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Books in the Queue – The Late Summer Edition

Lately, I’ve been switching between reading slump and reading burst and I have no idea what’s going on. For weeks I can’t bring myself to read more than 10 pages, and then suddenly I devour 3 books in as many days. But whether it’s hormonal or related to the weather, I am currently in that motivated, must-read-all-the-books phase. And because we’re already well into the second half of the year, I am tackling some reading challenges and review copies during the rest of the summer.

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Ellen Kushner – Thomas the Rhymer

(Ages ago) I read Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and then forgot almost everything about it. I remember liking the book while I read it but can’t for the life of me tell you the plot or the character names – which could be either because my memory sucks or because the book really was forgettable. So I was hesitant about Thomas the Rhymer – a few pages in, however, I am positively ecstatic. This will be a good one, I just know it!

thomas the rhymerAward-winning author and radio personality Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.
A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence—and captivity—he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen’s parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie.

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Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower #5)

Oh man, The Dark Tower has been with me since I was in my teens. I kind of like spreading out this epic series over many years. But the boyfriend (who finished the entire series in a few weeks after I gave him The Gunslinger) keeps pestering me. He wants me to finish it so we can discuss All The Spoilers. Somehow, I got in the mood again to return to my favorite ka-tet.

wolves of the callaRoland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing south-east through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough…

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Sarah Monette – Mélusine

My one big hope for this year’s Hugos is that The Goblin Emperor takes home the award for best novel. I loved that book so, so much! As I’ve owned a paperback copy of  Mélusine for over a decade, I thought it was time to finally read more by Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette. This sounds dark and tragic and absolutely wonderful (despite the cover).

melusineMélusine — a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption — and destinies lost and found.
Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don’t know his dark past — how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador — Melusine’s citadel of power and wizardry — Felix believed he was safe. He was wrong. Now, the horrors of his previous life have found him and threaten to destroy all he has since become.
Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. Raised as a kept-thief and trained as an assassin, he escaped his Keeper long ago and lives on his own as a cat burglar. But now he has been caught by a mysterious foreign wizard using a powerful calling charm. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay — but for Felix Harrowgate.” Thrown together by fate, the broken wizard Felix and the wanted killer Mildmay journey far from Melusine through lands thick with strange magics and terrible demons of darkness. But it is the shocking secret from their pasts, linking them inexorably together, that will either save them, or destroy them.

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Zen Cho – Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1)

Aaaaaah, I got a review copy of this and I’m so excited! Zen Cho’s novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo wasn’t a great hit with me, but mostly because it was too short. I loved the language and just wanted more time to get to know the characters. Now Cho has written a novel which promises all those things. Plus magic.

sorcerer to the crownIn this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite…
The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…
At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

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Fran Wilde – Updraft

Another review copy! I actually really dislike the cover but I’ve been hearing so many great things from early readers that I couldn’t resist. The story sounds ambitious and intriguing. Having never read anything by Fran Wilde, I’m curious how this will turn out.

updraftIn a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.
Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.
Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.
As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright.

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Now I’m only hoping that my current reading mood persists and I can catch up on everything I missed in July. Seriously, I only read two books in July. TWO! But August looks to be a quiet month at work so I’m hoping I will find enough time to read all these beauties up there.

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Nnedi Okorafor – The Book of Phoenix

Nnedi Okorafor’s wonderful Who Fears Death was one of my favorite reads a few years ago. Naturally, I jumped on most things she’s written since then. Her short story collection Kabu-Kabu was great, with one standout story that I will mention again during this review. A quasi-prequel to Who Fears Death, it was clear that I needed to get my hands on The Book of Phoenix ASAP. It wasn’t what I expected, it wasn’t as good as Onyesonwu’s story, but it had wonderful parts that made up for the messier bits.

book of phoenixTHE BOOK OF PHOENIX
by Nnedi Okorafor

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015
Ebook: 240 pages
Series: Who Fears Death #0.1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: I’d never known any other place.

The stunning stand-alone prequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning Who Fears Death.
They call her many things – a research project, a test-subject, a specimen. An abomination.
But she calls herself Phoenix, an ‘accelerated woman’ – a genetic experiment grown and raised in Manhattan’s famous Tower 7, the only home she has ever known. Although she’s only two years old, Phoenix has the body and mind of an adult – and powers beyond imagining. Phoenix is an innocent, happy to live quietly in Tower 7, reading voraciously and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human.
Until the night that Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated, Phoenix begins to search for answers – only to discover that everything that she has ever known is a lie.
Tower 7 isn’t a haven. It’s a prison.
And it’s time for Phoenix to spread her wings and rise.
Spanning contents and centuries, The Book of Phoenix is an epic, incendiary work of magial realism featuring Nnedi Okorafor’s most incredible, unforgettable heroine yet.

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I have completely rewritten this review three times now and I’m still unable to properly express how I feel about the book. My reading experience sounds much more negative than it was. Yes, I had problems with the book and I didn’t adore it. But I still liked it and enjoyed the read. The Book of Phoenix is a good book that just didn’t go my way. That’s taste for you.

The first chapter was absolutely stunning. In the prologue, Nnedi Okorafor establishes the timeline and makes the connection to Who Fears Death, but the heart of the story is Phoenix’ first person narrative of her own life. Trapped in Tower 7, she is quite happy with her infinite amount of books and the company of her lover Saeed. But a few moments change her entire life and she escapes what she comes to realise has always been a prison, not a home.

Once out of Tower 7, the tight narrative of the opening chapter weathers a little. Phoenix – true to her name – burns bright throughout the novel. She is a fascinating character to follow, not only because she is so distinctly not human, but because she has to find a place for herself in a world that doesn’t want her. Finding her own identity is the one constant of the novel – as futile as her search seems. She looks African but she is the result of experiments, of genetic manipulation, she is made for one purpose alone – and she refuses to be used that way. Wherever she goes, she is made to feel different.

