Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood is contemporary YA novel about a Vietnamese-Australian girl at the start of year eleven. Born to parents who came to Australia as refugees and who still live in a Housing Commission flat, she's on a scholarship to a fancy private school. It's a situation ripe for the exploration of cultural and class divides.

For Vân Ước Phan, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she'd eaten too much sugar.

Vân Ước doesn't believe in fairies, zombies, vampires, Father Christmas - or magic wishes. She believes in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes.

But when she attracts the attention of Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight.

Not even Jane Eyre can help her now.

Wishes were not a thing.

They were not.

Correction.

Wishes were a thing.

Wishes that came true were sometimes a thing.

Wishes that came true because of magic were not a thing!

Were they?

This is the first book I've read by Fiona Wood, although I was very keen to read Wildlife, and I still intend to. (Stay tuned.) It's about Vân Ước's first few weeks (monthish?) in year eleven. She has to navigate the tricky landscape of strict parents, an increased workload, conflicted feelings about her future, the cultural clashes that come from living in a white-Anglo-centric culture while not being Anglo, and boys.

Her relationship with her parents was probably the most interesting story within this book. They are typically strict and uncompromising in their desire for Vân Ước to do well at school and have a good and affluent life like they couldn't. They have strong aspirations for her to become a doctor and make enough money for them all to live in a nice house in Kew. But they also don't speak English very well and so rely on Vân Ước to be their language and cultural translator, whether that involves school forms or doctor's instructions. Vân Ước realises she lives in a different world to her parents, not just because she goes to a private school now, but also because she speaks English like a native while her Vietnamese is not as good as her parents'. They can communicate, but the question of whether they can ever truly understand where the other is coming from is raised. This is further exacerbated by the fact that they haven't spoken to Vân Ước much about their experiences getting to Australia/escaping Vietnam and Vân Ước feels like this is a barrier between them. As Vân Ước's relationship with them, and especially her mother, shifts throughout the book as she learns more. If anything I was hoping that story would keep going a bit longer when the book ended because I really wanted to know what happened next.

The story, however, is framed around Vân Ước's boy drama, as you may have gathered from the blurb. In the first class of the year she idly wishes that the popular boy she has a crush on would like her back and then is shocked when he appears to. The romantic storyline was amusing and a nice twist on the whole boy/girl thing since Vân Ước spends a lot of time doubting its veracity. I didn't especially like or dislike Billy, her love interest, but he fit into the story well as privileged rich boy with a bit more depth under the surface.

The one thing that annoyed me about this book was that Wood got a key detail of the IB programme wrong. We know that Vân Ước studies English, French, Physics, Maths and Art and we are giving to believe she's also taking Chemistry. Since her parents want her to be a doctor, it would make sense that she'd take the necessary Chemistry to put off confronting her parents about wanting to become an artist, which seems in character. And chemistry is mentioned a few times. But the problem is, you can't do two sciences and an art in IB. You have to give up an art to do the second science. And she doesn't have a humanity. So it's kind of a minor thing, but the fact that she does art is pretty crucial to the plot and the fact that the author overlooked this detail really bothered me since she'd got other details like CAS and TOK right. And I realise it's an annoyance that probably won't bother most people, but irritated me enough to write a ranty paragraph. YMMV.

On the topic of random details, I absolutely loved that Vân Ước had a lot of angst about casual clothes day. Although my problems weren't quite as acute as hers, I didn't have a huge amount of non-school uniform clothes when I was in high school and it was always a balance of trying to remember what I wore last time and what would be the most acceptable thing to wear this time. (If you're wondering, I am 100% pro school uniforms and find it weird that other countries don't have them.)

