FTF Comic Book: Bill Willingham – Fables

This is not a review of the comic book series, or at least not all of it, because I haven’t finished reading it yet. As I write this, the very last few issues are being published, ending the series with #150. My final opinion will depend very much on stories yet to come, but because I am so in love with what I have read so far, I wanted to share with you just a few reasons to pick up Fables.

fables animal farmFABLES
created by Bill Willingham

Published by: Vertigo, 2002-2015
Issues: #1 – 150
Editions: single issues, TPB, deluxe HC
Artists: Mark Buckingham, etc.
Covers by: James Jean (up to issue #81)
João Ruas (since issue #82)

 

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What’s this all about?

In the same vein as best-selling “fractured-fairy-tales” such as Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is Bill Willingham’s runaway hit graphic novel series FABLES. No longer just children’s tales, Willingham has created a new world for these beloved fables…one that exists within our own.When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters created their own secret society-within an exclusive luxury apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side-called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Bigby, Fabletown’s sheriff, and a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the culprit is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.

Where do I start?

That was the first question I asked myself when faced with a ton of comic books, different formats, spin-off and crossover series, computer games, and even more stuff. The biggest help I found on the internet was this post by The Written Word, titled So You Want to Read Fables. The beginning is pretty straight forward but keep an eye on the issue you’re reading. At a certain point, you’ll have to jump into the Jack of Fables spin-off in order to avoid spoilers . Most recently, I read about a crossover episode between Fables and The Unwritten. As I’m not nearly far enough ahead in the series to have reached that particular issue, I’ll worry about that when I get to it.

fables issue 53The next big question is: Do you buy the trade paperbacks or the (super shiny) deluxe editions? Because I like pretty books with pretty covers, I went for the deluxe hardcovers. Let me tell you, they are gorgeous! There are some differences compared to the trade paperbacks, such as little flashback stories, prose stories, or even  1001 Nights of Snowfall, the Arabian Nights of Fables. These are all contained in the deluxe editions at points in the story that Bill Willingham thought suitable. If you buy the paperbacks, some of these will have to be bought separately. Wikipedia has a list of which physical book contains which issues so you can make a nice comparison between the paperbacks and the hardcovers and see what works best for you. As far as my own experience goes, either way of reading them is fine. But it does make a difference whether you hold a big, sturdy hardcover in your hands, with glossy paper, high quality printing and just all around prettiness. If you’re not the kind of person who re-reads comic books or you don’t want to spend that much money, the paperbacks are probably the better choice.

Is it worth it?

Hell yes! The first story arc (and the first half of the deluxe edition #1) called Legends in Exile, didn’t strike me right away as something I needed to read. But once all the characters are introduced in their urban setting, I fell into it. Once I got to know the Fables that can’t be integrated into mundy (read: muggle) society in Animal Farm, I got more and more intrigued. Seeing that not all is well in Fabletown society makes things way more interesting than just following a bunch of characters hiding who they really are.

My love for Sheriff Bigby Wolf knows no bounds, the tension between him and Snow White alone makes this worthwile. Plus, I started really digging the drawing style. It’s not all beautiful or brightly colored but it’s just perfect for the stories it’s telling. The covers, on the other hand, are always stunning!

fables covers

But what really made me go out and buy all the Fables that are currently available in hardcover (plus the entire Jack of Fables spin-off series) was the way seemingly unimportant side characters show unexpected depth in random places. Boy Blue, for example, was a likable guy who is always around, but only when I read The Last Castle did I truly appreciate him as a character. The same goes for Flycatcher – the Fables version of the Frog Prince. Boy, did those two rip my heart out!

Also interesting is the passing of time. While some issues follow up on what has happened before, others jump ahead a year or two in time. The flashbacks and POV switches add another layer of depth to the world. Whereas most of the plot happens in New York, the Fables chosen exile after the Adversary took over their Homelands, we do get glimpses of these fairy tale realms that used to be the characters’ home. Things that seem simple at first turn out to be much more complex and complicated after a while.

reynard fox esquire

Fables contains a world that is bigger than the sum of its parts. I may have come in for the fairy-tales-living-among-us-mundies but I stayed for the people I’ve grown to know and love. Once you know Jack, you’ll laugh at his idiotic schemes. When it becomes clear just how in love Bigby is with Snow, you’ll yearn for the two of them to work out their issues. You’ll rejoice when Rose Red finally finds her place in the world, and you’ll laugh at Flycatcher with tears in your eyes.

My love for Fables took a while to grow but now it is steady and strong and here to stay.

There’s other Fables stuff out there?

I’m only a Fables baby but thanks to the Steam Summer Sale, I went ahead and bought myself The Wolf Among Us, a prequel to the entire comic book series (no prior knowledge needed, no spoilers for the comic books) and have played it a few times since. I will be gushing about that game in a separate post within the next few days. But let it be said here that it is absolutely worth its price.

fairest issueApart from the crossover with The Unwritten (which is on my wishlist now), the women of Fables got their own spin-off series, called Fairest. It’s still ongoing and seeing as Lauren Beukes wrote for it, there is no question I will buy and eat it up.