I had several problems with the story, mainly that it felt so haphazardly put together, especially the middle part. The beginning is fantastic, it sets up a world that intrigued me, that I wanted to learn more about. But we abandon that world quickly and don’t explore the purpose of the Towers, the experiments, and their effects on society any further. Instead, we follow Phoenix to Ghana – a part of the book that did offer good, quieter chapters, but it also felt very disconnected from the larger story arc. In fact, I have a hard time defining the larger story arc… Is it a revenge story? An exploration of identity? A science fiction, X-Men type of story? All of these questions can be answered with a “yes” but I was still missing the red thread.

The most interesting aspects for me were Phoenix’ struggle for identity, her balancing act between heroine and villainess, and the way she dealt with her heritage (or what she chooses to define as her heritage). For example, she refuses to ever set foot on a ship, especially not on one travelling from Africa to America. Although she isn’t sure of who she is, where (biologically speaking) she comes from, she feels kinship to the people she meets in Africa as well as to the other specimens from Tower 7. But Phoenix still knows that she doesn’t truly belong anywhere.

The world building could have been great if more time had been invested in it. For example, I positively squeed when the robotic spiders who protect pipelines were mentioned. I know those spiders. In fact, I had read a story about a woman making a strange connection to the artificial intelligence in Kabu Kabu. Here, the story gets nothing but a fleeting mention (which is fine), but I would have enjoyed even more of these little snippets of news. We know about Phoenix and her friends, but we know very little about the state of the rest of the world. Hints are dropped every once in a while, and every time I caught myself super interested in them, but then we never get to see more. It was frustrating but it kept drawing me in.

This is a very angry book, dealing with exploitation, identity, revenge, and sacrifice. If the plot had been more focused I would have adored it. The language managed to pull me back whenever I got bored with the plot, or found myself looking for a way to fit the current chapter into the bigger story. During these boring bits, I kept reading for specific aspects only to end up disappointed that they were dropped. Phoenix has unique abilities cool enough to fill a whole different book. I wanted to see more of the winged man she frees in the beginning, I wanted more background and scenes with Phoenix’ friends. We do get information on where and when Phoenix’ story is set in relation to Who Fears Death but this, too, would have been an aspect that could have been explore even more.

So I have gripes. That’s fine. Nnedi Okorafor is a great writer, but The Book of Phoenix, much like her first contact novel Lagoon, was too meandering for my taste. The pacing was off, the things I liked best were left aside in favor of others. The beginning and the end were by far the strongest parts of the book, with a confusing unstructured middle part. But then, Okorafor throws in sentences here or there that are so perfect, that hit you right in the guts, that I can’t really be too angry about this. A bit of editing, streamlining the plot, and more in-depth treatment of world building and side characters would have made this the perfect book. To me, it really shows that this used to be a shorter story that got turned into a novel. Much of the middle feels like stuffing, rather than necessary plot. So it wasn’t a great book for me, it’s only good (what a thing to complain about, huh?). And now I’m eagerly waiting for Binti, Okorafor’s first foray into space opera.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very Good

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 Second opinions:

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Karin Lowachee – Warchild

Karin Lowachee had been on my radar for a few years. I first stumbled across the beautiful cover of her book Gaslight Dogs (which I got for Christmas last year – YAY!), then a bit of Googling turned up nothing but rave reviews of her military sci-fi novel Warchild. Here we are, me a happy reader and Karin Lowachee plus one fan.

warchild1WARCHILD
by Karin Lowachee

Published by: Aspect, 2002
Paperback: 451 pages
Series: Warchild #1
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: You didn’t see their faces from where you hid behind the maintenance grate.

When Jos’ parents are killed in an attack on their trading ship, the boy is kidnapped by the attackers and then escapes – only to fall into the alien hands of humanity’s greatest enemies. He is soon coerced into becoming a spy against the human race.

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Read that first sentence again. That second person narrative is maintained throughout the entire first part of the novel (after which we switch to first person). I don’t believe I’ve ever read something like this, something that not only works (read: doesn’t throw you out of the story) but is also incredibly effective. Jos Musey, an 8-year-old boy, is hiding on Mukudori, the space ship that is his home. Pirates have invaded, all adults seem to be dead, and he is taken – along with some other children – to the pirate ship Ghengis Khan where the captain Falcone takes a particular fancy to Jos. Because of the narrative choice, this part really feels like it’s happening to you, the reader. I lost count of the number of chills this sent down my spine.

After a year of etiquette training and implied sexual abuse, Jos manages to escape, only to fall into the hands of a man sympathetic to the alien race that humanity has been fighting for years. This symp, Niko, teaches Jos the ways of the alien striviirc-na, as well as fighting and Burndiving (computer hacking) in order to use him as a spy against humanity. Wherever Jos turns, he is a pawn in other people’s wargames, he grows up accompanied by violence and abuse, with few moments of kindness. That alone would have been enough to keep me reading breathlessly. But there’s more.

On a psychological level, this book is AMAZING. Following Jos as he grows up in a war-torn world, not just as a civilian, but right in the middle of the war and seeing several sides of it (there usually aren’t only two) can’t exactly be called pleasurable but it made for a damn good read. Jos’ experience on Falcone’s ship is alluded to and speculated on by many other characters, but we never hear Jos confirm the allegations of rape. There are scenes and memories that could be interpreted this way but Lowachee didn’t go for graphic descriptions of cruelty and abuse. That is commendable, not only because grimdark isn’t always the best way to go, but also because it makes for a much more intriguing story! We don’t know what really happened, we just see the effect his time with Falcone has had on Jos. And this experience is something Jos carries with him throughout the novel and probably for the rest of his life.

