Nicole does everything and anything she can, in excess, to try to ignore the mumbling voices whispering in the back of her head. When she’s dragged into trouble by a fellow gang member trying to kidnap a doctor to treat his wounds, the three find themselves the subject of an entirely different kind of kidnapping… and Nicole will be tasked with listening to the very voices she’s been trying to deny.
Pawn leaves its readers in the dark alongside its protagonist as Nicole slowly unravels the shroud of mystery around her new, unexpected life. There’s some really interesting ideas at the heart of this opener to Zahn’s latest trilogy. The world building has some great hooks and a couple of the characters are compelling enough to grab the reader’s attention. The writing style is of course smooth and engaging.
Admittedly though, plot necessities often drive character changes and choices rather than vise-versa. Several consequences of various characters’ actions are the result of their stubborn unwillingness to explain anything to each other, beyond what seems in character and reasonable. Some story elements also seem a little overly complicated and possibly unnecessary, although some of it could be setup for the next two installments. The approach could have been tweaked a bit for a more even, satisfying journey in my opinion.
That said, overall this was still a really enjoyable and intriguing read. I got caught up in Nicole’s situation, and I am quite invested in finding out where it all goes in the end.
This is the fourth and final book in the Princess series, and it addresses several major, long running plot threads. Best to start with The Stepsister Scheme (book 1).
** I will keep this review as spoiler free as possible, both for this book and for the series as a whole. **
I read the first three books of this series years ago, but while interested didn’t get a chance read this last one when it first came out and it kind of slipped through the list until now. I recently reread the rest to make sure all the little details were fresh in my mind going in.
The Snow Queen’s Shadow is on par with Red Hood’s Revenge as the best in the series, providing the end of character journeys that have been building since the very beginning. There was a blend of things I’ve been expecting/waiting for and interesting additional layers, including a clever way to work another aspect of one of the main protagonist’s fairy tale in that I imagine there will be a lot of mixed feelings about.
A lot of groundwork for the events here was laid in previous books, but I suspect many readers didn’t pick up on the clues since it’s not necessarily a direction people wanted things to go. But it fits, and is an appropriate culmination of all that’s come before.
It’d been a long time since my only previous DIANA show, but I’ve certainly been aware of their rising star. I had the privilege of seeing Sareee in person at Sendai Girls’ shows against Chihiro in January and against DASH Chisako just a couple weeks prior to this in a pair of fantastic matches, and anticipation for her vs Kong III was through the roof.
Beyond the general awesomeness of being at Korakuen and the huge main event, there were a number of interesting aspects to the undercard that had me particularly excited for this show.
1) Ayako Sato vs Madeline
I was really impressed with Madeline here. In fact, I was about to write “this was my first time seeing Madeline,” momentarily forgetting it had to be as it was in fact her DEBUT.
Sato’s assault was spot on for letting the rookie shine and get a good amount of offense while keeping things reasonable. Madeline has a distinct style already, with an expressiveness that really draws the audience into her match and strong fundamentals. Fantastic first impression made.
2) Emi Sakura vs Haruka Umesaki
As a huge fan of Sakura and her promotion Gatoh Move, this match seeing her face a former student from DareJyo (who I was previously unfamiliar with) was another big reason I made a point of attending this show.
This was really fun. Every little detail was on point, from even before the match started and Emi took issue to Haruka being presented with a gift before the match and her not. Emi’s a master, Haruka rose to the challenge, they got a decent amount of time to play with, and this was an extremely good match.
3) Queen Elizabeth Championship: Jaguar Yokota (c) vs Sakura Hirota vs Yumi Ohka
Fine 3-way with Hirota being Hirota, Ohka holding everything together with liberal application of kicks, and Yokota picking her spots to capitalize and retain her title.