Cloudwish was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to all YA fans, especially fans of real world, contemporary stories. I always love reading Australian-set stories, especially ones which feature Melbourne, my home city. (Although that can also be a bit of a detriment since I'm a little baffled as to where the imaginary school is — pretty sure the walk to Kew is shorter so why didn't she sit for those scholarships? Ahem.) If you enjoy realistic YA then definitely read Cloudwish. I will definitely be reading Wood's other books.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2015, Pan Macmillan
Series: Sort of? Set in the same universe/school as Wildlife and Six Impossible Things but with a different main character. In that sense, book 3 of 3 but since I read it first that's not an important attribute
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a book I've had an unusual relationship with. The authors asked me to check their science/physics which meant I read an earlier version of the manuscript last year. I've now also read the final ARC with the proper typesetting. This is sort of a review, but not really a proper one. I can't be impartial since I've read and dissected an earlier version and even reading the final version in a more relaxed way, it's impossible to form the usual sort of opinion.

One moment, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason have nothing bigger to worry about than each other. Specifically, avoiding each other in the wake of their messy break-up. In the next second, their entire world falls apart.

The year is 2375 and one of the mega-corporations that control much of deep space has just fired the opening salvo in an intergalactic war, destroying Kady and Ezra's planet. Forced to flee on a small fleet of crippled rescue ships alongside thousands of other refugees, the fear of enemy warships chasing them down is at first all-consuming but soon becomes the least of their worries. A deadly plague is ravaging the refugees on the ships; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be an enemy; and High Command is refusing to acknowledge that there may be a serious problem. As Kady plunges into a tangled web of data in search of the truth, she realises that Ezra is possibly the only person who can help her save the refugees before it's too late.

Illuminae is an epistolary novel in the modern sense. Rather than containing any letters (well, there are some emails), it's composed of transcripts of interviews and security footage, chat messages, data dumps from the computer (which are much more readable than they sound like they should be), military reports, and a lot of creative topography. There's not a lot of traditional narrative — about half the forms I just listed might fall into that category — and the story is moved along through information being revealed in a judicious order. It's not a random order; obviously this is a book that was planned and intentionally written. But there are also plot reasons for the information appearing in the order that it does.

If you like spaceships, conspiracies, zombie-like plagues and explosions, this is possibly the book for you. If the idea of the the format tickles your fancy then also definitely pick this one up. On the other hand, if you hate text messages and non-linear typography, this might not quite be a book you'll enjoy. It's definitely different to a lot of YA I've read of late (in format, above all), and hey, I approve of the science. ;-p

First published: October 2015, Random House (US), Allen & Unwin (AU)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3 in the Illuminae Files
Format read: Um. Most recently a US ARC (in actual hard-covered paper), but also an earlier draft last year for science-checking/advising purposes
Source: The authors, see above
Disclaimer: I read an earlier draft to provide science advice, see above.
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge, Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig is a book I've had a strange mental relationship with since before I read it. For whatever reason, I kept thinking it was YA (it isn't) and then put off reading it because I didn't feel like a YA dystopian and because it felt a bit too close to potential Defying Doomsday slush. Then one day I decided to start reading, got about a chapter in and put it down for a while because some other book seemed more pressing. The second time I picked it up, however, I was hooked (and read it exclusively till the end).

Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that laid waste to civilization and nature. Though the radiation fallout has ended, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. Of each pair one is an Alpha — physically perfect in every way — and the other an Omega burdened with deformity, small or large.

With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society, Omegas are branded and ostracised while the Alphas have gathered the world's sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other. Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened with psychic foresight. While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality. For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side by side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.

Although, as I've said, The Fire Sermon isn't a YA book — mainly because the main character is in her mid 20s — it does, upon reading, feel like one in some ways. Primarily the dystopian world which needs fixing and the anti-establishment sentiments of the main character, which seem like they might lead to some sort of revolution by the end of book 3, and the way in which the main character is a catalyst of change. On the other hand, it's a longer and more complex novel (plot-wise) than most YA dystopians that spring to mind. The characters are also adults and act like adults (while having similar adventures to their YA counterparts), which is refreshing. (If you're wondering, there are no on-page sex scenes, only kissing.)

