Comic Review: Monstress Vol 1

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From Goodreads:

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

Originally, I read the first issue of this comic back when it was released and when Marjorie Liu had a signing at our local comic book store. I was fascinated and couldn’t wait for more. It has been a little over a year since then, and I finally picked up the trade paperback to go through the first six issues simultaneously. I am truly glad I read it this way instead of issue to issue. While engrossing and beautiful, the story would have been much harder to appreciate had I read it monthly.

The comic follows Maika Halfwolf, who at the start of the first issue is seeking revenge for the death of her mother. She is both crass and combative, and I honestly had a hard time liking her. It is understandable as to why she is that way, however, due to her upbringing during the war and also having been a slave. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and even if she is indeed monstrous and unlikable, I can definitely respect her as a character.

The other characters, human, Arcanic, or otherwise, are all captivating in their own right. I loved reading about Ren and Kippa especially. Kippa, being a scared yet optimistic child regardless of what he goes through, and Ren, the trickster cat, work as great companions to Maika throughout the story. While the human villains feel truly evil, even they are full of surprises. Intrigue, betrayal, and ulterior motives are staples of Monstress, and nobody is truly as they seem. The humans are often inhuman, and the Arcanics are not the monsters the humans claim them to be.

One of my favorite aspects of this comic is the setting. The artwork gives off a very Egyptian atmosphere, with depictions of masks that resemble Anubis and the gratuitous use of the color gold. Their world is one of steampunk elements such as airships, and Lovecraftian Old Gods whose ghosts roam the world. While each element on its own may have been used time and again in the past, together they create an unique and stunning universe.

The plot itself, however, is one found in many comics. It is a story of revenge and a story where multiple factions are trying to track Maika down for what she holds. I can’t tell you how many comics I have read where people are chasing the main character as a main plot device. Even only considering the comic’s publisher, Image Comics, this is a common trope. Regardless, I still felt heavily absorbed in the story even if there are many recycled plot threads.

The depth of the worldbuilding in this work is rather grand as well, and this is why I felt it would be difficult to read each issue separately. I was dropped into the story without much guidance, and there was little info-dumping throughout save for the lessons given at the end of each issue. Those segments were incredibly helpful, and I would have been rather lost without them. It definitely takes the first few issues for things to begin to make sense overall.

Even with the formulaic plot, I loved Monstress. It is arresting, beautifully drawn, and full of fascinating characters. I also couldn’t help but love the cats too! I give this comic four out of five stars, and cannot wait to read more in the future.

Book Review: Magonia

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From Goodreads:

Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

I honestly was not sure if I would like this book in the beginning. It begins with stream of consciousness writing, with a slice of life focus. While fascinating and beautifully written in its own right, I could not help but feel that Aza Ray was a special snowflake. Nerdier than the rest of the class? Check. Only one friend who understands her, and is just as nerdy? Check. Nerdiness is almost to the point of being beyond belief? Check. A mysterious illness that not even doctors understand? Needless to say, I had a hard time initially with the novel. However, as I continued reading, these facets added to the fantastic and dream-like atmosphere of the story. While we see a typical YA heroine with special powers and coming to terms with her destiny, the world building and mythos make up for these tropes and others throughout the story.

Maybe I have not read enough, but I have never read something quite like this novel. Ships in the sky? Sure, I’ve seen that plenty of times. Birds that roost in your lungs to amplify your singing voice, however? That as well as plenty of other facets, from the Magonian race to the Rostrae, were unique and refreshing. I fell in love with this world, even if there were plot holes abound and a lack of believable characters.

Even if they were unbelievable, however, I still could not help but empathize with them all. They all had clear goals, clear motivations, and were never black and white. It was also nice to see Aza and Jason’s parents play such a strong role in the story as well. I could not help but root for everyone, cry with them, and laugh with them, especially with how strong the audiobook performance was. Even once I had to turn in the audiobook and read the physical book, their voices stayed with me.

Although there was a romance triangle, it made sense within the context of the novel and did not bother me as much as they normally tend to do. Jason and Aza together, in particular, were adorable, and I could not get enough of them. From the alligator costume in their beginning years to watching giant squid together, the entire time I wanted to both hug them and push them together at every moment.

