Review – Bulgasal: Immortal Souls

I mean… can you resist this goth aesthetic???

There’s gonna be a lot of gifs and images in this review… so if you’re internet is slow, give it a minute to load up cause… lights camera action.

Ah, Bulgasal! I’ve been sitting on this review a while because this is a tricky show to discuss. Like many other poor fools out there, I watched this drama as it was airing. And in a strange way, that contributed to my love/hate relationship with this fantasy. Cause I should have hated it. I shouldn’t really recommend it to anyone in good faith. But I had such a blast watching this show!

I was soaked in the fandom, giddy with anticipation as the mystery unfolded, and horny over too many characters not to love it. I was amused as often as I was annoyed with the outcome week to week as the story unfolded two episodes at a time. It doesn’t deserve a high rating. It’s slow paced, the plot line is a huge mess, and the characters are weird. But I’m giving it a high rating cause I loved this dumb, beautiful disaster of a show with my whole heart.

Everything you need to know about Bulgasal is revealed in the first ten minutes of the show with the narration introducing the last monster, the flashes of mysterious scenes on a bridge, and the cool opening title sequence. Not once did I hit the skip button, either. I love that title sequence.

Bulgasal has an unknown story line (we’re not following any real historical royal families or diving into era specific conflicts or politics), so there’s no easy guessing of the plot’s major conflict. It’s got reincarnation angles, so there are multiple timelines with multiple versions of characters popping up. It’s got a grumpy protagonist who spends the large majority of the show sulking around a dirty house while a bunch of sunshine characters come in upset his world. It’s got a very enjoyable and theatrical antagonist who has more chemistry with the leading man than the leading lady does. And it’s got all kinds of wacky supernatural stuff at play without clear rules so it’s always a mystery how it’s going to effect the storyline and all the characters.

I mean, you won’t really know what’s happening or why in this show for a long time and even when you find out it’s not particularly inspired, but it’s so much fun guessing. If you have any imagination whatsoever you will invent a plotline three times better than the one offered and bask in the glory of your mental fanfiction as you stare at the beautiful people on your screen.

Bulgasal is a whole vibe. You’re either on board or not. Do you want on this ship?

Wait, I’m sorry. What was that? I don’t think I heard you.

I said DO YOU WANT ON THIS SHIP?

Meow Meow.

ALL ON BOARD.

My personal rating 10/10. My subjective rating? Uhm… 7/10? But why be subjective with Bulgasal? That’s not what this drama is bringing to the table. Let’s adjust to uh… Overall rating: 9/10. A beautiful disaster that captivated the fandom.

Now let’s talk about what made Bulgasal… Bulgasal. Or rather, let’s just follow tangents along and ramble as I reminisce on the fandom and the characters in this show.

SPOILERS BELOW.

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Review – Gu Family Book / Kangchi, the Beginning

I watched this series when it first came out, slapped a 7.5 star rating on it, and moved on with my life. Except I didn’t move on. I kept coming back to it. I don’t know how many times I have watched it now, but it’s a lot. A lot, a lot. And I honestly think it gets better with each rewatch. Now I’d say it’s a perfect 10/10. Occasionally our first impressions are just… wrong, okay?

Listen, sometimes you have to change your mind about stuff. It’s good for the soul.

Just like this drama.

Just like these two.

Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-Gi are the two leads, both of which are notoriously charming in all their dramas. Sticking them together was like the first person who thought to create a double layer cake. What if we put a cake… on top of a cake? Afterwards humanity forever wondered why they hadn’t been doing this the whole time. Cause of course, of course, cake on cake is perfect. And Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-Gi are perfect. They’re both charismatic actors who bring innocence, humor, and sincerity to all their roles. And just so you know – they don’t even really show up until episode 3. Like Queen Seon Duk, the first two episodes are all about the laying foundations of the story with the generation before.

The plotline of Gu Family Book is fantastic – both the supernatural plotline and the political one. There’s melodrama, action, revenge, political intrigue, and the supernatural. But at its core, this is a romance. And the romance is achingly romantic, with the plot winding slowly around your heart until by the time things start coming together for these two, you’re already desperately bound to their stories.