Some other much shorter spin-offs include Cinderella: From Fabletown, With Love and Cinderella: Fables are Forever as well as Werewolves of the Heartland, a  graphic novel following – unsurprisingly – Bigby Wolf. 2009 also saw the publication of the first illustrated Fables prose novel, called Peter and Max. One look at the cover gives you a clue as to whose story it tells.  1001 Nights of Snowfall is contained in the deluxe editions but not in the paperbacks. It’s not vital to the overall story but trust me when I say you don’t want to miss it.

1001nights of snowfall

If all of that spinning off and prequelling turns your head, there’s a handy Fables Encyclopedia.

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Terry Pratchett – Carpe Jugulum

Apparently, I now suffer severe mood swings when I don’t read enough Terry Pratchett. So it was about time I picked up the last unread novel about the Lancre witches and spent a few evenings giggling merrily away with a Pratchett book. Now that the fifth Tiffany Aching book has been anounced (SO MUCH HAPPINESS!) I don’t even have to feel bad about not having any more witches books to read.

carpe jugulumCARPE JUGULUM
by Terry Pratchett

Published by:  Corgi, 1998
Paperback: 416 pages
Series: Discworld #23
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Through the shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to earth – the earth, that is, of the Discworld – but unlike any star had ever done before, it sometimes managed to steer its fall, sometimes rising, sometimes twisting, but inevitably heading down.

Mightily Oats has not picked a good time to be priest. He thought he was there for a simple little religious ceremony. Now he’s caught up in a war between vampires and witches, and he’s not sure there is a right side. There’s the witches — Agnes, Magrat, Nanny Ogg, and the formidable Granny Weatherwax… And the vampires: the stakes are high but they’re intelligent — not easily got rid of with a garlic enema or going to the window and saying “I don’t know about you, but isn’t it a bit stuffy in here?” They’ve got style and fancy waistcoats. They’re out of the casket and want a bite of the future.

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There’s something to be said for vampires that don’t glitter. Who would have ever suspected that this will be among the criteria by which I judge my vampire fiction? But unsurprising, Terry Pratchett’s vampires don’t only arrive in Lancre with a distinct lack of glitter, they also don’t mind garlic, holy water, and daylight. It’s quite a challenge for the four witches currently residing in the Ramtops, especially with Granny disappeared…

I love the Lancre witches. On many occasions have I said that I hope to become a Granny Weatherwax or a Nanny Ogg when I’m old (I realise they are vastly different people and I suspect I am more of a Nanny but I’ll take what I can get). With Granny gone for a large part of the book, Sir Terry had his hooks firmly set into me. After all, a Lancre without a Weatherwax is just not right. In her stead, the Quite Reverend Mightily Oats has arrived and brings with him a lot of discussion about religion, belief, and all things holy. With everything Terry Pratchett writes, there are wonderful bits of wisdom in everything Granny says. The nature of good and evil is no exception.

There’s no grays, only white that’s gone grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.

This book also marks the first appearance of the Nac Mac Feegle, that race of pictsies so prominent in the Tiffany Aching books. King Verence, after having his mind muddled up by vampires, pays a visit to the local kelda and we get our first taste of the crazy, brawling and drinking Feegles. In addition to that, Count Magpyr has brought his very modern vampire family to settle down in Lancre. Magrat is dealing with her newborn, Agnes still struggles with her split personality, and Hodgesaaargh is hunting a phoenix…

If you think that’s a bit much then I agree. Even with prior Discworld knowledge, there were too many characters and too many side-plots going on in Carpe Jugulum. There’s a reason why the Lancre witches always try to remain a trio. Hopping back and forth between the vampires’ point of view, one of the witches, Mightily Oats, and the vampires’ servant Igor, it all got a bit chaotic. Following the plot is no problem when you know who everybody is, but every time I settled into one plot string comfortably, I was ripped out for a quick visit to another character. These chapter-like breaks (as you know, Discworld novels don’t have chapters) came too often and too quickly.

carpe jugulum french

Normally, the witches books leave me an emotional wreck. The lack of structure and frequent POV hopping prevented this from happening here. Sure, Granny Weatherwax standing on the edge and being gone for most of the beginning of the book was tough. She is such an essential part of Lancre – and Discworld, really – that her absence was all the more painful.

One thing you will always get, however, is humor. Pratchett’s vampires are dangerous and scary, but they also have their quirks. Agnes and Perdita’s interactions, as well as Nanny Ogg just being Nanny Ogg make for more than enough scenes to make you laugh. The stuff that old lady carries around in her stockings leg is astounding.

Why are vampires always so stupid? As if wearing evening dress all day wasn’t a dead givaway, why do they choose to live in old castles which offer so much in the way of ways to defeat a vampire, like easily torn curtains and wall decorations that can readily be twisted into religious symbol? Do they really think that spelling their name backward fools anyone?

I wish there had been more focus in this book, a few characters could even have been cut, and it would have been an excellent read. The way it is, it’s “only” a very good book. Not my favorite Discworld book and probably my least favorite witches novel. Which, all things considered, is not saying very much because the worst book Terry Pratchett can produce is still better than the best many other authors do.

RATING: 7/10  – Very good

divider1The Witches of Lancre:

  1. carpe jugulum frenchEqual Rites
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight

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.

