Serena’s Review: “Vassa in the Night”

28220892Review: “Vassa in the Night” by Sarah Porter

Publishing Info: Tor, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

Review: Another book that I had on my highlights post for Septmeber that finally showed up a week or so ago! I wasn’t familiar with the original Russian fairytale that inspired this book, so I came into it with very little idea of what it was going to be. Magic in Brooklyn and a Baba Yagga villain. Sounded awesome.

And large parts of it were! The general worldbuilding was very interesting. Your mileage with this will largely depend on how willing you are as a reader to “just go with it” as far as explanations and magic systems. There’s really no explanation for why and how magic exists in this area of the world. Further, the type of magic that is presented is much closer to the nonsense magic seen in “Alice in Wonderland” than to a more outlined and rule-bound magic like “Harry Potter.” That being the case, there is a lot of things popping up here and there with no rhyme or reason and then disappearing just as quickly. Some of these things I particularly enjoyed, like a group of swans that Vassa befriends, and a pair of sinister hands that operate as Babs’ henchmen, essentially.

Other parts felt a bit contrived, however, and as if Porter was simply trying too hard. Particularly some of her efforts to involve nonsense word-play (similar to the Fairyland books I had just read). And maybe having just come off those which were almost the perfect example of nailing this writing style, I was a bit biased against Porter’s attempts here. But I also feel that it was simply not executed well. While nonsense writing can be very insightful, this was clunky and actually confusing. At several points I had to re-read section to try and understand them and then, more often than not, came away with the conclusion that this was just another unexplained element. And while some of these unexplained magical oddities were enjoyable, it didn’t translate here. Dialogue and descriptions needs to be clear, regardless of how little you as an author are providing insights into other magical elements.

Vassa was a very strong protagonist. Her voice was unique and interesting, and I especially enjoyed her relationship with her sisters, especially her elder sister. As I’ve said, I always like sister stories! And, of course, Vassa’s primary partner in crime: Erg, the animated doll. I was both creeped out by and intrigued by Erg. I don’t think I was supposed to be as creeped out as I was, but there were certain elements of her and Vassa’s relationship that was confusing to me. Erg is definitely an intelligent individual with her own opinions, motives, and outlooks on life. So it was very strange switching from her and Vassa debating what do do about some problem or another to Vassa petting and nuzzling her the way you would a kitten. It was strange. But, as I’ve said, so was the whole book.

Ultimately, this book was stronger as a concept than it was as an actual story. There were almost too many weird things thrown in at every moment which prevented me from ever becoming fully invested in the story. I was too busy being confused by some of the writing choices and bouncing from one thing to another to really be able to draw a connecting line throughout the book or form real attachments to characters. There were random chapters inserted here or there attempting to provide some background information that only opened up more doors and left more dangling plot lines (Vassa’s father’s storyline was one of these). While this book is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual dark fairytale set in an urban setting (vs. most urban fantasy which often is the usual, generic, vampires and witches and such in an in every other way normal city), it was too weighed down by its own concept to every really take off.

Rating 6: A unique concept and interesting worldbuilding places too much burden on a confusing plot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Vassa in the Night” is a new book and isn’t included on many Goodreads lists. However, it should be on “Dark Fairy Tales.”

Find “Vassa in the Night” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light”

29277919Book: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle is faced with the most emotional exorcism he’s performed yet… as he begins to learn more about his abilities and what’s really happening around him. Secrets are revealed that will change everything.

Review: If Volume 1 was set up and Volume 2 was getting the wheels into motion, “Outcast: This Little Light” is the pay off, and boy does it pay off and then some. Kirkman has always done a good job of taking a well worn trope (be it zombies in “The Walking Dead” or superheroes in “Invincible”) and breathing new, unique life into it, and “Outcast” is doing the same for the demonic possession story. I’ve said it before, I’m not as scared or disconcerted by demonic possession stories, but “Outcast” is exceeding my expectations.

