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

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Crash by Sean Williams

Crash by Sean Williams is the sequel to Jump, which I read a year and a half ago. The long gap between reading was a bit annoying because the events of book one had become a bit of a hazy memory. While I remembered the key characters, some of the details had become rather vague. However, I didn't find this an impediment to getting back into the story. There wasn't a huge amount of recapping, but there was enough to know what was going on. I'm pretty sure this review will contain spoilers for the first book.

If you betrayed a friend, how far would you go to earn their forgiveness?

If someone had saved your life, would you risk your life to save them?

If you could bring someone back from the dead, who would you choose?

Clair and Jesse have barely been reunited when the world is plunged into crisis - the d-mat network is broken. People are trapped, injured and dying, and it's partly Clair's fault.

Peacekeepers enlist Clair to track down Q, the rogue AI - artificial intelligence - who saved her life and is the key to fixing the system. Targeted by dupes and abandoned by her friends, Clair finds powerful allies in the most unlikely places. But who can she trust? Q won't respond to her calls for help, and if Clair finds her, will she be trapping her friend in a life of servitude or sending her to death by erasure?

Caught between pro- and anti-d-mat philosophies, in a world on the brink of all-out war, Clair must decide where she stands - and who she stands with - at the end.

This middle instalment of the trilogy follows Clair and her unusual band of friends as they mostly run away from things and try to survive. D-mat is broken and the world is in chaos from their sudden inability to travel anywhere further than walking distance (more or less). Clair, having contributed to the developing apocalypse, wants to do something about it. In particular, she wants to find Q who has disappeared and, with increasing urgency, deal with the new problems that arise like all the people trying to kill her.

This was actually a surprisingly violent book. It fit and made sense in the context, but a lot of people died, many of them off-page, but a lot of them also in proximity to Clair. Admittedly, many of these people weren't "proper" people, being dupes — clones controlled by someone else, loosely speaking — but there were still a lot of blood and guts. A warning for those who may not be in the mood for such things.

For Clair and friends the story was a string of disasters, moving from the frying pan into the fire and then the next frying pan several times. It was an entertaining read that had me keen to return to it every time I put the book down. I might have guessed one of the twists before it was revealed, but unlike with some other books I've read, it didn't annoy me that Clair didn't make the same connection until much later. There was a lot of evidence pointing both ways and I wasn't completely sure until it was confirmed.

If you enjoyed Jump (or Twinmaker in the US) I definitely recommend reading Crash (or Crashland in the US). If you haven't read any of this series, this is not the book to start with. It's very much a continuation of the story started in Jump. In general, I would definitely recommend this series to fans of YA and SF, especially to anyone that likes philosophical questions brought into their stories.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Allen & Unwin
Series: Twinmaker book 2 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased on iBooks
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Monday, 13 July 2015

Drachengott: Earth by KJ Taylor

Drachengott: Earth by KJ Taylor is the second book in the Drachengott series. It follows on from the first book in the series, Wind, which I have already reviewed. This sequel follows on from the events in the first book but does so by focussing on a different protagonist. The book almost stands alone, but I think the overarching plot would be completely lost without reading the earlier book, as would some of the complexity of the world Taylor has created.

Elynor von Augenstein is a Junger - a faithful worshipper of the mysterious Drachengott, with a faithful dragon servant of her own. But Elynor has secrets, and soon they will take everything from her.

A fugitive with no place to turn, Elynor sees only death in her future - but then a mysterious and beautiful woman comes into her life. A woman who is more than she seems to be, with secrets of her own - a woman who calls herself a friend to the famous Rutger Dragonsbane, and an enemy to the Drachengott himself ...

In Wind, the previous book, the instigating character leads and actively teaches Rutger for most of the story. In Earth, the instigating character more or less pushes Elynor in the right direction and leaves her to do the rest on her own. Elynor starts off as a Jünger, a magic user and follower of the Drachengott, but when she's condemned for not sticking to the whole Jünger celibacy thing, she starts to make her own way. She's also a shapeshifter, and, quite frankly, doesn't need anyone else to teach her how to do magic. Well, apart from one spell which she covets, but explaining that would be a spoiler. My point is, Elynor is a very independent and capable character from the start.