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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

Alan Bradley – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

Flavia de Luce is a companion I don’t want to catch up to. She may not get me as excited as Harry Potter once did, but the upside of that is that I can restrain myself a little bit after every book. And trust me, knowing that there are two more books in this series waiting for me, is a great comfort. Let me never be Flavia-less.

flavia4I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS
by Alan Bradley

Published by: Random House, 2011
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: Flavia de Luce #4
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Tendrils of raw fog floated up from the ice like agonized spirits departing their bodies.

Precocious Flavia de Luce — an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving — is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. Amid a blizzard, the village gathers at Buckshaw to watch famed Phyllis Wyvern perform. After midnight, a body is found strangled by film. Flavia investigates.

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This is my favorite Flavia de Luce mystery so far. Despite work, which is still crazy and time-consuming and tiring, I managed to eat up this book in only a few days. It’s Christmas time in the village of Bishop’s Lacey and Flavia’s latest chemical plans involve catching Saint Nick red-handed. Her eleven-year-old mind may know deep down that there is no such thing as Father Christmas, but Flavia is also enough of a scientist to better make sure there is proof.

But then a film crew comes to Buckshaw – a desperate attempt by Flavia’s father to make some money to be able to keep the house. There will be a movie made at Buckshaw, and famous movie star Phyllis Wyvern will be the leading actress. With her this sparkling movie goddess brings, you guessed it, murder. The police is involved early on but again, it is Flavia who will solve the case and save the day.

I had almost forgotten how charming Flavia’s voice is. She is precocious and clever, yet deeply vulnerable when it comes to her cruel sisters. Jayne Entwistle, the audiobook narrator, brings her to life so perfectly, it’s like you’re there. But despite being funny and playing the grown-ups just right, Flavia is actually quite a tragic character. There hasn’t been a single volume in the series that doesn’t bring up Harriett, her dead mother. As with the books that came before, the family situation and dynamics interested me much more than the murder mystery. Flavia sees her laboratory as a sanctuary and makes do with what love she gets from Mrs. Buckett and Dogger. But it is very clear that she yearns for some affection from her father and some peace from her sisters.

Daphne and Ophelia, the older sisters in question, mostly seem like evil step sisters from a fairy tale. They love telling Flavia that she is an unwanted child, that random things are her fault, that Harriett didn’t want her in the first place. But there are those rare moments of de Luce truce, when they show that, despite their practical jokes and evil jibes, they do love their little sister – even if they only admit it unwillingly. Dogger, the man for odd jobs in the house, is still one of my favorite characters, and Aunt Felicity showed a surprising new side that made me grin for an entire afternoon. Should people stop being killed in their vicinity some day, the de Luce family would still never be boring.

With the arrival of the famous and beloved film star Phyllis Wyvern comes another treat for fans of the series. A performance of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet brings almost the entire village to Buckshaw. It’s been a while since I read the last book, but seeing old characters again was like meeting up with old friends. The word that keeps coming to mind is delighful. All their quirks combined in one place, it’s like an explosion of hilarity just waiting to happen.

Everything about this book was wonderful. Flavia is still one of the coolest, most bad-ass child characters I have ever read about, and I cannot wait to go adventuring with her again. What chemical concoction will she brew up next time to take revenge on her sisters? How will she help the police catch the next culprit (we know there will be another murder evenutally)? And will the family ever get over the death of their beloved mother? It almost doesn’t make a difference because as long as Flavia gets to tell her story, I know I’ll be well entertained.

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The Flavia de Luce Series:flavia series

Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch – Rat Queens: Sass & Sorcery

See, 2014 is full of awesome. The only comic book series I’ve ever really gotten excited about was Saga (My pre-ordered volume 3 should arrive by the end of the month!). But do me a favor and read the description of this comic below. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Now you know why I needed to read this. And it was even more fun than expected.

rat queens sass and sorceryRAT QUEENS: SASS AND SORCERY
by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch

Published by: Image Comics, 1st April 2014
Ebook: 128 pages
Series: Rat Queens #1-5
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: …and what we face now is, alarmingly, one of Palisade’s greatest threats!

Who are the Rat Queens?
A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit. It’s also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief.
This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!

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Lord of the Rings on crack, indeed! Take your average band of mercenary heroes who kill monsters with swagger and style and always something witty to say, make them a diverse group of girls and add a fistful of humor. There you have it – a hilarious comic adventure that I, for my part, will be following closely.

Hanna, Violet, Dee, and Betty are the Rat Queens, a group of mercenaries usually out to hunt monsters for money. However, when they’re off the job, they enjoy drinking, swearing, brawling, and sex. They also curse like sailors and will kick your ass into next week if you dare speak an angry word at their friends. I fell in love with them immediately. And for so many reasons.

