Book: “Paper Girls, 1” by Brian Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (Ill.), Matthew Wilson (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Image Comics, April 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description from Goodreads:In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.
Review: Though my book club, and other people in my life like my sister, swear by the series “Saga” by Brian K. Vaughan, I haven’t picked it up and am not really in much of a hurry to do so either. I know that Serena is probably side eying this review right now. Sorry, girl. That said, I have read Vaughan’s other really huge series, “Y the Last Man”, and that one I really enjoyed. I think that the difference is that “Saga” is big Space Opera sci-fi, while “Y the Last Man” is post apocalyptic, and of the sci-fi subgroups I much prefer the latter. So I don’t really know why I was surprised when I picked up “Paper Girls, 1” and it was another science fiction story. But “Paper Girls” fell in the middle of those two subgroups, and at it’s heart is more a coming of age, bildungsroman-esque story.
To give a bit more of a summary: The morning after Halloween in 1988, Erin the paper girl begins her route, joining up with other neighborhood paper girls Mac, KJ, and Tiffany in hopes of steering clear from the local bullies. But when their walkie-talkie is stolen by some mysterious guys in robes, they stumble upon a strange craft in the basement of a local house. Then people start disappearing, and more strange creatures appear. So the Paper Girls get pulled into a strange, end of world-like situation. While it may sound kind of simple, the way that Vaughan tells it is very real and very engrossing. Though I felt that KJ and Tiff wren’t given much to do thus far, Erin and Mac really shine, being portrayed as very three dimensional girls with complex, and in Mac’s case, difficult, backgrounds. Mac, the cigarette smoking tough girl, is pretty much Bender from “The Breakfast Club”, and Vaughan isn’t afraid to make her at times very unlikable (I was rather shocked by her entrance, as she calls one of the neighborhood bullies a ‘faggot’ and ‘AIDS-patient’. I realize that in 1988 it was Reagan’s America and there was a lot of scorn directed at the GLBT community, but realistic or not, it set my teeth on edge right out he gate). Erin is far gentler than Mac is, but that doesn’t make her any less fascinating or fascinating. She’s by far had the most exploration of their situation, and given the cliffhanger that we were left on in this volume it’s pretty clear that this is, ultimately, her story. And I’m one hundred percent okay with that. Hopefully Tiff and KJ will be given more to do as the series goes on, though the little snippets we got of them were fine and enjoyable.
I suppose that I should say that I was sort of disappointed that this is as sci-fi as it is. I guess when I read the descriptions I found online I was thinking it would be more “Blue Velvet” or “Twin Peaks”, but it is what it is and I did like the sci-fi elements for what they were. I highly enjoy the alien beings (if that is indeed what they are) and their kind of tenuous grasp on the English language. I also liked how there were symbols for dialogue for a few of the characters when they were conversing amongst themselves, and that the read has to figure out what is going on based on the visual cues that are being presented. This sort of device works VERY well in graphic novel form, as one can imagine, and given the prevalence both in and out of story, I want to learn more about these glyphs.
I also want to give a shout out to the gorgeous artwork in this comic. Cliff Chiang has done some other artwork for DC over the years, his most well known probably being some “Wonder Woman” for the New 52, which was incidentally one of the only things I LIKED about the new Wonder Woman arc. It looks simple at first glance, but the more you look at it, the more details you see. I think that he’s really making the characters and the story pop, and it’s a good match for the writing and story that Vaughan has given us. The cover alone just looks like an 80’s electric color bubblegum dream.
“Paper Girls, 1” has me hooked, and I’m sorry that I can’t just binge my way through it like I did “Y: The Last Man”. Fans of Vaughan’s work need to check this newest series out.
Rating 8: A fun sci-fi comic with some good characterizations. Some of the paper girls need to be explored more, but they are off to a good start. Plus the art is very funky and leaps off the page.
Book Description from Goodreads:Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. The son of the queen of the Fells, Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now Ash is closer than he’s ever been to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. As a healer, can Ash use his powers not to save a life but to take it?
Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told the mysterious magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.
Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.
Review: I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Chima’s “Seven Realms” series, so I was very excited to hear that she was returning to that world for a second go with a new cast of characters from the next generation. From past experience, series that are set in the same world, but later in time, can be very hit or miss. It’s hard to not want to spend time with the characters I am already familiar with and the jump in time can come with some nasty surprises. While I enjoyed “Flamecaster,” I did fall prey to this type of disappointment when comparing it to the last story and featured characters.