When we left off in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, Kyle and Anderson had the daunting and heart wrenching task of performing an exorcism on Kyle’s sister Megan. What could have been a frustrating and emotionally manipulative scene was actually done very well, as Megan’s danger didn’t feel like solely a way to get at our male protagonist. Given how these demons work, and given that this plot point is resolved pretty darn quickly and opens up some new plot paths, I was willing to give it a pass. Megan is a character that I am very fond of, as even though this happens to her, she bounces back and remains the tough and awesome sister that I really, really enjoy (yeah yeah, spoiler alert, but it needs to be said). It also opens up more for her to do because of some of the consequences of her temporary possession, especially in regards to her and her husband Mark. Mark is another really well done character, as while he could have easily been the skeptical and cruel brother in law who only serves to doubt Kyle, he’s taking an interesting turn as well. His and Megan’s relationship is one of the more well done and honest portrayals of marriage I’ve seen in a comic, and it serves as a nice counterbalance to the star crossed relationship between Allison and Kyle. While Kyle and Allison may be the couple that you are supposed to root for and invest in, with demons and misconceptions keeping them apart, I am far more invested in the one between Megan and Mark.

We also get a bit more insight into what exactly is going on with the demons regarding their motivations and their weaknesses. Kirkman continues to move the mythology out of the solely Judeo-Christian realm, giving us a bit more to chew on and getting a bit more creative. This, of course, is only adding more tension between Kyle and Anderson, as Kyle is pretty convinced that it has little to do with God, while Anderson is clinging to the belief that it has everything to do with that. It may be easy to say that I’m biased when it comes to this, as yes, I am an agnostic, but I think that by opening up the potential in demonic possession does a few positive things for the narrative. The first is that it makes it unique to other possession narratives. Adding your own spin to a classic story or device is going to make it stand out more, and “Outcast” is definitely standing out against other similar stories that I’ve seen in the past few years. It’s not just the demon mythology either, I am also very interested in what an ‘Outcast’, like Kyle, is, and how it all plays into this mythology. Another is that there’s lots to be said for being inclusive in stories like this, and by opening up more possibilities of explanation, Kirkman is speaking to a wider audience who may be reading this book and hoping for a more relatable evil to vanquish, and a more relatable way to combat it. And finally, at least for me, it’s scarier this way. Without going into specifics, I think that this kind of demonic force is hitting closer to my own personal fears. I like being scared, and this is giving me some serious willies.

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” left on a pretty hardcore cliffhanger, and now that I have fully succumbed to this comic I am definitely itching to see what happens next. Don’t keep me in suspense too long, Image Comics! When does Vol. 4 come out?

Rating 8: Now that the story is in full swing, “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is doing new and interesting things with the demonic possession trope. It’s still a bit weak in some areas (Kyle and Allison), but it’s thrilling in most others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is still not on any lists on Goodreads. Again, try “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”. Oh, and for another intriguing take on possession, give “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” a whirl too!

Find “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Outcast (Vol. 1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”, “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin”.

Not Just Books: November 2016

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

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Movie: “Doctor Strange”

As has been maybe, once or twice, a few times mentioned on this blog, both Kate and I are much more familiar with DC than Marvel, as far as comics goes. And Doctor Strange is by no means the best known character for Marvel either. All I really know going in was magic, “looks like ‘Inception,'” and Benedict Cumberbatch. And…that’s pretty much what it was, though much better on all three counts. I loved the introduction of magic into a current Marvel line up that is feeling a bit tired at this point what with its millions of super-powered beings. The special effects were amazing. Seriously, go to this in 3D if you can, it’s one of the few movies where the extra money would be worth it. And Benedict Cumberbatch was very good. For many people, that’s probably a given. But, while I like him generally, I’ve never bought into the “Cumberbatch worship” fully. In this movie, however, I feel like he proved that he wasn’t a one trick pony (though yes, that trick is very good) showcasing a surprising talent for humor combined with action. Definitely check this out if you have a chance!

mv5bmjeymzexmdcznv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzyzmjczote-_v1_sx214_al_Trailer: “Beauty and the Beast”

Kate and I may have spent a whole Facebook chat essentially “squee-ing” over this one. We have both been obsessively following the complete production of this movie, getting way more excited than 30 year olds really should over things like casting announcements, first look images, and teaser trailers. But here, with the first full length trailer, our excitement seems justified. This looks amazing, especially Emma Watson’s Belle. She feels so perfect for this part. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified that they will somehow mess this one up. But…so far…I’m cautiously optimistic? I would say that my only concern still has to do with the CGI, but it’s also hard to get a sense of that from a trailer. All I have to say is that they better be including all of the songs!!