Hannah is dressed like a 50ies super heroine but with her necromantic powers, she can turn quite dark. She is also snarky, sarcastic, and fiercly protective of her band of heroines. Violet shaved off her dwarven beard and instead chose the life of a sword-fighting maiden of awesome. Betty, a Smidgen of many talents, was the fastest to steal my heart. Not only is she a lesbian who enjoys sex and lets people know it whenever she can, she also went full Sherlock in one scene, making further investigations unnecessary. Oh yeah, and she mixes a mean drink. Dee – one gorgeous woman, if you ask me – is terrified of social situations and still has to come to grips with her family’s weird belief in a Chthulu-like god.
They aren’t all equally developed characters but I suspect and hope that the writers simply saved up a bit for later issues. I can’t wait to find out more about each and every one of these girls.
rat queens introduction
But these girls’ personalities are just one slice of the pie. Look at them! I cannot express how much I love the way they are drawn. Hannah’s Rockabilly hairstyle rocks. Violet has the face of a fairy tale princess on the body of a well-muscled, normal woman. Betty looks like half child, half goblin (don’t think for one second she is as cute as she looks) and Dee is one beautiful girl with a dark dress sense. None of them look like anorexic models or unrealistically muscly super girls. They have butts, they have boobs, and their faces are all different. There is nothing I dislike more in comics than when characters look exactly the same, except for their hair and clothes. These girls have personality, inside and out.

If you’re worried that Dee is the only Person of Color in this story, you can stop worrying now. The writer and artist seem to have taken the cry for more diversity in SFF to heart. Sawyer, the captain of the guard and keeper of the peace and law in the city of Palisade (and a majorly good-looking man, if I may say so) has dark skin, as do other side characters. But skin color isn’t even a thing in this story. Neither, so it seems, is species. Violet will gladly seduce an orc if she feels like it and Betty certainly doesn’t keep her romantic adventures within the boundaries of her species. You get to see troll women and orc women (something I’ve never seen in any fantasy story featuring those creatures) and what’s more, you get to see them kick ass and be beautiful! Yes, a large woman with gigantic boobs and legs so muscled they look like tree trunks can be pretty.  Especially as she rips your goblin heart straight out of you.

rat queens betty aint no foolThe tone of the story is much lighter than my beloved Saga but this is also the Rat Queens’ strength. The humor is never cheap and it got more than a few chuckles out of me. There is situational humor, sarcastic remarks, highly original swear words (Fucktarts), and clever jokes galore. This hilarity isn’t merely conveyed through text, however. The art shines with it.

Strike that. The art shines, period. I can’t say anything about the style that will make you like it or dislike it. It is so incredibly subjective. But, like Saga, this one really worked for me. The colors are stunning and immediately give every new setting character. The book is also full of little details that aren’t important to the story, but help build the world without clunky exposition in the text. I’m still happy about that little dog with horns that I caught sitting in the corner of a page. I’m pretty sure there is more to discover and will report once I’ve re-read it.

I haven’t told you anything about the story yet – it’s really not necessairy. You take these four girls, put them together, and you got dynamite. But just to make your mouths water a bit more. There are hints of romance, dark secrets of the past, intrigues… also alcohol, drugs, street brawls, lots of blood, and some insanely quotable lines. You’ll find brightly colored pictures of pretty girls with cuts on their faces and battle scars all over their bodies, drinking and sword fighting and kicking copious amounts of ass.

I just pre-ordered the paperback copy. This needs to be on my shelf in all its glory.  Don’t make me for the next one too long. Pretty please? While I’m waiting, I’ll leave you with this glorious bit of fun (click to biggify):

rat queens secrets

MY RATING: 8,5/10  – Excellent!!

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Links of interest:

Terry Pratchett – Feet of Clay

Well, it’s official. The Night Watch will never be the Witches, but as Terry Pratchett goes, I’ll take whatever I can get. Commander Vimes and Captain Carrot are crime-solving again. And this time, golems are involved…

feet of clayFEET OF CLAY
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1996)
Paperback: 416 pages
Series: Discworld #19
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It was a warm spring night when a fist knocked at the door so hard that the hinges bent.

There’s a werewolf with pre-lunar tension in Ankh-Morpork. And a dwarf with attitude, and a Golem who’s begun to think for itself. But Commander Vimes is more concerned about the crime that’s happened. He’s got to find out not only whodunit, but howdunit too. He’s not even sure what they dun. But as soon as he knows what the questions are, he’s going to want some answers.

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Ankh-Morpork is in trouble again. Not one, but two murders have happened and Commander Vimes doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s going on. All he knows is that somehow the golems are involved. These giant clay figures can’t speak – nor, technically, think for themselves – all they do is serve and work. Their production has been prohibited but the ones that are already around are allowed to stay. Much to the chagrin of the general population…

As has been the case with the other City Watch novels, I was less intrigued with the murders and the crime-solving, and more with all the other stuff that goes on in Discworld’s capital city. This novel did some interesting things and, in the process, granted the characters an additional layer of credibility. As much as we love Carrot, for example, he is quite surprised and makes some truly idiotic remarks when he finds out one of the new Watch members (a dwarf) is female. Angua tells it to him how it is:

“Female? He told you he was female?”
“She,” Angua corrected. “This is Ankh-Morpork, you know. We’ve got extra pronouns here.”
She could smell his bewilderment. Of course, everyone knew that, somewhere down under all those layers of leather and chain mail, dwarfs came in enough different types to ensure the future production of more dwarfs, but it was not a subject that dwarfs discussed other than at those essential points in a courtship when embarrassment might otherwise arise.
“Well, I would have thought she’d have the decency to keep it to herself,” Carrot said finally. “I mean, I’ve nothing against females. I’m pretty certain my stepmother is one. But I don’t think it’s very clever, you know, to go around drawing attention to the fact.”
“Carrot, I think you’ve got something wrong with your head,” said Angua.