Right off the bat, I was reminded why I enjoyed the first set of books. Chima’s world building is solid, and it was very easy to slip back into this time, place, and culture even with the years that have passed since I finished the last book. Much of this book is set in the kingdom of Arden, now ruled by the tyrant King that Raina, the Wolf Queen of the Fells and one of the main characters from the first series, refused to marry 25 years ago. Things have not improved since. He’s still busy rounding up, burning or collaring the magic users of his kingdom while conducting a long, drawn out war with the Fells. It hasn’t been going well, but he is anything if not persistent.
Here enters Jenna, a coal miner, orphan, and rebel with a personal vendetta against the King. Unfortunately, rebel!Jenna is the most interesting part of her character and we get very little of that in this book. Her secret and forgotten past play a large part in driving this story, but we only get a few tidbits of answers towards the end of the story. And in the meantime, she is largely a pawn stored away in a dungeon through significant chunks of the book. For a character with mysterious abilities and a penchant for blowing things up, I wish we had gotten more from her.
Ash, the other main character mentioned in the description, is the son of Raina and Han, our protagonists from the first series. His story starts off with the type of tragic happenings that I always dread from next-generation-stories. But as a character, he was fairly enjoyable. His magic and personality are distinctly different than his father’s, which is important in a character who could have easily read as Han 2.0. We spend more time with Ash and that alone makes his story line more enjoyable than Jenna’s. Though, here too, I didn’t feel like he was as fully fleshed out as either Raina or Han were from the first series.
What wasn’t mentioned in the book description and what surprised me as I read is the fact that Jenna and Ash are not the only protagonists of this book. Lo and behold, there are two other characters whose perspectives are given a decent amount of page time: smuggler and quick witted, Lila, and Destin, a mage and spymaster working for the King of Arden. Destin only has a very few chapters, so I don’t have much to say about him. He serves his purpose, but didn’t add a lot to the story, in my opinion. Lila, however, is by far my favorite character in the book. She is the most action-oriented, we see her weaving in between all of the other characters with ease and skill, and her personality reads the strongest on the page. In all honesty, while events at the end of this book make it clear why Jenna will be serious player in the future, I finished this story kind of wanting Lila to me our main female protagonist.
So, while I enjoyed aspects of this book, there were some disappointments as well. As I’ve highlighted a bit here, many of the main characters simply weren’t as engaging as I would have wanted. I remember that the first book in the “Seven Realms” series also seemed a bit lackluster only to vastly improve with the three following books, so I’m hopeful that that will prove true with this series as well. However, while I love the addition of Lila, I’m concerned that balancing four perspectives and characters may ultimately weaken my attachment to each. I finished this book not really caring about Destin or Jenna, and mildly interested in Ash (and a lot of that interest still has to do with his connection to the characters from the previous book.) Still love Lila, though.
The other major detractor that has to be mentioned is a very, very unfortunate bout of instalove. If I was going to mention one thing that made the “Seven Realms” series stand out to me amongst the plethora of YA fantasy series, it would be the solid characterization and slow build of its main romantic pairing. Each book read as a solid step in Raina and Han’s relationship, from mere acquaintances who really know nothing of the truth about one another even at the end of the first book, to casually dating with the struggles that come with that, to a serious relationship by the end. And here, in this new series, we get one of the worst examples of an instalove relationship that I cam remember. And I’ve read a lot, so that’s saying something. Again, part of me hopes that there will be some explanation for the rush of this in the first book, perhaps they’re not meant to be together and things will get switched up (go Lila!)? I’m not sure. But if this relationship is supposed to read as a main fixture in the story, this was not a good start.
All in all, this wasn’t the strong return to this world that I was hoping for. However, there were enough elements to keep me reading, and my previous experience with the slow start of the other series leaves me hopeful that this will grow in much the same way.
Rating 6: Decent, but some of the characters were disappointing and the instalove was maddening.
This book isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I would highly recommend reading the “Seven Realms” series by the same author. It isn’t necessary to appreciate this book, but I loved it and would recommend it simply for its own worth.
Book Description from Goodreads:From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author ofNOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.
The fireman is coming. Stay cool.
No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.
Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.
In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.