4) DIANA Tag Team Championship: Kaoru Ito & Tomoko Watanabe (c) defeat Double Inoue (Kyoko Inoue & Takako Inoue)
It was a treat to see Double Inoue, and in a title match to boot. Absolutely brutal at points, and admittedly got excessive at the end. Watching Kyoko take FIVE top rope doublestomps to the stomach from Ito was cringe inducing, and that many wasn’t needed to get the point across. That small criticism aside though, this was great.
5) DIANA World Championship: Aja Kong (c) vs Sareee
I’d heard a lot about their previous encounters and have become a huge fan of Sareee in general, so as mentioned above the expectations were high for this one.
It was A LOT more lopsided than I expected at first, with Kong largely wiping the mat with Sareee for the first third to half of the match. Then Sareee found a weakness to capitalize on when Kong missed a charge and “injured” her arm, and Sareee showed she could give as good as she got.
The back and forth battle raged on, with Sareee weathering the storm long enough to shock the monster with a rollup for the win and the title. This built to a moment, and was pretty excellent along the way. Chihiro Hashimoto comes out afterwards and appears to challenge Sareee to a double title match.
Sareee is wrestling’s next big star, and everyone clearly knows it. She recently won said double title match so is currently a reigning double singles champion across two companies. On her way to the Sendai title she pinned their legendary owner Meiko Satomura, as well as DASH Chisako and other top competitors. And of course any sort of victory over Kong is a huge deal, let alone a singles pinfall. The important part of course is Sareee’s completely believable and natural in this role, with both the technical skills and charisma/mannerisms to pull it all off.
Wonderful show from top to bottom, with a variety of match styles and points of interest. DIANA delivered big time here.
Resharing a review of a favorite comic of mine I wrote on Goodreads before this blog existed. My opinion stands so this is presented without edits/updates:
This trade collects issues 1-7 of Brian Q. Miller’s Batgirl series.
Batgirl starts in the shadow of the events of Batman:RIP. Bruce Wayne is dead (for the time being anyway) and the various members of the “Bat-Family” are dealing with the fallout. For Stephanie Brown, this means trying to give up wearing the bat emblem and live a normal life. This doesn’t really work for her. She ends up taking the Batgirl costume from Cassandra Cain (who is successfully leaving the bat in her past) and continuing the fight in her own way. This doesn’t necessarily thrill anyone else…
As presented here, Stephanie is a fantastic character. In over her head, but embracing it and refusing to give up because something inside just won’t let her. Her journey to make the Batgirl identity her own is well developed, comical at times, and a lot of fun to follow along with.
Stephanie is given a wonderful supporting cast, and watching their interactions with her and their relationships evolve is a real treat. Even though they are established characters from other series, one of the most impressive things about Batgirl is how well it reads on it’s own. It certainly helps if you have previous knowledge of Oracle, Damian, “Dick Grayson Batman,” etc., but Miller presents all the characters well enough that it’s not really needed.
One last compliment I’d like to give is to the artist. The art is outstanding and contains a ton of little touches that enhance the story (such as some of great panels of Stephanie next to Batman or a villain that clearly show their size advantage over her, something often glossed over in comics).
I’ve seen Sendai Girls’ shows a handful of times in Tokyo and their stars here and there in other promotions (including Dash’s debut for Shimmer a month before) and am a big fan, so am always wishing for more opportunities to catch their shows. This was the first time I was lucky enough to be able to go out to Sendai and seen them in their home base, and my first show of this trip to boot. Great way to start.
1) Mikoto Shindo vsHiroyo Matsumoto
Mikoto is from Marvelous and one of a trio of rookies there that have been making a strong impression as they wrestle for a variety of different companies gaining experience.
Hiroyo against rookies is always fun in general, as she knows how to rightfully dominate the match overall without making her opponent look weak. Mikoto showed good fire and determination before being put away by the veteran. Good opener.
2) Alex Lee & Sakura Hirota vs Hikaru Shida & KAORU
Hirota and Karou on opposite sides of the ring means ridiculousness abound, and this was no exception. Entirely built around Hirota’s antics, specifically trying to get Shida to participate in posing, etc. Things never quite went as she wanted, and not being on the same page as partner Lee by the end caused Hirota to be rolled up and pinned by Karou. Amusing for what it was.