So even Carrot isn’t perfect. But then, neither is Angua. When it comes to golems, she is no fun at all. Being undead herself – even though I’m not sure yet how exactly werewolves work on Discworld – she has a lot of problems with the unalive. What ails her particularly is the fact that golems are just accepted for what they are, while she (and vampires or zombies) has to fight for her rights every day. And usually, it means leaving a place where people have found out about her “condition”.

Let me tell you, it was just lovely to see other sides of these characters. Especially Carrot, who was too good to be true anyway. It’s nice to see him blunder and just blurt out whatever comes to mind. But once his mistakes are pointed out, he goes back to being a Protector Of The People – including undead, unalive, and females.

Having fallen in love with the Discworld through the Tiffany Aching novels, I couldn’t help but grin when Wee Mad Arthur showed up in Feet of Clay. As a professional rat-catcher, no less. Although he is called a gnome, we all know he is a sort of Nac Mac Feegle. And, if you ask me, any book is automatically better if it has Feegles in it.

Despite the interesting social aspects, this book didn’t grab me as much as others. Sure, there were moments so funny that I could have sprayed juice from my nose, and Pratchett is as clever as always. But the plot left me hanging a little. I also think that the new additions to the City Watch spread the story out over too many viewpoints. Men at Arms was perfect in that respect, Feet of Clay felt all over the place and didn’t give some characters enough room to develop.

All things considered, it was a nice read. If you consider yourself a Discworld fan, it’s a no-brainer that you’re going to read them all anyway. And if you’re new to Discworld, I suggest starting either with one of the YA novels (The Amazing Maurice or the Tiffany Aching books) or Guards! Guards!. For me, it’s time for a little break from the Night Watch. I’ll got and see what Death has been up to…

divider1The City Watch novels (Discworld):

  1. Guards! Guards!
  2. Men at Arms
  3. Feet of Clay
  4. Jingo
  5. The Fifth Elephant
  6. Night Watch
  7. Thud!
  8. Snuff

Emma Newman – Between Two Thorns

Emma Newman is a wonderfully charming person on her podcast Tea and Jeopardy. Listening to her always makes me happy. So it was only a matter of time before I picked up one of her books. Look at the pretty covers. Look at them! They almost kept me from reading these books. Why? Because Angry Robot had the same artist design the covers for very different books (by different authors), giving an incredibly wrong impression of what readers will find inside.

Between Two ThornsBETWEEN TWO THORNS
by Emma Newman

Published by: Angry Robot, 2013
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: The Split Worlds #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: The night in Bath was the third time Sam’s beer bladder had got him into trouble.

Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.
The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.
There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.
But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

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These books sound so much up my alley that I should have picked them up on publication day. Evil fairies, court intrigue, magic, the real world, a girl who fights for her rights… The reason I didn’t is fairly simple (and also a little sad). The cover artist also did a cover for another book which I hated (the book, not the cover). And so, despite loving the artwork and design, I immediately associated all the bad things about That Other Book* with Emma Newman’s trilogy. Then, after listening to a few episodes of her charming podcast last week, I needed to read the Split Worlds series, never mind the covers.

How delighted I was to discover – again, prejudice on my part – that this wasn’t a YA book and it didn’t feature teenage protagonists. I have nothing against children’s fiction (as my attentive readers will well know) but I just wasn’t in the mood for more pubescent hormonal romance drama that happens to have fairies in it. Between two Thorns is none of that. It features adult protagonists in their twenties or early thirties, which made it all the more interesting to see them deal with this other world that happens to exist next to their own.

The main protagonist is probably Cathy, the rebel daughter of a Fae-touched family, who ran away from home to live in our world, Mundanus, and enjoy everything modern life has to offer. Science Fiction books, movies, videogames, and – oh yes! – human rights. Her home world, the Nether, is a reflection of cities in our world, but the Nether got stuck in the Victorian age. Sure, this gives it some wonderful flair and gorgeously polite dialogue, but it also makes life as a young woman pure hell. Being married off to a stranger is not Cathy’s idea of happiness, so she made a new life for herself in our world. Except, her family are now on to her and will drag her back no matter what she does.

A parallel storyline tells of Max, an Arbiter investigating a mystery in a very noir-ish fashion. He is a sort of peace-keeper between the Fae, the Fae-touched, and us mundanes. While the Fae stay mostly tucked away in the third parallel world, Exilium, they can visit our world, just as Cathy does. And everyone who has ever read some mythology knows that fairies are usually up to no good. In fact, the worst thing that can happen to you is for a fairy to grant you three wishes. You are bound to get something wrong and the fairy will delight in making your life miserable. Charming creatures, really…

As happens frequently, I was drawn to the side characters, and I must commend Emma Newman for her job. Will, the young man that Cathy is supposed to marry for political reasons, seemed like an arrogant and ambitious prick, but showed empathy and humanity when he found out more about Cathy. He is also involved in the not-a-love-triangle. While Cathy had to break up with her mundane boyfriend to cover up for returning to the Nether, Will accepts their engagement as a fact of his high status in society. He tries to make the best of it and get to know Cathy. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t fall for someone else. So you have two likable people who do not want to marry each other, but each have another love interest. I don’t know what you call that exactly, but it is wonderfully done. I couldn’t help but feel with every character involved and want to shake them and scream at them: Just tell her/him!