Unfortunately, that means she doesn't get to grow and evolve quite as much as a character/person throughout the story. The focus is not so much on her learning who she is (although there is an element of her working out what she believes in) but her having a goal and working towards it. In some ways that makes her feel a little underdeveloped, but I do think it makes sense given her role in the overarching story. I did feel this most keenly when [spoiler redacted] and she just goes along with it. There was a reasonable explanation, but I would have liked to have seen it explored more. (Apologies for cryptic end to paragraph there.)

Like the prequel, Earth is a quick read, telling one quarter of a larger, more epic story. I enjoyed it, with my favourite bits the random appearances of a certain character readers will recognise if they've read Wind. That more than anything, I think, served to remind me that what I was reading was a piece of a bigger picture and not quite an entire story by itself. (When it's complete I would kind of like to see this series printed in a single volume. It would feel... neat.)

I recommend Earth to readers who enjoyed Wind and want to read more of the world. If you liked Wind but didn't, for example, like the characters, then I would still recommend giving Earth a shot. On the other hand, if you want a long complex read with many layers to the characterisation etc, this is not the series for you. Go read KJ Taylor's griffin books instead. Dracchengott is very much characterised by brief and fun reads.

4 / 5 stars

First published: June 2015, Harper Collins
Series: Drachengott, book 2 of 4
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Ms Marvel Vol 3: Crushed by G Willow Wilson

Ms Marvel Vol 3: Crushed written by G Willow Wilson and illustrated by Elmo Bondoc and Takeshi Miyazawa is, obviously, the third Ms Marvel volume of the Kamala Khan Ms Marvel. Containing issues #12–15 of Ms Marvel and SHIELD #2 this is a bit of an unusual trade because the story that starts in #16 is tied to the Secret Wars event (it's a Last Days storyline, which means we will see the world ending from Kamala's point of view) and, I assume, could not be split up. So instead of giving us a trade with only 4 issues in it, the powers that be at Marvel threw in the SHIELD issue, which is very Ms Marvel-centric.

Love is in the air in Jersey City as Valentine’s Day arrives! Kamala Khan may not be allowed to go to the school dance, but Ms. Marvel is! Well sort of — by crashing it in an attempt to capture Asgard’s most annoying trickster! Yup, it’s a special Valentine’s Day story featuring Marvel’s favorite charlatan, Loki! And when a mysterious stranger arrives in Jersey City, Ms. Marvel must deal with…a crush! Because this new kid is really, really cute. What are these feelings, Kamala Khan? Prepare for drama! Intrigue! Romance! Suspense! Punching things! All this and more! The fan-favorite, critically acclaimed, amazing new series continues as Kamala Khan proves why she’s the best (and most adorable) new super hero there is! Plus, see what happens when SHIELD agent Jemma Simmons goes undercover at Kamala’s school!

This volume starts with a one-shot Valentine's Day issue, in which Teen Loki wreaks some havoc at the school dance. It was amusing but with all the set up — for the Loki side of things in Asgard, as well as for the Ms Marvel and friends side — it was over too quickly. We did get to see more of Nakia, which I liked because I don't think she's in nearly enough of her. Since Bruno is the only one who knows about Kamala's secret identity, there's a lot more of him around and not enough of Kamala with her female friend. So more Nakia for the win. She didn't make much of an appearance in the remaining issues, however.

The second storyline was a three issue arc mainly about the first boy Kamala has a crush on and basically everything that can go wrong when you're a superhero with a crush. And I do mean everything that can possibly go wrong in that scenario. But it was another amusing storyline that made me laugh several times, especially when things were going well. I was a little disappointed that everything had to fall apart, but it would not have been a sustainable storyline, so I suppose that makes sense. There was also a very interesting parallel drawn between supervillains and terrorists, which I'll leave for you to read in full.

And finally there was the SHIELD issue. I was concerned at first that it would be yet another comic story for which I didn't have the full background to understand but it actually turned out to be quite accessible. So long as you have a passing acquaintance with the SHIELD TV show (or I suppose the earlier comics, though this is the second issue of a new run that, I think, is more closely tied to the TV show than the earlier run, I could be wrong on that last point) this comic is completely comprehensible. Simmons goes undercover at Kamala's school, the shady business she and Coulson are there to stop explodes (figuratively) and Kamala saves the day and fangirls over SHIELD. It was another fun read.

