A Study in Emerald (graphic novel adaptation)

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Study in Emerald (graphic novel adaptation)
Original story by Neil Gaiman, adaptation by Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone, Dave Stewart, et. al., 2018

Premise: A certain notable detective and his partner try to solve a crime in a very different version of Victorian London.

When I heard there was to be a graphic novel adaptation of "A Study in Emerald," I was immediately intrigued. Intrigued, and a little hesitant. It's a clever mashup story, combining Sherlock Holmes with Lovecraftian elder gods. I've read the original many times.

The story is already a visual feast - there's a fantastic version laid out like a period broadsheet, complete with advertisements full of easter eggs. But the conceit of the story also hinges on what is not seen by the reader, so I was curious how well the art would balance the need to illustrate the story with the desire to maintain a certain ambiguity.

Overall, I think it does very well.

It helps that Rafael Albuquerque is, in my opinion, the perfect choice for this piece. His art style meshes well with horror/mystery, and the texture fits the world just right.

My one quibble might be the design of the first horror, from the narrator's experience in Afghanistan. It was just a little too generic-Cthulhu in looks, in my opinion. Most of the other glimpses worked well.

On the other hand, I think the human character designs were right on target: conveying the sense of each character while serving the needs of the story and relative realism of the world. There are even a few visual flourishes that enhance the characters and story.

However, I would be very curious to hear the reactions of readers who aren't already familiar with the original story.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

A Deepness in the Sky

Monday, October 21, 2019

A Deepness in the Sky
Vernor Vinge, 1999

Hugo Winner - 2000

Premise: Two grand fleets are converging to attempt to solve the mystery of the On-Off Star and potentially profit thereby. The inhabitants of the circling world face war and revolution, as do the humans coming in from the stars. Set in the same universe as (but having only subtle connections to) A Fire Upon the Deep.

This book is really impressive, but it wasn't quite for me, at least not right now. It might be another book that suffered from my recent change in reading habits. It’s long and hard to read in snippets. It's really, really long. It’s good, but it’s just so... long... that I might have quit reading it if not for this project. There are a lot of characters to introduce and civilizations to set up, and the plot takes forever to really get started.

The villains are extremely villainous (to the point that anything other than a final victory by the heroes would have been extremely unpleasant to read). Most of the descriptions aren't that explicit, but warnings for sexual assault, torture, murder, super-science used to destroy minds, techno-slavery, the death of children, and other things I’m sure I’m forgetting. The heroes are innovators, scientists, free-thinkers, and a culture of trade-focused humans sometimes described with similar language to Roma or Jewish communities, while the villains are religious zealots, autocrats, misogynists, etc.

So early on I was a bit bored with the morality of the story - when it wasn't making my skin crawl.

And not because half the characters are giant intelligent spiders.

The choices of style and meta-narrative around the Spiders were great, some really interesting techniques there. The world(s) were very interesting, the characters (on the good side) complex and well crafted. There’s a lot of great sci-fi concepts here around interstellar culture, the effects of space travel and suspended animation on culture and relationships, the morality of certain technology, the difficulty in understanding a truly non-human sentient species, etc.

To deliver such a complicated story probably required this length, but even the climax went on and on as little things were revealed and various characters acted in disparate locations...which were all lovingly described...at length.

I really liked the book by the end, and it’s a tremendous accomplishment, but I had to keep making myself go back to keep reading it. I just didn’t love it.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Index of Hugo Award Winners

Graceling

Monday, October 14, 2019

Graceling
Kristin Cashore, 2008

Premise: Some people are born with a special skill; they are talented beyond normal mortals. This one is a singer, this one a dancer, this one can read minds. Katsa is a killer.

I came at this book from the reverse direction from many readers because I already read and loved Jane, Unlimited, a much more recent book by the same author. (I remember hearing some dissatisfaction that the books were so different from fans of this series.) I knew this book had awards and lots of fans. I wasn’t looking for anything beyond an entertaining and relatively easy read, and I got that and a little more.

I’ve been reluctant to read YA again recently after being burned a few times, but this was quite good. Katsa is a great character, both vulnerable and strong, thoughtful and determined. She almost unconsciously finds ways to care about people despite her own suffering and difficulties. The romance is well written and any sappiness is fully justified.

The world and the Graces are really interesting, and I didn’t even mind that they weren’t explained. The book has a lovely quality that sits halfway between a fantasy novel and a fairy tale. The Grace powers remind me of the fairies blessing Sleeping Beauty, but the plot is grounded in surviving a world where such powers are real.

Worth the hype, this was a solid read.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Queen of Ieflaria

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Queen of Ieflaria
Effie Calvin, 2018

Premise: While Princess Esofi is en route to her marriage, the prince she was to marry dies suddenly. To save an alliance and bring aid to a beleaguered kingdom, Esofi must decide whether she will instead marry the prince's irresponsible sister.

I found this fantasy/romance novel promising; in fact, I bought it on the strength of the sample. Unfortunately, for me it fell sadly short by the end.

The intriguing aspects include the magic and the larger world, including the complicated religion of this group of small kingdoms. Even more interesting were the two main characters, who each subvert their initial stereotype. Esofi, who is frothy and girlish, is also a stone-cold magical badass and has been raised with all the training befitting a future queen. Crown Princess Adale is an action girl on the surface: she wears pants and goes out hunting and drinking. Once she starts trying to impress Esofi, Adale eventually finds that her actual strength is in mental work and research.

Their growing romance is sweet enough, but the overall plot was rushed and disjointed. Plus there were a number of interesting or alarming plot threads that were teased and then completely dropped.

Adale might have to talk Esofi out of destroying a research lab in an excess of religious zeal? Oh no big deal, we'll have one conversation about it, get distracted by other things, and never mention it again. One of them will have to master some pretty significant magic in order for them to have a child? This seems like it's going to be a significant part of their courtship, as it ought to be important for the royal family's continuity, but after the first few mentions, it's handwaved away as something to deal with later, after they're married.

There's a significant part of the plot about the fact that Adale's cousins would be terrible rulers, although they come courting Esofi in the hopes of gaining power, but she barely reacts or even seems to realize when their misdeeds are revealed. Why were they even there? Plus one of the major stressful, potentially political issues that the characters face is solved by some literal deus ex machina. Again, why was it built up so much only to be summarily solved nearly off-screen?

After all that, the book ends with fighting some dragons, and all the loose threads are just left hanging. These characters aren't even in the next book set in this world! So much promise in the premise, but I'm not sold enough to read more.

2 Stars - An Okay Book