The warrior’s daughter and the gumiho’s son

Oh, Gu Family Book! This show has it all. It packed in everything you can think of in its suitcase of plot devices to spellbind an audience. Kang Eun-Kyung wrote a script to rival some of the best historical dramas of all time. The story is huge, complicated, and multi-generational – yet it’s easy to follow and just builds on itself as it goes. There’s tons of humor to balance all the tragedy. The stakes are high but realistic. All the characters are fully developed, and I mean all of them. And they all get complete characters arcs, too, with transformation and growth (even if towards the dark side). I’ll get into all of this in more detail in the spoiler section.

Sometimes your protagonists are only as good as your antagonists, and Lee Seung-Gi plays one of the most monstrous villains of all time. You’ll be rooting for someone to cut this man down from the very first episode. Lee Seung-Gi will make your skin crawl. He plays his role with such menace, such devious certainty, that you never once doubt his character’s soul is blacker than the eyeliner of the lead singer of The Cure.

There are really dark aspects in this drama – human slavery, rape, torture, and murder – though their presentation is PG-13, you might be disturbed by the content. Gu Family Book does not pretend that the past was an entirely pleasant experience – it could be a very, very harsh world. But our characters still find ways to survive, to find beauty, joy, and pleasure, in the world they occupy. Sometimes the darkness can be overcome, and sometimes people have to make room for the light despite of it.

Listen, I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why you won’t like this drama. Other than the “old-school” special effects – which okay, sure, they’re old fashioned… it’s just glowing lights and rather painful looking colored contacts most of the time, but whatever. I’m embarrassed to admit I was overly dismissive of the simplistic special effects first viewing – which now don’t bother me in the least. In fact, I actually prefer a lot of these FX tricks over more tedious CGI.

Don’t let your modern eye keep you from enjoying this fairy tale goodness just because its special effects are a bit dated. Maybe at first you’ll be a little unsure of how to feel about some of the show, but it will hypnotize you. Next thing you know you’ll be utterly delighted every time those little blue will-o’-the-wisps show up, every time Kang Chi’s eyes switch colors, every time the operatic theme song by Yisabel busts in… “There’s a stone for the things forgotten…”

Around the early 2010’s is when Korean dramas started picking up a substantial fan base in America. There is something particular about the shows coming out during this time – they were so universally loved by viewers (with a few problematic elements here and there, sure) – they were so addictive, so shamelessly full of love, sorrow, hope, honor, and friendship – that they swept people up into the fan base and retained them as permanent K-drama addicts. Warrior Baek Dong Soo, The Moon Embracing the Sun, Queen In Hyun’s Man, Sungkyunkwan Scandal. If you’ve watched any of these dramas – then you know what I’m talking about. They’re distinctive. Distinctively freakin’ good.

Check it Gu Family Book and fall in love with a smitten tomboy warrior girl and the half-human half-mythical creature whose big heart and dimpled smile will win you over.

Overall Rating: 10/10. Supernatural Tale Involving Magical Blue Lights and Colored Contact Lenses.

Character Discussion & Spoilers Follow…

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Review – Extra-Ordinary You

Extra-Ordinary You was one of the best teenage romantic comedies I have seen in years – for about 20 episodes. The last twelve episodes of this show slid quickly into “good but nothing special” territory for me, feeling repetitive, unnecessary, and considerably less exciting. This is not to say I didn’t still enjoy it, even after the sudden and steady decline of my attention span. Cause I did. Honestly. And when nearly 3/4ths of your drama is amazing, then you really can’t complain too much as you’re already doing better than most shows.

Even the long haul eps at the end, where the first had gone out, where still entertaining enough that I continued watching. Frankly, I felt I had to. The mystery of the show was compelling enough that I could not let it go without the answers I was promised.

The story is thus: A quirky, popular young lady has suddenly started losing track of time. Hours pass and she has no memory of what happened in between. Then, mysteriously, she begins to notice strange patterns – amongst her friends and her routine. Things repeat themselves. Her world seems in flux. What’s going on? Our heroine discovers she is a character in a graphic novel – and now that she’s become self aware, she is able to experience life “between the panels” when the story is not directing her (and everyone else’s) action.

It’s a really fun concept. A similar story line was W, the 2016 hit series that was also really great for quite a long time before kinda dragging on a bit too long for it’s own good. If I had to choose between the two, I would pick W because it was a more expansive story, but Extra-Ordinary You finds is place in the pantheon of cute romance dramas with just enough conflict, love-triangles, bullies, and generalized school intrigue to keep you entertained.