3) DASH Chisako vs Sareee
This is the match that prompted me to go out to Sendai. Arguably wrestling’s biggest rising star against my personal favorite. Sareee challenged Sendai’s Champion in an incredible match at their 1/6/19 show in Tokyo, and while she came up just short there she defeated Meiko Satomura herself shortly before this match and seemed on course for another shot. Dash is another top veteran in Sendai Girls and was in position to play spoiler to those plans here.
This was everything I hoped for, and Sareee picked up another big singles victory on her way to another date with destiny against Chihiro in an awesome match. Sareee is on absolute FIRE lately, combining incredible in-ring work with real star presence, and it’s always something to behold when Dash gets the opportunity to go all out. They hit the hell out of each other here while build a logical, escalating flow to the match. Fantastic.
4) Beauty Bear (Chihiro Hashimoto & Mika Iwata) vs Minami & Yuu
Beauty Bear were the Sendai Girl’s Tag Champions at the time, with Chihiro also holding Sendai’s top singles title. Yuu had recently signed with Pro Wrestling Eve in London after leaving Tokyo Joshi Pro, and was teaming with Sendai’s resident rookie.
This was surprisingly awkward early on, as Mika and Yuu was a styles clash and they took a while to get on the same page. To be honest they both need to work on their improvisation, as when things went a little off they didn’t cover very well and ended up drawing more attention to what should have been small, barely noticeable mistakes.
Interestingly, tagging the match’s least experienced wrestler in is what smoothed things out, as Minami is a Sendai trainee and as such has a lot of familiarity and comfort wrestling Iwata & Chihiro. Minami trying to put up a fight against more her experienced compatriots made a great anchoring story for the match.
And it was all on point from there on. Chihiro vs Yuu was just a splendid spectacle of them trying to shoulder tackle each other into oblivion, and the next go around for Iwata and Yuu they concentrated on strikes and found a rhythm to great effect. This became really good after the awkward start. Really awesome to see Minami getting this kind of opportunity too. The champs eventually pinned Minami to win this non-title affair.
It’s impressive the level of show Sendai Girls was able to put on overall even with their legend missing (Meiko was absent from the show due to traveling to Europe), and a treat to see them out in their home area. Would love to go out there again.
As I’ve done in the past I recently took advantage of a long plane ride to catch up on a movies I’ve been meaning to watch. Here are brief thoughts on a couple films I checked out this time (with a thematic link this time 😉 ).
Venom (in some of his encarnations at least) is one of my favorite comic book characters. I was gutted at the mishandling of his prior cinematic appearance. So I watched this with a bit of trepidation, even though the previews looked decent.
And to be honest the character has potential for a more nuanced story/adaptation than what we got here. I also wasn’t thrilled with the casting/approach of a key cameo at the end.
But this was pretty awesome otherwise. While it wasn’t perfect the approach to Venom’s character is still great, he looked right, and Hardy is perfect as Eddie Brock. The story was solid enough, and most importantly this movie was fun.
I can understand wanting something else, and even within the direction they chose to take I would’ve liked some of the details done differently, but this was a surprisingly good take overall.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
“You wanna know what happened next? Me too.”
It took me way too long to get around to watching this masterpiece, and I regret it. Simply incredible. Go in with as little foreknowledge as possible and enjoy the ride. I refuse to say more because in the unlikely case someone reading this is still unspoiled it’d be awful of me to do so. This is a creative, clever, unique masterpiece.
As a big childhood fan of Spider-Man comics, it was treat to see and enjoy both of these. Admittedly there’s a gap here as one’s “quite good for what it is” and the other is transcendent, but they’re both well worth watching if interested.
Tonight Gatoh Move has a big show at Shin-Kiba 1st Ring. In her last month with Gatoh Move before going to AEW, Riho defends her Super Asia Championship in the main event on her birthday.