Factoring in the improbable characters and plot holes (seriously, Jason, using the dark web as an excuse for all the shenanigans you manage to get up to??), I give this novel four out of five stars for wonderful world building, emotional and poetic writing, and for making me cry on the bus home of all places. I will definitely be giving the second book a try, as Aza Ray’s story will stick with me for a long time.  Thank you, Maria Dahvana Headley, for writing such a poignant and amazing novel.

Visual Novel Review: Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet

planetarian-the-reverie-of-a-little-planet

From Steam:

It is thirty years after the failure of the Space Colonization Program.
Humanity is nearly extinct. A perpetual and deadly Rain falls on the Earth.
Men known as “Junkers” plunder goods and artifacts from the ruins of civilization.
One such Junker sneaks alone into the most dangerous of all ruins — a “Sarcophagus City”.
In the center of this dead city, he discovers a pre-War planetarium.
And as he enters he is greeted by Hoshino Yumemi, a companion robot.
Without a single shred of doubt, she assumes he is the first customer she’s had in 30 years.
She attempts to show him the stars at once, but the planetarium projector is broken.
Unable to make heads or tails of her conversation, he ends up agreeing to try and repair the projector …

For those unfamiliar with visual novels, and kinetic novels in particular, before I get into Planetarian’s review I will give a short explanation. Visual novels essentially are compromised of text, visuals, and music. Often there are choices to be made that will feed you into alternate endings and paths, making the experience one that is worth repeating, such as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. The amount of interaction can range from a “kinetic novel”, which has no choices, to “adventure games”, which contain more gameplay elements. While there are many that have been written in Japan, the amount that have been translated into English officially is much smaller, though growing. There are also many fan translation patches that you can get if you have Japanese copies of certain games, so that is an option that exists.

To warn you, however, many have eroge content, meaning that there often is 18+ scenes added in, which I will warn you about if I review one of that nature. Additionally, I will let you know if there is an official English version available or if I played a patched in fan translation.

Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet is an all-ages kinetic novel developed by Key that was originally released in 2004, and has been released in English on Steam. The story follows a Junker who scavenges a post-apocalyptic world for anything useful he can find. The unnamed protagonist, on one of his excursions to a sarcophagus city, finds himself in a planetarium with a female android named Hoshino Yumemi that has been waiting for customers for thirty years. Much of the plot centers around this planetarium and its sole occupant, who is unaware of the nuclear and biological warfare that encompassed the planet a generation prior.

First of all, this visual novel broke my heart. I can’t really get into why without spoiling the whole story, but do go in knowing that you’ll probably cry. I knew this beforehand from the Steam reviews, and still I was a sniveling wreck.  This means that the novel is easy to connect to and empathize with the characters, which is great in the four hours it takes to play the game.

Over the course of the story, there are only two characters that are presented, and in the setting, that is honestly just enough. Seeing the interactions between the Junker and Yumemi is heartwarming and simultaneously heartbreaking, as the Junker’s cynicism and Yumemi’s optimism often clash. Yumemi believes that customers will eventually come back to the planetarium, while the Junker time and time again tries to explain that there is nothing left. It is a contrast between the optimistic belief in humans and the reality that humanity has wrought onto itself.

The aspect I loved the most about this story is the focus on the stars. With the Rain pummeling down on the world constantly, the sky has long been obscured from view. The stars represent hope and belief in humanity’s possibility to heal.

While relatively short and predictable in many aspects, the novel packs a punch. There’s just enough exposition to color the story in the beginning, discussions on humanity’s path to the stars, and character growth from both parties.  Even the Junker’s harsh manner becomes manageable by the end.  The artwork, while relatively simple in comparison to modern day visual novels, is still just enough to paint an accompanying picture to the text. The music, particularly “Gentle Jena”, does a fantastic job at tugging at the heartstrings and making one want to look to the night sky.

Overall, I give this visual novel four out of five twinkling stars in the sky, mainly because it is rather predictable. Even so, I feel like it will stay with me for a long time, and I look forward to trying the anime adaptation soon.

