My Year of Finishing Series!

Happy Holidays!
I’m spending time with family for the next few days (we’ve all been tested negative and been isolated for the past weeks, plus we have masks, so it’ll be a very safe and very strange Christmas, but you know. We make the best of it). I have so many reviews to write as well as my favorite books of the year list to finish, but there’s no way I can get that done before Christmas. So I’m leaving you with this loooong list of mostly great books and promise to catch up after 26th December. I hope you’re all safe and healthy and I wish you wonderful holidays!

Entirely by accident, 2020 turned out to be the year where I finally continued and even finished (!) a bunch of book series I had started. By no means did I finish all the series I have ongoing, but a good chunk of them is now done and I cannot begin to tell you how satisfying it is to get to the end of a long, sprawling story that has been with you for years. Even if the ending didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, it still left me with a feeling of accomplishment.

Now let me tell you about the series I finished (or caught up on) this year and whether they were worth it.

Finished

Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – FABLES

Fables complete serie - The Deluxe Edition - Hardcover - - Catawiki

I finally did it! I finished Fables!!! Now, to be honest, this wasn’t a series I ever intended to rush through. Some volumes were better than others but the overall quality was so good that it felt kind of nice to always have a few more volumes to look forward to. I’ve been reading the deluxe editions in increments, sometimes waiting for the next one to come out, then waiting for the right mood to strike. I have had the final three volumes on my shelf for some time now and all I needed to do to get to the very end was pick them up. Thanks to Covid-19 and the lockdown, I had a lot of time on my hands.
This story about fairy tale characters living secretly in our world, with politcal intrigues, crimes, a full-blown war, dark mysteries, curses, love stories, and everything else you can think of, is exactly the kind of thing I go for. At the beginning I would never have thought I’d come to care so much for random side characters or go out and actually buy all the books in the spin-off series about Jack of Fables… and yet I did. It was the idea that drew me in, but it was the characters that made me stay. There were definitely some weaker volumes but I can totally see myself re-reading the entire thing someday.


Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor – Cups and Thoughts

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Technically, I still have the novella about side characters Mik and Zuzana to read, but I’ve finished the main trilogy after a rather rough start. I first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone years ago and didn’t love it. In fact, I was rather pissed off by the tropes used and the sudden shift in story in that book. On a re-read, however, knowing what to expect, I ended up quite liking the book. Then I continued reading and the series sneakily stole my heart. Laini Taylor’s wonderful ideas and world building are stunning – even if her fictional creatures are maybe a tad too beautiful. The way she wrote about this unwinnable war, about star-crossed lovers, about friendship and death and loyalty and loss… yeah, it worked for me. So much so that, immediately after finishing the second book, I went and devoured the third. Taylor also managed to stick the landing with the ending, delivering a satisfying finale that left me feeling content and mostly happy. I’m definitely still going to read that book about Mik and Zuzana though!


LAINI TAYLOR – STRANGE THE DREAMER

Look, I didn’t expect anything else but I was still surprised at how much this duology touched me. It’s not just Laini Taylor’s exquisite language or her brilliant, faceted characters who are never all good or all bad, it’s also the world building and the plot. Seriously, I can’t find fault in these books and I’ll probably re-read them many times to come.
Any lover of books or fairy tales, anyone who loves learning about different cultures, or who just likes reading about crazy original fantasy ideas will find something to enjoy in these books. Laszlo Strange is so easy to love and his story turns from rather small and intimate into a sprawling epic that I didn’t see coming. I consider this some of the very best the fantasy genre has to offer!


Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea due to be re-released on October 17th with brand new covers and illustrations. : Fantasy

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Earthsea Cycle

Books keep getting added to this series every time I check but for a while, at least, it was the Earthsea Quartet and that’s the part I’ve finished. I still have two short story collections to read but I read all the novels in LeGuin’s beloved fantasy series. This was also prompted by a re-read of A Wizard of Earthsea, a book I didn’t adore either time I read it but one I appreciated much more when I read it the second time, simply because I was looking for different things and noticing different aspects of LeGuin’s genius. When I got to the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, I finally understood why everyone loves this series so much. Man, did that book hit me in the feels! The third one was rather meh but I suspect I may like it more when I’m older and Tehanu, the one that got lots of award nominations and wins, was a thing of pure beauty. There is something special about the Earthsea books. Each is quite different from the previous one, in a way, and yet they all share common themes and LeGuin’s way of conveying emotion almost without me noticing (I mean that in the best way possible).
Reading these books was definitely rewarding and gave me a lot of food for thought.


The Arcadia Project: Borderline; Phantom Pains; Impostor Syndrome von Mishell Baker - Taschenbuch - 978-1-5344-1828-8 | Thalia

Mishell Baker – The Arcadia Project

This is the trilogy where my reading experience has led to a clear recommendation for you guys: Don’t let years pass between books 2 and 3! I read the first and second books soon after they were published and that small-ish gap between them worked fine. But then I waited several years before picking up the third book and I had a hard time remembering everyone’s name and station, who’s currently fighting with whom, how exactly all the magic worked, etc.
That didn’t keep me from enjoying Millie’s story as she handles not only her Borderline Personality Disorder as well as being a double amputee, but also navigating a new workplace (with magic!), her attractive boss, trying to make friends with people who don’t necessarily want to be her friend, and of course all sorts of fairy shenanigans. In terms of representation, this trilogy is amazing! Not only have I never read a story with so many diverse characters in terms of mental health, disabilities, LGBTQIA+, but the best thing is, they are all drawn with care, like real people – some likable, some not so much. These character’s aren’t their disabilities. They are all people, some of whom are gay, some transgender, some with mental health issues, some with physical disabilities, some with disabilities that aren’t visible. Even if there hadn’t been a kick-ass story about humans and fairies, this would be an important trilogy for our time.