Though the entire series takes place inside a graphic novel – it’s surprisingly “fantasy light.” The drama doesn’t spend much time musing on the particular physics or mysticism involved in this world, nor does it bother to explain how its possible or what controls it. Why are these imaginary characters able to become conscious? What does that mean about the creator of the characters or the world itself? Is this a reincarnation metaphor or meant to provoke us to think about the uncanny nature of religious beliefs, mortality, the broader expanse of the universe, or the vast unknowns of life? Uh, no. This is definitely not a philosophical show. There is no social commentary. It’s pretty much surface level only, and the surface level is very brightly colored. I think if you scratched at the layer, you’d just smell bubblegum. The “but how though?” question remains unanswered, and I suppose it really didn’t matter in the end as it never bothered me much. It’s a cheesy teen romance. It may have been more… maybe… once… there do seem to be hints at more… but nope. It’s just a collection of tropes and cuteness that’s dressed up in a new style.

I’d considered writing a more lengthy review – about the characters and the concept – but could not motivate myself to do so. The teenagers are all lovely and immaculate in their perfect white uniforms. The school is some insane stylized mansion-esque place, always spotless and expansive. The light is pure. The rain is romantic. Hospital rooms are enormous and comfortable. The streets are generic. The angles of the camera mimic typic manga style – with lots of straight on shots, a few up and down views inbetween, and plenty of focus on the dreamy faces of the leads. It’s a graphic novel, after all, a modern fairytale, so everything worked or was easily excused.

The less you know going in, the more you will enjoy it.

It was a perfect escape and exactly what I’d been craving but didn’t realize it. Something comfortable but just different enough that I didn’t immediately recognize it.

Overall Rating 8/10. A Happy Escape into a Romantic Dreamworld of Teenagers.

UPROOTED by Naomi Novik

Nine hours later… and my reading day is complete! UPROOTED certainly deserves the Nebula Award (that’s for the best sci fi or fantasy novel in America, mind you… high praise and illustrious company indeed). It’s a stand alone novel that feels like a saga cause there is a lot going on in this book! World-building, politics, history, magic, traditions… it all reads as if it’s common knowledge, easy to follow and mentally thick. Your head will simply go with the flow when you’re reading it.

The gist of the story is this. Every ten years, a powerful wizard called The Dragon takes a young girl to live with him, locked away in a magical tower. In ten years time, the girls come out… but they’re always changed. And they never, ever go home again. Enter our plucky and extremely likable main female character, the next girl chosen by the wizard. The wizard really stole the show in this book, as the grumpiest, funniest, snarkiest and most memorable male lead I have read in a while. Well done, Novik! This isn’t a romance novel, though. If you expect that, you will be disappointed…cause it kinda tries but just fails in that respect. I must admit, I was a little disappointed but c’est la vie.

Our antagonist is the WOOD… a mysterious dark forest filled with horrors… that is slowly encroaching on the kingdoms, swallowing villages as it goes. This is some deliciously eerie and scary stuff… people going instantly insane, cows wandering in and coming out all twisted and deformed, people being eaten by trees. Just freakin’ awesome. AWESOME.

On the outside of the wood, we have two kingdoms with a shaky truce. That gets demolished within a few chapters and war breaks out. There are crafty, devious wizards of the court. There are undying queens buried alive. There is a young woman reborn by magic curiously impervious to harm. There is so much going on! And all the while the narrative remains this consistent, evenly paced melody of words that just lulls you along through this crazy world. Like Willy Wonka when they’re on the ferry boat and everyone is freaking out but he’s just kind of maniacally calm.

I loved how magic was explained in this book. I won’t attempt to explain it… just read it. READ IT! It’s a truly beautiful story…

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Originally published: May 2015
Genres: Fairy tale, Fantasy Fiction, Romantic fantasy
Awards: Nebula Award for Best Novel

THE WINNER’S TRILOGY by Marie Rutkoski

Finished this trilogy last night… some random thoughts:

The Winner’s Curse – Book One: The best of the lot – angsty romance (I love a romance where there are very extreme situations keeping the lovers apart, think “Your dad killed my parents!” or “Our love is forbidden and we could both be killed for it!” In this series, her people have just conquered his, she buys him as a slave, he’s plotting the revolution (ie killing of her people) while they’re slowly falling for each other… that’s some quality angst) – pristine and lush writing – great world building, mystery, and strong unique characters. Overall / a good book. 4/5 stars.

