Eragon 50-51: Oh, The Angst

I’ve recently finished reading Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, the second novel in The Dresden Files. It was a fun read, with likable protagonists and lots of action. There was one thing that drove me crazy about it, though: every chapter had to end on a cliffhanger. I understand why authors do this, and I’ve done it in my own writing, but when it happens every chapter, it gets a little tiring, not to mention formulaic. You can predict how each chapter is going to go: Harry is in trouble, gets himself out of trouble, winds up in worse trouble. Repeat as necessary.

Again, I understand the benefits of doing this, but it begins to lose impact the more it happens. This is why when a chapter ends with Eragon passing out and getting himself captured for the twelfth time, I really don’t care.

Of course, this may be because I don’t care about the character himself, because he’s dumb.

Murtagh revealing that he’s the son of Morzan is actually a pretty good cliffhanger, though. We’re left waiting for the emotional fallout, rather than waiting to see if Eragon gets rescued again. (Spoiler: he does. He always does.) But this new inforation is the real obstacle to their friendship. Or, rather, the friendship we’re told they have, because whenever we see them talking, they’re usually arguing.

As expected, there’s a lot of a shock and sudden distrust. Saphira and Eragon are immediately defensive and wary. Saphira doesn’t even want to leave Eragon’s side, afraid that Murtagh will attack him. Eragon doesn’t give him the benefit of the doubt, which I might yell at him about, except that it makes sense for his character. At this point, he’s still only sixteen, and he’s never been a font of wisdom. Even Saphira, who I’ve critiqued for maybe being just a little too wise, is concerned. She’s still a young dragon, and she’s finally acting her age, too. That, and she has plenty of reason to hate the son of Morzan.

Fortunately, Saphira does manage to have some common sense and points out that if Murtagh really wanted to hurt Eragon, he would have done so already. Murtagh’s parentage is a rather distressing subject for him, and has said more than once that he never asked to be born. Eragon treats Murtagh rather coldly, even after Saphira talks sense into him. Instead of coming across as cautious, or savvy, it makes Eragon look more like a jerk than ever.

But that’s only for a few pages. Soon enough, the army of Urgals are on top of them. The trio only has a few more hours to get Arya the antidote she needs, so the pressure is on. It’s actually a pretty exciting chapter, especially when Saphira starts fighting the Urgals. She can’t breathe fire yet, but her ferocity is really impressive, even when it seems they’re hopelessly outnumbered.

There was also a scene that I related to a little too well. Eragon believes that he’s found the entrance to the Varden, but the door won’t open. He quickly realizes he’s on the wrong side of the lake. I might make fun of this, except I have no sense of direction. At all. This is totally something I would do.

Near the end of the chapter, Eragon is knocked into the river, and he, Murtagh,  Arya and Saphira are rescued by two members of the Varden. The scene is a little hard to understand and visualize, but it’s one of the rare cases where a confusing action scene actually works. It helps accentuate the chaos of the battle and the rescue, and the characters’ own confusion.

In the next chapter, Eragon, et. al. are taken inside the mountain to be questioned. It’s made clear early on that the Varden are dangerous, not just a rag-tag bunch of lovable scrappers. Throughout the series, there’s supposed to be some ambiguity as to whether the Varden are a group of rebels fighting for a just cause, or terrorists fighting the rightful ruler of the land. And while the leaders do morally questionable things (*cough* Elva *cough*), on the whole, you’re supposed to cheer for them, because they are soundly the good guys. This is one of the few times when we see that there is a darker side to them.

Eragon and Murtagh are questioned by a magician who is using magic to probe into their minds. Isn’t this…a little unnecessary? This guy is obviously high level, and “Zone of Truth” is only a second-level spell. Considering that you can make just about anything happen with the right words and phrasing in the Ancient Language, there had to be an easier way to form a spell that would have Eragon and Murtagh tell the truth, without breaking into their heads.

It backfires on him anyway, because Murtagh is able to block the man from entering his mind, and with Saphira’s help, Eragon is able to hide some of his memories as well. And while Eragon is a jerk on many levels, he at least doesn’t reveal the secret of Murtagh’s parentage. Good on you, Eragon.