FANS WILL WORSHIP THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, BOOK ONE

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + the Divine

I read this comic book series in its entirety (re-reading the first volume) for the Hugo Awards and again, re-reading made everything better. Giving books a second chance is definitely the way to go, because apparently my mood plays a large part in how much I enjoy a book. This series, while it has some slight ups and downs, was overall really fun and exciting.
A pantheon of gods is reborn into regular humans’ bodies who then live like rockstars for two years, after which they will die. Except this time, they seem to die much quicker and it’s not of “natural causes”. There was so much to love here, starting with the art style which I found absolutely stunning. The story also grows bigger and bigger as you follow along. The characters become more fleshed out and I caught myself caring for some of them who I previously didn’t even notice all that much. Overall, this was a great experience, all the more because it sticks the ending.


Die Ära der Zeitreisen | Kultur

Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson – Paper Girls

For this, I didn’t re-read the first volume, which I had also read when the series first started. I liked the Stranger Things vibe but I remember that the story got a little too crazy for me at the end of the first book. As I continued, however, I was just fine with the amount of crazy. Time travel, LGBT romance, meeting your older selves, saving the world… yes please, give me more.
I don’t quite know why, but although I enjoyed every single volume of this 6-volume series, none of the instalments ever got me really excited. It felt a bit like a great mash-up of things that had been done before, drawn quite beautifully, and told well. But not groundbreaking. So it was a solid series, I’m happy I read it, but I don’t think I’ll revisit it.


Robin Hobb – The Tawny Man Trilogy (Realm of the Elderlings)

I first read Assassin’s Apprentice when I was 16 years old (I’m 34 now) and spent the following years devouring more and more of Hobb’s books set in the Realm of the Elderlings. Except with the Tawny Man Trilogy, I kind of hit a slump. I read The Golden Fool in 2012, so it’s been a LONG time. But Hobb wouldn’t be Hobb if she didn’t manage to immerse me in her world immediately and make me feel like no time has passed at all. I finally finished this third trilogy in her series of connected trilogies (plus one quartet). And although this trilogy is done, I will continue on with the larger series and see what’s been happening down South with those Bingtowners and the people in the Rain Wilds. After all, nobody can make me cry like Robin Hobb and her stories have stayed with me throughout the years. I’m actually glad I still have more of them to look forward to.


N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Earth Trilogy

You guys, I know it’s weird that I didn’t gobble up these books right when they came out. The Fifth Season still is one of the most mind-blowing fantasy books I’ve ever read and I wish I could erase my memory of it just to experience it for the first time again! But it’s exactly because it was so good that I waited a while before picking up The Obelisk Gate. And then I saved up The Stone Sky deliberately as a treat. Well, I think I’ve earned that treat by the end of 2020 and so, in December, I finally picked up the finale of this triple Hugo Award winning trilogy.

All caught up

Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda – Monstress

This is the one series on this list that I don’t plan to continue. I had read the first volume when it came out, liked it okay, but not enough to continue. The gorgeous art kept distracting me from the story and the aloof protagonist never managed to get me emotionally involved with her story. But as volume 4 was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, I caught up on the series and am left with the exact same feeling. Cool ideas, stunning artwork, but little emotional impact. I have to concede that this series is just not for me because as far as I can tell, neither writer nor artists are doing anything wrong. I see the appeal and I’m glad so many other people like it, but I don’t feel like reading more of it.
If the next volume is nominated for a Hugo again, I’ll read it but I won’t go out and actively buy a copy for myself.


Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn

So, I had read (or rather listened to) all of the Mistborn books already. First era, second era, all done. But! There was still this little novella set during the first era told from a different perspective on my TBR. I finally picked this one up, not expecting too much from it. I should have known better. Sanderson always delivers, after all!
Plotwise, Secret History doesn’t offer much that’s new, but it was like a behind the scenes look that gives a bit more background information on the larger story and on the Cosmere as a whole. You don’t need to read this to enjoy the Mistborn series but if you’re into the Cosmere, you won’t want to  miss it.


Brandon Sanderson – Skyward

Yeah, there’s no question I’ll always jump on the next book in this series as soon as it comes out. This YA sci-fi series is not Sanderson’s best but I can’t help but love it anyway. You’ll get his trademark twists at the end, you get a cast of lovable characters, great side characters (M-Bot & Doomslug!) and you get an exciting plot that promises even bigger secrets to be revealed in the future.
I also loved how Sanderson has grown in terms of his characters. They still don’t curse, ever, but in Starsight, we get characters who don’t belong to a specific gender and that’s not something I had expected from Sanderson. Way to go and please keep moving in that direction. People and aliens come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. There will be two more volumes in this series so I don’t expect it to be finished before 2023. Until then, we get the next Stormlight Archive book, so I’m not complaining.