The Winner’s Crime – Book Two: Hm… espionage. Politics. More angsty and less engaging. Introduces new (best) character, Roshar, a mutilated prince – and the emperor, a great baddie. Surprising plot twists. 3/5 stars.

The Winner’s Kiss – Book Three: Should have been combined with book 2, as the majority of this book is flashbacks and long stretches of sorting through feelings. Battle sequences. Plot twists. More of Roshar being Roshar. And happy endings. 2/5 stars.

Final Thoughts. The covers did nothing for this series, in my opinion. Neither the hardbacks nor the paperbacks capture the mood of this story.

TRILOGY RATING: THREE STARS

Title: The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime, & The Winner’s Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Originally published: 2014, 2015, 2016
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

HALF BAD by Sally Green

“Later I remember what I could do. It’s easy. I could kill them all.” 
― Sally Green, Half Lost

Just finished Half Bad, by Sally Green. Hm… well, it was pretty good for a YA novel with a male protagonist. Very gritty – lots of violence and push ups and such. I’m not entirely sold on the entire set up: White Witches and Black Witches are at war for various reasons? Why again? Whatever… most YA novels don’t worry too much about plotholes, they are largely character driven. And the characters are pretty good.

Our hero, Nathan, is a half breed (white and black witch). Raised by White Witches who hate and fear him, (cause of his baddie daddy) and, uh, keep him in a cage – he eventually comes into his own and is currently deciding which team to play for, if any. Ironically (or not), he is also caught in a love triangle between his childhood sweetheart Annalise and his new roommate, Gabriel. Huh. I’ll probably read the next book since I brought it home… kinda curious now. I’m a sucker for the queerbaiting.

UPDATE: I finished this series today – the first book was decent, the second book was tolerable and the third, officially, was garbage that basically destroys my mild enjoyment of the first two books. I literally threw it. The ending sucked! It was absurd! I hated it. And honestly, I usually don’t bother reviewing books at all if I don’t like them… but whatever. I’m sticking to my guns and taking this series out.

RATING (Books 1-3 average): TWO STARS

Title: Half Bad, Half Wild, Half Lost
Author: Sally Green
Originally published: March 3, 2014
Series: The Half Bad trilogy
Genre: Young adult fiction, Fantasy, Horror

 

 

 

CALL DOWN THE HAWK by Maggie Stiefvater

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater – the first book in the new trilogy about Ronan Lynch, the boy who could bring his dreams to life in The Raven Boys.

My thoughts: Ronan remains super cool though I did feel the author told us how cool he was more than was necessary (we know, Maggie). His relationship with Adam, now king of the gay nerds at Harvard, was realistically strained as their lives move in different directions. Declan Lynch, the uptight oldest brother who constantly cleans up after his younger siblings, finally got a story line and it was deeply satisfying. We meet a new dreamer who is half crazed from trying to keep herself awake, fighting off a repeating nightmare. And we meet some Visionaries – time travelers, of a sort, whose shifts through the time line are as destructive as the messages they carry. Throw in a secret black market, a global assassins guild hunting down paranormals, a shit ton of references to artists (art majors will be delighted by the name dropping in this), a painting that makes you dream of the sea, a forest filled with trees that speak in Latin, and one very very chatty ethereal voice who likes to give cryptic speeches while our hero dreams and you’ve got yourself a pretty cool book.

It wasn’t as good as The Raven Boys. Could anything ever be as good as that piece of perfection? I loved all four of those boys and Blue and her entire family by the end of the first book in that series. I felt deeply connected to their stories. This is not to say that Call Down the Hawk isn’t good – cause it’s good. But I am really only invested in one of the new characters and mildly curious about the rest. Thankfully it’s got the solid foundation of the Lynch boys to carry it’s narrative and it’s more than enough to provide readers with a fun, wonky, dangerous and romantic (I am so on board with Declan’s slowly melting icy heart) adventure.

Rating: Four and a half Stars.

Now… if you want to get into spoiler territory… we can further discuss….

 

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SAWKILL GIRLS by Claire Legrand

“Why do the monsters eat girls?” she asked at last.