As for the magician himself, who literally doesn’t have a name, could it be any more obvious that he’s evil?

‘Now, remove the defenses from around your mind [. . .] If you try to hide anything from me, I will take what I want by force…which would drive you mad. If you don’t submit, your companion will be killed.’ [. . .]

‘You’d better not harm him, Egraz Carn, else the king will have words for you.’

The bald man looked at him irritably, then faced Eragon with a small smile. ‘Only if he resists.’ [. . .]

He paid keen attention to so many things Eragon considered irrelevant, such as his mother, Selena, and seemed to linger on purpose so as to prolong the suffering.

So when he and his twin betray the Varden in the next book, absolutely no one is surprised. The Varden really needs to screen their mages better.

Even so, this chapter made me remember why I liked Murtagh so much. He’s a total badass. He refused to allow the mage to pick his brain, and shows impressive mental strength. He’s able to fight off the mage’s attack until another member of the Varden commands Magey to stop.

Most of the rest of the chapter is Murtagh giving Eragon–and the readers–his history. While I’m not a big fan of information dumps, it works here, because he’s also answering the questions the readers want to know. I’ll also give Paolini props for giving us the full story, instead of just handwaving plot holes with, “that’s a story for another time”.

It soon becomes clear that Murtagh’s parentage is a distressing subject for him. Morzan was an abusive alcoholic, and Murtagh’s mother was trapped in the relationship, doing his bidding.

Now this is one of the moments where I can see how I’ve changed. I’ve always been the girl going, “I’m a strong independent woman who don’t need no man!” and, in high school, really hated Murtagh’s mom. I thought she was so weak, staying with an abusive man for years, when she should have just walked away. Why didn’t she just up and leave?

Now I’m older, and I understand things better. I didn’t know then that leaving an abusive relationship is incredibly hard and frightening. Even the strongest person would have a difficult time with that. Even moreso when your abuser is capable of riding dragons and using magic and can kill you at fifty paces.

All that said, there are still some issues with this. Murtagh was raised in Galby’s palace, and only escaped a few months ago. Apart from Brom, he’s the most worldly character in this book. He’s the dark and brooding one, the one with survival skills. While he was trained to fight in the palace, so his swordsmanship makes sense, but the rest? I’m not buying it.

He only met Galby a few times, and tells Eragon about one of their meetings with some of the most awkward phrasing.

His words were entrancing, like a snake whispering gilded lies into my ears. A more convincing and frightening man I’ve never heard. [. . .] For a long time he was silent, but then he extended his hand and asked, “Will you, O son of my friend? serve me as I labor to bring about this paradise?” [. . .] the dream he had painted was too compelling, too seductive to ignore. Ardor for this mission filled me, and I fervently pledged myself to him.

Paolini, listen up. Use purple prose, or use beige prose, I don’t care. But stop switching between the two with no rhyme or reason, especially when Murtagh’s never spoken like that before.

He goes on to talk about how he came to realize that Galby was evil and insane, and that he decided to escape. Of course, he does this with some of the most awkwardly written dialogue in the book so far.

As soon as I was free of his presence, I and my faithful servant, Tornac, made ready for flight. We left that very night, but somehow Galbatorix anticipated my actions, for there were soldiers waiting for us outside the gates. Ah, my sword was bloody, flashing in the lantern glow.

Ugh.

Murtagh explains that he started following the Ra’zac in the hopes that they could lead him to a dragon, which begs the question: Why?

He wants to be free from Galby and his father’s shadow, so why does he follow the king’s most trusted servants around? He’s terrified his past will be revealed, but then why align himself with a Dragon Rider? I can only assume it’s so he has a powerful ally should he ever need one, but an easier and much better solution to his predicament is obvious. He could have just disappeared. His birth was a secret, and Algaesia’s a big place. Murtagh could have just changed his name, found a new city, and made a new life for himself.

For that matter, he doesn’t need to be so afraid of what the Varden will do to him if they find out about his heritage. He spent almost his entire life in Galby’s court, and once he shows them that he’s defected, he’d become a valuable resource to them.