Review: Joe Hill is easily my favorite writer out there at the moment. I haven’t read a piece of work of his that I haven’t really enjoyed. His comic “Locke and Key” is one of my all time favorites, and his novel “NOS4A2” was my favorite book I read in 2014. When he first announced his most recent novel, “The Fireman”, I had to wait a long while before it was actually published. I waited not that patiently, and then put it on pre-order so I could get it and start it the day that it came out. And then a few days later (aka this past Saturday), I had the opportunity to see him in Minneapolis reading from this book. My friends and I were treated to a lovely evening of Joe Hill reading an excerpt, a sing along, and a great Q and A session.
It took me four days to read this 700-some page book, and let me tell you, I had a very hard time putting it down. While “NOS4A2” remains my favorite of Joe Hill’s novels, “The Fireman” is a very close second. There are many reasons for this, which I could probably write a dissertation on, but I will try and keep the fan-girling to a minimum.
Hill has always been praised for his amazing character development, and “The Fireman” has an entire slew of characters that reinforce this praise. While the book is named after John Rookwood, the avenger who dresses like a fireman and can manipulate his Dragonscale to control the fire inside, this book is solidly about Harper Willowes, the pregnant nurse who just wants to survive so her can have her baby. When we first meet Harper, she is a sunny and optimistic school nurse who is very good at keeping things positive for those around her. But when a man stumbles upon the playground and bursts into flames, Harper’s world starts to crumble, so her resolve in this regard is tested. While Harper does, of course, have to adapt to her new surroundings, her strength is always apparent and she does not have to sacrifice her core personality to this bleak landscape. I LOVED that. It would be so easy to turn her into a cynical, bitter shell of her former self, but Hill instead keeps her character very Mary Poppins, therein reinforcing that women can be strong in many, many ways and don’t have to fit a certain mold to survive. By the end of this book I was worshiping at the altar of Harper Willowes, and put her up there with my other favorite Hill female characters. The holy trinity for those interested are Georgia from “Heart Shaped Box”, Vic from “NOS4A2”, and now Harper. I loved how she interacted with all of the other characters, especially her slow progression from damsel, to ally, to equal when paired up with Rookwood. She knows that he’s messed up, cares for him all the same, but does not put up with any of his nonsense.
Harper is also very loving and maternal not just to her unborn child, but to other children at Camp Wyndham, the sanctuary she finds herself at. Her relationships with Allie and Nick, the children of Rookwood’s dead girlfriend Sarah. Allie is angry and very, very flawed, while Nick is sweet and introverted. Harper approaches them in ways that are never patronizing. She doesn’t put up with Allie’s crap when she is at her worst, but always lets her know that she is, ultimately, loved. And Harper goes out of her way to learn sign language so she can communicate with Nick, who is deaf and therefore always feels very much like The Other at the camp. Harper treats them both with respect and kindness, and never patronizes them.
John Rookwood in turn was always at his best when he was interacting with Harper. As he is so inclined to not be the optimist, they played off each other and helped each other see other sides of things, and never really belittled each other for their opposing outlooks. I was afraid that he was going to merely be there to say ‘I told you so’ when things went wrong, but it never felt that way. He served as a contrast, because if Harper is caring, he is vengeful, and they helped each other find those parts in each other when it was necessary. Plus, his powers are just cool. I mean, he can throw fire and make giant fire birds. It was also very cool to see him in contrast to Harper’s husband, Jakob. While Jakob started out as this kind of mellow, caring, intelligent guy, the moment that Harper got sick he showed his true colors and revealed himself to be a despicable, terrifying antagonist. Rookwood sort of had the opposite transformation, as he, while never terrible, did start out as coarse and a bit harsh. But Dragonscale, and Harper too, empowered him and made him a better person who was more inclined to become part of something bigger than just himself and his grief for Sarah. It was very interesting seeing these two very different men react to their surroundings and situations, and see how they are changed by the illness that is destroying civilization.