I am continuing to enjoy this Ms Marvel series. I am looking forward to the next volume, although not without some trepidation given that everything is going to be turned on it's head. (I've seen some of the art though and it looks awesome. Ms Marvel meeting Captain Marvel? YES PLEASE!) If you've been enjoying Ms Marvel so far, definitely pick up this latest volume. If you haven't read any of it yet, I recommend starting with Issue #1 / Volume 1 (No Normal) since that will also give you the origin story.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2015, Marvel
Series: Ms Marvel, Vol 3 of ongoing series containing issues #12–15 of Ms Marvel and SHIELD issue #2
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Non-Amazon online book shop

Thursday, 9 July 2015

She-Hulk by Charles Soule

She-Hulk Vol 1: Law and Disorder and Vol 2: Disorderly Conduct written by Charles Soule and illustrated by Javier Poulido make up the most recently published run of She-Hulk. Unfortunately, reading on Marvel Unlimited, the last two issues were not yet available. The good news for me was that the last available issue, #10, tied up a story arc, so at least I wasn't left hanging too much... but I still went and ordered the trades of both volumes straight away.

Jennifer Walters is the She-Hulk! A stalwart member of the Avengers and FF, she's also a killer attorney with a pile of degrees and professional respect. But juggling cases and kicking bad guy butt is a little more complicated than she anticipated. With a new practice, a new paralegal and a mounting number of super villains she's racking up as personal enemies, She Hulk might have bitten off more than she can chew! When Kristoff Vernard, the son of Victor Von Doom, seeks extradition, it's an international jailbreak, She-Hulk-style! Then, She-Hulk and Hellcat must uncover the secrets of the Blue File — a conspiracy that touches the entire Marvel Universe! And when someone important to She-Hulk is killed, and won't let it stand — but who can she trust?

She-Hulk takes on her most terrifying role yet: defendant! She-Hulk, Hellcat and Giant-Man team up to save one of Jen’s officemates — but what secret agenda does Hank Pym have? Meanwhile, She-Hulk takes on Captain America as her newest client! Someone from Cap’s past has returned to haunt them all, and She-Hulk might be his only hope — because the opposing attorney is Matt Murdock! She-Hulk and Daredevil battle it out in court and on the streets in this trial of the century — but is Captain America actually guilty after all? And at long last, it’s all come down to this: the Blue File revealed! As Hellcat investigates the mysterious, mind-altering file, She-Hulk takes on Titania — and Angie Huang just might meet her fate! Secrets are revealed and the Blue File is opened wide as Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s acclaimed run comes to a close!

I think this was definitely my favourite She-Hulk run. I enjoyed some of the side characters and stories in the Dan Slott runs, but this run was overall more enjoyable. For a start the art was much less objectifying — although I enjoyed one of the artists in the Slott runs, the others were less good and there was much more gratuitous sideboob and bikini line action happening, not to mention the "standard" cleavage and butt shots. Here She-Hulk and Hellcat aren't objectified and are just portrayed as doing their job. Even when She-Hulk grows muscles and fights someone, leading to torn and shredded clothes, we might see part of her underwear but it never felt icky.

The stories were also more interesting and there was no random going to space (my least favourite Slott story lines). The main reason I wanted to read this run of She-Hulk (after burning out on the earlier one) is because I'd heard it leads into the new A-Force series; all-female Avengers, lead by She-Hulk. Having now read it, I'm not sure if it does, but I suspect that will be clearer when I read A-Force. In any case, the story that played out in the last two issues was odd and did have one key thing in common with what (little) I know of Secret Wars, but I'm not sure if that's relevant. I did like how a lot of hints were dropped in earlier She-Hulk issues that didn't come to a head until the very end. It was one of the things that kept me reading (the other things being basically everything else about the series).

