Monday, October 30, 2017

Robin McKinley, 2003

Premise: Rae is a baker with a career, a boyfriend, and a community. She knows not to go through the bad part of town alone. The lake near where her grandmother had lived should have been safe. There shouldn't have been vampires anywhere near there.

This is one of the best damn vampire books I've ever read.

It takes place in a fascinating world that is revealed only slowly and naturally. It's in first person, and there is almost zero info-dumping. Very little is revealed until it comes up directly, including important facts about the world and the characters' history.

I loved the language in this book. Slang and conversation casually reflects the presence of everyday magic and myth. The world, as alluded to above, is a complex one. Vampires are the most dangerous paranormal critter, but not the only one. It's unclear how long they've been openly coexisting with humanity, only that there was a major conflict within living memory.

The main character is both strong and overwhelmed and had a great sense of humor. I enjoyed her practicality and her struggle.

The magic is intriguing and beautifully described. The writing is fast and gripping; I had a lot of trouble putting it down.

Just overall, fantastic.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Archivist Wasp

Monday, October 16, 2017

I would have liked this book more.
Archivist Wasp
Nicole Kornher-Stace, 2015

Premise: Every year, Wasp fights to keep the position of Archivist, the chosen one who researches ghosts. She will fall sooner or later, but first she finds a ghost unlike any she has seen before.

I feel some guilt about this review. This book was on my list because I'd read strongly positive reviews, but I didn't remember anything about the premise when I started.

The beginning grabbed me. We're dropped into the middle of a fight to the death, and only catch glimpses of the culture and world until Wasp wakes later, recovering from her wounds.

I also liked the ending.

I liked some aspects of the story in between, but I felt as though it didn't earn its implied emotional impacts. It didn't explain enough for me to care when twists came along to upend things. I didn't feel the payoff of the ending as much as I should have because I never fully understood the characters or the world.

Honestly, I don't know if I just wasn't in the mood for this story, but the book never fully won me over. It might have helped for me to be ready from the start for a truly non-traditional story that blends genres and tones. As it was, I found the shifts annoying (for a semi-spoilery example, going to the land of the dead for most of the book, when what I wanted was to understand more about Wasp's village).

I sympathized with Wasp, and there were moments of emotional depth, and intellectually I liked the ghost's story, but it wasn't quite the right blend of fantasy and sci-fi for me.

I think that there are many people who would love this book, but there just wasn't any overall satisfaction for me when I finished.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Darth Vader Volume 1: Vader and Volume 2: Shadows and Secrets

Monday, October 9, 2017

Darth Vader Volume 1: Vader and Volume 2: Shadows and Secrets
Kieron Gillen, 2015, 2016

Premise: After the destruction of the first Death Star, Vader has to rebuild his power and influence within a changed Empire. Collects Darth Vader #1-6 and #7-12.

This is a lot of fun, but I might advise people to hold out for the whole run.

So, I know a lot of people who loved the end Vader scene in Rogue One. Myself, I didn't quite get it. I've been told that it was satisfying to see Vader be a threatening, unstoppable force. I say it felt pandering. (I had already kind of checked out of this movie by that point, to be fair.)

I say, if you want to see Vader be Vader, read this comic.

What I think is really well done here is the balance between comic-book conventions and cinematic conventions. Vader is a quiet, menacing figure. He doesn't get thought balloons or narration, which keeps him slightly aloof and cryptic. We see full panel images when we need a clue to what memories are going through his head.

He's placed in a position where he needs to act outside of the Empire. He wants to figure out what happened at the destruction of the Death Star, and he needs his own power base because he knows the Emperor doesn't trust him (or anyone).

This story of factions, in which all the players are villains, is twisty and fascinating. Some levity is provided by a pair of homicidal droids and the breakout character: Dr. Aphra.

She's an interesting character, a largely amoral tech specialist whose natural habitat seems to be hazardous secret missions. I only wish she'd been introduced more clearly. It feels as though she was name-checked once and then immediately dropped out of a clear blue sky to become a core part of the cast.

She's important to have around, not just because she's interesting in her own right, but because her chatterbox nature balances the pacing when your lead character is often silent.

That reminds me, a shout-out is due to the art, which is dynamic, clear, and lovely.

As I alluded to at the top, the most significant fault I can find is that neither of these volumes had what I would consider an ending. You could argue that a surface-level plotline was closed at the end of each, but I read straight from the first to the second without even considering stopping, and really regretted that I didn't have the next one.

Note: The next one is not Volume 3, because comics are difficult. The next few issues are part of a crossover volume: Vader Down.

But it should tell you something about these books that I'm probably going to go buy that volume as soon as I finish typing this...

4 Stars - Very Good Books

Elite (Hunter, Book 2)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Elite (Hunter, Book 2)
Mercedes Lackey, 2017

Premise: Sequel to Hunter. Joy is part of the elite squad now, so she's under less public scrutiny but even more private pressure. She doesn't know who else might be behind the attempts on her life, or whether she might be targeted by political enemies of her uncle. Meanwhile, the Othersiders' attacks on the city are increasing...

The first book in this series was a lot of fun, and this one followed suit.

We learn a little more about the psychic cops and more about how human magic works. We don't learn much more about why Othersiders (aka, beings of myth and legend, apparently from another dimension) are attacking humans, or why Hounds have allied with humans to fight them.

The book is simply more concerned with Joy's relationships with the other hunters and her status and life as a hunter than about metaphysics or interdimensional politics. White Knight, her "Christer" friend, plays a big role, as do new friends among the other elite hunters, her uncle, and her boyfriend. Joy is adapting to life in the city, but every time she turns around there's still something she finds strange.

The magic battles are pretty great. Lackey's a pro at this, so I'd expect nothing less, but the use of magic is constantly inventive and exciting, and it's fun just to read about their practice.

Again similar to book one, there isn't much more to this tale of adventure and intrigue, but there doesn't need to be. It's great as it is.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book