And it can’t be a pandemic story without human beings totally falling apart, so while it was no surprise that Camp Wyndham became a freaky violent cult, it was still very upsetting to watch. While other pandemic stories usually jump right to the cult once it’s already been established as such, “The Fireman” lets the reader see how Camp Wyndham went from a loving sanctuary with many loving characters, to a horrific example of group think run amok. When Harper meets them, she finds a group of people who have Dragonscale who have learned to control it, and harness the goodness of it. Calling this The Bright, they’ve discovered that singing all together can make them all glow, and give the community a sense of euphoria and belonging. It really does start out as a safe haven for people who are being hunted down and killed by Cremation Squads, led by a bigoted radio shock jock calling himself The Marlboro Man. And because we got to see the characters at their best before, and understand why they are afraid, seeing them at their worst was especially heartbreaking. While it would be very easy to have them be dangerous cultists from the get go, Hill has no interest in letting the reader take the easy way out when it comes to this group. And boy, does that hurt.
I do think that this book went on a little longer than I wanted it to, but that’s really the only qualm that I have with it. With a sudden shift in setting after a situation that would have made a perfectly great climax, it started to drag a little bit, but I totally get why the choice was made. The ultimate ending, however, was absolutely beautiful, and I was openly weeping as I read through to the VERY last page of the book. And I mean the very last page. That’s a hint, from me to you.
I absolutely adored this book. Joe Hill continues to be my favorite author writing today, and “The Fireman” shows off his talents in all of their red hot burning glory. Also, see him speak if you have the opportunity. He’s a joy.
Rating 10: Another fabulous dark fantasy/horror story from Joe Hill. I loved every bit of this book, from the characters, the themes, and the writing.
We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.”
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!
Book: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Bryne
Publishing Info: Marvel, 1981
Where Did We Get This Book: the library!
Book Description from Goodreads: Relive the legendary first journey into the dystopian future of 2013 where Sentinels stalk the Earth and the X-Men are humanity’s only hope… until they die! Also featuring the first apperance of Alpha Flight, the return of the Wendigo, the history of Cyclops… and a demon for Christmas!?
I have a bizarrely expansive knowledge of the X-Men and a very limited list of actual comic stories that I have read featuring them. I’ve always loved the X-Men and I have strong preferences for certain characters and a fairly thorough knowledge of its history, but when it came to actually sitting down and reading them? Not so much. That made this month’s book club pick, courtesy of book club friend and fellow librarian, Alicia, a great opportunity for me to delve into the actual comics themselves.
As per the world of comics, the actual collection we read was an assortment of different issues that were combined in such a way as to provide background and further character insight into the cast most heavily featured in the prominent story line, the titular “Days of Future Past.” This being the case, a few of the actual separate issue stories were rather hit and miss for me. While I understand why they were all included, there were times in the first half of the story where I was skimming through a lot of exposition about who/what/where things are in the world of the X-Men at this specific point in time. So, too, we take a bizarre trip up to Canada at one point and fight a Wendigo?? Again, with some thought, it becomes clear why these issues were chosen, specifically the ones that introduce Kitty Pryde, but they were also a bit off putting in their disconnection to each other. I enjoyed them all, but I was very excited by the time we got to the main story arc.
“Days of Future Past” was definitely the highlight of the collection, which is only fitting. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, particularly the fact that Kitty Pryde was our protagonist. While many comics (and comic movies as this very one proves) heavily feature male heroes, it was a breath of fresh air to see this story unfold under the guidance of a young, female character. Further, at this point in time, Storm is leading the X-Men and Mystique is heading up the “Group of Evil Mutants” (yes, the villains’ team name is something stupid like that). So, woman power all around!
Storm has always been one of my favorite characters, so it was fun reading about her in this role. While she questioned her abilities in comparison to Cyclops one too many times for my liking, she did give Wolverine a lovely smackdown later on which fully made up for it. Mystique, on the other hand, is decidedly more interesting in the movie version than in the comic. This largely comes down to the fact that the movies have re-worked Mystique’s whole backstory and Jennifer Lawrence is awesome at anything she does. In the comic story, however, she does very little other than stand in the background saying things like “I’ll get you, my pretties” and then running off at the end shouting “Never mind, I meant I’ll get you next time!”
All in all, I very much enjoyed finally sitting down and reading this comic book. The art was colorful and fun and definitely felt like a trip back in time, considering when it was published and the styling used at that point. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in X-Men comics or for those wanting to know the basis for the movie.
Like Serena, I have a pretty good working knowledge of The X-Men universe and many of its idiosyncrasies. I haven’t read many of the comics, but I’ve seen most of the movies and I’ve read a lot about the characters and how they connect to each other. So going into “Days of Future Past,” I was familiar with all of the characters and what makes them unique. But actually reading an X-Men comic is kind of a new thing for me! I was very stoked when Alicia picked it for book club, and was totally engrossed by it once I opened it up.