The other cases were very fun and I found myself laughing several times. First there's Kristoff Vernard, the son of Victor Von Doom, who wants to defect and seek asylum in the US. He's kind of a spoilt jerk, but comes off as an enjoyable character to read about, possibly because of the doombots everywhere. There was also an incident with miniaturisation technology and a disagreement about intellectual property (illustrated on the cover of Vol 2), which got Hank Pym involved. Penultimately, there was a court case against Captain America, with She-Hulk defending him.

I really liked the side characters in this run too. There's Hellcat, who I've already mentioned, hired by She-Hulk to do the odd bit of investigative work. There's She-Hulk's paralegal, a new character with a suspicious monkey... suspiciously awesome monkey, that is. I also really enjoyed the scenes where She-Hulk and Daredevil/Matt Murdock interacted. It makes sense that the two superhero lawyers would have a lot in common and want to get together every so often, but it wasn't something we saw in earlier She-Hulk. Also, the part where they butt-heads as opposing councils is pretty great.

In summary, this version of She-Hulk is pretty great. If you like the idea of She-Hulk as a character but haven't read any of her stories, this is a good place to start. If you enjoyed earlier She-Hulk, why not read more? If you like your female superheroes not to be sexually objectified in the art, I would also suggest giving this series a shot.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Marvel
Series: Yes. She-Hulk (2014 run) issues #1–12, collected in Vol 1 & 2 (#11-12 not yet on Marvel Unlimited at my time of reading)
Format read: Digital and trade paperback
Source: Marvel Unlimited, non-Amazon online book shop for the trades

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Random One-shots and misc from Marvel Unlimited

While I had my month of being subscribed to Marvel Unlimited, I read a bunch of random comics, mostly one-offs, that didn't fit into their own blog post. This is the blog post for them!

Spider Island: I Love New York City
A short issue about Spider-Cat and a face-off with Vemon-Pidgeon. Amusing, but not much to it.

The Avenging Spider-Man #9-10
Cross-over issues with Captain Marvel from the very dawn of Carol Danvers' new title. A two-shot story written by Kelly Sue DeConnick in which Carol and Spider-Man, the former giving the latter a lift to Boston in her new plane, come across a strange girl with a jet-pack being shot at. Of course, they detour to help and things don't quite go as expected (as per usual). Fun read, nice banter.

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, this is a one-shot featuring Pepper Pots as Rescue, aka girlfriend of Tony Stark/Iron Man. This issue has Pepper on the lam during the dark time of the Green Goblin's control of the US. She hallucinates her dead husband (who I didn't know existed) and flashes back to rescuing some bystanders from a normal (non-villainous) accident and fire. It was OK but I felt like there was a lot of background missing for me on this one. Wouldn't mind reading more about Pepper though.

Captain America and the Secret Avengers
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, this issue contains two stories, illustrated by two different artists. The first is Black Widow and Sharon Carter (aka Agent 13) going in to extract an agent who was put in a similar situation to Black Widow before she defected to the US. They walk into a trap (which they more or less knew was a trap) and through the power of awesomeness prevail. The second story is an unrelated short funny in which both Black Widow and Silver Sable both show up to apprehend the same criminal and sort of fight over who gets to take him in. Suffice to say it ends with them going for drinks.

Avengers (1963) #227
So I read this somewhat random issue because the Marvel Unlimited app suggested it as a comic containing Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel (a brief stint, I gather). The first half of the comic was pretty good with plentiful girl power, including from She-Hulk and Jan/the Wasp. The second half of the comic, however, turned into a slightly boring recap of Dr Pym's life story and recent crimes against the Avengers. Yawn. The only upside was that it also included the Wasp's origin story, which did actually clear up a few things. Also the old school art style is much less pleasant to look at than any of the stuff I've read from this century.

Spider-Woman (2014) #1
This is the only issue of the new Spider-Woman on Marvel Unlimited, or I would've kept reading. It starts during the Spider-verse event (which I don't have much prior knowledge of other than it successfully generated a few spin-offs) with Jessica Drew and a 1930s Spider-Man protecting Silk who some spider-hero-eating bad guys want to eat. Why specifically her, I don't know (or care that much). It had good sassy dialogue with lovely inner-monologue sarcasm from Jess. Ended with a cameo from Spider-Gwen and Spider-Girl, so that's also cool. Definitely interested in reading more.