Apart from fantastic characters, Emma Newman manages beautifully to juxtapose our world with the Nether and made me appreciate my life all the more. Cathy speaks like a regular person (to us readers) but sounds like an alien to her family. When she finally meets a mundane who understands her pop culture references, I felt all her relief and wanted to high-five repeatedly just her for being cool.

The outline of a door burnt into the grass around them and Cathy pulled him [Sam] up and outside of the rectangular shape. Before he could complain, the grassy door swung inwards, revealing the room below. The doorway appeared to have opened in the wall of the room.
“Oh, man, that breaks my brain.”
“It’s like Portal,” Cathy said.

For all that praise, the beginning was hard to get into. The view points changed a bit fast and I didn’t know who everyone was yet. Introducing the story with a minor character, Sam, probably wasn’t the smartest idea, although that scene is what kicks everything else off. In addition (and this is a good thing), Emma Newman did her very best to stay away from infodumps. So it is up to the reader to figure things out for a while. Eventually, we get little snippets that explain how the Split Worlds are set up, how politics in the Nether work, what an Arbiter’s job is. But at the beginning, full attention is required to keep up with the characters, story and worldbuilding. Did I mention there were gargoyles? With souls? Yeah. Add that to your list of awesome.

I am so happy I got over my cover art prejudice (that’s marketing for you) and read this book. The story grew on me and got better and better over time. In the end, one mystery is solved, but another, much bigger one, is still wide open. Emma Newman also managed to leave Cathy’s story hanging on quite the cliffhanger, so you know what I’ll be reading over the holidays.

MY RATING: 7,5/10  –  Very, very good!

The Split Worlds Series:

  1. Between Two Thorns
  2. Any Other Name
  3. All Is Fair

* Fine I’ll tell you. It was Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse. (I don’t lake hating books but if you want to read my rant, here it is)

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Related articles and other reviews:

Wesley Chu – The Lives of Tao

It is officially December and that means the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience has kicked off. My first SFnal read is a book that has gotten a lot of love over the last few months. If it weren’t for the rave reviews, I probably would never have picked this up. The cover isn’t particularly appealing at first (it has grown on me since) and I don’t have a very good track record with Angry Robot titles. But I’m glad I gave this book a chance. It’s the kind of story that begs to be turned into a movie.

lives of taoTHE LIVES OF TAO
by Wesley Chu

Published by: Angry Robot, 2013
Ebook: 460 pages
Series: Tao #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: I once wrote “Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he.”

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.
He wasn’t.
He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.
Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

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This is a fun take on the voices-in-your-head trope. We first meet Tao and his host Edward during a mission and from the very first page, reading their quippy banter and snappy back and forths, I was in love. My first thought was I wouldn’t mind having a Tao in my head. Of course, that opinion changed a lot over the course of the novel, but Wesley Chu has written a fantastic beginning that does everything it’s supposed to. It grabs the reader, immediately makes Tao likable and even manages to break his readers’ heart a little.

Edward, Tao’s host at the beginning of the story, dies in the first chapter (which qualifies this as Not A Spoiler). I don’t usually read blurbs so I assumed that Edward and Tao were the protagonists and I would get to follow the dynamic duo on their secret agent missions. Ah, I thought wrong. When his host dies heroically, Tao quickly needs to find a new human to live in or else he will die. The only options are a dog and chubby Roen Tan…

Roen is the epitamy of a loser. He hates his job, he has one friend, no love-life to speak of, and he’s overweight. So Tao has quite a road ahead of him, getting his new host up to secret agent standards – and making sure he doesn’t go crazy from the voice in his head. Roen and Tao’s relationship evolves beautifully. Of course, Roen believes he is crazy at first, of course he doubts himself and everything Tao tells him about this alien civil war that has been going on for ages and ages, and of course he resists Tao’s request for Roen to get fit.

tao banner
But Roen comes around and his character development is so well done that I’m surprised this is a first novel. Even structurally, the book is beautifully done. The ending did feel a bit rushed and things fell into place a bit too neatly but that’s a flaw I can forgive. The one other thing that bothered me a bit was the love interests. Roen had no love-life and suddenly there are two girls interested in him. So far, so good for Roen (honestly, he deserves some happiness!). But while we get to know Sonya well enough through her interactions with Roen and her own Quasing, Jill remains very flat and mostly shows up on the sidelines. You can guess what girl I was rooting for.

But none of those things were truly important because Tao was my hero in this story. Sure, Roen goes through some amazing developments but Tao had my heart from the first page and just grew on me more and more as the story progressed. He is wise but can get moody like anyone, he has a bigger cause (getting of the planet to go home) but he never loses track of the humans he inhabits and interacts with. Tao is lovable through and through. Had this been a worse novel, I still would continue reading just for Tao.

It is a lot to take in. Conflict does breed innovation, but so does diversity and cultural development. Bringing people together to share ideas is just as powerful a catalyst.

And did I mention that Tao and Roen make a wonderful team? They complement each other, they both have a sense of humor that isn’t lost even in dangerous situations.