I definitely think that the main arc of this story, the “Days of Future Past” arc, was the strongest of the collection, though there were others included as well. I think that my favorite one outside of the main arc was the one about Nightcrawler’s Birthday party and then his descent into Hell, mostly because I love Nightcrawler as a character. But also because book club pointed out the ridiculous pile of presents that he gets, including a glamour shot of Wolverine?
I also want to mention that the Canadian Wendigo looked more like a Yeti. I understand that this collection chose these comics to help bolster the characters that we focused on (specifically Kitty) or to give context, but I wasn’t used to having the lack of linear storytelling that many comics collections have now. This distracted me quite a bit, sadly, and made it hard for me to get on board fully until we got to the main event.
So let’s get back to “Days of Future Past.” Much like the movie, it’s about the X-Men trying to prevent a dystopic future by going into the past and stopping one bad moment from happening (specifically the assassination of a Senator which bolstered anti-mutant sentiments), which in turn led to large mechanical Sentinals to be created to kill mutants, and anyone with super powers (goodbye, Avengers, it was nice knowing you). The thing that I liked best about this storyline was the fabulous and amazing Kitty Pryde. I was shocked when I read this and it was HER, and not Wolverine, to go back in time and try to save the future. I loved seeing a teenage girl get the hero spotlight in this story, and really this entire collection. Kitty Pryde was given so much to do, which was a breath of fresh air. Storm was also given the spotlight to shine in, as the leader of the X-Men at this point in time. While she had her moments of self-doubt, I liked that she was supremely badass throughout the stories that we saw her in, while still being portrayed as a relatable and genuinely cool person. I do think that it was a shame that they felt a need for her self doubt to be manifested in ‘Boy, I sure wish that Cyclops was here because HE would know what to do.’ Not because I don’t want Storm to have humanizing moments, but because I didn’t really care for it being like ‘a white dude could do this better.’ Luckily, she showed herself to be very powerful and a great leader, so I will give it a pass.
I was sad to see that Mystique had such a small, two dimensional role. I know that it’s mostly the movies that gave Mystique more to do, but she has always been my favorite character in the X-Men universe, so seeing her reduced to a “I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling mutants!” caricature was hard for me. I like my Raven conflicted and filled with angst. I did, however, like that little exchange between her and Nightcrawler, given their actual connection in the mythology (and if they do it in the new X-Men movie “Apocalypse” I will be so happy).
Serena’s Rating 7: Very good, though some of the issues that were chosen to support the main story weren’t my favorite.
Kate’s Rating 7: Highly enjoyable, but the two dimensional aspect of the villains were frustrating while the additional storylines sometimes felt out of place.
Book Club Notes and Questions:
We’re still going strong with the Movie theme in our book club at the moment, so we watched the 2014 film “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. This was a strong second outing for the prequel X-Men cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. And as you can’t have an X-Men movie nowadays without Hugh Jackman, the biggest change to the story line was swapping out Kitty Pride for Wolverine. This switch was heavily discussed at book club, and while we all understood the reason for the change in the movie landscape (how can you NOT use Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine every chance you get??), we also mourned the loss of a strong, young, female protagonist as the story’s lead. Peter Dinklage is also a fun addition, and people are still talking about the amazing Quicksilver scene.
1. How do the other issues included in this collection add to the primary storyline? Did you enjoy any one particularly and why? Was there one that could have been left out?
2. Did you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
3. How did you feel about the character of Mystique in this story? How did she compare to how you think of Mystique as she has been in the film universe, or in more recent comics?
4. There are significant character/storyline changes between the movie and the comic. Which of these changes did you appreciate and which would you have changed?
5. How did the swap from Kitty Pryde to Wolverine affect the story? Which did you prefer? What additions or detractions did each character’s perspective bring to their version?
Book Description from Goodreads:For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and within their community…
Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.