Edge of Spider-verse (2014) #2
This is the issue in which Spider-Gwen is first introduced before she got her own spin-off. As you can probably gather from the title, this is a comic event issue, but it completely stands alone and more or less tells us Gwen Stacy's origin as "Spider-Woman" (I assume it changes to Spider-Gwen later since that title belongs to Jessica Drew). It has a bit of post-high school existential angst, Gwen's band (the Mary-Janes) and Peter Parker turning into a giant lizard. Also, I quite like Spider-Gwen's costume. An enjoyable issue. I look forward to more Spider-Gwen in my future.

Sif (2010) #1
Another one-shot written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which is at least half the reason I read it. The other major reason being that Sif is a female character I don't know much about beyond what's in the movies. Can't say that I feel like I know much more about her now. It wasn't a bad story — someone needs a hero, Sif steps up in Thor's absence — but I felt like I was missing a lot of context, even with the back story blurb/prologue at the start. I suspect I would have gotten more out of it if I had read more related, contemporaneous comics. Oh well/

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Mystic by G Willow Wilson

Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice written by G Willow Wilson and illustrated by David Lopez is a four issue series about two orphan girls in a secondary fantasy world. It's basically what I'm used to getting out of a fantasy novel, but in comic book form. (And hence obviously much shorter.)

Can their friendship survive their greatest test?

The Limpet Hall Orphanage for Girls in the impoverished slums of Hyperion is no place for two young girls to grow up. But Gisells and Genevieve have always taken care of each other, waiting for the day they will be released from the servitude of the orphanage--and secretly daring to study the Noble Arts, magical skills only available to the aristocracy. When they're caught after hours in the library of the tyrannous Mistress of Limpet Hall, they have no choice but to take to the streets and forge their own paths. With new, incredible powers gleaned from the magical technology once forbidden to them, one girl will take up the massive burden of saving the world, and the other will direct all her efforts to tearing it apart!

The story is about two orphan girls living in a crappy orphanage in a gas-lamp fantasy style of world. Technology is powered by aether and aether must be collected by magicians, all of whom of from the noble class. When the two girls sneak into the apprentice-choosing ceremony, one of them answers an open question and is unexpectedly chosen to train at the palace, while the other is kicked out onto the street.

It has magic, revolution, bitchy rich girls, betrayal and the saving of civilisation as they know it. So basically, everything a good fantasy story needs. I enjoyed the story and the art, which conveyed what it needed to without objectifying anyone. The characters were well designed and fun to read about. It's hard to say much more about it without spoilers.

Mystic is a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and complete comic book story. I especially recommend it to fantasy fans. If you usually read fantasy books, it might be a good place to enter into the realm of comics, if superheroes aren't quite your thing.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Marvel
Series: Mystic, complete series, issues #1-4
Format read: Digital 
Source: Marvel Unlimited

Friday, 3 July 2015

Drachengott: Wind by KJ Taylor

Drachengott: Wind by KJ Taylor is the first book in a new fantasy series which I believe is being released only digitally. But on the up side, the four instalments are being released one a month, so by the time you read this book 3 will already be in the wild. And if the first book is anything to go by, they're pretty short instalments, by fantasy book standards. Perhaps in another time, they would have been published as parts one through four of the one printed book (although that's not how the author wrote it, as she mentions in this interview from last year).

Rutger has always been a bit different. Wanting more than his current provincial life holds, he practices swordfighting, ensuring he's ready for ... he's not quite sure what. Until he meets Swanhild, an enigmatic young woman who knows exactly what she's training for - war. The two meet every day in the forest to practice magic and Rutger feels like he finally belongs somewhere. But Swanhild is hiding something. Will Rugter find out her secret before it's too late? Or will the battle they've been waiting for render secrets irrelevant?

Wind starts with a few chapters of what is, structurally, a prolonged prologue. We're introduced to a confused dragon who doesn't really know what's going on or why, but whose story turns out to be quite important to the over arching plot of the series. We also get our first glimpse of Rutger, the main protagonist. The main story, however, starts several years later with Rutger determined to avenge his brother, who died in the prologue, but lacking direction. He trains for war but has no immediate battles to fight. That is until he meets Swanhild, who introduces him to the world of magic.