Jos’ sexuality is just as ambiguous. This is where the readers’ interpretation comes into play. I may heave read too much into it but I always saw Jos as a gay boy who is simply too emotionally damaged and traumatized to care much about sex at all. There are occasional tender moments between Jos and his teacher Niko, there are obvious advances from another man on Macedon, but you won’t find any official romantic sub-plots here. If you read between the lines, you can see all sorts of relationships forming, but I thought Jos’ reluctance toward any physical closeness was much more realistic than him starting a romance with a shipmate.

Comparisons to books like Ender’s Game are understandable – a child is being trained for war and suffers the consequences of being used as a pawn – but Warchild is a completely different book. Jos’ relationship with his teacher Niko was beautiful and one of the few occasions in which I, as a reader, felt that Jos was somewhat safe. Otherwise, he is a lost boy, without parents, without a home to return to, without a purpose of his own. He is thrown back and forth, never sure where he belongs. Once his time on the ship Macedon begins, he meets other children his age and makes something like friends. If it weren’t for the harsh training, it would be something almost resembling normality.

warchild series

Apart from Jos’ action-packed story, Warchild offers entertainment on several other levels. The striviirc-na culture – leaning on Far Eastern traditions  – fascinated and surprised me. Granted, I don’t read too many books involving aliens but I do like it when aliens show up and differ from humans in more than just physical appearance. The striviirc-na (or strivs) have a caste system, their own language and values, and of course reasons for why they’re not giving up on the war. Lowachee also allows us to discover this new culture through several characters, some basically good, some rather bad, and the rest somewhere in between. These aliens are neither noble savages nor evil monsters – the usual tropes do not apply. In fact, all side-characters, alien or human, are incredibly well-developed.

Some world-building, mostly the part involving human settlements and space travel, is only hinted at. Through Jos’ eyes, we only learn what we need to know or what he picks up on his journey. But the glimpses we get of the reasons for the war, of the deep space carriers, and the jets (space soldiers!) are all fascinating and give the impression of a much bigger world.

Warchild is a disturbing book, a tragic story that does everything right. Apart from an amazing, poignant ending, it handles childhood trauma with great care. Jos’ experiences never feel cheap or used for shock value. They form him as a human and impact every relationship he will ever have. I was deeply impressed with the many layers of this book. Part coming-of-age story, part spy action thriller, part military space opera – all parts awesome.

MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection

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Cory Doctorow – Little Brother

Last year, I watched Citizenfour with some friends. I had read about the whole situation before, of course, but that documentory really hammered in the point. It actually left me quite depressed for a while, and then I did what any SFF fan would do in my place: I picked up some Cory Doctorow books. Calling this science fiction feels almost wrong because it’s not a future vision, nor a very alternate version of our world. Yes, things really are that messed up.

little brother1LITTLE BROTHER
by Cory Doctorow

Published by: Tor, 2008
Ebook: 382 pages
Series: Little Brother #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: I’m a senior at Cesar Chavez High in San Francisco’s sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world.

Marcus aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.
But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.
When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: “M1k3y” will take down the DHS himself.

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Here’s your updated version of 1984 – for teenagers. Sort of. Marcus knows his way around a computer, and makes use of that knowledge in order to, well, be a teenager and do stuff like skipping school without anyone noticing (or at least without leaving proof). Outwitting the school’s gait recognition monitors is nothing special for him and his friends. But when a bomb explodes in San Francisco and Marcus and his friends are found close to the scene, their lives change drastically.

This point in the book was the moment I was hooked, the moment I felt the terror that is so easy to suppress in real life. These kids get taken to a secret prison – they have no idea where they are, how much time has passed, they are barely fed, they are interrogated, accused, psychologically tortured. And the worst thing is, they make Marcus feel guilty even though he had nothing whatsoever to do with the explosion. Here is a teenager who is made to feel like a terrorist because he may have evaded school surveillance to go play a game with his friends…

Little Brother does a fantastic job at conveying the horror that comes with constant surveillance. Whether you explore it on a personal level – do you really want people to know your browser history? – or on a more global one – what if you’re a model citizen but your collected data makes it look like you did something wrong? – it’s always terrifying. In order to bring some balance to his book, Cory Doctorow opposes Marcus with a father who is totally pro surveillance. He wants his country safe and if that means that people know everything he does, all the better. He’s got nothing to hide after all. Right? It’s the same argument I hear from my own family and friends – and it completely misses the point.

Now this may sound ridiculous when talking about a book that is full of paranoia, but Marcus wasn’t quite paranoid enough for my taste. Any reasonable person will be careful with their data by now, but if you’ve actually been taken in by the authorities and interrogated for a week, shouldn’t you be super jumpy? Even more suspicious of everything and anything? Marcus is much more careful after his imprisonment but he also won’t let the DHS win or the fear take over his life. Instead, he takes up arms in the best way he knows – by using the internet and getting like-minded people together. I suppose it makes sense because otherwise, there would be no story. In his place, I would have probably been scared to death and never gone online again…

Here’s another wonderful thing about Cory Doctorow. He knows how to explain things really, really well. The chapter on encription could have gone terribly wrong – either because it was too technical or because it wasn’t made clear enough why it’s important. But Doctorow found the perfect middle ground. He explains how things work in easy-to-understand language but still gets his point across. When things get too difficult, Marcus lets us know there’s crazy maths involved and leaves it at that. You’ve got to trust your narrator to know what he’s doing. These manuals on how Marcus evades the constant surveillance and keeps his privacy are fascinating not only because they serve the plot but because these are things that every person could do.

little brother cover detail

Praise aside, the middle part of the novel was my least favorite, probably because it focused a lot on Marcus’ private life, especially with that girl he met and might be falling in love with. These chapters weren’t badly written, they were just a very generic teenage romance, including the seemingly jealous female best friend and meeting the girlfriend’s parents for the first time. I understand the novel needed more than just the surveillance story line to be balanced, and I didn’t hate this part. But it wasn’t overwhelming either. This isn’t a character-driven book and so the teenage protagonists were all rather bland – but they served their purpose, that of telling a gripping story and getting an important message across.