I get it. Plot is propelled forward by characters making stupid choices. Murtagh is an important character throughout the series, and becomes Eragon’s foil by the end of the second book. You wouldn’t get that if he’d just disappeared, which would be the sensible option.

I guess what I’m not buying is the whole “Murtagh finds Eragon by following people he shouldn’t have been following if he’s so scared about getting caught” excuse.

I think this is another missed opportunity for character development. Murtagh’s out in the world on his own for the first time. He must be scared, uncertain, and confused. Probably angry, too, feeling betrayed by Galby. There’s an enormous amount of potential to create not just a great character arc, but a great character. Unfortunately, emotions come last while the plot is railroaded forward. Instead of an intriguing character, we’re left with a two-dimensional figure who has a few moments of greatness, but then falls as flat as the rest of the cast.

There is at least one way Murtagh outshines Eragon as a character.

Eragon is Algaesia’s biggest idiotball. Murtagh is its biggest drama queen.

Eragon 36-37: The Worst Laid Plans

Every so often, someone asks me how I find the time to read so much. The answer is simple: move to two different states within the span of five months where you don’t know anyone, be severely underemployed, and you will read a lot. Now that I’m settled in to my new new adopted state, I thought it was time to start back down the treacherous path that is Eragon.

My list of complaints about the chapter “Ra’zac’s Revenge” might be longer than the chapter itself.

Eragon has awoken from his most recent fainting spell to discover that he and Brom have been kidnapped by the Ra’zac. He’s tied up and can’t seem to muster the mental capacity to use his magic. The Ra’zac make it known pretty quickly that he and Brom have been drugged. Because the Ra’zac are such deadly foes that they spill their whole plan in front of the groggy heroes.

It is kind of weird to see the Ra’zac speak. The only other time we’ve seen them talk was in Carvahall as they were looking for information on Saphira. I think the Ra’zac were scarier after they burned Eragon’s farm, killed his uncle, and disappeared. We’ve seen what they’re capable of, and can only imagine what they must be doing while Eragon and Brom are trying to track them. The Ra’zac were more frightening when they couldn’t be seen. To hear them arguing with each other like generic henchmen destroys the image of them as formidable foes.

There’s also the matter of Saphira. You know, Saphira, the reason I’ve been able to keep slogging through this book. She’s also been captured by the Ra’zac. They explain that she allowed herself to be chained down after they threatened to kill Eragon if she fought back. I’m really, really disappointed with that. Remembering her rage and fear when the Ra’zac came to Carvahall, I don’t think it’s in her character to have given into them. Especially when she declared to Eragon that she would not run from them any longer.

What might be really exciting if Saphira, knowing she couldn’t save Eragon, fled and kept in touch with them through their mental link. Eragon ends up not needing herself to escape, so it’s not like we’d be missing much without Saphira captured as well. Then we could at least have a subplot of trying to reunite with Saphira.

I also want to remind everyone that the Ra’zac are really stupid hunters. More than once they threaten to kill Eragon, even though they discuss that they’re supposed to keep him and Brom alive. They also mock him, saying that they’re much more valuable to Galby than Eragon is. Yeah, no. Other than making the rookie mistake of leaving your supplies behind, Eragon is unique. He is the only Dragon Rider on the continent within Galby’s reach, and (as we find out in Eldest), Saphira is the only female dragon remaining. At this point, I’d say that Galby would much rather have Eragon as a potential ally, rather than dead.

Of course, if Galby didn’t want to make Eragon his enemy, then maybe he shouldn’t have just up and murdered the kid’s family. Try some diplomacy first. If that doesn’t work, then murder the family.

Oh, and Brom jumps in front of a knife to save Eragon from dying, blah blah blah. And Eragon is so shocked that he fucking faints again.

At least the next chapter, “Murtagh”, is also short. It’s where–wait for it–we meet a guy named Murtagh.

Well, still a better chapter title than “Doom of Innocence”.

After passing out for the…fifth time? Eragon awakes to find that the Ra’zac have been chased away (though not killed) by a young man named Murtagh.

To his credit, Eragon does try to heal Brom as soon as he’s able, but says he can only fix what’s on the surface, not the internal damage. That works for me, especially because Eragon is still a novice when it comes to magic, and Brom’s likely too weak to heal himself.