Here is the trailer.

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Netflix series trailer: “A Series of Unfortunate Events”

I promise that in the future I won’t just pick trailers, but I couldn’t not include this one as well. I confess to having not read the entire series, somewhere at about the 7th or 8th book I became a bit burnt out watching these poor kids just get the wrong end of the stick every time! That said, I loved the first few and the premises’ wacky tone and crazy characters are perfect for a televised series, especially on Netflix which has proven it has the chops to handle just these types of projects (“Stranger Things”/all of the Marvel series). I also wasn’t in love with the movie with Jim Carey. I don’t know, I think I just don’t prefer Carey’s comedic style in general, though I know that he was widely loved for his portrayal of Count Ofal. But Neal Patrick Harris? Love him! I’m really excited to see how this turns out!

Here is the trailer.

Kate’s Picks

mv5bndi4mja2mzuxov5bml5banbnxkftztcwnje0mje2mq-_v1-_cr5369306401_Mini Series Rewatch: “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel”

In anticipation of the new adaptation that aired on PBS this past Thanksgiving, I watched both “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel” (and no, I don’t count the odd third movie in the series as being canon). These movies are so perfectly cast, with Megan Follows playing the very best Anne, but also Colleen Dewhurst as a sufficiently exasperated Marilla and Johnathan Crombie as a DREAMY and earnest Gilbert Blythe. Each and every single character has depth and heart, and it stands the test of time. When I need a serious pick me up, these movies do the trick! And as much as I love Martin Sheen (aka the New Matthew), no one will play Matthew as well as Richard Farnsworth. Ugh. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

beware-the-slenderman-691x1024Trailer: “Beware The Slenderman”

I can get in on this trailer stuff too! Mainly because I’m really looking forward to an HBO Documentary that is coming out early next year, and have watched this trailer a few times. “Beware the Slenderman” is the documentary about two girls who stabbed another girl multiple times, and blamed in on the Internet made urban legend Slenderman. As a fan of the Slenderman lore and a fan of true crime documentaries as well (this should surprise no one), I am very much looking forward to this. Plus, it should be an interesting examination of childhood and Internet culture as well.

Here Is The Trailer.

mv5bnju2nza5mzgym15bml5banbnxkftztgwndawotuxmdi-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Netflix Series: “The Crown”

As someone who considers herself a quasi-Anglophile, I really do love reading about and following the Windsors in England, and really do like Queen Elizabeth II for her pluckiness and toughness. “The Crown” is a new series on Netflix that is about her rise to power, and the scandals that accompanied the Windsors around that time (oooh, Princess Margaret!). Claire Foy plays Elizabeth in this series, and shows her vulnerability along with her dignity and grace. You see the misogyny and sexism that she had to confront when she was heir apparent and then queen as well (even from her own HUSBAND), and it astounds me that Queen Elizabeth has weathered so much in her life because I would have probably cracked pretty early. Plus, you have John Lithgow as WINSTON FREAKING CHURCHILL, which my GOD, isn’t that amazing?  I really do enjoy the series thus far and it makes me want to go back to London….

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Shades of Milk and Honey”

8697507Book: “Shades of Milk and Honey” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Book, August 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Shades of Milk and Honey” is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: “Pride and Prejudice” meets “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Review: As a fan of Jane Austen, I routinely find myself picking up books that have any hint of similarities. And as the description with this one promised a mix of Jane Austen PLUS fantasy, I knew I would have to read it immediately.