Towards the end, the pace picks up again and leads to the climax I had been waiting for. Everything is at stake, lives are threatened, things go seriously batshit crazy, and the story is led to a satisfying conclusion. But apart from a good story, I believe this book is incredibly important because it reminds us just what times we are living in. This is not a futuristic story – it pretty much shows the world as it is. But even as we lose most of our privacy (or, in many cases, give it away freely!), this book reminds us that we have a voice and that small changes can make a big difference.

MY RATING: 7,5/10

P.S.: Cory Doctorow, being awesome when it comes to copyright, offers this book on his homepage for free! Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

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As always, second opinions:

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Top Ten Tuesday (on a Friday) – Favorite Books of 2015 So Far

Half the year is over and I am still expecting amazing books to come my way in 2015, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look back at my favorites of the year – so far. The Broke and the Bookish hosted the perfect Top Ten Tuesday – which I missed because I’m slow and also time zones.

2015 has been very good to me book-wise. Despite the Hugo Awards… thing… (you know), a lot of cool things have been happening in fandom and I decided to use this post only for happy stuff. If I close my eyes really hard, maybe the bad stuff disappears?

Once again, Worlds Without End is majorly to blame for my discovery of some great new authors, but I believe The Book Smugglers, Renay, and Justin Landon are the years’s biggest culprits when it comes to me buying books based on recommendations alone. Not only do they all manage to convey true passion for the books they love, they have also never let me down. Stay that way, guys. You rock my world!

Favorite books published in 2015 (so far)

Naomi Novik is stealing everyone’s heart this year. I admit if I hadn’t won that gorgeous hardback copy (with the UK cover – so shiny!), I might have overlooked the book. I’m so glad Justin pushed it on Twitter, and the rest of the world followed with rave reviews. Mine is just one among the many, many posts singing Uprooted‘s praises. Magical Poland, a dragon who is a wizard, a young girl fighting for her best friend, and general badassery by women, all set against a truly frightening adversary – an evil, ancient Wood.

I bought Bone Gap almost blindly after Renay and Ana discussed it on Fangirl Happy Hour and it was a truly magical book. Open it up, start reading, hold your breath, and don’t come up for air until you’re done. It deals with difficult themes – chiefest among them the effect of beauty (and ugliness) – but in such a lyrical way that it never feels heavy-handed. There are plot twists and amazing characters and a magica atmosphere that sucks you right in.

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic was a lighter book than the two mentioned above, a fun adventure set in an original world with characters whose true depth is found between the lines. Parallel Londons, dark magic, a thief, a magician, and some really cool villains. I can’t wait to continue the story of Kell, Lila, and Rhy in the next book. Schwab left us with some intriguing plot threads and the hint of a romance that is totally up my alley. It’s the equivalent of a blockbuster in book form.

Favorite books published before 2015 (but read this year)

Alaya Dawn Johnson just took home two (!) Nebula Awards and I am not in the least surprised. The Summer Prince was an excellent book that defies all genre classifications. Sure, it’s science fiction, and sure it features young protagonists – but it just doesn’t feel like your typical YA sci-fi novel, especially looking at the current climate of dystopian Hunger Games knock-offs (which, in turn, is Battle Royale YA-ified). The Summer Prince is about art, technology, about the conflict between generations, and about a young girl coming of age. The book has stayed with me throughout the year so I think I should upgrade my rating a bit. The books that stick with you after reading are usually the ones that make for a great re-read.

I should have known Theodora Goss’ short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting would wow me but I was still taken by surprise at how perfect these stories were. Goss is like “Cat Valente lite” when it comes to prose but she packs just as much emotional punch, whether her stories are about identity, about fighting disease, or simply about finding your place in the world. The language is lyrical, the characters vibrant, and I already ordered her poetry collection (up for a Mythopoeic Award this year) Songs for Ophelia.

The one graphic novel that took my heart by storm this year is a dark little thing. I bought it mostly because of my plan to read more books in French (and comics are easy because pictures). In Beautiful Darkness, the cute creatures and brightly colorful images juxtaposed with the sinister subject matter could have gone terribly wrong – but it all works beautifully. You want to look away but you can’t. I fell in love with the story, I was horrified at the things these creatures do to each other, at the rawness of their journey. This is exactly what it says on the tin. Dark and beautiful.

I don’t think much needs to be said about the perfection that is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. A novel set after most of humanity has died comes with a lot of expected tropes, most of which Mandel subverts. She opts for a more positive outlook, for a world that isn’t just defined by brutal survival and constant mistrust, but one where people still work together, where they make art, where they keep alive the things that were important to us before the apocalypse. It’s not completely without fault but after making me cry several times, I still closed the book with a smile on my face and filled with hope.

I had read Sanderson’s book Mistborn: The Final Empire a few years ago, enjoyed it, and never continued the series. Now I stumbled across Graphic Audio and decided to splash out and buy the damn things. It was money well spent – I am completely in love with the “movie in your mind” thing. I can’t tell if I would have enjoyed the story as much if I had just read it myself, but with the actors, the music, the sound effects, and the narration, it was nothing short of perfect. It really made the trilogy into an event. Then again, Sanderson does deserve praise. He is known for planning his long (and I mean long!) stories meticulously and it really shows. The plot twists were fantastic, they came out of nowhere, but they didn’t feel cheap either. You won’t find any “Luke, I am your father”s here, the prophecy trope is subverted about a billion times, and in the end, I didn’t just like the books for their twists’ shock value but for the characters that had quietly grown on me over the course of 1000 pages.

Favorite stuff inFandom

Other than books, the year has had its ups and downs. I will not discuss the Hugo Awards because I’ll either end up crying or laughing hysterically. All I can do is hope that this year’s mess made enough people aware of the awards that next year, more people nominate and vote for the stuff they love.