“Because,” Marion answered, looking beyond Zoey to the sea, “when a predator hunts, it seeks out the vulnerable. The desperate.”

Zoey’s laugh was bitter, “Oh, and we poor delicate girls are vulnerable and desperate, is that what you’re saying?”

“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught, from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

I finished Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand yesterday – and it’s a great spooky YA book. A monster lives on a small island populated by the wealthy elite – and it feeds on the innards of teenage girls. There’s a lot going on in this book – but at its heart its about girls and how disposable they are in society. It’s about female anger and how girls fight back.

I loved this book – but I confess I wanted more from it (which I’ll dive into below in the spoilers section). Overall, it was an enjoyable, spooky book and I definitely recommend it to those who seeking a good, bloody story featuring a diverse (in color and sexuality) cast.

I desperately want there to be more books in this series. All my fingers and toes are crossed for further exploration into the pocket dimensions, powers, cults, and monsters lurking in new books. Even if it’s different characters each time, she’s opened a window into a very unique world and I want to go there again and see more.

Rating: 4 Stars.

So… SPOILER DISCUSSION TIME…

 

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SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin

“There are some things that can’t be changed with words. Some things have to be seen. They have to be felt.”

Decided to read a fun fantasy romance novel today – about a renegade witch who finds herself married to a witch hunter. The novel is told from alternating points of view – between our mismatched lovers – and overall it was a highly enjoyable tale of medieval lore, mystery, and (most of all) love.

I am a sucker for a wild girl paired with a prudish guy, what can I say? And I especially enjoy cohabitation stories where the couple is either married but not “together” or pretending to be married but not “together.” All that “oh my, wherever shall I sleep? On the floor? The couch? Should we share a bed and put pillows between us? Decisions, decisions…” it never gets old to me. There was a surprisingly detailed sex scene too (I believe the expression ‘to the hilt’ was used, as cringe worthy as ever).

Serpent & Dove has a nice dusting of French throughout, adding a little foreign flavor to our fantasy world.  There’s loads of fun characters coming in and out of the scenes, from apprentices to courtesans, witches to royals, and bakers to scorned aristocracy. And we’re also given a nice dose of feminism as well as plea for deeper understanding between all people we’ve labeled as “other” for various reasons. It was nicely done. For a debut novel, it was rich in detail and showed clear evidence of expert writing and editing, keeping the flow steady and enjoyable throughout.

I really liked it.

My only complaint was the tale was set in this historical world with corsets and daggers and metal bath tubs… but it kept throwing in modern language stylings, with our female witch in particular. I don’t mind cursing or vulgarity, those are not particular to any time period, but the turn of phrases, the expressions, the slang… it was 21st Century. And it always, always threw me out of the story setting. If she was going to write this way, the author should have just made our witch a time traveler. Everyone else is all proper and our witch is slinging punchy jokes and contemporary witticisms.

I don’t know if it will bother others as much as it bothered me… and honestly, that’s my only complaint for an otherwise enjoyable rompish fantasy-romance. Oh, and it’s set up for a sequel… with a nice twist or two at the end to leave us wanting more. There were several sets of magical creatures referred to that I would love to see explored in more detail in future books.

I’ll definitely be buying the next installment.

Rating: Four Stars

Originally published: September 3, 2019
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Title: Serpent & Dove
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char – responsible for one of the worst sentences I have ever read in my life.

Carolyn felt a little squirt of horror at that but she squelched it.

What can I say? I liked this book… and I kinda hated this book. It’s a conundrum.

Image result for the library at mount char by scott hawkins

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is a truly original story. Not quite fantasy, not quite science fiction, not quite horror – but rather a sprinkling of all three. It’s the tale of an ancient being, god-like in power, who takes twelve children under his wing to raise in mysterious, ancient arts. Each child is assigned a certain category to study, a discipline, such as death – languages – war – animals – the future – and so on. In order to learn these arts, the god-like figure known only as “Father,” goes to cruel extremes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book’s wacky premise and characters. Unfortunately,  there were…. problems. It’s the author’s first book – and I almost feel it was the responsibility of his editor to point out the issues with the plot that tangled this story into such a mess towards the end. Hopefully Mr. Hawkin’s will continue to hone his craft and his next book will be an improvement.

SPOILERS FOLLOW…. if you’ve read it, or if you just like spoilers… please follow me into section two of of this review… . Continue reading