But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs…
Review: This is the fourth book in Anne Bishop’s “The Others” series. I absolutely loved her first book in this series, “Written in Red,” and have been diligently following along ever since. Mostly because of the slow burn relationship building between Simon and Meg, let’s be honest. But Bishop’s version of the world, the complicated and flipped history of a native people retaining their influence and power over their homeland against a colonizing force, has also been a compelling factor in my decision to keep reading. However, my motivation has been slowly waning with each new book, as Bishop seems either unclear of her direction or unwilling to get there in what I consider a timely manner. I was generally frustrated by “Marked in Flesh,” as similarly to previous books, it continues the slow decline since the high of “Written in Red.”
This book starts off pretty much exactly where the last left off. The “Humans First and Last” movement, an anti-Others, radical terrorist group, is going strong in their attempt to claim land that they believe they are entitled to. The problem with this narrative has been the same throughout the series. As the book is framed from the perspective of Meg and Simon, primarily, the reader has first hand knowledge of the strength of the Others and the futility of the HFL movement is clear from the beginning. It’s not a true conflict. It’s more, how badly with the HFL movement fail and how many humans will suffer for it.
But this aspect of the story has also been one of the key elements that has kept me interested in the series. The complete flip in power that Bishop sets up is intriguing. It’s impressive how easily she manages to set up the humans (by and large almost all of them) as the villains of this world. I have increasingly found myself becoming exasperated not by the fact that there is a conflict between the humans and the Others, but because I’m reading along thinking “Just smite them already and be done with it!” A very bizarre take to have, I realize, but one that Bishop pretty effectively imposes on the reader. The humans in this world seem to be either full blown terrorists bombing, poisoning, or simply mowing down innocent Others with machine guns, or ignorant fools, content with not only sitting back as these atrocities are committed, but ostracizing and victimizing other groups of humans who don’t join the cause. It’s hard to feel sympathy for many people other than the ones we are directly exposed to.
But because she sets up the groups in this conflict so unequally, both in sympathy and power, this book was largely a drag. It was clear from the beginning that things were headed south for human/Others relations, and about midway through the book, the HFL movement pounds the last nail in their own coffin by committing an even more egrgious act of violence. But it still takes so, so long for the conflict to even happen! And when it does, it is largely off screen. Instead, 80% of the story is spend preparing for the new world that will come after this near apocalyptic event. There are pages and pages of people discussing ordering extra supplies (an annoying fixation on female toiletries is I think meant to be some type of “Others don’t understand human females” joke but becomes tired very quickly), details on communication and travel logistics, space planning, etc. It was incredibly tiresome. Bishop has given us all-powerful native people! And instead we’re listening to Simon fixate on Meg’s need for books to read when she’s hunkered down waiting out this oncoming “storm” of the Others’ retaliation. Firstly, I’m pretty sure this is a silly thing to be discussing between multiple people. If this is actually a disaster level event, Meg’s boredom is NOT something that needs to be included in the “to worry about” list. And secondly, I don’t care! Give me some action, already!
Also, the cast of characters only adds to this problem. Simon and Meg are interesting. All of the extra human characters are not. The police men who have been present in the other book make a showing here, and while familiarity lends them a bit of interest, there is very little for them to do in this story. There is no preventing this, so again, it’s largely discussing reacting to an inevitable event. Discussions, discussions. And a few extra human characters show up as well. Guess what they’re doing? That is right. Discussing preparations in yet another town. The more interesting Other characters from previous books are also very underutilized in this book, only adding to the frustration of reading chapters from new human perspectives.
And I can’t finish this review without touching on Meg and Simon. Meg, for one, has sadly gone the route that I have been worrying about for the last several books. She has become increasingly inactive as the books have went along. In the first book, she was new to this world and actively participates in its going ons. Now, however, she is treated as a valuable commodity, to be worried over, but very rarely having anything to actually do. And for a powerful seer, that is incredibly disappointing. Even worse, in the first few books she was verging on becoming a bit of a “special snowflake” character where everyone and their mother loved her right off the bat with very little actual reason. Sadly, this becomes even worse in this book, to the point of being ridiculous.
Simon has now become my favorite character. The few action scenes in this book directly relate to how he sees the world and his position in it. His arc as a character has been steady, realistic, and interesting. And unlike other characters, his relationship with Meg feels earned and is thus much more intriguing. But come on, it’s been four books!
I haven’t written off the series entirely, but “Marked in Flesh” continues a slow downward trend in my enjoyment of these books. I’ll give it one more go, but if I have to read about the “human female pack” creating lists of toiletries again, I’m out.