Among the random things I loved this year are these:

Ana and Renay’s biweekly podcast Fangirl Happy Hour is everything I love. They talk about books, movies, TV shows, and fandom. Whether they agree or not, they each have interesting things to say, and when they do love a thing, they love it hard. It’s pretty much impossible not to go out and buy the books they talk about. I love, love, love these two – and not just because they’re responsible for some of my favorite reads ever.

I backed two Kickstarters this year and it’s difficult to say which I’m more excited about. Abigail Larson has been one of my favorite artists for years and Sarah Faire has been on my Goodreads wishlist forever. Unfortunately, a limited amount of books was printed (also funded through Kickstarter) and no more copies were available. Until now! Naturally, I pounced, I backed, and I am now eagerly awaiting this gorgeous little book.
Clockwork Phoenix 5 baited me with a Cat Valente book, but I am just as curious about Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney and the subscription to Mythic Delirium as well as the dozens of other goodies coming my way. I probably won’t see any of the books until next year but that just means I get to spread out my excitement a bit more, right? Right.

My unexpected movie crush of the year is Mad Max: Fury Road. What a joy to watch! When you go to the movies and think you’ll get a vapid action movie (which, you know, is fine) but you are then confronted with a thing of utter beauty, with characters like Furiosa, that’s when you fall in love. My boyfriend and I have seen the movie twice now and it was almost better the second time around. I loved how the two protagonists, Max and Furiosa, say very little but communicate so much. I loved how pretty everything looked – a landscape that is mostly dead was turned into a piece of art. This isn’t the kind of movie where all the best bits are shown in the trailer. Trust me. You want to watch it! The story is amazing, I am completely in love with both Max and Furiosa, and I left the movie theater with a rush of endorphins and a big fat smile. So shiny, so chrome!

Stuff to look forward to

We’ve only hit the halfway mark of 2015, so here a few things coming up that I’m still madly excited about:

I hope that many more cool things will come my way during the rest of 2015 and I’m relying on my favorite people on the internet to point me in the right direction. Now I still have some challenges to catch up on. And you guys – go watch Mad Max!

1

Helen Oyeyemi – Mr. Fox

Even without certain campaigns, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird never stood a chance of getting a Hugo Award or even a nomination. Nonetheless, I nominated it because I loved it so, so much and that’s what the Hugos are all about! After reading that book, I bought everything else I could find by Oyeyemi. This wasn’t as up my alley as Boy, Snow, Bird but Oyeyemi is still an author I want to follow very closely.

mr foxMR. FOX
by Helen Oyeyemi

Published by: Riverhead Books, 2011
Ebook: 336 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Mary Foxe came by the other day – the last person on earth I was expecting to see.

Fairytale romances end with a wedding. The fairytales that don’t get more complicated. In this book, celebrated writer Mr. Fox can’t stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels, and neither can his wife, Daphne. It’s not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold differently. Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair, and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox’s game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice: Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams, or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit?

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Mr. Fox is a writer whose imaginary muse Mary Foxe has qualms about the way he tends to kill off his female characters. In a game of story-telling, the two of them weave fairy tales, play with Bluebeard, and explore their relationship. Then Mr. Fox’ wife Daphne joins in and the relationships become more and more complicated.

You can read this book as a short story collection or a fix-up-novel but either way, it’s never quite clear which parts are reality, which are stories, if Mary is real or just a figment of Mr. Fox’ imagination. Some stories are clearly told by one of the protagonists, others could be attributed to any (or none) of them. This mosaic novel is fairly complex – it needed full concentration to follow the plot, if indeed you can call it plot. I enjoy a novel that challenges me but Mr. Fox gave me headaches. Despite the fixed points of St. John Fox, Mary, and Daphne, it was difficult to find a red thread to follow. This did in no way diminish the pleasure gained from reading each short story on its own merits.

Oyeyemi’s language did not disappoint. I knew I’d discovered a new favorite after reading Boy, Snow, Bird. A writer who can weave such beautiful sentences just couldn’t have written a bad book! The style is lyrical, yet on a sentence level not overly drawn out. The complexity of these stories stems more from my attempt to ground them in reality somehow, which I probably shouldn’t even have tried. There is a fairy tale feel to each story, whether it’s the more obviously fantastical ones in which foxes dress in human clothes, or the more realistic ones (without talking animals).

mr fox alternate coverThe most interesting aspect for me was Daphne’s involvement in the strange relationship between writer and muse. At first, she feels threatened by Mary’s presence (who cares if she’s real or imaginary?), and she worries about her marriage to Mr. Fox. Daphne was an intriguing character who didn’t shy away from examining her own motives for marrying Mr. Fox, the way their marriage has gone so far, and the way she sees other women. When Mary and Daphne meet, I expected what TV taught me to expect – namely that the two would fight or bitch or put each other down. What Helen Oyeyemi did instead was pure, refreshing amazingness! In fact, all relationships between the three protagonists take interesting turns and subvert tropes. Especially the ending was  delicious.

What I was missing a bit was the exploration of Mr. Fox’ tendency to kill his female characters. Mary wants him to question his own motives but I didn’t really see this idea developed much further. The problem is that I’m not sure if I simply misunderstood some of the stories, if my language skills let me down and I missed some subtle nuances, or if Oyeyemi really didn’t want to pursue the topic any further. It took me quite a while to read the novel so it’s probably I who is to blame.

All things considered, I still enjoyed the read and will definitely pick up the rest of Oyeyemi’s books. If the next novel is just slightly more straight forward, I’ll be one happy kitten.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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Other reviews:

(note: It appears I’m not the only one confused by this book. Big sigh of relief.)