“Jesus, did he just shoot at me?” Roen turned the corner and ran north, passing by several rows of cars. Several more bullets hit cars and shattered more windows. “God, he’s trying to kill me!”
Doubtful, he is most likely aiming for a non-vital area.
“Every part of me is vital!”

The writing isn’t perfect. Just in that quote above, the descriptions are a bit clunky and repetitive, but while it may not reach poetic heights, the language flows and keeps you reading. The book mostly lives off dialogue, but let’s not overlook Roen’s inner conflicts. He has big shoes to fill and realising that this alien that is now living in his head will be there forever. Until Roen dies. And he can read all his thoughts. That was the point where I thought being a Quasing host may not be quite as fun as expected – apart from the rigorous training, shooting exercises, spying, stake-outs, and what have you. Roen goes through basic training and remains realistic and likable. Things are hard, he doesn’t excel at everything right away. In fact, at the end of his training, he excels at very few things and that makes him all the more relatable.

Except for the ending – which I dislike for a number of reasons – this was great fun. The Lives of Tao would work so well as a movie, I can’t wait for some big studio to pick it up and just do it. Since the events at the end of the book leave quite a few questions open and offer a lot of room for more conflict, I will be rejoining Tao soon in the ominously titled The Deaths of Tao.

RATING:  7/10  –  Very good

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Related articles

Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms

Oh Carrot, how you’ve grown on me. Even though I read Guards! Guards! twice, once in paperback and once as an audiobook, it never left me as full of squee as the Witches books. But Captain Vimes and Constable Carrot were so likable that I decided to continue the Night Watch books (before reading about Death). And what I’ve learned about Terry Pratchett still holds true – he does get better with every book.

men at arms1MEN AT ARMS
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2005 (1993)
Paperback: 432 pages
Series: Discworld #15
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Cor­po­ral Car­rot, Ankh-Mor­pork City Guard (Night Watch), sat down in his night­shirt, took up his pen­cil, sucked the end for a mo­ment, and then wrote:
“Dear­est Mume and Dad,

What’s so hard about pulling a sword out of a stone? The real work’s already been done. You ought to make yourself useful and find the man who put the sword in the stone in the first place.’
Fate is a word that springs to the lips when to call something coincidence seems mealy mouthed. Destiny is another such. But the problem with destiny is, of course, that she is not always careful where she points her finger. One minute you might be minding your own business on a normal if not spectacular career path, the next you might be in the frame for the big job, like saving the world..

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If Guards! Guards! was enchanting because of Captain Vimes’ gruff but good-hearted ways, Men at Arms came alive through its characters, most lovable and endearing among them Corporal Carrot and the newly-recruited Lance Constable Angua. The Night Watch has grown considerably because of the Patrician’s order to recruit members of different species so they are represented in the Watch. This not only brings us hilarious banter between the troll, Detritus, and the dwarf, Cuddy – two races that generally hate each other, even though neither could tell you why. It also brings us Angua, who most people think has been recruited to represent women in the Watch. Well… she does that, but she also happens to be a werewolf.

The quick succession of point of view “chapters” (if you know Pratchett, you know only his YA novels have actual chapters) made for an engaging read. The last time I raced thorugh a novel this quickly was probably during the summer. The fact that I have been working full-time and spent some of my free time meeting friends really shows just how fantastic this book was. I never thought it would be over so fast.

I’m always most interested in characters. Worldbuilding is great, and plot is of course necessary to keep me interested, but the characters make or break a book for me. I already loved Vimes but Carrot seemed like too much of a goody-goody. He gets a lot of depth in this book, while still being the purest human being I could dream up. Reading about comic relief characters like Cuddy and the inimitable Detritus (who learns to count in the funniest way you can imagine), and especially Angua, was exactly the breath of fresh air the Watch books needed.

Angua’s story in particular appealed to me, not only because she’s a woman (although that’s great), but because she is torn between her two states of being. She is a practical woman who gets annoyed about always being naked when changing back into human form. But she also has a lot to offer as a Watchman. Having a keen sense of smell is the obvious contribution but, much to my amusement, she can also talk to dogs such as Gaspode. That little guy kept showing up and remarking on the affairs of humans and sniggered his way straight into my heart.

Plot-wise, this is a police procedural, complete with interrogating suspects, writing up police reports and figuring out whodunnit. The reports in question made me laugh so hard, I may have snorted a bit. Just warning you… don’t read this in public. And I’m not spoiling why they were so funny, but I’d read the book again just for those two reports!

The ending, in many ways, already shows the direction Terry Pratchett has taken in later books. The murders are resolved, the culprit is found, but there are certain things that have been hinted at in the first Watch book. These things concerning Carrot are never stated but instead subtly used to show character development. I cannot say how much I loved the ending. All of it. At this point, I’d still call the Witches my favorite Discworld sub-series, but even so, I couldn’t stop reading Watch books now if you put a gun to my head.