We learn a little bit about Murtagh, who had also been tracking the Ra’zac. I’m not really sure why, and I don’t think he ever explains. He also agrees to travel with Eragon because…well, I’ll let him tell it.

I’ve no better place to be. Besides, if I stay with you, I might get another shot at the Ra’zac sooner than if I were on my own. Interesting things are bound to happen around a Rider.

“Because it might be interesting” is already a lazy excuse, Murtagh should want to stay far away from any Dragon Riders, and even further from Galby or any of his servants. In Eldest, it’s revealed that Murtagh is actually the son of Darth Vader Morzan, the Rider who fell to the Dark Side betrayed the ancient Dragon Riders to Galby. Even if Eragon could help Murtagh find the Ra’zac (spoiler: he doesn’t), he would have been much better off on his own.

They flee the Ra’zac’s encampment, with Saphira carrying Brom. Eragon decides that if Murtagh is untrustworthy, Saphira can chase him away.

You know, just like she did with the Ra’zac.

I’m not angry, Saphira. Just disappointed.

 

Reading Children’s Books as an Adult

I visited a friend a few weeks ago, and told her that the only Tamora Pierce books I’d read were in the Circle universe. I’d tried reading the Immortals series when I started high school, but older students on the bus, including my sister’s best friend, started making fun of me for it. I put the book down and never picked it up again.

My friend, Liz, was surprised that I’d never read Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness series. She told me I’d love it and practically shoved the first book, Alanna, in my hands. I had my doubts. I knew the basic story: girl wants to be  knight, so she disguises herself as a boy to become one. It didn’t seem that original to me. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the prose, either; this was a book for kids, after all. Even the first chapter seemed very rushed. On the second page, with the reader having no prior knowledge of these characters, Alanna and her twin brother decide to switch places. Boom! Suddenly the plot’s rolling. A little too fast for my taste.

So, no, I did not come into this book with high expectations.

I ended up loving it: the main character, her friends, and all the adventures she went on. Maybe my favorite part was when Alanna beat the crap out of the bully that’d been beating her for months. For someone who was also bullied at Alanna’s age, I think it was cathartic for me.

A few years ago, I might not have even considered reading Alanna or similar books. I was familiar with young adult fiction, and so much of it seemed the same: girl in dystopian world starts a revolution and falls in love along the way. I wasn’t very interested in children’s literature, either. I thought that it wouldn’t be able to challenge more or entertain me. Fortunately, my attitude changed with a little help of a friend, and Lemony Snicket.

I’d tried to read the Series of Unfortunate Events books when they were “age-appropriate” for me, but I really didn’t enjoy them. I managed to get through one book, and gave up. A few years ago, one of my friends bought the first two books. Remembering how much I enjoyed the Series of Unfortunate Events movie, I picked up the first book as well.

At the time I was working as an educator at a small museum, which hosted overnight programs for scouting groups. I like to read before I go to bed, but I was also tired and had to be up early the next morning to cook breakfast for the scouts. I couldn’t read anything that was too long, or anything that would make me stay up late thinking. So I started reading The Bad Beginning. I quickly found that the writing was clever and humorous in ways that I couldn’t appreciate when I was younger. Even if the characters are simple and straight-forward, the stories twist and turn and are endlessly entertaining. The Unfortunate Events series also grapples with moral ambiguity and doesn’t give clear-cut answers to all its mysteries. These are things that would have frustrated me endlessly as a child. As an adult, however, the give what seems to be a simple story a deeper meaning and complexity, full of questions whose answers could be mulled over for hours.

This blog is as much about growing up as it is about books. When I read those old books that I grew up with, time and time again, I can see the ways that I have changed. Moreover, I derive different meanings from the same stories as I grew up. This is probably the most obvious in The Magician’s Nephew reviews. Certainly, I could draw parallels between Diggory’s life and my own when I was ten, but for the most part it was a wonderful adventure I could get lost in. As an adult, I had a much better understand of the story as a whole, especially as a Christian allegory. I was also a lot more intrigued by the characters of Uncle Andrew and Jadis. As a child, I’d written them off as villains, and were therefore to be disliked, no matter what.