1

Laura Ruby – Bone Gap

Looking at the cover and description, you wouldn’t think this is speculative fiction. The reason I picked up Bone Gap was Ana and Renay’s discussion on their Fangirl Happy Hour podcast. Now I can finally go back and listen to the spoilery bits. I loved this book. A deceptively quick read, it really packs an emotional punch and explores some difficult themes through multi-layered characters. A fascinating read that will definitely make it into my years’ favorites list.

bone gapBONE GAP by Laura Ruby

Published by: Balzer + Bray, 2015
Ebook: 368 pages
Standalone
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: The people of Bone Gap called Finn a lot of things, but none of them was his name.

Bone Gap is the story of Roza, a beautiful girl who is taken from a quiet midwestern town and imprisoned by a mysterious man, and Finn, the only witness, who cannot forgive himself for being unable to identify her kidnapper. As we follow them through their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures, acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

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Bone Gap is one of those flow-y books. You know the type. You plan to read just a few pages to see if it’s up your alley, and before you know it you are knee-deep in an adventure without hope of finding a convenient chapter to stop reading. Finn lives in Bone Gap, a small town where everybody knows everybody, and he is known by everybody as a bit of a strange guy. Never looks you in the eye, head in the clouds, very handsome, but distant. And ever since Roza disappeared, things haven’t been the same.

I don’t know how to describe this book in a few sentences, because it is about many things, despite its relatively small page count. It is about Finn growing up and learning things about himself, it is about Roza and how her beauty is a curse as much as a blessing. It’s about Petey, who thinks her face looks like a bee, and whose life is influenced by beauty just as much as Roza’s, and it’s about Sean, a young man forced to abandon his dreams and being, in turn, abandoned by the people he loves.

The tale unfolds through Finn and Roza’s eyes and while Finn does meet a magical horse, his story is still grounded in the reality of Bone Gap. Here, everyday problems are added to Roza’s disappearance – dealing with bullies, getting the girl you like to kiss you, finding a way to talk to your estranged brother… Finn has a lot on his plate, even without the guilt he feels. When Roza was kidnapped, Finn witnessed it but he is unable to identify the kidnapper, which leads most people – his brother Sean included – to not believe Finn at all. After the death of their father, the boys’ mother left them, so Sean was almost expecting to be left again, this time by the woman he loves.

Roza’s story, on the other hand, reads like a dark fairy tale – this is what grounds the book firmly in the fantasy genre (no matter how many times the print “magical realism” on the back cover). It’s not a retelling but the fairy tale I was most reminded of was “Beauty and the Beast”. Except in Bone Gap, a real girl gets thrown into an awful situation and she really has no interest in turning her captor into a prince. Even before her kidnapping, Roza’s life was hard, and the way she reacts to the terrible things happening to her, is part of what makes her so wonderful. I loved this character to pieces and she only gained more and more respect as the story continued.

bone gap bee

I was surprised at the many ways in which this little book broke my heart. A few chapters in, I already cared deeply about Finn, Sean, Petey, and Roza. Then the author throws a few twists our way that are big enough to shatter worlds. Terrible things happen to Roza, so awful in fact that all the other characters’ problems should appear ridiculous in comparison. But Laura Ruby, with her flowing prose and lyrical style, managed to make all characters feel equally important. I had so much compassion for Petey who is considered ugly by the people of Bone Gap, I understood Finn’s guilt about letting Roza be taken, I got why his brother Sean behaves the way he does. The characters and their actions are utterly believable, even when confronted with the fantastic.

This is a magical book whose pages just fly by without you noticing. I read it in a hammock on the beach, in one sitting, and afterwards felt like waking up from a dream. A dream of a Polish girl too beautiful for words (who is not portrayed as arrogant or a villain or a bitch), a young boy trying to find his place in the world, a girl very conscious of the power of beauty (and her own perceived lack thereof), and a man lost and abandoned and desperate.

Rounded with a perfect ending (and Roza’s most badass moment of awesome!) that subverts the tropes of fairy tales, this was a wonderfully engaging, emotional book. It had just the right amount of fairy tale flavor, lovely writing, and a cast of amazing characters. Another excellent publication of 2015 – this is a strong year for speculative fiction with original ideas and character depth.

MY RATING: 9/10  –  Close to perfection!

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Other reviews:

3

Naomi Novik – Uprooted

Sometimes, special books come from unexpected places. I had read the first two Temeraire books by Naomi Novik and, while liking the first one, didn’t like them enough to continue the series. There was something missing that I couldn’t put my finger on, so I pretty much dismissed the author as “just not my cup of tea”. Then I won an ARC (which turned out to be a beautiful finished hardcover – THANK YOU, Macmillan! Really, it’s beautiful.) of this fairytale-esque new novel and it took exactly one sentence for me to fall in love.

uprootedUPROOTED
by Naomi Novik

Published by: Macmillan, 2015
Hardcover: 437 pages
Standalone
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Our dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

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This has to be one of the best opening sentences I’ve read in a long, long time and Uprooted is my favorite book of the year so far. The first chapter does exactly what a good beginning should do. It establishes a world, it introduces the main character, and it sets its hooks firmly into your mind and makes it impossible to stop reading.

Every ten years, the local wizard, called the Dragon, chooses a girl from Agnieszka’s valley and takes her away to his castle. Nobody really knows what he does with them, although they all say he never laid a finger on them. Agnieszka is the right age to be chosen but she isn’t worried. The entire valley knows that her best friend Kasia – beautiful, talented, brave – is the most likely choice. But of course things don’t go as expected and Agnieszka is chosen instead of her childhood friend.

The first few chapters are a bit misleading as to where the story will go. The mood of the novel screams Fairy Tale right from the start, so I thought I’d get a sort of Beauty and the Beast retelling. But while Agnieszka’s first months in the tower are spent cleaning, cooking, and bickering with the Dragon, her presence seems to irritate him more than excite him. She is clumsy, constantly gets her clothes dirty, and stubborn. It’s a match made in heaven. Despite their dislike for each other, Agnieszka slowly learns some magic from the wizard, and we readers learn what his “job” is in the first place (more on that later).