In many ways,  Jane lives in typical Regency England. Manners, gentlemen and ladies, balls, and lots of sitting in breakfast rooms gossiping about one’s neighbors. Except, to be a proper, accomplished lady, alongside skills in embroidery, painting, and music, one must also master the art of glamour. Described as folding and weaving light, a glamourist is able to create magical scenes and movement, often for the purposes of impressing one’s neighbors at dinner parties. It seems equivalent with hiring a master painter to create unique portraits for one’s family, essentially. And while Jane’s sister Melody received the looks and charm of the family, Jane is the sister skilled in this specific art.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of this glamour magic. It is such a unique idea and seems to have endless applications. It’s curious seeing it primarily as an art form, as I would imagine there would have to be many other more practical uses for something like this, other than just decorating rich people’s houses. But, like many historical “manners” stories, we are mostly focused on the very privileged lives of our gentry main characters, so I guess seeing it mainly as a form of art makes sense. The whole idea is fascinating and the descriptions of the process of weaving light and the end results were engaging.

As for characters, they were fairly typical fare for a book that is purporting itself as a “Jane Austen read-alike.” It was an interesting mix of storylines and character types from both “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” For fans of Jane Austen’s work and those two books specifically, it was fun spotting the tie-ins. Jane, herself, was a likeable heroine, if perhaps lacking some of Elizabeth Bennet’s spunk. Vincent, too, plays the role of the broody leading man effectively. His backstory was interesting and I enjoyed learning more about his character and motivations.

There were a few problems with the writing itself. For the most part, the language is descriptive and elegant. However, there were times where it seemed that the author couldn’t decide how fully to commit to the language of the time. Words would go back and forth from being spelled in the traditional manner to the modern. And there were even a few words of the time that it seemed the author didn’t fully understand. She used the word “droll” in place of the word “dour” it seemed, several times using “droll” to describe a character who was behaving in a gloomy and stern manner. This was frustrating to see in what was otherwise a very competent novel.

All in all, language quibbles aside, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the next one. As all of Jane Austen’s stories were one-offs, it will be interesting to see what the author does with this story, now that we are beyond the point that any of those books cover.

Rating 7: A very unique magic system, if only marked down for some peculiar language mistakes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shades of Milk and Honey” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy of Manners” and ““Sister” Novels.”

Find “Shades of Milk and Honey” at your library using WorldCat.

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Before The Fall”

26245850Book: “Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley

Publication Info: Grand Central Publishing, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations–all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

Review: For the past couple of years I have been OBSESSED with the FX show “Fargo”. I love the movie, but the show has knocked it out of the park the two seasons it has been on, with a third coming up in the nearish future. I seriously can’t wait because I LOVE this show, and I love how it portrays the deep and violent underbellies of Minnesota life. While still being so damn Minnesotan.

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(source)

Little did I realize that Noah Hawley, the showrunner for that series, is also an author. I didn’t realize this until after I had checked out his most recent novel “Before The Fall”, and once I did I was pretty damn excited and even more intrigued by it. Hawley has a skill for writing and creating complex and nuanced characters, as seen in Bear and Peggy and Molly and Lorne Malvo on the show he’s in charge of. It shouldn’t be much surprise that he brought that same skill and nuance to a number of his characters in “Before The Fall”. Well, a few of them anyway.

Since the cast is characters is pretty big and their fates sealed from the get go, Hawley only has to really show a little bit of motivation for how each person got on this ill fated plane, and what role, if any, they played in it’s crash. Much of the focus, however, is on former addict and down on his luck painter Scott, an artist with a need to try and understand tragedy and accidents even before he survives a plane crash. Scott is by far the most interesting character in this book, because it is mostly through his eyes that we see the aftermath of such a tragedy. I liked Scott as a character, a pretty good guy trying to figure himself out who finds himself the center of a tragedy, and the person that everyone is trying to get answers from. He wasn’t necessarily a hero in a stereotypical sense; he did what he could in an emergency and was able to save himself and J.J., the four year old lone survivor to a media fortune. But of course the fact he isn’t perfect or the ideal heroic figure, that works against him in the eyes of some, which was a fascinating angle to take. He is a wonderful foil to Eleanor, J.J.’s aunt through his mother, who has been thrust into motherhood while in intense grief. Both Scott and Eleanor care very deeply about J.J., but neither of them really know how to adjust to their new roles that have been heaped upon them, be it hero or mother. It seemed kind of on the nose that Eleanor’s husband Doug was just the worst, more interested in dollar signs than his wife or nephew as they navigate their grief, but he just goes to show that Eleanor is strong, and deep. Perhaps his two dimensional characterization is just there to bolster her when she can stand on her own two feet, but I liked having a clear person to hate, so that’s fine!