Carina's Books: Cover Reveal: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust

I had heard mixed things about this follow-up trilogy to His Dark Materials. With La Belle Sauvage, Pullman convinced me that he could actually pull it off and The Secret Commonwealth was no different. We follow an adult Lyra whose relationship with her daemon Pan is rather fraught. Lots of exciting things happen, of course, but the heart of the story is Lyra and Pan’s struggle to find back to each other emotionally.
Look, this isn’t His Dark Materials and nothing can take away the greatness of that trilogy. Even if the story is very different, the writing style gives me major nostalgia and reminds me how I felt when I first discovered this world as a teenager. So it is a worthy successor and one I intend to follow until the end.


Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Her Pitiless Command

I was thrilled to find out that the book that had felt so much like a series opener was, in fact, a series opener. So I picked up Mirrorstrike soon after it came out. It wasn’t as good as the first book, Winterglass, but then middle volumes rarely are. When the third volume comes out, I’ll be right here waiting for it because the characters and world building are simply too good not to find out how it all ends. And let’s not forget the absolutely stunning language with which Sriduangkaew tells this sort-of fairy tale retelling of The Snow Queen set in South East Asia.


Review: Martha Wells & The Murderbot Diaries | A Study in Murderbot

Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaires

I waited a bit before I picked up the first full-sized Murderbot novel, part five of the Murderbot Diaries. When I did pick it up, it was just as delightful as I had hoped. Murderbot simply has a way of stealing your heart with its hilarious narration and the way it deals with emotions (it would rather not). This series is a source of pure joy and I hope it continues for a long, long time – whether the next one is a novella or another novel, I don’t even care. Just as long as I get more Murderbot and maybe even more ART. Despite all the action and the constant danger, I’d even call this a feelgood series.

Continued a bit

Emma Newman – Planetfall

So I actually only started this series this year but rather than do what I usually do (read book one, then wait forever before I pick up the next), I continued pretty soon after with the second book. Although very different in setting and story type, I was taken with both of these. And since the series is finished, I intend to read the other two books as well. And soon!
Planetfall tells a very interesting story set on a different planet where humans have settled. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, the protagonist holds a highly intriguing secret (well, more than one actually) and things unravel from there.
In After Atlas we get a police procedural set on Earth, but a future Earth where society works a bit different from ours, and not exactly in a good way. I had so much fun reading both of these and I can’t wait to discover where Emma Newman takes the story in the final two books.


The Dark Tower series (9 BOOKS) BY Stephen King-MP3 AUDIOBOOK – ty's cheap DIGITAL audiobook/Etextbook

Stephen King – The Dark Tower

I don’t even remember when I started this series but I think I was still in school. So… very long ago. The first book wasn’t really for me, the second took a while to get going but then I binged books 3 and 4 right after. Wolves of the Calla was the one that made me stall again. It was just too long, had too many side stories, and I was a bit burned out on Dark Tower stuff by then. Newly motivated to continue some series, I picked up Song of Susannah, read it in no time at all and, while not loving it, at least gained my excitement for Stephen King’s writing back as well as the urge to finally finish this epic series. So far, I have managed to avoid spoilers about the ending (thank you, internet, for being so considerate and actually hiding spoilers about this series 🙂 ).


Open Your Door to Centaurs and Unicorns in Across the Green Grass Fields, the Newest Installment of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children Series! | Tor.com

Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children

This series is so hit or miss for me I hadn’t planned on continuing it. But it keeps getting nominated for the Hugo Awards and as a diligent voter, I had to pick up In an Absent Dream. It turns out, this was one of the good volumes and I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ll continue with the next book even if it doesn’t get an awards nomination. Considering how much I hated the third book, that’s pretty high praise.


Series Sunday: Toby Daye by Seanan McGuire – Post Thirty Two of Stay Home Order – Redd's Reads

Seanan McGuire – October Daye

As strange as my relationship with McGuire’s writing is, this is a series I really like so far. Granted, I’ve only read the first two books but they have both delivered exciting, action-packed tales with interesting fairy politics and a protagonist I can root for. I know nothing about the rest of the series (again, thank you, people who use spoiler tags!) but I’m hoping for a certain romantic pairing and to see more of some side characters I’ve grown to like.
I usually read hardly any Urban Fantasy so I’m glad I discovered a series I can follow along, knowing I’ll get a quick read that will be fun and make me feel stuff. I think the Shakespeare quote titles are a bit pretentious and don’t have much to do with the plot but I intend to stay with this series for the next few years. These books (so far) are excellent to get you out of a reading slump.


My Top Ten 2019 Reads (+ 20 More Great Ones) – Book Geek Reviews

Jessica Townsend – Nevermoor

I picked up the The Trials of Morrigan Crow during my holiday (which luckily fell into the time just before Covid-19 hit Europe and everything went into lockdown), then continued on with The Calling of Morrigan Crow in the Summer. I bought the third volume when it came out but haven’t gotten to it just yet.
This is such a heartwarming, whimsical tale with the loveliest found family, great friendships and lots of cool ideas. The world of Nevermoor may be dangerous, but it’s a cozy kind of dangerous if you know what I mean. Following Morrigan on new adventures feels a bit like coming home and the series was definitely worth it for all the warm and fuzzy feelings it gave me.
It’s also nice to have a book series I can gift to the kids in my family that isn’t you-know-what.


My Fancast/Dreamcast: An Ember In The Ashes Series – NJG Entertainment.com

Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes

I remember how the first book in this quartet had me at the edge of my seat THE ENTIRE TIME. Every chapter made my pulse go up because it was so damn exciting and I was so scared for the protagonist! I wanted more of that, but unfortunately, the second book was a big let down. There was a ridiculous, obvious, unnecessary love triangle, the plot was quite weak, and there were none of the tense scenes I enjoyed so much in book 1. I’ll give the next book a chance but I’m not super eager to continue the series at this point. Depending on how well volume 3 does for me, I may just call it quits after that.