Special note: Gatoh Move continues to increase accessibility with the sharing of matches online with English commentary at an incredible turnaround. Five of the six matches I discuss here are ALREADY up on their YouTube channel.
As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.
Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some souvenirs).
1) Masahiro Takanashi & An-Chamu vs Saki & Baliyan Akki
An came out in Sakura’s old costume again, which continues to amuse me to no end. This was just pure fun. An continues to get better and better the more she works with the incredible talent in Gatoh, Takanashi is a master, and their opponents are really gelling as a team and are solid every time out. Good start.
2) Mitsuru Konno vs Yuna Mizmori
Important match for Mitsuru as she tackles one half of the reigning tag team champions she’ll be challenging tonight. Both kept the intensity high here, and added a lot of careful touches to elevate things. There was a particularly great sequence where Mitsuru set up the deathlock but Yuna kept scurrying her body sideways so Mitsuru missed her head while folding backwards. Mitsuru eventually head faked then zoomed right in on the moving Yuna to complete the hold. It’s the little details.
Mitsuru pushed Yuna to a time limit draw. Really good lead in to their impending tag title battle, and during the roundtable it was announced Mitsuru would get to wrestle Yuna’s partner in a singles match on 6/1.
3) Riho & Emi Sakura vs Mei Suruga & Antonio Honda
Just back from their US debuts, Emi Sakura & Riho came out sporting AEW t-shirts with Emi complaining about the crowd size and dismissively calling her OWN promotion a “local indie.” She knows just how to present things like this, and the sheer absurdity of it (while being delivered deadpan) was pitch perfect.
Fun back and forth match, with Riho and Mei interacting a bit before their big title match. Honda eventually defeated Sakura to vindicate… well, Gatoh Move (lol) and potentially give Mei a little bit of an edge going into tonight.
As usual lately, Gatoh Move is really clicking and this show was a breeze and a joy to watch.
1) Cho-un vs Tetsuya Izuchi
Two of the members of the Heat Up vs Gatoh Move 6-man tag tonight faced off in singles action to open this show. Technically sound if a bit slow, with Cho-un picking up the win and momentum.
They got heated during the roundtable (with Emi involved too), and while I couldn’t follow what was the said the atmosphere and reactions of those around them was pretty easy to read.
2) Mitsuru Konno vs Saki
After drawing with one half of the reigning tag team champions two days prior, Mitsuru got a singles opportunity against the other as she faced Saki going into her title shot (with partner Sawasdee Kamen).
This was a really hard hitting contest, with a desperate Mitsuru pushing herself as much as possible but Saki getting the expected win. The frustration is building in Mitsuru, and honestly I kind of feel like it’s the right time to have her shake it all off and pull out a huge victory tonight. We’ll see.
3) Riho, An-Chamu, & Baliyan Akki vs Masahiro Takanashi, Emi Sakura, & Mei Suruga
Incredible main event, interweaving numerous stories in a fast pace, frantic battle with numerous creative double and triple team from all (particularly from Akki’s smaller teammates using him as a base).
At one point the small An tried to help push Akki into a run for momentum, and he didn’t budge. They amusingly started to argue in English (“What are you doing?” “How weak are you?”) then got back on the same page and got the better of Sakura when she tried to take advantage of their bickering. Later Riho tried Emi’s own “We Will Rock You” splash on her. The whole match was peppered with great little things like those.
In a little bit of a surprise after a relentless final onslaught Mei loses clean to Riho going into Tues, wiping out any momentum she had and stacking the deck majorly against her. This was the PERFECT build to tonight’s main, and let several other wrestlers shine as well. Incredible work.
Absolutely everything on this show was set up to build to Tuesday, with to great effect. These two shows were both highly satisfying on their own while progressing the larger pictures for their participants. Really great stuff.
Last Spring Ice Ribbon’s Tequila Saya started producing a series of biweekly shows called P’s Party (“short” for Peace Party… somehow…) initially focusing on talent with less than three years experience (although as time passes some of their core roster are obviously passing that particular hallmark), with some vets mixed in for them to work with. The concept is fantastic and I’ve really enjoyed the showsoftheirs I’ve seen.