Swanhild was probably a more interesting character than Rutger (not that there was anything wrong with Rutger) with her mysterious past and unknown motivations. She propels the plot along and Rutger through it. Basically, nothing much would have happened in the book if it were not for her, but she's not the main character. From the ending (no spoilers) I get the feeling the next book will have a different main character but that Swanhild will still make an appearance.

I am interested to see how the overall structure of the series plays out. Being much shorter than what I would normally call Big Fat Fantasy (BFF), Wind nevertheless shares some characteristics with those sorts of books. Although Wind told a complete story, the overarching plot is only just beginning and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes in the following books. On the other, being quite short for a fantasy book it does have a little bit less depth (and only the one main character whose point of view we don't stray from after the very beginning). The worldbuilding, however, is sufficiently present to paint a picture of the world. It's Germanic, with some obvious differences to our world like the existence of dragons and magic, and also deer as the primary mounts. (Maybe the dragons ate all the horses? ;-p ) Also giant spiders in the forest, which really had me questioning why anyone ever went into the forest if person-eating spiders were a thing they could run into. (If you're arachnophobic, don't worry, they only appear briefly.)

Anyway, Wind was a short read that had me wanting to know what happens next. I look forward to continuing the series in the near future. I would recommend it to fans of fantasy after a quick fix and/or something that they won't spend days lost in (because of the short length). Fans of Taylor's other work will find a less complex story, but still, in my opinion, an enjoyable one.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2015, Harper Collins Impulse
Series: Drachengott book 1 of 4
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Runaways Vol 8: Dead End Kids by Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan

Runaways Vol 8: Dead End Kids written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by Michael Ryan is the eight "normal" volume of Runaways comics. It contains issues #25–30 of the second run. You can read my reviews of earlier Runaways here and here. This review will contain some spoilers for earlier plotlines.

Rebellious teens Nico, Chase, Karolina, Molly, Victor, and Xavin are survivors. All children of super-villains, they turned against their evil elders to become amateur super heroes. But when the authorities chase them out of Los Angeles, the Runaways forge an uneasy alliance with East Coast crime boss Kingpin, placing them on a collision course with the killer vigilante Punisher. The ensuing disaster hurls the kids a century backward in time, trapping them in 1907 New York - home of child labor, quaint technology, and competing gangs of super-folk known as "Wonders." Can the Runaways get back to the future? Find out in this timeless tale of comedy, romance, and old-fashioned heroism!

I was hesitant going into this story arc because of the change of writers. Although I like some of Whedon's other work (Buffy, Firefly) I wasn't sure how that would translate into comics. The answer is, it translated just fine. Dead End Kids was an engaging story, which featured Fisk (who I've come to like thanks to the Daredevil TV show, even though I know this comic portrayal was written much earlier) and time travel.

Picking up where the previous volume left off, the Runaways are in New York for a short while and plan to go back to LA soon. But of course, nothing is ever a smooth run with this group of kids. Instead, they find themselves in questionable circumstances that lead to 1907. The question then becomes how will they get back and how many new strays will they pick up in the process?

The whole thing with Karolina's relationship with Xavin was something that bothered me in the previous comics. I just didn't think it made a whole lot of sense from the context we were actually shown for it. That is actually remedied a bit in this story arc. I still think it started weirdly, but I'm less weirded out by their continuing relationship.

The main aspect I had an issue with was one of the bad guys' powers. She was a throw-away character but the super power of making men fight over her was kind of icky. As was how implausibly clingy her 1907 dress was. Happily, she was only a small part of the story and easy enough to overlook. On the other hand, all of the other bad guys/antagonists were male, which didn't help. It's nice that the Runaways are a female-dominated ensemble cast, but it would be nicer to have seen more diversity in the characters introduced for this arc.

Overall, however, I quite enjoyed this volume. If you're up to it in Runaways but aren't sure whether to keep reading, then my advice is to go ahead. If you haven't read any Runaways, I definitely suggest starting from the start. It's a nice comic with a long stretch of continuity.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2007–2008, Marvel
Series: Runaways Vol 8, issues #25–30 of the second run which started in 2005. These issues released 2007–2008
Format read: Digital
Source: Marvel Unlimited