Marissa Meyer's Renegades Trilogy is Riveting Superhero Fiction | Den of Geek

Marissa Meyer – Renegades

I was lukewarm about Meyer’s sci-fi superhero series Renegades after reading the first book. Sure, it was fun and easy to read, but it felt a bit unstructured and convoluted. I did pick up the second book because Meyer is my guilty pleasure author and sometimes you just need a book that doesn’t require too much brain power. I enjoyed it well enough, I liked how it fleshed out the world and finally delivered some moments I had been hoping for from the very start.
It’s not great science fiction and not great literature either, but definitely great fun. After the second book, things are perfectly set up for a great climax, so it won’t be too long before I finish the trilogy.


Andrzej Sapkowski – The Witcher

Like many people, I finally picked up the Witcher books because of the Netflix series and I’m not sorry. Not only did the picture of Henry Cavill in my mind greatly enhance the reading experience, but the books themselves also surprised me. My expectations were… let’s say different. I thought tough manly Witcher man would run around slaying monsters. Instead I got a thoughtful exploration of who the real monsters are and a protagonist who, most of all, stands out because of his empathy! So far, I’ve read the two story collections that form the start of the series as well as the first novel. It wasn’t as good as the collections but I’m still invested enough in this universe and its characters that I look forward to the rest of the series.


Netflix verfilmt Bone von Jeff Smith - Anidrom - Animation News

Jeff Smith – Bone

I have a big, chunky all-in-one volume of this series and finally started reading it late last year. This charming tale about three bone creatures trying to survive in a hostile world and find their way home to Boneville starts out so simply and then slowly grows in the telling. At first, it’s this whimsical, cute story, but the more adventures the Bones go on, the bigger the world seems to get. We get mythology, strange creatures, lovable side characters, and a tale that grows up to be rather epic in scope.
I’ve read four out of the ten volumes so far and I’m glad there’s more Bone to look forward to.


Diana Wynne Jones – The Land of Ingary/Howl’s World

This loosely connected trilogy has languished on my TBR for too long. I read and loved Howl’s Moving Castle many years ago but when it was picked for the Sword and Laser book club, I took that chance to finally continue the series instead of re-reading the first book. Diana Wynne Jones writes with such charm and ease that it’s hard not to love her stories.
Humble carpet merchant Abdullah goes on an unexpected and rather wild adventure that was too delightful to describe here. Howl and Sophie do make an appearance, but this is clearly Abdullah’s book. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy next year. Whenever I need a book that feels like balm for my soul, I’ll pick this up.

So this is it… I swear I didn’t set out to do this at the beginning of the year. I planned on catching up on some series but I never thought I would get so far. It’s been incredibly rewarding, especially when I was reminded again, after years of neglecting a series, how much I loved it in the first place and how great it was to return to that world.
I’ve also discovered that re-reads can do wonders. Books I didn’t like the first time suddenly appeared in a new light or I appreciated things I simply missed before.

How are you handling your book series? Do you wait until it’s finished and then binge it in one go? Do you catch up on the newest volume every year? Or are you like me, which is to say completely unorganized? 🙂

Reading the Hugos 2020: Best Graphic Story

This week’s Hugo category is one where I usually struggle with some of the finalists because – just like in the Best Series category – it’s often volume 7 of a series that’s nominated. When I haven’t read all the previous ones, it’s hard to judge the current finalist.
It gets even more difficult when a series is nominated that I started and didn’t continue because I just didn’t like it that much. Do I push through the missing volumes to see if this one is really great? Do I at least pick up the next (for me) volume and give the series another chance? Do I not read it at all?

It’s a tough one but you’ll find out how I handled the situation below. Let’s just say my plan to read one instalment of each series didn’t exactly work out…

Other posts in my Reading the Hugos series:

The Finalists for Best Graphic Story

    • Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford & James Devlin – LaGuardia
    • Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans – Die Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker
    • Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson – Paper Girls
    • Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda – Monstress
    • Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + The Divine
    • Wendy Xu & Suzanne Walker – Mooncakes

I love Nnedi Okorafor’s writing so it came as no surprise that her Graphic Novel LaGuardia turned out to be wonderful. While two of her novels didn’t work for me so well, I always appreciate the writing, the themes, and the diversity of her stories. Okorafor also has an amazing range – adult fantasy, YA, sci-fi novellas, short fiction, you name it.
This story deals with a future where aliens have landed on Earth and now live among us. In fact, if you want to know how that happened, check out her novel  Lagoon.
It’s very obvious that this can be read as a book about racism. Sure, we’re talking humans and aliens here, but the experiences are based on the same issues. “Random” searches at airport security, groups of people wanting aliens out of their neighborhoods for no discernible reason other than that they are “not like them”, you know the drill. We see this world through pregnant Future’s eyes who has smuggled a plant creature from Nigeria to the US.
Apart from the great story, I also really loved the artwork. It’s vibrant and beautiful, the characters are distinguishable and come to life on the page. I’m sure this will not appeal to everyone, especially the people who like their fiction message-free (as if that even existed!), but I absolutely loved it and will continue reading the series.