This was a part of Golden Week’s Yokohama Wrestling Festival, and a big deal for P’s Party as it was their first bigger, non-Ice Ribbon dojo show.
The show opened with a 5-way elimination match featuring five of the six young wrestlers being spotlighted throughout the festival in matches against each other (one representative from each of the festival’s participating companies). Ibuki Hoshi vs Amazon vs Giulia vs Himeka Arita vs Shoki Kitamura was a short, fun match that made cool use of the over the top elimination elements. Ibuki and Shoki formed a bit of an alliance leading to the eliminated Shoki saving Ibuki from hitting the floor late in the match, then Ibuki edged out Giulia to pick up the victory.
Next Mystique defeated Chabela in another five minute encounter that honestly wasn’t much of anything until a spark of life towards the end (even despite getting a chair involved outside mid-match). They tried and it’s always good to finish strong, but I’d like to think both have better performances in them.
It’s always a treat to see Marvelous’ rookies, as all three (including the later to appear Maria) have really great instincts and are developing into compelling, well rounded wrestlers extremely quickly. Here Mei Hoshizuki & Mikoto Shindo put on a strong showing before eventually being overwhelmed by the size and power of their opponents and defeated by Satsuki Totoro & Aoki Itsuki.
The ongoing rivalry between Asahi and Suzu Suzuki continued here as they faced off in a tag encounter with partners Rina Shingaki and Miyuki Takase respectively. Solid match all around here. Rina’s really been evolving over her time with P’s Party, which is great to see. Miyuki looks more and more like a superstar every time I see her. She weathered Asahi and Rina’s determination, slowly wore them down with help from her partner Suzu, and eventually picked up the win for her team.
Which also continues to have Suzu dominate her rivalry with Asahi. Personally I can’t wait until Asahi finally defeats her, and the way things have gone if Ice Ribbon does it correctly the moment will be something special.
A day after her debut match, during which she lost the Triangle Ribbon Title she unexpectedly won as a referee at Ribbonmania, Banny Oikawa was in another 3-way as she faced Uno Matsuya and Tsukushi. Had she retained this was to be another title match. Decent, with the right person going over as Uno was being built up for Triangle Ribbon Championship contention. Awesome to see Banny get the opportunity to transition into a place on the active roster, and while they kept things basic for her she looked decent in her second match.
As great as all of Marvelous’ current crop of rookies are, Maria is my favorite. So I was extremely excited to see her get a singles spotlight in the semi-main of this show, particularly against another favorite in Maika Ozaki. This was all about the scrappy Maria showing no hesitation in facing Maika’s incredible power, and it completely clicked. They presented a good, well worked story in an exciting match that was exactly as long as it needed to be. Loved this.
The main event featured the debut of Ice Ribbon’s newest roster member Yappy, as she teamed with regular guest Rina Yamashita with a tall task ahead of them in the form of Burning Raw (Giulia & P’s Party Producer Tequila Saya).
Yappy presents a contagious exuberance, and it’s pretty much impossible not to have fun right along with her as she wrestles. She looked good, showing some unique offense and … well, being convincingly empathetic while getting beat down by Burning Raw. ^_^; Rina’s a lovable bulldozer in the ring and I’m really happy to see her wrestling at Ice Ribbon more often recently. Finally, Burning Raw is developing incredible chemistry and is one of the top teams in Joshi to keep an eye on.
Great way to cap off P’s Party’s first big show.
Words I find that constantly come to mind when I think/write about P’s Party are “solid” and “fun.” And I think that’s exactly the target spot for a promotion centered on developing younger talent (and most others for that matter, to be honest). This was a big win as their first big show, both in terms of enjoyment as well as transitioning to a different / larger environment while still retaining the atmosphere/approach that defines the promotion. Congrats and kudos to Saya and all others involved.