I was pleasantly surprised by the world building in this book. I've had my fill of vague and/or nonsensical apocalypses and regular readers will know how fond I am of rigorous world building. The Fire Sermon was set 400 years after a nuclear holocaust in what I was lead to believe was formerly Tasmania. There's a bit of magic to the effects of the nuclear blast — everyone is born with a magically-linked twin and there are a few people around who are seers — but it fits well with the history and feels cohesive. The society is dystopian for two primary reasons: fear of technology because technology once blew them all up and the fact that one of each set of twins (the Omega) is born with a physical deformity or, in a few rare cases, is a seer. Omegas are shunned by Alpha society and forced to live on the fringes. The only reason the Alphas aren't already practising eugenics, is because if one twin out of an Alpha/Omega pair dies, so does the other.

Our main character, Cass, is of course an Omega and a seer. Being a seer makes her unusual but I appreciated that she wasn't the only one. In fact, one of the bad guys is also a seer. The other advantage of being a seer — other than, y'know, seeing the future and/or past — is that they look physically normal. In Cass's case this meant that she and her twin weren't split until they were 13 because their parents couldn't tell which was the Alpha. Usually twins are split as soon as they're weaned and sent away to an Omega settlement. Being an Omega has a profound effect on Cass's life as it makes her a second class citizen but Haig also shows us how it affects the Alpha twin and also how different people can react differently to the situation.

I really liked Cass as a character and Kip, who she spends a significant portion of the book travelling with, was also very readable. After things in Cass's life take a turn for the worst, she finds herself on the run with Kip, both of them unprepared. I thought the portrayal of the journey, with a lot of almost dying from hunger or thirst, was plausible and there were not unlikely lucky breaks for them, which often bother me.

There are more things I'd like to talk about in this review, but they happen later in the book and are definitely spoilers. Suffice to say that I approved of the world building reveals as they happened. And there was a brilliant reveal near the end that I didn't see coming until I was in the revealing scene, so that's always exciting. I wasn't sure (and couldn't be bothered checking) whether The Fire Sermon was a standalone or the start of the series. It stands alone fairly well and while I'm definitely looking forward to the next book, I don't feel like I have to read it for plot-completion reasons.

All in all, The Fire Sermon was an excellent read that exceeded my expectations and was a solid example of both the post-apocalyptic and dystopian subgenres. I highly recommend it to fans of both, in particular fans who are looking for a meatier (and longer) story than the YA side of the genre tends to provide. I see no reason why fans of YA dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories would not also enjoy The Fire Sermon.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2015, Gallery Books (US) / Harper Collins (Commonwealth)
Series: Apparently book 1 of what appears to be a trilogy. Stands alone fairly well.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pretty Deadly Vol 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Pretty Deadly Vol 1: The Shrike written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated by Emma Rios is the first volume of a comic series/serialised graphic novel, containing issues #1–5. To summarise, it's a western about death, his daughter, and another girl.

KELLY SUE DeCONNICK (Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel) and EMMA RÍOS (Dr. Strange, Osborn) present the collected opening arc of their surprise-hit series that marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher. Death's daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke and her face bears the skull marks of her father. Her origin story is a tale of retribution as beautifully lush as it is unflinchingly savage.

I don't really like westerns that much and I only read this because a) it came highly recommended by some friends and b) because I've liked everything else DeConnick has done. I probably should've stuck to my first instinct of not liking westerns, though. (I think it's a combination of the gun culture and the general Americaness.) To be fair, Pretty Deadly is as much fantasy as it is western, but still. It more or less tells the origin story of Death's daughter with a focus on other character's whose relationship to that story isn't immediately obvious.

My favourite part of Pretty Deadly was the opening (per issue) narration by a butterfly and a skeleton rabbit. They were morbidly cute and framed the story nicely, putting the story in context at the start and the end. There were some non sequiturs in the middle issues, but those were still fun. So that was the highlight for me. I also liked Sissy, who struck me as more of a central character than Ginny, Death's daughter. That said, Sissy was one of the people telling Ginny's story and enabling it to happen.

Overall, I wasn't a huge fan of the art style. It's not that I didn't like it as art (and unlike some comic art, it definitely wasn't offensive), but I found it difficult to follow. A lot of the story is told through the art with only sparse words and I found I didn't take that in as well as I would have hoped. I'm not sure that more words would have helped because the presentation very much fit with the overall style. I think the busyness of many of the panels was the real culprit. There were times I felt a bit lost and had to do more work keeping up with the story than I would prefer for a comic. This was especially true of the scenes set in Death's domain (possibly a combination of the dark colours and large amount of small detail).