I thought that Die: Fantasy Heartbreaker was a strange title for a graphic novel but it all becomes clear in the first chapter and is actually the most fitting title I could have imagined. This is the story of a group of teenagers who play a D&D game their friend created. And then crazy Jumanji-type stuff happens… I don’t consider it a spoiler to say that they are sucked into the game and emerge, two years later, in the real world again, with plenty of scars, both physical and psychological. The bulk of this volume is about their adult selves dealing with what happened to them. And then they get sucked right back into that crazy world and have to finish the game they started so many years ago…
I found the pacing of the first chapter to be way too fast but it really only serves as an introduction. The main plot is much more evenly paced and offered a lot of fun elements. As we visit the imaginary worlds of someone who grew up in the real world, there are a myriad of references to fantasy worlds any SFF fan will recognize. A quasi Middle Earth, the Bronte’s Glass Town, a Gibson-esque Cyberpunk place, and so on. But I enjoy stories mostly for their characters and while the protagonists are interesting and diverse, I had a hard time really getting attached to any of them. But I believe, over time, they can each grow even more interesting. So while this wasn’t an instant hit for me the way Saga was, I will probably continue reading it to see where it goes.

I read the first Paper Girls volume just after it came out and while I liked it, I just wasn’t hooked enough to continue. But when I found out that this series is now finished, that gave me the motivation to pick up at least the second volume. And about five hours later, I had binged the entire series… That tells you already that I was quite entertained by the story of these four 12-year-old girls time traveling through decades, meeting their older/younger selves, or sometimes completely different versions of themselves, and finding out certain things about the future that they probably shouldn’t know. I had a lot of fun, I enjoyed the characters immensely, but when it comes to the story and the sci-fi aspects of it, there wasn’t really anything new here. I’ve also just watched the third season of Dark (start watching it right now if you haven’t!) so my expectations for time travel stories are somewhat higher than they used to be. This is a solid, fun series with great diverse characters that I will gladly recommend. But for the top of the ballot, I needed it to be just a bit more. Oh, and I adore the artwork! Must never forget to mention the artwork. 🙂

I had super high expectations for Mooncakes, not so much that the plot would blow me away, but I hoped it would be a cute, wholesome story about a young girl and a non-binary person falling in love while doing magic. And I kind of got that, but the execution didn’t work for me at all. Any action there was, was over within a few panels. Instead we get lots of time following conversations like “How are you?” “I’m better, thank you. Do you want to sit down?” [Person sits down, they procede to hug or hold hands or smile at each other]. That would have worked really well in a movie but a comic book needs to use what little space it has more wisely. That just wasn’t the case here and many pages felt entirely like filler, rather than pushing the story or characters along.
The plot was also super thin, and I was never remotely worried that something bad could happen to anyone because every threat is just magicked away so quickly, you barely have time to be afraid. I was hoping so much I would love this. I didn’t hate it. I just… nothinged it… which is probably the worst thing a book can do. Leave me completely cold. The artwork was also not up my alley, so this is sadly but clearly at the bottom of my ballot.

I also binged the entire The Wicked + The Divine series in one day, even though I only meant to re-read the first volume and maybe try out the second. I remember not liking the first volume very much when I first read it years ago. This time around, I honestly don’t know what my problem was. Sure, it was only the beginning of a larger story but I found it quite intriguing. So I ended up spending a sunny afternoon with 12 reincarnated gods getting into all sorts of shenanigans, having relationship drama, and saving the world (of course). While I found the volumes varied a lot in quality, the overall story was really great! Paper Girls’ volumes were all steadily good, whereas The Wicked + The Divine had some fantastic and some less great volumes. I was also not a fan of the guest artists’ artwork because I loved the original art so, so much!
But for originality, characters, and overall plot, I think this kicks Paper Girls off my second spot. Plus, I keep thinking about this story more than a week after having finished it and I keep finding new details to appreciate.

The last series I read – another one where I’d read the first volume previously and never continued – was Monstress. I remember mostly enjoying  it, especially the gorgeous art. But the art was so intricate that it kept distracting me from following the actual story.
Even though I only had to read four volumes for this series, it took me the longest. The books are consistently good but never really grabbed me emotionally. It may be that the protagonist is not a particularly emotional person and even when she said emotional things, her expression didn’t let us see that. Whether that’s miscommunication between writer and artist or a conscious choice, I can’t say, but it always kept me at arm’s length from Maika and never let me properly care about her.
The world building is so complex that, unfortunately, pages of info-dumping are needed just to keep the audience somewhat up to date on what is going on, who is fighting whom, what factions exist in this world, etc. etc. While this was always accompanied by stunning art, it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lot of text that isn’t conveyed through story.
Lastly, the art is beautiful but it really didn’t work for me when it came to action scenes. Whenever there was fight, each panel was so damn busy, so filled with detail, that I couldn’t quite follow who was hitting whom, who was getting hurt, and so on.
Another problem I had with the series is that it’s missing focus. We keep visiting new places, introducing new characters, finding out a little bit about who Maika is and what’s going on this world, but as Maika’s such a distant character, I don’t even know what to hope for in this story. If the series is nominated again next year, I’ll read the next volume, but I won’t go out and buy it for myself. Except for Kippa and Zinn, I don’t much care for any of the characters.