One aspect that made this book so great is Agnieszka’s development as well as her relationship with the Dragon. I understand some people’s criticism of the romantic sub-plot, but it pushed so many of my buttons that I couldn’t help but adore it. These two spend most of the novel bickering, arguing, and generally disagreeing – but it is their differences that make them so compatible. While the Dragon works every spell meticulously and by the book, Agnieszka takes a more intuitive approach and shows amazing talent. But it is only when they work together that their greatness can shine. In fact, her actions are what drives the plot, unlike so many reactive fairy tale heroines.

So Agnieszka is a wonderful protagonist and I loved her cleverness and fierce loyalty, the real main character of Uprooted is the Wood. Its menacing presence can be felt on every page, and the magician’s job becomes much more interesting once you know just how evil that Wood really is. Sometimes, it takes people, sometimes it gives them back, but they are never the same. Other times, it kills anything in its path, it eats entire villages, it ruins people’s lives with disease or madness. As an antagonist, this was one of the more original and disturbing ones, and I completely loved how the Wood’s influence was shown. The author made sure that, once the characters venture into the Wood, her readers are properly scared of what they’ll find there.

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Naomi Novik manages to pack an impressive amount of plot into the 400 pages of this book. Some reviewers mentioned that a trilogy would have been more suitable, but I like Uprooted just the way it is. It builds its world slowly, then relies on Agnieszka’s actions to be the catalyst for change. Her friendship with Kasia is what sets in motion the actions that will lead to a thrilling climax. I loved how front and center this friendship between women was in the novel, but it is also the one part that I had issues with. The fact that Kasia and Agnieszka are friends is explained in the very first chapter, and while we’re told that they’ve spent their entire childhood together and are very close, there wasn’t any time to show us this friendship before Agnieszka gets taken by the Dragon.

But the author makes up for that minor flaw by making Kasia in important character throughout the novel. You’d expect her to be nothing but a memory in Agnieszka’s mind, to maybe be mentioned once or twice, but you wouldn’t expect her to turn into a badass heroine in her own right. Kasia’s development was as gripping as Agnieszka’s and I loved seeing them work together as a team.

uprooted USThe Dragon… oh, the Dragon! This may say more about me than it does about the book, but I adore grumpy guys as romantic heroes. The Dragon was a Mr. Rochester of sorts, albeit a bit more cold-hearted and distant. As I said, Agnieszka spends most of her time disagreeing with him, and even when he should be proud of her or magical abilities, all she gets are off-hand remarks that sound more like criticism than praise. So the sexual tension is pre-programmed and I will go on record and say that the romantic scenes were butterfly-inducing, sexy, and beautifully written. I wouldn’t have minded more of that…

Uprooted is a stand-out novel that can be enjoyed on many levels. It’s a fairy tale (Baba Yaga! Evil Woods! Magic!), it’s a story about place and belonging, about friendship and bravery, about politics and talent. Much like The Goblin Emperor last year, this book stole my heart and I already look forward to reading it again.

MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection

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Second opinions:

 

 

 

 

5

Theodora Goss – In the Forest of Forgetting

I came across Theodora Goss’ name via TV Tropes. Searching for “Mythpunk”, a term coined by Cat Valente (you can see where this is going, can’t you?), Goss was mentioned as a good example of mythpunk writers. It’s easy to see why I pounced on her books once I’d heard her mentioned in the same breath as my favorite writer and even recommended by her at one point. Pouncing was a good decision, I now have another favorite to add to my list!

in the forest of forgettingIN THE FOREST OF FORGETTING
by Theodora Goss

Published by: Prime Books, 2006
Hardcover: 284 pages
Short story collection
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: This rose has twelve petals.

A collection of sixteen postmodern gothic fairy tales from award-winning author Theodora Goss, first published in 2006 by Prime Books and finally made available as an ebook by Papaveria Press. These stories are a treasure for all of those who are already passionate about Theodora Goss’s work, as well as for those who have yet to discover it.

Theodora Goss’ first major short story collection showcases such stories as “The Rose in Twelve Petals,” “The Rapid Advance of Sorrow,” “Lily, With Clouds,” “In the Forest of Forgetting,” “Sleeping With Bears” and many more. Also includes an introduction by Terri Windling and cover by Virginia Lee.

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I should have seen this coming but I am utterly, utterly in love. Theodora Goss is my new writer crush and this collection more than impressed me. I expected mostly fairy tales and mythology played with in interesting ways, and I did get that. But there is so much more to be found here. What struck me most was the stories’ readability. Unlike Valente’s prose, Goss writes almost as if she were sitting across from you, telling you these stories out loud. I planned to read a story or two per night and that worked for the first two days. After that, I ate up the rest of the collection in one sitting.

In the Forest of Forgetting-Tangerine-lilac.inddThe first story, “The Rose in Twelve Petals”, does exactly what it says on the tin. It plays with fairy tale tropes but, while enjoyable, didn’t surprise or overwhelm me. Except then Goss takes on cancer as a subject, and communism, and racism. Don’t think for a second that any of these heavy topics are used like a hammer or for preaching, no, they are gently played with. Goss wraps heavy themes in light words and lets her readers make up their own minds about what it all means. Both “Lily, With Clouds” and “In the Forest of Forgetting” were powerful yet very different stories about cancer, although the first one is much more about ignorant, arrogant sisters with no room for imagination. It’s also about art and how it can change a person’s life. I adored these stories so, so much.

But then “Miss Emily Gray” came along and completely swept me off my feet. Its teenage protagonist gets a little more than she hoped for – for a long time, you can’t be sure if her father’s new wife is an evil stepmother, a wicked witch, or a misunderstood lady. But it is a lot of fun finding out. I also think, Goss writes teenagers extremely well.

“Look at Alice, and Ozma. Literature, at least imaginative literature, is ruled by adolescent girls.”