I haven't yet decided whether I'll be reading Volume Two. It won't be out for something like a year, so I have a while yet in which to decide. I would suggest having a look at the art style before committing to reading Pretty Deadly and I should point out that the cover is pretty representative of the interiors (albeit larger, obviously). On the other hand, the story itself is one that I think would appeal to a lot of spec fic fans, especially those that also enjoy the western genre and stories about anthropomorphic Death.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Image Comics
Series: Pretty Deadly Vol 1, containing issues #1–5. There will apparently be a volume 2, but beyond that is a mystery.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Non-Amazon-affiliated online book shop

Monday, 3 August 2015

Spider-Woman Vol 1: Spider-Verse by Dennis Hopeless

Spider-Woman Vol 1: Spider-Verse written by Dennis Hopeless and illustrated by Greg Land contains issues #1-4 of the latest (Marvel Now) Spider-Woman comics and an origin story issue from 1971 to bulk it out. I previously posted a short review of Issue #1.

Jessica Drew has been an agent of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.W.O.R.D., an Avenger and so much more. But nothing could prepare her for the multidimensional insanity that is Spider-Verse! A war is brewing, and every spider-character in the multiverse is a target! But being a target is something Jessica Drew just won't abide. She's a woman with a mission - and with Silk, the newest spider on the block at her side, she'll need to put all her training to the test if she wants to make it out of Spider-Verse alive! Now, undercover in the most dangerous place in the multiverse, Spider-Woman is in the tightest spot she's ever been in. What if even succeeding with her mission means her death? And can Silk handle a solo mission?

I feel a bit bad for Spider-Woman on this run because it's very much squeezed between two events (if you consider that Vol 2 leads into Last Days). This volume deals with some of Spider-Woman's adventures during the Spider-Verse event, which also involve Silk (pictured on the cover), Spider-Gwen (who is great) and Spider-Girl (Anya, briefly). The Spider-Verse event (which I thought was explained sufficiently within the comic — a nice change) centres around a bunch of bad guys who want to eat all the spider-people. It kind of reminded me of the Family of Blood from Doctor Who. The story in this volume starts of focusing on Spider-Woman and other protecting Silk, who seems to strongly attract bad guys. The mission takes them across universes and past doppelgängers until the day is more or less saved (something which obviously involves story lines in other books) and the event winds up.

The fourth issue winds up the most recent chapter of Jessica Drew's life and sets her up to get a new costume (spoiler) in the following issue, which will be in Volume 2. It was a one-shot story involving Carol Danvers and Steve Rogers (Captains Marvel and America) a small bad to fight, and of course many quips.

The last issue, from 1971, which was bundled into this volume, tells yet another origin story of Spider-Woman. Honestly, it's not that terrible, although it is that ridiculous. It starts with Spider-Woman as a Hydra agent and,via an encounter with Nick Fury (disappointingly white), ends with her questioning everything she'd been lead to believe. It was a bit melodramatic, but on the scale of weird old comics I've read, really not as offensive as it could've been. But overall, meh.

It's interesting to see that Spider-Woman's costume hasn't changed since the 70s (except for maybe her hair) and that makes her recent update all the more exciting. Her costume isn't the worst ever since it at least covers her, but it does tend to be drawn with unrealistically clingy fabric. And so, while I enjoyed the story in this volume, there were a few slightly icky art moments. Nothing too egregious, but boobs that were too big — which bothered me most on Spider-Gwen, for whatever reason — and a few weird poses. This is the series that had the particularly anatomically incorrect cover for issue #1, so perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised. It's disappointing, but on the other hand, I was pleased to see that cover wasn't included in the cover gallery at the back or anywhere else in the volume.