My ballot (probably)

  1. LaGuardia
  2. The Wicked  + The Divine
  3. Paper Girls
  4. Die: Fantasy Heartbreaker
  5. Monstress
  6. Suzanne Walker – Mooncakes

It is really unfair to judge single volumes against entire finished series. Sure, officially it’s the latest volume of Paper Girls, Monstress, and The Wicked + the Divine that’s nominated, but those volumes build on the work that was done during the previous volumes. And comparing two finales and one middle volume with two first volumes just doesn’t feel right.
As always, I ranked the books by personal enjoyment but obviously the two first volumes had a much harder time than the long running series. Despite it being only the start of a (hopefully) longer series, I put LaGuardia first even though, as a whole The Wicked + the Divine was more fun to read, simply because there was so much more of it. If it wins, I’ll be super happy, but I also think a series that hasn’t had time to build a loyal fan base yet should get a chance, especially since I enjoyed it so very much and definitely want more of the same.

Mooncakes is clearly on the bottom of my list. I don’t want to be mean, I appreciated the thought behind that book, but the execution is several leagues beneath everything else that’s nominated. It’s important that this book and others like it exist but I honestly don’t see how it would be worthy of an award, especially compared to the other finalists.
Monstress is the one series that I think just isn’t for me. There are things I enjoy about it but the crucial missing element is my emotional envolvement. It’s just not there. If you push the next volume on me, I’ll read it, but I honestly wouldn’t mind never finding out how that story ends.

Up next week: Best Series

Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples – Saga Volume 3

Let the squeeing begin.

saga volume 3SAGA VOLUME 3
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Published by: Image Comics, March 2014
Paperback: 144 pages
Series: Saga #13-18
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: I’m positive, they were a fuckin’ couple.

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never–ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.
From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.
In volume 3, as new parents Marko and Alana travel to an alien world to visit their hero, the family’s pursuers finally close in on their targets.

divider1
From gigantic troll scrotums to a family board game – there is nothing Saga cannot do. The characters have been well established in the first two volumes (collecting issues 1 through 12) and several plot lines have been set up, making our fannish expectations soar. That said, I can’t talk about this third collection without spoiling some events from the previous ones. Consider yourselves warned.

In volume 2, Brian K. Vaughan left us on a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger that came out of pretty much nowhere because just before it, we jumped ahead in time. Volume 3 catches up on how Alana, Marko, and his mother got to be in this latest crazy-dangerous situation. On their way to meet Alana’s hero, the writer D. Oswald Heist, the small family are still pursued by Prince IV, the assassin The Will, and Marko’s ex-girlfriend Gwendolyn. Add to that a couple of journalists too curious for their own good and you’ve got a nice idea of how important the young couple is for the world. Some want them destroyed, others want a bit of revenge, and the journalists just want a good story. This time, though, someone actually catches up to them.

saga gwendolyn

Volume 3 differs in tone from its predecessors. Alana and Marko – and of course Hazel and Marko’s mother – spend almost the entirety of this story at Heist’s residence where, for the first time really, they can think about what it means to be parents and to just have lost a parent themselves. They are still on the run, but not running. They are dealing with the aftermath of all that’s happened, but they get a little bit of rest. Not that you don’t get the blood and violence you’d expect, it simply isn’t as front and center as it was in the previous volumes. Instead, the story focuses on characters and world-building.

With the addition of the wonderful new character, the author Heist, we get a new perspective to the current situation. The war that brought Alana and Marko together has been a given since the series began, one the couple have been questioning since they fell in love, but through Heist, we are offered a point of view by someone who has been thinking long and hard about war and life, and come to the conclusion that a little kindness would go a long way. No wonder he lets the family crash at his place and ends up playing board games with them and reading Hazel wildly inappropriate stories.

The Will’s storyline continues to be interesting, although a bit chaotic. Now accompanied by Gwendolyn and the little slave girl they saved from sex planet (I still shudder at that), they land on a gorgeous planet to have the ship repaired. The Will’s story, almost a parallel to what Alana and Marko are going through, is much more introspective this time, rather than relying on breathtaking action and heartstopping moments of mortal danger. He is haunted by his ex-girlfriend – remember? The spider woman? Yeah… – and seems confused about Gwendolyn. Slave Girl, who finally gets a proper name, was part of my favorite scene so far. Who would have thought that Lying Cat, as cool as she is, can show kindness in such an unexpected place? This rather character-driven episode also shows us that Lying Cat isn’t just a gimmick, a cool creature to add to an already pretty dope world. Lying Cat has a past and Lying Cat has feelings. If I hadn’t already been a total fan, now would be the time that I’d lose my heart to Lying Cat.

Prince IV gets very little screen time – probably because we already got a chunk of his storyline in the last volume and are merely catching up on what the others did in the meantime. But his story did take an interesting spin that would lead us into spoiler territory. I can’t wait to find out what happens with him in the next volume. And I’m still waiting to find out more about his situation, his home, his super-pregnant wife, etc.

I mentioned that some new characters are introduced. Apart from Heist, whom I absolutely adore, Upsher and Doff, two journalists trying to get the scoop on Alana and Marko, help to add both depth and width to the world. Their visit to Alana’s step mother was hilarious, in that it was so utterly believable. Since this is secondary world fantasy/science fiction, you never know where the characters stand on real-world issues. But with these two new guys, who clearly look like a different species, with green-blue skin and webbed feet, we also learn that homosexual couples aren’t accepted in all of the world, and at least sneered at in the parts where they are. Their subplot at first seems like a vehicle for world building but this wouldn’t be Saga, if it didn’t come with a twist.

saga 3 alana

Upsher and Doff also help show off Fiona Staples’ a-ma-zing skills. So far, I have gushed about how she depicts emotion on the characters’ faces, but she does so much more than that. The colors create exactly the right mood for where the story is going, the characters’ clothing and hairstyle tell us about their personality. Marko grows a beard, Alana used to look like a goth, Gwendolyn is always dressed impaccably (she’d look hot in anything, I suspect). I still love how the artwork tells a story all its own and how little details help flesh out the world. This is how comic books should work, right? Art and text complementing each other, coming together to tell an awesome story.