And along with that, we see how the world tries to make sense, and tries to point fingers towards blame, and how the media (especially media with vested interests in outcomes) can drive a narrative. The media has been accused of influencing people’s opinions a lot lately, especially in the sense of putting info out there that isn’t totally true, or is flat out false. “Before The Fall” focuses a lot on this plot point, as one of the victims, David Bateman, was the head of a Fox News-esque network that is very controversial because of how it spins things or emphasizes sensationalism over facts. The face of the network, Bill Cunningham, is both incredibly stereotypical and yet one of the more intriguing character in the book, as his need to know what happened to his friend and mentor completely clouds his already super cloudy professional judgement. This of course leads to a very bloodthirsty Witch Hunt that his viewers, and other media, partake in. On one hand you feel for him because he’s very clearly in mourning, but on the other he’s such a bastard for exploiting this tragedy for ratings that you can’t help but hate him as well. So yeah, a bit stereotypical, but at the same time you kind of have to wonder about him. He never really gets a full exploration like many of the other players, but isn’t just flat and boring in his wretchedness like Doug. Friggin’ Doug.

I enjoyed how this book slowly revealed the backstories of the victims of the plane crash, showing the things happening in their immediate lives right before their deaths, or in some cases the events that REALLY put them on this path. I do think that it was kind of a fizzle out in some ways, however, as while we get all this background, so much of it doesn’t really end up being totally relevant to the plot and the outcome. But then, that in and of itself is kind of perfect, because that’s the point. Sometimes things happen, randomly, coincidentally, and these things may not actually matter in the long run, at least at the end of all things. These things may just happen but other things outside of your control can change your destiny. That’s the problem Cunningham never quite figures out, and while some may find it to be pointless, I find it poignant as all get out. And so very “Fargo”.

So while it ended up taking me on a long chase and sometimes superfluously, I did end up really enjoying “Before The Fall”. The twists and turns were a fun ride, and I liked how it ended even if it wasn’t what I have come to expect from thriller mysteries such as these. I say check it out.

Rating 8: A well characterized thriller with a lot of interesting plot paths. Though some characters are flat and obvious, many are very intricate and fascinating, and the ideas the book explored were very good.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Before the Fall” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Books of Secrets”, and “What She’s Reading This Summer”.

Find “Before The Fall” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Den of Wolves”

22567184Book: “Den of Wolves” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc, November 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it!

Book Description: Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

Review: I had this book pre-ordered on Amazon, so it showed up the day after it was released, and I was ready. Door closed. Husband, I’ll see you later. I’m going to READ THIS BOOK NOW.

Per the usual, Blackthorn and Grim’s lives are once again caught up in the mysteries of their neighbors. These two never get any peace! This time it comes in the form of a neighboring landholder, Tola, his daughter, a mysterious stranger, and a fantastical heartwood house that Grim is recruited to help build. After befriending the outcast and half-crazed builder, Bardan, Grim begins to suspect a dark secret lingering between the builder and the lord Tola. Blackthorn, for her part, befriends Tola’s daughter, Cara, whose fears of failure and disapproval severely impact her ability to speak to others, but who has a fey-like connection to the woods of her home in Wolf Glen and the birds that inhabit it.