Steam

 

 

Comic Review: Paper Girls

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From Goodreads:

In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Collects Paper Girls #1-5.

Paper Girls kept popping up on my radar through various posts and best of the year lists on Twitter and the like.  Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of eighties and nineties nostalgia in particular, and coming into this comic I knew practically nothing about the story itself save for the back cover description.  Not my typical read, I thought, but I went ahead anyway.  And I’m glad I did – though I have not watched Stranger Things, I assume this is the kind of enjoyment I would get out of it.

For your sake as well, I want to keep you all as much in the dark about the actual plot as possible, because I felt it was a lot more fascinating watching it unfold that way.  What I can say is that the supernatural elements and the eighties culture and iconography were mixed very well, including and up to the way the comic was drawn and colored.  Neon hues illuminated the pages, like something out of an old movie such as Blade Runner.  Everything felt like it fell into the right place for the comic it wanted to be, and boy, it moves at breakneck speed once it gets going.  Brian K. Vaughan does not disappoint, as usual.

I absolutely loved the all-female main cast, even if I’m still trying to get a grasp on their characters.  They mention breaking the glass ceiling in paper delivery, and I quite enjoy stories that show young women at the helm and kicking ass at what they do.  I really hope that in the next volume or so, I can get to know the individual characters more readily and have an appreciation for each of them, as at the moment I see them as a conglomerate.

If you enjoy supernatural elements and your eighties nostalgia, then this graphic novel is right up your alley.  I give it a solid four stars, and recommend giving it a try, as I was pleasantly surprised.  Which I shouldn’t have been, honestly, because I love the writer’s other works, such as Saga.   And if you haven’t read Saga already, you better do that too!

Book Review: Delia’s Shadow

DeliasShadow

From Goodreads:

It is the dawn of a new century in San Francisco and Delia Martin is a wealthy young woman whose life appears ideal. But a dark secret colors her life, for Delia’s most loyal companions are ghosts, as she has been gifted (or some would say cursed) with an ability to peer across to the other side.

Since the great quake rocked her city in 1906, Delia has been haunted by an avalanche of the dead clamoring for her help. Delia flees to the other side of the continent, hoping to gain some peace. After several years in New York, Delia believes she is free…until one determined specter appears and she realizes that she must return to the City by the Bay in order to put this tortured soul to rest.

It will not be easy, as the ghost is only one of the many victims of a serial killer who was never caught. A killer who after thirty years is killing again.

And who is now aware of Delia’s existence.

When I like an author, I want to like their books. In some cases, this hasn’t worked out for me, but I am happy to say that Jaime Lee Moyer nailed it with her first novel, Delia’s Shadow.

The novel may seem, at first glance, to be different from my usual fare—it’s historical Earth-based fantasy with romance. These are things I generally avoid; my tastes tend toward longer epic fantasy or sci-fi stories set on strange worlds with lots of cool technology or magic.

Just goes to show that you can’t judge a book based on one or two bits, and I need to branch out more.

The setting, a 1915 San Francisco, is done exceedingly well. Moyer lived in the area for much of her life, and her familiarity with the history of the area seeps through on every page, imbuing the novel with a sense of authenticity and easy grace, and I loved it.

The fantastic element comes in the form of ghosts, and introduced them in a way I was familiar with from books such as Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper series, but also presented them in new and interesting ways that I don’t want to spoil for you. It suffices to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the fantastical element.

The main plot is a tight serial-killer mystery, following two detectives and two women in the society, and it works great for building the tension, as the murderer draws ever closer to our beloved protagonists. Again, the murder mystery and police elements reminded me of the Beka Cooper series, but set in a much nicer part of town.

There is a romance subplot, but it’s not the main plot, and I find that it’s one that I like. It’s a gentle, happy romance, and not an angsty or tension-filled one, and so I found myself actually enjoying it.

Moyer is a poet and a short story writer in addition to being a novelist, and it shows. Her prose is elegant and easy to read, and I was able to flow through the novel in two days. Also, she uses one-sentence paragraphs more effectively than most of the other authors I read; they put a real punch in her writing that makes the story even more effective.