I am looking forward to the next volume of Spider-Woman (out next year :-/ ) and I enjoyed this volume. I'm not sure whether I would recommend it to readers who aren't already fans of Spider-Woman or Silk (or at a stretch Spider-Gwen). I don't think it stands alone that well and I suspect the next volume will actually be a better jumping on point (although I say that without having read any of it). On the other hand, this made me even more eager to read Spider-Gwen (I'm waiting for the trade) and has also made me interested in Silk, about whom I didn't know much before.

4 / 5 stars

First published: June 2015, Marvel Comics
Series: Spider-Woman ongoing series. Volume 1, contains issues #1-4 (and an issue from 1971)
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Real life book shop!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Wicked + The Divine Vol 1: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

The Wicked + The Divine Vol 1: The Faust Act, written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie, is a comic about a variety of gods incarnating as teenagers for a limited time. This first volume in an ongoing series collects issues #1–5.

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

This comic series is less... obvious... or predictable than the blurb makes it seem. It's set in a world where every ninety years the gods reincarnate into teenagers, are pop stars (or the period equivalent) and then die within two years. The last time this happened was the 1920s. It's happening again now.

The story is told from the point of view of Laura, a normal teenager who is a fan of the god music stars and wants to see them all live in concert. Then, when she passes out at a concert, she becomes more mixed up with them than she anticipated. In particular, she finds an affinity for Luci (-fer), who quickly also finds herself in trouble. In her quest to help, Laura gets mixed up with even more of the gods (I particularly liked the Morrigan, for whom I have a bit of a soft spot) and a journalist who has a Masters on the recurrence and a lot of god-directed anger.

I enjoyed The Wicked + The Divine a lot. It was a consistently entertaining read that had a diverse cast and was fairly irreverent towards the gods. It is especially fairly liberal towards who gets to be which god, with a few gender (and ethnicity) switches in the mix. For example Lucifer is female, Inanna is male and Woden looks like he (?) just stepped out of Tron for some reason. The gods all have some aspects of their traditional powers/identities but less literally than many interpretations will have it. I also enjoyed that it was set in London rather than New York or LA, because non-US settings are always refreshing.

This first volume contains a section of story which, although it's self-contained for one character, is obviously part of a bigger story. I can't wait to read more. The second volume has just recently come out, but it was sold out at our local store, sadface.

I highly recommend The Wicked + The Divine to fans of mythology. Kind of any mythology. A rather wide swath of cultures make an appearance. It's an engaging and interesting story that makes good use of the comic format.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Image Comics
Series: The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1 of ongoing series (vol 2 just came out). Collects issues #1–5
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Comic book shop in Melbourne

Sunday, 26 July 2015

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard is a novel in a new universe that stands alone well. I have, however, been informed that there is a sequel coming, as yet unnamed.

In the late Twentieth Century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins. The Great Magicians’ War left a trail of devastation in its wake. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

The characters are what really stood out for me in this book. They all have complex motivations that do not necessarily have much to do with each other's. The rich setting comes in a close second. For a start, it's refreshing to have  a fantasy book with an urban setting — albeit a ruined urban setting — set in Paris rather than in the US. And then there's the detailed way Bodard has destroyed Paris, and the world, before the opening of the story. The city is in ruins, but they are ruins that people have built lives around. But aside from mentioning that it's also a world in which not everything is as it seems, I don't think I can really do the worldbuilding justice. You'll just have to read the book yourself to see.

On to the characters! There's Philippe, a Vietnamese (or Annamite, as the alternate history of the book has it) ex-Immortal who ended up in Paris thanks to the sweeping force of colonialism. Although on the surface he may seem to have something in common with the Fallen, in that he's on Earth after being kicked out of the Jade Emperor's court, he hates the Fallen for what they've done to the world and their House system for what they've done to him personally. Despite this, the story opens with him getting caught up with House Silverspires, setting the main plot of the book into motion.

Then there's Isobelle, a new Fallen with an unshakable link to Philippe, his efforts to get away from all the Fallen notwithstanding, who is taken into House Silverspires. She unquestionably changes the most throughout the book, partly because new Fallen start off naive and clueless (so there's nowhere to go but up) and partly thanks to the events of the book. She ends up getting close to Madeline, Silverspires' House Alchemist who has secrets and a traumatic past.

