterly vast backlog of shows and movies that aren't licensed elsewhere).

This will fill a hole in the storyline that spanned not just the six seasons of The Clone Wars but the four seasons of recently-concluded sequel series Star Wars: Rebels, and leave the decks clear for the next animated series, Star Wars: Resistance, which will take place in the era of the new films and focus on Poe Dameron and his X-wing squadron.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Timothée Chalamet in talks to play Paul Atredies in DUNE

Director Denis Villeneuve has earmarked young actor Timothée Hal Chalamet to play Paul Atredies in his upcoming two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune.

22-year-old Chalamet is best-known for appearing in Homeland, Men, Women and Children, Interstellar and Call Me By Your Name, the last of which earned Chalamet a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars.

Paul Atreides is the main protagonist of Dune (and appears in a minor role in its two immediate sequels, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune), the 15-year-old son of Duke Leto Atreides of Caladan. The Atreides family moves to the desert planet Arrakis, known as Dune, the source of the spice melange, which transforms consciousness and allows for interstellar travel. There the feud between House Atreides and House Harkonnen spills into open warfare. Paul has to win an alliance with the mysterious natives of Arrakis, the Fremen, to secure victory against the Harkonnens.

Previously filmed by David Lynch in 1984 and as a SyFy mini-series in 2000, Dune is the biggest-selling single science fiction novel of all time, with over 20 million copies sold since it was published in 1965.

Villeneuve recently directed the highly critically-acclaimed science fiction films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, but has cited Dune as a much more challenging project. Legendary Pictures have earmarked the film for an early 2019 shoot.

Sunday 15 July 2018

Duncan Jones to direct a ROGUE TROOPER movie

Duncan Jones has announced that he is directing a movie based on cult British comic Rogue Trooper. He made the announcement in a slightly oblique fashion via Twitter.

Rogue Trooper was created in 1981 by Gerry Finley-Day and Dave Gibbons, originally appearing in issues of 2000AD alongside characters like Judge Dredd. The series is set on the planet Nu-Earth, originally a paradise-like colony of Earth that was torn apart in a brutal, generations-lasting civil war between the Norts and Southers. This was has made the planet almost uninhabitable, with a toxic atmosphere forcing the people to live in domed shelters.

The original and most iconic storyline follows Rogue, the sole surviving of a bungled offensive. Rogue is a Genetic Infantryman (G.I.) who has been engineered to survive in the toxic environment, resulting in blue skin and an enhanced immune system. He is assisted by AI chips with notable personalities built into his helmet, gun and backpack. Rogue discovers his unit was sold out to the enemy by a "traitor general" and he sets out to expose and punish this individual in a storyline that lasted four years. Since the conclusion of that story, Rogue has appeared in numerous further adventures in both comics and video games.

British director Duncan Jones is the director of Moon (2009), Source Code (2011), WarCraft (2016) and Mute (2018), and is a director of some skill, although Mute was disappointing. It's unclear how far into development this project is, but we hope to hear more soon.

SF&F Questions: Is HARRY POTTER an epic fantasy?

The Basics

Harry Potter is the biggest-selling novel series of the past twenty years. More than 600 million copies of the seven-volume sequence have been sold and the nine movies set in the same world have grossed over $9 billion (with a tenth due for release this year). The series is a huge crossover success, attracting both young and adult readers, and its characters, terminology and storylines have entered the popular consciousness.

One question that arises occasionally is to do with the genre of the series. The field of epic fantasy has boomed in popularity in the last twenty years, driven by the success of the Lord of the Rings movies and, more recently, the Game of Thrones TV series (both based on huge-selling novel series). It is therefore interesting, if ultimately unimportant, to ask the question, is Harry Potter an epic fantasy? If not, what genre is it in?

I asked this question previously in 2011 and this generateda lot of discussion (lots of excellent points in the comments as well), but I hadn’t fully caught up with either the books or films at that point. Now that I have done so with the films, it seemed an interesting idea to revisit the question.

What is an epic fantasy?

What makes this question more problematic is that no generally-accepted definition of what an epic fantasy is seems to exist. Most people seem to respond with a variation of, “I don’t know, it’s got magic and dragons and elves in it, or something?”

The Encyclopaedia of Fantasy (1997) offered this definition by SFF uber-critic John Clute:
"An epic is a long narrative poem which tells large tales, often incorporating a mixture of legend, myth and folk history, and featuring heroes whose acts have a significance transcending their own individual happiness or woe. The classic epic tells the story of the founding or triumph of a folk or nation... Prose fiction which might be called EF include several of the central secondary world tales central to the development of fantasy over the past 100 years - e.g. much of the work of Kenneth Morris, E.R. Eddison, J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen R. Donaldson. Any fantasy tale written to a large scale which deals with the founding or definitive and lasting defence of a land may fairly be called an EF. Unfortunately, the term has been increasingly used by publishers to describe heroic fantasies that extend over several volumes and has thus lost its usefulness."
Not tremendously helpful, so in my own blog series A History of Epic Fantasy I offer the following definition:
"An epic fantasy is a substantial work of fiction set either in a fictional realm, or a fictionalised version of the real world, in which several characters (and sometimes many dozens) are faced with transformative goals and tasks. Something inherent in the setting must be impossible or fantastic, to set it aside from being merely an alternative history or work of science fiction. There is usually an antagonist to defeat, magical items to utilise and battles to be fought on a large scale. The work is usually long or extends across multiple volumes, although short epic fantasies are not unknown."
Although not definitive, I think that works as a rough idea of the elements you might expect to see in the genre.