The experiences I had reading these books are worth revisiting, and I’m happy that I have a space to share them. But thanks to Lemony Snicket and Tamora Pierce, I’ve learned that I can still draw deep meaning and enjoyment from books that are supposedly not for adults.

I got several new books for Christmas this year that I’m still working my way through, including In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce, and All The Wrong Questions by Lemony Snicket. Right now I’m reading through the dark and complicated world A Storm of Swords, but I can’t wait to finish this book, crack open my new Tamora Pierce, and see how Alanna is doing.

 

Eragon 32-33: Sunk Cost Fallacy

The next two chapters are mercifully short, but not exactly exciting. They did not, however, end with me shouting about Eragon’s stupidity, so that’s a slight plus. Chapter 32, “The Mire of Dras-Leona” is only a few pages, most of which is exposition about the city. I don’t mind it so much here, because it’s not convoluted rules of the universe. Brom is more like a tour guide than mentor here, and it’s a nice change of pace. I can just relax and accept what he’s saying, instead of scratching my head and cringing at lengthy and convoluted explanations.

One thing I did like in this chapter is that Saphira and Eragon discuss exactly what he plans to do after killing the Ra’zac. They don’t dwell on it too long, but I think it’s still a good point to bring up. If revenge is your character’s driving motivation, what do they do once they’ve achieved their goal? Saying, perhaps, that there are no jobs as the Dread Pirate Roberts available.

Before I get into the next chapter, I also want to point out that the inn Eragon and Brom are staying is is called “The Golden Globe”. Yeah.

The following chapter, “Trail of Oil” is pretty short, and pretty lazy. Brom and Eragon split up to search the city and see if they can track down the oil the Ra’zac use. Eragon wanders around the city and learns next to nothing, but Brom comes back with good information, which he then relays to Eragon. Just like everything else in this book. I feel like Paolini really skimmed over this. Brom discovering helpful information and just explaining it to Eragon is a lot easier than having Eragon learn something for himself. Worldbuilding and tutoring Eragon is one thing, but I’m getting really sick of this.

I’m also beginning to think that Galby is really terrible at being a dictator. Brom learns that he’s coming to Dras-Leona to punish the city’s leader for not being as obedient as the king would like. Okay, I can buy that. But Brom also says this is the first time Galby has left his stronghold in at least a decade.

Here’s the thing: I don’t get it. Galby is a threat to Eragon and Saphira, largely because he wants them under his control. He’s a threat to the as-of-yet unseen rebels, the Varden, because they openly oppose him. But the majority of the people he rules are not dragons, Dragon Riders, or rebels. It seems like the only thing he really cares about is ruling the dragons, not actually ruling the land or its people. He seems rather lackadaisical when it comes to being an evil dictator. Right now, it seems like he’s only a threat to Eragon and the Varden. We’re told over and over again that Galby’s evil, he’ll destroy everything you know and love, but we never really see it, and I’m definitely not feeling it. If Galby wants to be a true evil dictator, worthy of actually being reviled, he really needs to broaden his horizons.

Chapter 33 marks the halfway point of the novel. And so far, I’ve been pretty disappointed. When I decided to re-read Eragon, I knew that it wouldn’t ever be as good as it was when I was fourteen. I did not expect it to be so…boring. Most of the novel so far has been Eragon asking questions and Brom giving him the answers. If I didn’t know all this beforehand, it would probably be more interesting to me, but it’s really hard to get into this book and actually enjoy it.

This also might explain why I didn’t re-read Eragon after I first finished it until now. It’s not just that I knew the bulk of the story. There are books that I’ve read and re-read dozens of times, even after I know the story. It’s because of beautiful writing, or because something in it touched me, or because I just didn’t want to leave the story’s world. These are the books that you keep thinking about long after you’ve turned the last page.

Then there’s Eragon. I’ve critiqued the writing, the plot, the characters, and I’m not even sure that I should continue this endeavor. Only my pride (and the sunk cost fallacy) has really kept me from tossing the book out right now.

 

Mrs. Crispino: A Tribute

Just a heads up: this one gets pretty heavy.