This book follows the established format laid out in the first two stories. Chapters alternate between Blackthorn and Grim’s perspectives, as well as that of a third party character. Here, we have both Cara and Bardan’s perspectives, though Cara is given more page time than Bardan. His own narrative being one filled with confusion, amnesia, and a prevailing madness, Bardan’s chapters only begin to become clear as the story and mystery unfolds, making this uneven allotment more understandable. Cara’s chapters were very enjoyable, over all. Her character is one who is crippled by anxiety, and she represents a unique voice in a story like this, providing insight into challenges that many people face outside of a fantasy setting.

In the first two books, my main criticism (not that it was a strong one or that there were many to begin with) was with these side narrators. Oran was, quite simply, rather boring in the first book. And in “Tower of Thorns,” Geiléis revealed herself as a slightly unsavory character right from the beginning. With both of these, their chapters often felt frustrating, leaving me wanting to rush through to get back to Blackthorn and Grim. Here, Bardan, but especially Cara, are much more enjoyable characters on their own, alleviating some of this tension between page time given to their own stories and that of our main characters.

The mystery itself was a bit easy to guess. I’ve read a lot of Marillier’s books, so this could be simply due to the fact that I am very familiar with her storytelling and the ties she creates between the tale being told in the book itself and the mini folktales often sprinkled within. That being said, I still very much enjoyed watching things unfold, and there were still a few unexpected twists thrown in at the end.

Blackthorn and Grim are, of course, the main selling point of this entire series and that remains true in this book. I didn’t go through and count pages, but I felt that Grim’s narrative was more prominent than  Blackthorn’s in this story. At the very least, he’s closer to the action. But given the events of the last book, most notably the emotional revelations that came through on Grim’s part, I felt like this book needed to give Blackthorn more space from the action to reflect on herself and her own feelings and relationship with Grim. So, while this may have left her a bit more disconnected from solving the mystery itself (though she definitely plays a large role, don’t get me wrong), I was very satisfied to follow her more introspective story arc.

My one criticism of this book comes down to outside factors beyond the story itself. Marillier’s publisher only signed a contract for a three book series, though the author set up the books to be a longer-running series. With that in mind, she needed to write this book in a way that it could stand either as the end of a trilogy or as a middle point in an ongoing series should the publisher decide to pick it up for more. This created a very awkward position for the book to inhabit. Parts of the story felt rushed, particularly with regards to Blackthorn’s ongoing vendetta against the high lord who did her such wrong in the past. And, even, the progression of her relationship with Grim, while still very satisfying, did at times also feel that it might have benefited from an additional book to properly complete the slow-burn approach laid out in the first two novels.

The ending does its job though. It can serve as the final part of a trilogy, but does leave the door open for sequels, should the publisher so choose. Obviously, I would love to read more of this series. Blackthorn and Grim are both very unique narrators to the genre, both being older, more broken individuals than are commonly seen. Either way, however, this book did not disappoint, and I will happily shelve it right next to all of the other Marillier books I have bought (which is all of them).

Rating 9: Loved it! The only mark against it is its need to serve as two things as once, both the final third of a trilogy or the middle book of a series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Den of Wolves” is a new book and isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Irish Myth and Folklore.”

Find “Den of Wolves” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “Dreamer’s Pool” and “Tower of Thorns”

 

 

Kate Re-Visit Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”

22416Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1998

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: After years of self-imposed exile from a civilization rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job that he hates and a city that he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd Century surroundings. Combining black humor, life-threatening situations, and moral ambiguity, this book is the first look into the mind of an outlaw journalist and the world he seeks to destroy.

Review: I’m going to be honest, readers. I was utterly dismayed and ashamed of the way that our Presidential Election ended up. And angry. And as I woke up the next morning and confirmed the news, on friend Kevin had a post on his Facebook wall involving “The Smiler” from the comic series “Transmetropolitan”. More on him as the series goes on. And in that moment, I knew that I needed to re-read that series. Be it inspiration, perfect timing, or personal therapy, I went to my book shelf and grabbed “Back on the Street”. I needed Spider Jerusalem in that moment. And re-discovering him and his strange, obscene, and digitized future that’s drenched in filth, insanity, greed, and cynicism, was a small comfort. Because God, did I miss Spider.