As far as these things go, I'd say Philippe and Madeline were my favourite characters. I also found Morningstar, who is not really physically present in the story, to be a very powerful echo of a character, resonating throughout the story. The repercussions of his actions are far reaching and Bodard did a commendable job of making him come to life as not much more than a memory. Selene, the currently leader of House Silverspires, constantly lives in his shadow and measures herself against him while trying to keep the house together. I sympathised with Selene, although she wasn't exactly my favourite person.

The House of Shattered Wings is a gorgeously written fantasy novel set in a world of post-apocalyptic/war decay. I don't usually like angel books, but this one definitely worked for me. I suspect the combination of Christian mythology with Annam mythology probably helped in that area. I have to admit I wasn't sure if it was going to be a stand alone or part of a series while I was reading. The end was quite self-contained but there are a few more minor loose ends that I'm looking forward to seeing explored in a sequel. But there are definitely to cliffhangers and the main plot is resolved.
I highly recommend The House of Shattered Wings to all fantasy fans. Anyone looking for a different kind of urban fantasy should definitely give it a try.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2015, Penguin (US, cover above) and Gollancz (UK)
Series: Apparently there will be a sequel, but this volume stands alone well.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holly by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis

Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holly written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis and illustrated by Brooke Allen is the first volume of collected issues in a new ongoing comic series.

At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together... And they're not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here. 

I had heard a lot of good things about Lumberjanes before I finally got around to buying it. I dawdled on buying this because I didn't think I'd like the art. Turns out, it works really well for this story, especially with the way it's coloured in and laid out and stuff. It was a visually appealing read.

Part of what did finally convince me to buy it was the promise of a kickarse lady-centred story. And that it had. Lumberjanes is about five lumberjane scouts (and sort of their camp leader), at the lumberjane camp in the wilderness somewhere. They have some surreal and fantastical adventures which make use of their unexpected skills... as well as some of the skills they learn during the camp. If anything, the hype I was exposed to had me expecting a bit more from the comics — more depth, more character development. But in the end it's a short fun yarn, and anything more wouldn't have really fit in the pages available.

Lumberjanes is fun and a bit weird and I will definitely be reading the next one. I recommend Lumberjanes to readers who enjoy stories about women, especially with almost entirely female casts (one issue had an encounter with some boy scouts, but the rest were all ladies all the time). Whoo!

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2015, Boom! Box
Series: Lumberjanes ongoing series
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Online non-Amzon bookshop

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Tsana's July Status

Slightly belated because I had been travelling and it slipped my mind while I was busy recovering from said travels.

The main news since my last status update post is that our submissions window for Defying Doomsday closed, and now Holly and I are busy reading slush. I had a lot of comic reviews queued up from my Marvel Unlimited month, but now that they've run out I suspect things will get a little bit quieter on the blog, review-wise. I have been slowly catching up on review books in between slush, though, so there's that.

What Have I Read?


Books! *gasp* (more or less... OK there's still a lot of comics in there)
I have to say, there are more comics in that list than it feels like I've read, since most of them were queued in advance, but hey, that's how the... review... crumbles...

Currently Reading


Probably more different books than I really should be. Last night I started House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard which I'm really enjoying. I'm also a little way into Drachengott: Fire, the third in KJ Taylor's new series and keen to get back to the world, I just thought I needed a change of pace.

I'm also a reasonable way into Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which is a more unusual case. I already read an early draft of this book because I helped the authors with some of the science. I'm now reading the ARC, partly to see how it turned out (very different with the proper layout instead of just art notes! ;-p ) and partly so that I know how things happened in the final version in preparation for checking the science in book 2. It's a good kind of book to pick up and put down.