Saga Volume 3 not pack the same punch as volumes 1 and 2 did, but it offers a unique view at the characters we have come to love. There are still monsters and strange creatures, there is a crazy mix of fantasy and science fiction, but it is the small moments of family bliss in a world dominated by war that make this series so special. I crack open the pages and fall into a story that – while brutal and unpredictable – invariably makes me smile.

 MY RATING: 8,5/10  –  Excellent!

divider1Sagasaga one to three

  1. Volume 1
  2. Volume 2
  3. Volume 3

Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples – Saga Volume 2

I don’t read comics an issue at a time. This may be because I love long, sprawling novels and still haven’t quite warmed to short fiction but reading a story one comic book issue at a time feels like chopping a big tale into very small bits. As soon as I get into it, it’s over. So I’ve been waiting for the second collected volume of Saga since I devoured volume one. When it showed up as immediately available on NetGalley, I frantically clicked on the download button and squeed like a little girl. Adobe DRM made it impossible for me to read the book on my boyfriend’s tablet (ugh!) but it only speaks for Saga that I simply couldn’t wait and ended up reading it on my computer screen.

saga volume 2SAGA: VOLUME 2
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Published by: Image Comics, July 2013
ISBN: 9781607066927
Paperback: 144 Pages
Series: Saga #2

My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: I should rewind for a second. This is my old man back when he wasn’t.

The smash-hit ongoing epic continues! Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and alien monstrosities, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters something truly frightening: her grandparents!
Collects Saga issues #7-12

dividerAlana and Marko just got themselves to a mildly safe place – a tree that is also a space ship – and could continue their flight almost comfortably. If it weren’t for Marko’s parents who drop by unannounced and are less than happy to find their only son married to a Landfall girl. At the same time, The Will and Prince IV continue their search for the scandalous couple and their baby. And to make things worse, there’s a new hunter on their trail…

This series manages not only to keep up its whacky style, it turns it up to eleven. Whether it’s a giant with a monstrous scrotum trying to kill our heroes, a “space fetus”, or a rodent medic, Vaughan and Staples’ imagination seems to know no limits. The artwork is stunning as ever, the characters are vivid and don’t all look the same (something I’ve noticed with certain comic artists), their age differences are visible. But there are more reasons to love these characters, because they feel utterly believable, each with their own problems and dreams. Most of all, I was impressed (again) with the depiction of Alana and Marko’s relationship. There is no romanticizing or cheesy scenes. Apart from them having wings and horns, respectively, they could be an ordinary couple trying to make it in our world.

I suspect that this story will continue to grow and end up being about way more than an interspecies war. If it keeps up this kind of quality and suspense, I’m in for the long ride. Ten volumes? Great. Twenty? Why not? Because so far, every issue was better than the last and there are more characters to love or hate, but always with a passion.
The Will and Lying Cat grew on me even more in this volume. Once Will is joined by Marko’s mysterious ex Gwendolyn (whom I love and hate at the same time), things take an interesting turn and plot strings tie together beautifully. There were even a few moments that made me hold my breath and fear for the characters’ lives – until then I hadn’t even known I cared that much.

saga will and lying catI was extremely pleased to see how Marko and Alana met, a scene that added another layer to each of their personalities. The appearance of Marko’s parents temproarily splits the plot in two. Because Hazel’s new babysitter was unceremoniously sent away by Marko’s mother, Marko goes out to find her and his mother follows after him. Which leaves Alana and her new father-in-law on the ship with Hazel. Marko and his mother don’t have much time to talk about relationships or family because they are thrown from one danger into the next. Alana on the other hand, gets some quiet moments, interrupted only by her discovery (yet again) of how babies work.

saga alana readingEvery plot thread delivers a wonderful mixture of action, character development and flash backs to keep me utterly hooked. The only negative I can think of is that Marko’s parents – while featuring throughout the entire collection – don’t get enough depth. Yes, they are layered characters but I was under the impression that I was supposed to care a lot more about them than I did. This being a very, very minor issue (and may just as well be my own fault for not connecting with the characters), my love for the comic series has only grown. So… when is the third collection coming out?

THE GOOD: Amazing characters, crazy ideas, a killer plot – drawn beautifully and vividly. Realistic depiction of Marko and Alana’s relationship. Fantastically narrated by Hazel-at-some-unknown-point-in-the-future.
THE BAD: I couldn’t connect with Marko’s parents as much as I wanted to.
THE VERDICT: Even more highly recommended than volume one (which you should read first, nonetheless!). Possibly my favorite comic books ever.

RATING: 9,5/10  – Pretty close to perfection.

dividerSaga:

  1. Volume 1
  2. Volume 2

Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples – Saga Vol. 1

So, I’ve been hearing good things about this new comic book series. It was the subdued kind if good things, the recommendations on blogs, from readers who actually enjoyed it. There is no hype swamping the internet (although if you go looking for it, you will find tons of rave reviews). This is the kind of graphic novel that everybody seems to recommend without the publisher making a big deal out of it. So naturally, I had to buy it. I read it yesterday in one sitting and… Wow – this thing is brilliant. When’s volume two coming out?

saga volume 1SAGA: Volume One
by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Published by: Image Comics, 2012
ISBN: 1607066019
Paperback: 160 pages
Series: Saga #1 (duh)

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting.