What is Harry Potter about?

If you’re one of the three people on Earth not familiar with the series, it may be constructive to briefly summarise the series to see how well it fulfils the tenants of epic fantasy:

Harry Potter is a fantasy series written by J.K. Rowling consisting of seven novels: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). An eight-film adaptation of the books (The Deathly Hallows was broken into two films) began in 2001 and concluded in 2011. A sequel stage play (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and two prequel movies (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Crimes of Grindelwald) have followed.

The books are set in a fantasied version of the real world, where magical creatures, wizards, witches and sorcery exist in parallel to our world, but sophisticated magic is employed to keep the existence of this world secret from the mundane one. The magic community regards the non-magic community disparagingly as “muggles” and takes little interest in them, despite their technology and numbers. Children with an aptitude for magic are taken to one of several magic schools, with apparently one school for each country or region: the UK’s school, located in Scotland, is called Hogwarts.

Eleven years before the books begin, the magical world is rocked by a conflict where one wizard, Tom Riddle, attempts to seize power and conquer the magical world (and possibly the muggle one as well). Taking the name “Voldemort” and styling himself “the Dark Lord”, nearly succeeds in his mission. During a final battle in the village of Godric’s Hollow, he successfully kills two wizards opposed to him – Lily and James Potter – and tries to kill their one-year-old son, Harry. However, Harry is able to resist the attack and Voldemort is apparently killed as a result. When the books open, Harry is being looked after by his mother’s sister Petunia and her husband Vernon, both muggles who despised Lily and James, and hate and mistreat Harry as a result. Despite their objections, Harry is recruited into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry, who was hitherto unaware of the existence of the magical world, starts off on the backfoot. He is also taken aback by his fame as a result of his role in Voldemort’s apparent destruction. Potter quickly makes two very close friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, but earns the enmity of Draco Malfoy and the potions teacher, Severus Snape.

Over the course of his time at Hogwarts, it becomes clear that Voldemort was not killed, but instead reduced to a shadow or wraith-like existence. Voldemort’s followers, the Death-Eaters, successfully restore their master to a corporeal and apparently invulnerable form and Voldemort quickly launches a renewed attempted to conquer the magical community. Harry, aided by friends and allies, organises a resistance and learn Voldemort’s weakness, that to preserve his life he has split his life force between seven vessels, known as Horcruxes. Harry sets out to destroy the Horcruxes and also draw Voldemort’s forces into a decisive battle at Hogwarts.

Does Harry Potter fulfil the criteria?

At first glance, Harry Potter fulfils most of the criteria to be counted as an epic fantasy. The story is epic in scale, unfolding over seven novels (and eight long movies), the latter four of which are quite large. Although the story is episodic, at least to start with, a clear over-arcing storyline quickly emerges and comes to dominate the saga.

The story itself is also the most familiar one in epic fantasy: a Chosen One (Harry) is prophesied to stand against a Dark Lord (Voldemort). Magic is a fact of life and non-human races (elves, goblins, centaurs and giants) and creatures (dragons, giant spiders, basilisks and many others) abound. There are several key and major battles throughout the series and there are a large number of Plot Coupons (magical mcguffins or plot devices), including magical swords, a secret crown (or diadem), the Horcruxes, the Deathly Hallows and magical wands, among many others. There are also conspiracies and political intrigue, with the return of the Dark Lord being regarded with scepticism by many factions which hinders Harry’s attempts to forge an alliance to stand against Voldemort.

Several arguments mustered against Harry Potter being an epic fantasy seem unconvincing. The series is predominantly aimed at children and teenagers, but several key epic fantasy works are likewise aimed at younger readers, including J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (and The Lord of the Rings at least starts in a similar mode before becoming more adult), C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon saga, whilst other series seem to be deliberately calibrated so either children or adults can enjoy them, such as David Eddings’ Belgariad (recently reissued in a YA edition) and Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance books. Being aimed at younger readers does not disqualify a work from being an epic fantasy.

More debatable is the fact that Harry Potter ostensibly takes place in our world but with a magical hidden society. Some have argued this makes the series more akin to an urban fantasy than an epic one. This seems flawed, as urban fantasies take place in urban environments: Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files features a secret magical world existing alongside our own, but the action itself takes place in the real world (most regularly in and around Chicago). The same is true for Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series and other works of urban fantasy. Harry Potter, by contrast, does not take place in urban environments (a few isolated moments aside) and the majority of the story takes place in fictional locations, mostly in and around Hogwarts Castle.

Furthermore, many epic fantasies do take place in remote and fictional historical periods of our world (such as Tolkien’s Middle-earth works and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time), in parallel universe versions of our history (such as Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker Trilogy and Crown of Stars series) and feature characters crossing over from our world to a fantastical one (such as Narnia, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry and Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever). It’s actually less common to encounter epic fantasy worlds with absolutely zero connections to our one.

The level of worldbuilding that Rowling has done for the series also exceeds that of many epic fantasies, with vast numbers of characters, timelines, backstories, magical rules, terms and bloodlines created and detailed.

Answer: Harry Potter fulfils most of the requirements for being an epic fantasy, and the arguments used to counter its place in the genre would also eliminate many works considered to be inarguably core to the genre. As such Harry Potter can be counted as part of the epic fantasy subgenre, as well as being a YA fantasy.

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