New Booksies


First off, an order of comics I placed came through:
  • Lumberjanes Vol 1 — review coming soooon
  • She-Hulk Vols 1 & 2 — because the last two issues were missing on Marvel Unlimited and I wanted to see how it ended! Also my husband ran out of time to read in on MU and got to do so at his leisure. Also it was a good run.
  • Ms Marvel Vol 3 — already reviewed because it's awesome.
Then some ARCs:
  • Drachengott: Fire by KJ Taylor — sequel to Wind and Earth.
  • House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard — currently reading
  • Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley — which, alas, has no cover yet and is the sequel to Mirror Empire
And finally, I was clearing out Firefox tabs and decided to buy the two books I'd left open to decide about later. They were:






Friday, 17 July 2015

Trees Vol 1: In Shadow by Warren Ellis

Trees Vol 1: In Shadow written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Jason Howard collects the first eight issues of the ongoing comic book series Trees. I read Issue #1 back in May and was intrigued and then picked up the first volume when I came across it in my local genre bookshop. If you read my short review of issue #1, let me just say, the first issue barely begins to scratch the surface of the awesomeness contained within this series.

Ten years after they landed. All over the world. And they did nothing, standing on the surface of the Earth like trees, exerting their silent pressure on the world, as if there were no-one here and nothing under foot. Ten years since we learned that there is intelligent life in the universe, but that they did not recognize us as intelligent or alive.

Trees looks at a near-future world where life goes on in the shadows of the Trees: in China, where a young painter arrives in the “special cultural zone” of a city under a Tree; in Italy, where a young woman under the menacing protection of a fascist gang meets an old man who wants to teach her terrible skills; and in Svalbard, where a research team is discovering, by accident, that the Trees may not be dormant after all, and the awful threat they truly represent.

First things first, there are no chapter breaks in this volume, so it was impossible to tell where issue #1 ended and issue #2 began, which was slightly confusing at first but not a hardship to reread the first issue again. And the issue covers are included at the end so you're not missing out. This lack of structure makes Trees feel much more like a continuous story than a lot of other comics I've read. Even Marvel's multi-issue arcs tend to have little recaps at the start of the issues, something that was completely lacking in Trees. A good choice, I think, lending a sense of coherence.

As I had already seen in issue #1, Trees follows several groups of characters in different parts of the world — a world in which towering alien structures have landed and then done not much else. A lot of the story doesn't directly involve the Trees, but some of it does and, of course, what kind of a story would it be if nothing continued to not happen? (Answer: a boring one.) But Trees doesn't stick to tired tropes when dealing with weird things happening with the alien structures. It subverts tropes and brings the Volume to a close with an unexpected bang. I have no idea what to expect in Volume 2, aside from maybe some of the things a couple of characters were planning.

Genre tropes aren't all that Trees subverts. What I found wasn't at all hinted at in Issue #1 was the scope of the gender issues dealt with in this comic. Most obviously there's the story in the Chinese artists' enclave under a tree, where the new boy a) learns that trans people exist, b) explores his own sexuality and c) deals with everything better than anyone particularly expected him to. I'd say it's worth reading just for those bits (actually, I'd say Trees is worth reading for any one of the individual storylines). There's also a strong feminist story in Italy, where a gangster's girlfriend learns some life skills from an older guy and takes matters (and the town) into her own hands. There was one thing the older guy said to her that particularly struck me. I was going to quote it but looking at it again it doesn't quite work out of context. But it's along the lines of the older guy feeling bad for contributing to a world where women like her (no money, minimal education, etc) are marginalised. He's helping her to redress the balance and has zero interest in her sexually, which I appreciated.

The other storylines involved scientists studying the Trees, which I don't think I can say too much about, a politician in Manhattan who will obviously be relevant in Volume 2, and the president of an African country. The latter story was left on a bit of a cliffhanger and I'm particularly interested in seeing what happens next. Hopefully it will be developed further and, hopefully we will eventually get some answers as to what the Trees want, where they came from and why they're here. I look forward to finding out.

Trees Vol 1: In Shadow was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to all SF and comic fans. In particular, I think readers who enjoyed Saga but are (also) interested in a more down-to-Earth SF read would do well to have a look at Trees. I am very much looking forward to the next volume, which I'm sure will be just as though-provoking.

5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2015, Image Comics
Series: Trees, ongoing series. Volume 1, collecting Issues #1–8
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from a physical book shop