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.
This volume collects the first six issues of the smash-hit series.

dividerMy love for graphic novels is, in the big scheme of my reading addiction, a late addition. I started with the “classics” of the genre with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Moore’s V for Vendetta and Watchmen, the Sin City series and then went on to more experimental (not as tested by the community) comic books such as The Hedge Knight by George R.R. Martin. My boyfriend has been telling me to read Transmetropolitain and The Boys but while they interest me, no recent graphic novel spoke as much to me as Saga. The cover alone promises Tons of Cool Stuff. And it didn’t disappoint.

saga altWe enter on Alana giving birth to her child, with her horned boyfriend Marko helping as much as he can. It becomes clear very soon that (a) they are on the run and (b) there will be a fight about the baby’s name. Writer Brian K. Vaughan doesn’t only combine fanasy and science fiction, he also weds humor with horror, action with emotional scenes and generally adds a bonus of awesome to every page. He also adds something that we rarely see in actiony stories – the protagonists are brand-new parents! Having a baby is challenging enough in a stable world with help from family and friends and I suppose few fantasy writers take up the subject because it complicates everything. It makes for particularly heartstopping moments when not just our competent heroes are in danger, but so is the helpless baby. Plus, I really enjoy reading about relationships after the first bumpy get-to-know phase.

Saga Volume One did so many things right. The dialogue is snappy and brings the characters to life incredibly easy. After only two pages, I felt that I knew – to some extent – who Alana and Marko were, and their love became an inevitability, their voices clear and distinct. Of course, this Romeo and Juliet in space offers more than just a couple of new parents on the run from their respective armies. It is the newborn child that narrates the story and gives this first volume a sense of being a very small part of a bigger picture (which I cannot wait to discover). While they are running away, trying to keep their child safe, they meet all sorts of curious creatures all of which benefited from this story’s medium. I doubt that prose descriptions of the author’s imagination would have done quite the same job. I was especially fascinated with The Stalk and Izabel, both because of the way they are drawn and who they were.

saga izabelThe art in general was totally up my alley. There are characters that are mostly human-looking, but some that are anything but. To my delight, this graphic novel is also full of little details that don’t necessarily pertain to the story but that make you smile when you notice them. For example, the greasemonkey Marko talks about way in the beginning turns out to be an actual monkey mechanic. Call me silly but things like that make me happy. I hope the thought police doesn’t come knocking at my door for liking this little quirk, telling me how wrong it is to portray a group of people (namely mechanics) as an animal, thusly disrespecting them, etc. etc. I don’t mean it that way and you know it. At this point, I must also mention the visit to Sextillion, a place with lots of sexy time going on. Apart from the fact that what The Will finds there is utterly disgusting and made me wince, I was impressed with Fiona Staples’ way of drawing lots of naked ladies (and gentlemen, although I’m not sure about their manners) without going too far. If you are sqeamish, if you have a problem seeing naked breasts or the occasional penis, then this is probably not for you. Also: swearwords. Lots of them. Alana has a filthy mouth and always finds the best insult for every situation.

saga no killing

Alana and Marko aren’t the only characters we follow in these first 6 issues of the series. Naturally, people are out to get them and these people have leaders in high places. One hires a mercenary to kill them and retrieve the child, another one, a robot prince with a TV instead of a head, has to hunt them to get his father’s approval and finally be done with this war. The TV-robot-guy, prince IV, opens a whole world of possibilities because sometimes emotions (or memories?) flicker across his TV screen. I have nothing more to say to that except awesome!There are multiple layers to each of these characters and we only get glimpses for now but enough of a taste to make us beg for more.

That is probably my only negative thing to say here – while the characters were fully fleshed-out and felt real to me (despite the horns, wings, TV heads, etc.), I would have liked to spend more time with them. Action scene follows on action scene, guaranteeing that there is not a boring moment in sight, but I felt this story deserved at least an extra 50 pages. And also, I lied a little. There are quieter moments that focus on the emotional drama, rather than the physical. I realise this is just the opening chapter to a bigger story and I’ll leave it to you to interpret my slight diasppointment. I wanted more. Because it was that good? Yes. Because the story told in this first paperback could have been spread out a bit more to give us more insight into the characters (especially The Will and Prince IV)? Definitely. But if you think about it, me wanting more of the same, and in a larger chunk next time, can’t really be counted as negative, can it?

THE GOOD: Incredible characters, fast-paced action, emotional levels to everything the characters do, and a world that begs to be explored more.

THE BAD: It was too short. The Stalk’s story arc was the only one that really suffered from the abrupt ending point, but I would have liked more in general.

BONUS: Lying cat. Also, The Stalk. That bitch is straight out of my nightmares.

THE VERDICT: If you haven’t guessed yet, I am going to recommend this book to everyone. It’s a fast-paced science fiction odyssey with Romeo and Juliet bickering along the way and super creepy creatures lurking in the dark. It is fun, it is original, and the art is beautiful. Go out and get it (or maybe wait until the second paperback comes out so you don’t have to suffer like me…)

RATING: 9/10  – Pretty close to perfection

dividerSaga:

  1. Volume 1
  2. Volume 2