RATING: 8/10  –  Excellent

divider1The City Watch novels (Discworld):

  1. Guards! Guards!
  2. Men at Arms
  3. Feet of Clay
  4. Jingo
  5. The Fifth Elephant
  6. Night Watch
  7. Thud!
  8. Snuff

Octavia E. Butler – Wild Seed

This year’s Women of Genre Fiction Challenge has led me down many new paths. At first, I was only looking for female SFF writers that I hadn’t read before. One name kept coming up: Octavia Butler. Later, especially with events like A More Diverse Universe happening, I looked into SFF writers of color. Again, Octavia Butler was mentioned probably more than anyone else. So, once again, I have the internet hivemind to thank for discovering an amazing writer.

wild seedWILD SEED
By Octavia E. Butler

Published by: Open Road, 2012 (1980)
Ebook: 320 pages
Series: Patternist #1
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of his seed villages.

When two immortals meet in the long-ago past, the destiny of mankind is changed forever
For a thousand years, Doro has cultivated a small African village, carefully breeding its people in search of seemingly unattainable perfection. He survives through the centuries by stealing the bodies of others, a technique he has so thoroughly mastered that nothing on Earth can kill him. But when a gang of New World slavers destroys his village, ruining his grand experiment, Doro is forced to go west and begin anew.
He meets Anyanwu, a centuries-old woman whose means of immortality are as kind as his are cruel. She is a shapeshifter, capable of healing with a kiss, and she recognizes Doro as a tyrant. Though many humans have tried to kill them, these two demi-gods have never before met a rival. Now they begin a struggle that will last centuries and permanently alter the nature of humanity.

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When I picked up this book, all I knew was that it was going to be the first Octavia E. Butler book I would read and that I liked the cover (my entire basis for choosing this one over her other novels). I didn’t know I would come out at the other end full of emotions and wanting more.

It’s hard to sum up what I thought about this book, but I believe it is, at its core, the story about a war between two people – and a love story. And how close the two can be related. Anyanwu and Doro’s conflicts are amazing in how they change over time. Doro starts out as a tyrant, using people like cattle, to breed and dispose of at his pleasure. Anyanwu is the human counterpart to his cold planning. She cares about people, she wants her children safe, and wishes to be master of her own life. Through all of this, there is one thing I kept reminding myself of: That these are the only two people (that they know of) who are immortal and thus the only constants in each others lives. Children grow old and die, yet Anyanwu and Doro remain. Their power struggles were vivid and engaging to read, and sometimes made me want to rip my hair out.

Doro’s first act as Anyanwu’s “owner” (that’s what he thinks at least) is taking her across the ocean to the New World. The culture shock of being brought to America is nothing compared to what Anyanwu gets herself into with Doro once they’ve arrived at his village. Inbreeding at Doro’s command, losing children and grand-children to the whims of the very man who made her have them, sometimes even fathered them, and coming to terms with a new culture, new clothes and foods, a new language and people treating her like dirt because of her skin color. The way Anyanwu takes on these challenges – in addition to the pain of her outliving any of her children, even if they are not killed by Doro – makes her one of the toughest, most interesting characters I’ve come across in SF.

On another level, the clash between Anyanwu and Doro’s respective immortality, was brilliantly done. Anyanwu is a healer and can simply take care of the most minute part of her body that seems to be ailing or getting older. She controls every cell, can change her appearance, even shapeshift to take animals’ forms. Doro’s way of staying alive – and this is revealed in the very first chapter – is much more cruel, yet I cannot hate him for it either. He needs a human body to inhabit, and whenever that one is spent, he must find another one. The fact that he takes pleasure from this necessary killing makes it easy to hate him in the beginning. But over time, his side of the story grants him depth and some humanity.

Whether it is Anyanwu’s method or Doro’s, their ways of staying alive offer fantastic opportunities to explore race and gender. Anyanwu does have one true form, the way she actually looked after her transition (when her powers came under her total control), but she frequently changes herself into men, even marries a woman at one point. She could be black, she could be white, male or female, but she would always remain herself on the inside. Doro takes a much more practical approach and mostly chooses white male bodies because it makes life a whole lot easier for him. But obviously gender, for these two creatures, is a ridiculous and malleable thing – they even have sex once with Anyanwu in a male body and Doro in a female one.

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Once I got over my shock and wonder at Doro’s cruel breeding of humans with complete disregard of their feelings, his character became more and more interesting. As I understand it, the Patternist series (also known as Seed to Harvest or Patternmaster Series) was not published in the order I’m reading it. Wild Seed is the first book chronologically speaking, but was the fourth in the series to be published. But even had I read the three previous novels, I couldn’t get over the fact that in this story nobody ever asks Doro why he tries to breed people with special abilities. Or what his ultimate goal is. He says he wants to create children that will live, like him and Anyanwu, forever, so they won’t have to watch them die, but I somehow don’t believe that’s the whole truth.

On the other hand, the book was so gripping that I really didn’t care much about the Why. With characters this absorbing and small lives ripped apart so heartbreakingly, who needs to see the bigger picture? That doesn’t mean I don’t want to find out more. What I mean is that this book, the way it is, without having everything resolved and every question answered, is stunning. I wouldn’t change a bit. For hungry minds, there are three more volumes in the series.
I’ll see you again after I’m done with Mind of my Mind.

RATING: 8,5/10  –  Excellent!

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The Patternist Series:seed to harvest

  1. Wild Seed
  2. Mind of my Mind
  3. Clay’s Ark
  4. Patternmaster