I’m sure most people had an teacher they loved while they were in school. Maybe it was an English teacher, someone who taught them to love reading, or got them interested in writing. Maybe they were just good teachers whose classes you enjoyed.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my English teacher during my sophomore year of high school, Mrs. Crispino. She was always something of an odd duck, and more than once described me as a “deer caught in headlights”, a description that isn’t entirely false. Mrs. Crispino was cheerful and friendly, and her assignments were a lot more fun to work on than most. We had to write short romance stories, our reply to the shepherd in “A Passionate Shepherd to His Love”, and research and write an opinion piece on whether or not we thought William Shakespeare was a real person, or a pseudonym.

She and her husband were killed a few summers ago in a motorcycle accident. It was a shock to me. Not only was she my teacher, her son and I were in the same year and we were frenemies. When I heard the news, one of my first thoughts was about her son, his grief, and how scared and adrift he must have felt. I haven’t talked to him since I graduated high school almost ten years ago, but I do catch myself wondering about him and how he’s doing now.

The reason, I think, she’s been on my mind is because of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I read the book last summer for the first time, and when I posted about it on Facebook, at least three people asked the same question: “How did you get out of reading that in school?”

And the answer is Mrs. Crispino.

Near the end of my sophomore year of high school, a student at another school in the area killed himself. I didn’t know him personally, but I had friends who did. Suicide has always  disturbed me, and did even moreso when I was a teenager. I was devastated when I heard about his death, especially when I found out that he was a year younger than me. But because I didn’t know him, I didn’t think it would be right for me to talk about him, or how I felt. I thought trying to talk this through with someone would be disrespectful to his memory.

I wasn’t the only one hurting. Most of the underclassmen were. Our guidance counselors and religion teachers offered us support, with group discussions and prayers, but I didn’t take part. I probably should have.

This was around the time we were finishing All Quiet on the Western Front in English class, and were supposed to move on to Of Mice and Men.

If you haven’t read Of Mice and Men (which I highly recommend you do), what you need to know is that it’s a very sad book. There’s no happy ending.

In English class, we’d read so many tragedies already that year, and now were going through one in real life. We were 200 students in desperate need of a happy ending. After we closed All Quiet on the Western Front for the final time, Mrs. Crispino changed the curriculum. Instead of Of Mice and Men, the last thing we would be reading as a group was Arsenic and Old Lace.

If you’ve never read it, Arsenic and Old Lace is the story of two old women who poison visitors with elderberry wine. Their bodies are buried in the basement by another man who believes that he is Theodore Roosevelt and he’s digging locks for the Panama Canal. It sounds like a grisly story, but it’s a comedy.

And it’s a really good comedy. At times, all my classmates were laughing as we read it, and more than once did I hear it discussed in the halls or at free period. Everyone seemed to be really enjoying it.

Fiction is important. Whether you read for entertainment, to learn, a way to pass the time, you get something out of it. Sometimes it changes you. Sometimes a story stays with you forever.

I can’t say that Arsenic and Old Lace was a life-changing story. What stayed with me wasn’t the old murderesses or the buried bodies. It was the kindness Mrs. Crispino gave our class. She saw how we were hurting, and helped us smile again.

I’ll remember her for many things: her fun class assignments; they way she giggled whenever she read the word “gay”, much like her students; how she helped me be a better writer. But most of all, I’ll remember her for bringing light during a dark time.

 

 

Angelic Layer, Chap. 1: Impact Lines. So Many Impact Lines.

After the mess that was Snow Drop, I’m going to a much lighter manga: Angelic Layer, by CLAMP. CLAMP is a group of four manga artists who are known for beautiful artwork, and compelling storylines and characters.

And they also made Angelic Layer.

Angelic Layer is not the type of manga I would pick off the shelves today, and probably would have ignored even at the height of my weeaboo days. However, it will always have a special place in my heart. Angelic Layer is the first manga series I ever read. It was my gateway drug to the world of manga. Following Angelic Layer would come Rave Master, Wish, Dragon Knights, Mars…more comic books that I care to remember (or think about how much I spent on them over the years). My weekly allowance was quickly spent at Walden Books (when there was a Walden Books); my calendar marked with manga release dates. I would save up to buy anime box sets on eBay, the only place I could find them at the time.