Until I let Google enlighten me, I didn’t know that Theodora Goss is a Hungarian American writer – but I might as well have guessed. There are several stories that are set in Hungary or feature Hungarians (sometimes Hungarians living elsewhere) and that convey a real sense of place without long lectures or exposition. With that come references, some more obvious than others, to the Soviet Union and Communism’s effect on freedom in general and art in particular. Sometimes, it’s just a throwaway line that sets the scene, sometimes we get a fuller image of how artists were restrained in their creativity. These snippets all paint a full and bright picture – which is why this book counts as a stop on my literary world trip.

I am haunted by ghosts, invisible, impalpable: the ghosts of silver spoons and margarine tubs, the smell of paprikás cooking on Sunday afternoons. The ghost of a country.

However, this is only a small part of the collection’s diversity. One story,  “A Statement in the Case”, is a statement given to the police about a rather mysterious death, we discover distant memories of a dying ballerina in “Death Comes for Ervina”, and there is a recurring character in several stories who I suspect may not be entirely human…

As much as I loved the stories that explore culture, art, death, and cancer, it will always be one particular kind that speaks to me most: the one about the other world, existing just next to ours. In “Pip and the Fairies“, Philippa, the heroine in her mother’s childrens’ book series, returns to her childhood home after many years of being a rich and successful actress. She remembers what inspired her mother to come up with “Pip” and her trips to fairyland – or was it the other way around? Did her mother’s books create her memories? We can’t know for sure but whether it’s all pretend or real magic, it’s wonderful to read.

This is the sort of thing people like: the implication that, despite their minivans and microwaves, if they found the door in the wall, they too could enter fairyland.

The collection ends with a beautiful tale about teenage girlfriends who decide one day to become witches and take lessons with Miss Gray. Their adventures tie together some of the previous stories, but can also be read on their own. Considering that these stories all somehow fit together, I’m sure I missed at least half the connections and clues, reading a story here and there, without giving much thought to the bigger picture. But that just makes me look forward to my first re-read even more. Theodora Goss lets you travel across borders, both real and imaginary, and leads you through story after story in a light, conversational tone. She is like Cat Valente’s less flowery sister. I’ll see you after I’ve bought her entire backlist of books.

MY RATING: 9/10  – Close to perfection!

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4

Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Šejić – Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth

I’ve been waiting so long for this. Re-reading the first volume was entertainment enough for a while but I am so glad I finally got to join the Queens for another adventure. They are as kick-ass as ever and even though the art has changed, the story is still superbly funny.

Rat Queens 2RAT QUEENS: THE FAR-REACHING TENTACLES OF N’RYGOTH
by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Illustrated by: Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Šejić
Published by: Image Comics, 2015
Paperback: 128 pages
Series: Rat Queens #2
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Damn it, Sawyer!

This booze-soaked second volume of RAT QUEENS reveals a growing menace within the very walls of Palisade. And while Dee may have run from her past, the bloated, blood-feasting sky god N’rygoth never really lets his children stray too far.

Collects RAT QUEENS #6-10

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While readers had to wait quite a while to find out what the Rat Queens did after saving Palisade from a bunch of monsters, only one night has passed in their world. If you remember, there was a party, and we begin this second collected volume with its aftermath. More precisely, we see who exactly every one of the girls wakes up to the next morning.

The story is pretty simple this time. Big Bad threatening the city and everyone who lives in it, the Rat Queens come to the rescue and get in quite a bit of danger. All the while, they retain their snarky, no-nonsense policy of awesome. The tone is probably what I love best about this. Neither of the girls has trouble cursing or calling genitals by their name (sometimes even referring to actual genitals).

Not only the dialogue is snappy and unafraid, the pictures follow suit. Unlike in TV-land, where people have sex while wearing all their underwear, the Rat Queens appear appropriately naked when things get steamy. I love how this story doesn’t focus on sex but rather shows it as an integral part in everyone’s lives. Violet, Dee, Hannah, and Betty have bigger fish to fry but hey, when they get the chance to sleep with someone they like, they’ll fucking take it! After all, they never know if they’ll survive the next adventure. Betty also still happily tries any new drug she finds and the effects are hilarious.

rat queens and their weapons

What makes this book especially interesting are the tentacle-induced flashbacks. We know Violet shaves her beard but now we actually get to see why she started. Man, I wish my hair looked as good as Vi’s beard… A glimpse into Hannah’s past was even more intriguing but this is getting close to spoiler territory. Let’s just say, I was surprised and not surprised at the same time and I’m not quite sure how to feel about the revelations yet. But Rat Queens being what it is, the comic never takes itself too seriously, so I shouldn’t either.

Arat queens violet is awesomenother thing any careful reader will notice is the change of art mid-volume. I missed this bit of news when it happened, but Google tells me Roc Upchurch was arrested for domestic violence and Kurtis Wiebe decided to continue the series with a different artist. Stjepan Šejić does a fantastic job, although the change is quite visible. Having fallen in love with the art as much as the story, I felt a certain stubbornness and refusal to like new things. I didn’t want a different Hannah. I wanted my Hannah (if you can’t tell, Hannah is my favorite). But I must also pay all sorts of respect to Šejić who not only kept the characters reconisably the same while making them his own, but also for improving some of them. It may be due to the story line or the art or both, but Violet was the star of this volume in my eyes. The picture on the right is too perfect for words and describes Violet better than any piece of prose could.  And since Šejić kept Sawyer just the way I like him, I am now okay with him taking over the series.

Despite the revealing (sometimes literally) flashbacks, there is clearly still a lot to discover. Secrets want to be let out, backstories want to be told, romances want to develop (or break apart), the city needs to be re-built (only to be wrecked again, I’m sure). I sincerely hope the next volume won’t be quite so long in the making because I still can’t get enough of the Rat Queens. May they fight, may they drink, may they fuck, and may they curse Gary to their heart’s desire. I’ll be right there, following them.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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