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” throws us into a future scape where humans have evolved technologically, but have fallen into absolute indifference, moral squalor, and a very divided society. Spider Jerusalem is a journalist who is in self-imposed exile up in the mountains. And he doesn’t even come back because he wants to make the world a better place, or to bring the ethics and integrity of journalism back to the forefront in a corrupt society. Oh no. He comes back because he owes his publisher some books he hasn’t written and he doesn’t want to get sued. Boy is he resentful of this fact. And that is the heart of Spider Jerusalem. He hates the society that he has been forcefully thrown back into, and even though he is at his heart a good person, he is so cynical and bitter and pissed that he doesn’t even like the fact that he’s a good person. He has a drinking problem, he has a drug problem, and he has a foul mouth and a sour attitude. But he is by far one of the most endearing comic book characters I have ever encountered in all the years I’ve read comics. Though in Volume 1 we haven’t quite gotten into the heart of the series, it is already giving hints as to what to expect while still speaking for itself. “Back on the Street” is an arc that could easily stand on its own two feet, and give us a story and a moral that we could get behind and be comfortable with. I love Spider and I love how snarky and Hunter S. Thompson-y he is (I mean, it’s pretty common knowledge that he’s an homage to that amazing Gonzo journalist), and he makes me smile and laugh just as much as he makes me think. He is a hero that this world needs, a madman who is just mad enough to take on the madness of the world that he lives in. His shining moment is when he exposes the police violence towards a group of disenfranchised people called Transients, people who have taken on mutated Alien qualities who are trying to live their lives in peace in one small part of the city. As the police rain down violence upon them, Spider jumps in and broadcasts it to the world, speaking up and fighting for their right to exist, in his own brash and evocative Spider way. You cannot help but stand up and cheer as you read his musings against politics corruption, and the media. He is so well written and so well rounded, a flawed but inspirational character with a lot to say about the world he lives in and the world we live in too.

Spider aside, the setting that Ellis has created is so damn perfect and layered. The City (no further name given so that it can be any city) is filled with so many different and strange people, all of whom are frantic and overbearing. It’s dirty and anxious and you get a sense of unease being in it. Ellis’s City is really a character in and of itself, a personality that is basically unbearable within a place that I would never, ever want to live. Ellis has also made a number of really great supporting characters that manage to shine through past Spider and his grandiosity. You have his greedy and opportunistic boss, Royce, who takes Spider onto his team, albeit nervously. There’s Spider’s Cat, a two faced mutant feline with just as bad an attitude as Spider. But my very favorite this far is Channon, Spider’s assistant whom he met when he took shelter in a strip club while covering a volatile story. Channon could have easily been the butt of jokes at her expense, being a former sex worker and the straight man to Spider’s antics, but she is a force to be reckoned with who provides an anchor to him and a voice of reason he must listen to. Channon is the best and I love the balance she brings to the story. If it was just Spider being crazy, yeah, it would probably get a bit old. Channon humanizes him, but doesn’t neuter him. It’s a great dichotomy.

And finally I need to talk about the art. I LOVE the style that Darick Robertson brings to this story. His pictures of The City are so fraught with confusion and insane details, you can see so many different stories nad messages in just one frame.

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(source)

I mean, holy crap. Just look at this. There is so much to see, and there is so much going on, but it never really crosses the line into too much. I love the style because it feels like it matches the content. Over the top and edgy, but filled with a lot of heart.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the introduction of our first main antagonist: The Beast, aka the President of the United States. Just one question for Warren Ellis: are you a soothsayer, sir?

spider
Too real. (Vertigo Comics)

So I bet you can understand why I felt a need to go back and re-read this book.

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is the beginning to an amazing series, and I had totally forgotten just how fun it right from the very start. It’s just what I needed. It’s vulgar and it’s brash and over the top, but it’s so darn therapeutic. And it’s a classic. Welcome back into my life, Spider Jerusalem.

Rating 10: A biting and hilarious satire of politics and journalism, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is a wonderful start to a classic and tremendous series. Spider Jerusalem endures.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Best of Cyberpunk”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” at your library using WorldCat!