And at the beginning of it all was Angelic Layer.

Looking back now, I can see why I was drawn to it when I was in eighth grade. The main characters were in junior high, and I had the same outlook online as the Misaki, the lead. She’s small, just like I was (and still am, but I was even shorter then), but wants to prove that she’s strong. There’s some intrigue around the mystery of her mentor’s identity and mother’s whereabouts, but it’s never heavy-handed.

It’s the story of a clumsy girl who finds self-confidence, and also something she loves.

Yes, this will be a nice change of pace after Snow Drop.

My first impression of the book was that it was a bit disappointing. Through the first chapter, I kept hoping that it would be something else. The title itself sounds so mysterious and magical, and the brief prologue tells of a girl “seduced to the realm of the angels”. That sounds like an awesome build-up for a girl to go on an epic adventure! But it’s not like that at all.

It turns out “angels” are an expensive, high-tech toy, and Angelic Layer is a game wherein two competitors have their angels fight against one another. There’s no magic involved, no real angels, no epic story line that will have Misaki saving the world. Instead, it’s all about the sport of Angelic Layer, and one newcomer to the game battling her way to the top.

In short, not a book that I would pick up today, or even in high school. But Misaki’s likable enough, if not particularly in-depth at the moment. Maybe it was the magic of my first manga series, or the characters. Maybe it was the hope that it would turn into something more. Whatever it was, I enjoyed it, even if I had to look at the how-to-read guide every time I opened the book.

One thing that I didn’t really like as a kid was reading all the action scenes. I found them difficult to understand what was going on, largely because of the amount of impact lines and sound effects, written in katakana. I mostly relied on the characters’ narration to tell me what was happening in a battle. In the years that have passed, I’ve read a lot more comics–manga and Western–so I’ve learned how to read (and understand) action scenes much better. However, I still find it easier to follow violent action in Western comics. I think that having color helps, whereas most manga is printed in black and white. Even so, the first fight scene between two angels is still a bit confusing to me. Impact lines everywhere!

That’s why I paid more attention to the dialogue than the fights when I had a choice. It’s not a great sign of things to come, if you’re reading a tournament manga.

And, because I can’t write a single entry without at least one nitpick, I’m finding it pretty doubtful that Misaki’s never heard of Angelic Layer before moving to Tokyo. I know that one of the easiest ways to convey information to an audience is to have the world explained to another character, but Misaki just discovering the game is a little implausible, given the rest of the story’s universe. Angelic Layer tournaments are broadcasted on TV, and champions are bigger than pop idols. How did Misaki manage to miss all this? I don’t watch sports, but even I could give you a basic explanation of how each game works, and even name some players. Did Misaki live under a rock before coming to Tokyo, or what?

It’s not just me, right?

When I began this blog, it was so I could look back at all the books I’ve read over the years and decide what I wanted to do with them. I’ve made some headway now, managing to give away a few books, swap, or occasionally sell them. I’ve been enjoying re-reading them and writing about them here a great deal.

Tonight, I found myself wrapping up two books from the Angelic Layer series, three Rave Master books, the .hack manga that came out in the early 2000s, and Me Before You. Tomorrow, I’ll be mailing them out to their new homes.

I’ll be glad to cut down some of the clutter, but when I was wrapping up Angelic Layer and Rave Master, I found myself unexpectedly sad. They were the first manga I ever owned, and even though I hadn’t picked them up in years, I was still attached to the books themselves. I can’t say that it’s the end of an era–my manga phase ended long ago–or that I’m nostalgic for a better time. No one ever gets nostalgic about junior high, I can promise you that.

Because I anthropomorphize everything, I feel a little guilty that the books I’ve owned in each series are getting split up and sent to different owners. But mostly, I think I just liked having them around. But as I was packing everything up, I really wanted to flip through the pages one more time, re-read them just once more. And wonder, just for a second, if maybe I shouldn’t send them out at all.

But then I remind myself that they’ll have new owners that will (hopefully) love these books as much as I did.

Does anyone else have trouble getting rid of books? Have you ever felt emotionally attached to a physical copy of a book, even if you haven’t picked it up in years?