Rating 5: I’m very sad that it has come to this. But the primary emotion this book inspired was frustration, unfortunately.
Book Description from Goodreads:Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It’s a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?
Review: My husband and I would consider ourselves ‘casual’ fans of the Netflix show “Orange is the New Black”. Casual in that we like it, but we never actually finished season 3 but will probably just dive headfirst into season 4. I’m a big enough fan that when I read about “Fellside” for the first time, my thought was ‘Oh wow, it’s like OITNB but it’s like a haunted prison or something!’ I will be the first person to admit that I wasn’t terribly impressed by M.R. Carey’s other novel, “The Girl With All The Gifts”, but given that I love me a good ghost story and the women’s prison setting sounded intriguing, I knew that “Fellside” was going to be on my list of must reads. There are a lot of things you can do with a prison setting in terms of storytelling, and I was hoping that it would be ripe with possibilities in this book. I wasn’t completely wrong, but I also found myself sort of falling into the same trap as I did with “The Girl With All The Gifts”.
I want to give a little more background to this story than the Goodreads description did. Jess Moulson is a heroin addict who has been sent to Fellside Prison because she was convicted of starting a fire that killed a little boy named Alex. While in Fellside, she starts hearing the voice of a little boy who says he is Alex. She wants to atone for what she thinks she did, but then starts to find out that maybe it wasn’t her who was responsible for Alex’s death. Meanwhile, the prison system around her is festering with corruption, and a fellow inmate named Grace is basically running the joint through intimidation and violence. So you not only get a sad and gothic ghost story, you also get the thrills and fears of a prison drama. And I really do mean gothic. One of the things that I really liked about “Fellside” is that it does ready like a gothic novel, with a protagonist who is in an isolated setting in a large new environment (which is located on the goddamn moors for crying out loud), who may or may not be haunted. In terms of giving a new twist to a gothic tale, I think that Carey did a fabulous job. I also did like the prison setting for the most part, as it gave opportunities for a lot of very disturbing, and pretty darn political, truths about prison life. The violence inside, the way that the justice system fails some people who have no business being in such a place (there is one character named Naz who was a victim of human trafficking but ended up inside because she was basically seen as more a perp than a victim, and her story ends VERY tragically), and the way that those in power don’t care or purposely abuse their power are just a few of the themes that this book touched upon.
I think that one of the problems I had with this book was that some of those side stories didn’t do much for me as a whole. I wasn’t as invested in reading about how the warden was blackmailing the prison doctor into doing his bidding. I didn’t really care about the nurse who hates Jess for being a supposed child killer and yet has to care for her as dictated by her profession. I also didn’t understand the point of having one of Jess’ lawyers be in love (but more likely savior complex lust) with her, as I think that even without his romantic attachment to her he could have wanted to help his client. I thought that some of the supernatural systems, like Alex showing Jess how to leave her body and walk through other people’s minds and dream-scapes, weren’t as intriguing as I had hoped they would be. I think that had it been limited to Alex being able to do that instead of giving Jess that ability too, I would have been more okay with it, but as it was I just found that aspect to be the weakest of the ghost storyline.
For the most part I enjoyed my experience reading “Fellside”, as it did creep me out and it did surprise me. I liked it more that “The Girl With All the Gifts”, and it has convinced me to keep picking up books by Carey when they come out. I wonder if “Orange is the New Black” would consider ever adding a supernatural storyline. I mean, obviously not, but if they DID, they should look at “Fellside” for a good how-to guide.
Rating 7: A spooky read with some very political and important themes, but some of the side stories and mythology left me feeling a bit cold.
Book Description from Goodreads:The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.
But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all–Valyn, Adare, and Kaden–come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.
Spoilers for the first two books in the series.
Review: As I said in my review of the previous books (see end of post for links), Staveley went to great lengths to create a tangled mess of misunderstanding, dueling motivations, and confusion with his first two books. And my question was simple: how? How was he going to resolve all of these dangling threads in a way that stayed true to what has been a compellingly honest, complicated but realistic story up to this point? My doubts have been rested, and sign me up for the Brian Staveley fan club. “The Last Mortal Bond” exemplifies nailing the landing in epic fantasy, by no means an easy feat.
Continuing my pattern from my review of the first two books, it is easiest to review this book by checking in with our main characters, the royal siblings, Adare, Valyn, and Kaden and Kettral leader, Gwenna.