I only have a few minor complaints about the novel, and those may say more about me than the book itself. First, there were two questions regarding the mystery that were never answered to my satisfaction, although the mystery itself definitely was. Also, I was able to predict the ending and a few other major events before they happened. This is only an issue for me because I like—and have come to expect—twisty endings to my books. It was still a satisfying ending, however, and did not majorly detract from my enjoyment of the book.

In summary, Delia’s Shadow is a delightful, graceful novel with an excellently plotted mystery mixed with paranormal elements and a sweet romance, and I absolutely loved it. While the ending was not as twisty as I’ve come to expect, it still fulfilled the promises made in the book. I give it four of five stars, and I’m on my way to read the next two books because I’m sure they’ll both be as delightful as the first.

Jaime’s website.

Delia’s Shadow on Goodreads.

Delia’s Shadow on Amazon.

ARC Review: The Dinosaur Lords

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A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán’s splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from a friend. This has in no way affected my review. Dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs on a Richard Anderson cover with a GRRM cover-quote. I feel like reviewing this book is going to be completely redundant.

I first want to note that I have been anticipating this book so highly, and worked so hard to find myself an advance copy to read, because of that cover and its art. I’ve actually done this with a fair number of Tor books, including some without Richard Anderson cover art, and despite the old adage, I do sometimes judge a book by its cover. Cover art is important, and Irene Gallo did a brilliant job commissioning the art on this one. I’m nearly as excited about seeing the art for its sequel (Yes, there will be a sequel!) as I am for the book itself. To everyone who contributes to making these books look so awesome, thank you. And now, back to talking about this book specifically.

Dinosaurs.

The premise is, obviously, what made me pick this book up in the first place. I saw Jurassic Park when I was a kid. I had my dinosaur phase. I’m still having it, if I’m honest. Two little dinosaur figures live on my desk at work, and I went to see Jurassic World right after it came out. I fondly remember the Dinotopia days, and so I’ve been wanting more novels with dinosaurs. Dragons are all fine and good, as are other mythological or otherwise invented beasts, but, perhaps because they were once real, nothing can quite compete with the dinosaurs. Even if this book had had a lousy plot and been otherwise miserable, I would have read it all for the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs.

They’re used quite heavily, too. Figuratively and literally. Milán realizes what a gold-mine he’s sitting on here, and he mines it deeply. He has done an incredible amount of world-building around the dinosaurs, right down to the chapter epigraphs that list the various species and explain their uses and quirks. They pervade the society of the novel, and they’re utterly brilliant. The terremoto (You’ll know what I mean when you read it) is a great example of this.

Dinosaurs.

The rest of the world-building is great as well, and I mean that literally. I really want a map to help me understand exactly what’s going on (The ARC didn’t have one. I’m looking forward to getting my finished hardcover with the maps.). It feels like we simultaneously are, and are not, on a different version of Earth’s Europe. The Spanish influence is incredibly strong here, and it shows in the dual names that many places—and species of dinosaurs—have. One of my favorite examples of this is montañazul, a portmanteau of montaña and azul, which is called in English Blue Mountain.

Dinosaurs.

The plot takes a while to get going, and the first section of the book can be quite confusing. I urge you to stick with it. Once the second section starts, things begin to make a lot more sense, and we quickly settle down into following just a few viewpoints in a nice, linear fashion. While the plot still gets bogged down with the worldbuilding at times, it has a good sense of forward drive and it makes for an engaging book.

Dinosaurs.

Other than the occasional drag of the plot, my biggest complaint is the rape scene. (Warning: There’s a rape scene.) It felt largely unnecessary to the plot. Thankfully, Milán appears, at least for now, to be handling the aftermath much better than some other books I’ve read, and I have hopes that he’ll continue to do so in the next book.

Dinosaurs.

And yes, there will be a next book. If I recall correctly, Milán has said that The Dinosaur Lords is the first in a trilogy, which is the first of a pair of trilogies, and we definitely get glimpses of much larger plots beginning to move in the background of the world. They’re only teased at, however, and you can safely push them to the side and focus on the awesome in the rest of the book, though you may want to pay them more attention if you’re reading this at a later date and lucky enough to be able to pick up The Dinosaur Knights immediately after finishing, as I have a feeling it’ll have a lot more of the large-scale plot in the foreground.