Let’s start with Gwenna, shall we? I love Gwenna. She only had a few chapters in the last book, and there at first it felt a little strange to be in the head of a seemingly random second tier character. She still plays the same role in the narrative, as a character with an exciting, but largely insular, story arc. Between all the politics, magic, secrecy, and anger going on between the royal siblings, Gwenna’s chapters were a breath of fresh air. A problem was presented, the downfall of the Kettral training islands, and Gwenna and her team were deployed to solve it. I really enjoyed returning to this aspect of the story. In the first book, when Valyn was still in training, we learned a lot about the Kettral and the role they play in the Empire. However, in the second book, they and their giant falcons, were largely absent. It was thrilling to return to the islands, especially as seen through the eyes of Gwenna, a warrior who did not grow up with any expectations of leadership, but has had it thrust upon her and is more than capable of rising to the occasion. And the giant falcons were back. Always a plus.
It’s interesting how Staveley has set up different levels of stakes for his three main characters. Kaden’s story has been one with the highest level of stakes (the war to save humanity), Adare’s has been on the second level (the war to save Annur), and Valyn’s on the most insular level (the war to avenge himself and his family).
Kaden’s story continues to be the one that I have had the hardest time predicting. While throughout the story Adare has been focused on the greater good of the Empire, and Valyn has had a tendency to get caught up in the inner dynamics of whatever group he is in in the moment, Kaden has floated along the periphery, gathering knowledge and making unexpected decisions. For example, his decision to suddenly turn the Empire of Annur into a Republic in the last book. What a huge thing to decide, and so suddenly! I appreciate that Staveley didn’t try and make any political commentary here, which I was concerned with at first. This isn’t our world, and it becomes clear pretty early on in this book that while Kaden might have started from a very idealistic place, the powerful lords and ladies of Annur are not ready for the responsibility of truly ruling, instead focusing on power grabs and becoming mired in debate. So, too, in this book, Kaden’s journey is unexpected. Allying with Triste, who is understandably bitter and resentful of the role she has been thrust in, Kaden makes a desperate journey across the Empire in an effort to both contain the Gods who are walking the earth and also save them from the csestriim out to kill them, and thus, cripple humanity.
Adare remains my favorite character. As before, her practicality, ability to face tough choices, and general pizazz in face of it all, makes her a blast. Kaden could be frustrating with his idealism (come on, we all knew that handing over power to bunch of whining aristocrats was never going to be a good idea) and Valyn could get too caught up in his missions to take a step back and realize the larger implications of his decisions. And it makes sense that it would be this way. Valyn and Kaden grew up largely disconnected from the Empire. Adare, on the other hand, grew up at the foot of her father, by all accounts an incredibly successful ruler. But Adare’s failings are not swept away either. Her misjudgements come to bite her in the butt big time, specifically her choice to save the csestriim general il Tornja by stabbing Valyn.
Valyn’s story was a stumbling block for me, this time around. He started as my favorite character in book one, was still highly entertaining in book two, but then seems to have taken an abrupt change of course in this book. I understand that his wounds were detrimental at the end of the last book, but his decision to isolate himself from his remaining Kettral Wing friends and sink into darkness came a bit out of left field. The reader is constantly told how dark, gritty, and angsty he has become, but it feels unearned. Out of the three siblings, Valyn was the one trained to believe in teamwork and reliance on others, so for him to be the one to sink so quickly into despair and reject human connection felt out of place. He suffers the most physically, it is true. But what has been the strength of the series, its ability to highlight the impossible choices they all have made, makes Valyn’s descent into self-loathing less palatable when compared to the other characters who are facing their own challenges, rather than running away and hiding. I felt myself often growing frustrated with him and wishing that the Flea would show up to slap some sense into him.
“The Last Mortal Bond” does an incredible job of wrapping up this series. I highly recommend it, and the whole “Unhewn Throne” series, to any reader who enjoys epic fantasy. Especially those looking for a series that wraps up nicely in only three books, which is practically unheard of at this point and is frankly a relief!
Rating 8: Great conclusion to a great trilogy! There were a few stumbling blocks, particularly Valyn’s odd character decisions, but other than that, I love it!
“The Last Mortal Bond” is very new so is on very few lists. As I particularly highlighted my love of it as the conclusion to a series, it is included in this Goodreads list: “End of Series in 2016”