Dinosaurs.

Milán did a great job with the diversity of the world, too, not only with the many species of dinosaurs and their abilities, but also with the characters themselves. They come from all walks of life, various nationalities and races, and he does a great job of representing non-straight characters of various types throughout, including casting them into important roles. I’ve come to start expecting at least a minimum of diversity from the novels I read, and the book soared well clear of that bar.

Dinosaurs.

In summary, nobody had sex with a dinosaur. It was the worst dinosaur erotica I’ve ever read. But, if you’re looking for something a little different, while The Dinosaur Lords felt like a mess at the very beginning, once the plot settles down, it is a great dinosaur adventure novel. The diversity of both characters and dinosaurs was awesome, and the eponymous dinosaurs pervade every page of this amazing novel, which lives up to most of the hype of the cover. Four out of Five stars, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series.

Dinosaurs.

Victor Milán.

Amazon.

Goodreads.

ARC Review: Dark Orbit

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in a tor.com sweepstakes. This has in no way affected my review.

DarkOrbit

 

From Goodreads:

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

I had essentially no expectations going into this book–which is unusual for me, these days. Most everything I pick up is either by an author I already know and trust, or upon the recommendation of a large number of friends. My TBR pile is just too big to allow for much else. But I had a review copy of this one, and one of my goals for this year was to start reviewing the books I win in sweepstakes–or why else enter them? So, I read this one.

And I was very pleasantly surprised. The book combines a number of very exciting, interesting elements that I did not expect, and it makes for a quite interesting read. Much of it has some very intriguing scientific basis, and I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity it showed.

The first cool idea is that of the wasters, which grows naturally from the teleportation in the book. The teleportation accepts the limits of lightspeed–but still allows for transportation to seem instantaneous to the user. In essence, to travel 9 light-years away, you also have to travel 9 light-years into the future–and there’s no going back. The explorers of the society have been dubbed wasters, those who travel so often that politics, families, etc. all have little meaning to them. Our main POV character, Sara, is a waster, and the jumps in time that she goes through give her a really cool background–and bring up some questions I’d honestly never asked myself.

But that’s just a small part of it, and almost brushed aside just as a piece of world-building. The real story here is about an accidental first contact with s species of blind humans in a location 54 light-years away from the closest civilization, all set on a planet dangerously near completely undecipherable clumps of dark matter, covered (among other things) with strange multi-dimensional forests that are truly mind-boggling.

The world-building–or perhaps I should say worlds-building–here is superb, but it never gets in the way of the story, and the story is brilliant. I can’t say too much about it without spoiling things, but I will say that it plays to the strong points of science fiction while always being, at its core, a story about the characters, the main group of which are extremely well sketched out.

If I had any complaints with the book, they would be with the ending. Before then, it seemed that things might have a scientific explanation, but some of the character actions and abilities shown near the end verge on magic, which I was not expecting from the science fiction setting. Then again, it’s not like we’ve never had a story where the main character saves the day by shooting torpedoes down an impossible shaft that nobody else can hit by using a mysterious magical power at the end of a science fiction story, so… Your mileage may vary. Just be aware that if you’re looking for pure hard-sf, you will be a little disappointed.

And while I’m on the subject, the science fiction that is mentioned here is really cool. Parts of the novel felt like The Three-Body Problem–except they were exciting the whole time.

The book works very well as a stand-alone, and I did not realize until I was doing some research after reading that it’s not the only book that Gilman has written in this universe–and I’m definitely going to be picking up the other one, and reading it when I can fit it in my schedule.

In summary, Dark Orbit was a complete surprise–and a delightful one, with some really cool science-based world-building, great characters, and a plot that kept me interested the entire time. Even if the ending wasn’t perfectly what I was expecting, the novel as a whole was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I give it a hearty four of five stars.

Also, check out this really cool guest post that she did over at The Book Smugglers.

Dark Orbit on Goodreads.