BooksOfTheMoon

The Dark Archive (The Invisible Library #7)

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 5 stars

Irene is juggling the peace treaty between the dragons and the fae, helping her pal Vale out on a case, dealing with a new apprentice, and trying to keep up the day job of stealing books for her interdimensional Library. She’s quite put out, then, when there’s a number of assassination attempts on her and her friends, pointing to a mysterious new criminal mastermind. Irene needs to find them and stop them, before it’s too late.

This is very much a book of two halves. Whilst you can’t complain that the first half of the book is slow, the pace definitely picks up in the second half. We get to meet Irene’s new apprentice, Catherine, and start to get a feel for her as a character. She’s fae, so is inevitably drawn into stories and archetypes. She wants to be a librarian archetype (subtype TBC, but not spy) and so is quite upset that her work involves more running and hiding than cataloguing and recommending). It’s early days, but I’m warming to Catherine quite a lot already.

The rest of the supporting cast is present and correct, with Vale a major presence in this one, which I always like to see. I wonder where Vale’s story is going – since he’s got fae heritage and the “Moriarty” character plays into his Great Detective archetype. I fear as much as Irene that he might get sucked into his own story. We also get to meet more of Kai’s family, no spoiler to say that we end up liking them about as much as Kai does.

The second half of the book really shifts up a gear as revelation is piled upon revelation, old enemies crawl out of the woodwork, and Irene has to work harder than ever to just stay alive. This feels really exciting, even if you’re reasonably confident that our protagonists will get out of it in one piece. And the epilogue gives us just a taste of the secrets buried in the Library itself.

There are some great set-pieces, with the oversized science fair (in my head like something out of Girl Genius) being my favourite. But there’s also time for some character beats. There’s a moment near the end where we’re reminded about how ruthless that Irene has to be and the sorts of split-second decisions that she has to make, and that she’ll have to live with the consequences for the rest of her life.

An excellent addition to one of my favourite series, I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529000603
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2020

The Wicked + the Divine Deluxe Edition: Year Four

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 5 stars

The final volume of the excellent The Wicked + The Divine brings the series to a close with a bang. This collects the final two volumes of the main story, as well as a set of historical specials that help contextualise it. We learn Baal’s big secret, find out about the Great Darkness and have several fist-pumping moments of pure comic book joy, as well as reveals that break the heart and a surprisingly tender coda that left me in tears.

Jamie McKelvie continues to draw the main story, with guest artists for the specials, which fit just before the last chunk of main story and look back at previous Pantheons including the Roman era, the middle ages and the 1923 one we saw right at the start of the story. That one is a mixed comic/prose story that works really well.

Can I take a moment to talk about the edition itself? All the Deluxe Editions are absolutely gorgeous, but this final year of the story was so big that they needed an extra volume to fit it in. The core of the story fits into one volume (which is, itself, bigger than the previous Deluxe WicDivs), and the supplementary material that normally goes at the end — the alt covers, the makings of and, of course, the writer’s notes, as well as a couple of additional specials that aren’t essential to the story — is in a whole separate volume.

The two remaining specials are the “Christmas annual”, which tells some side stories that were hinted at previously but are now made explicit (and include a lot of the cast getting it on with each other), and the “funnies”, little stories written and drawn by people that the creators invite, often poking fun at Gillen and McKelvie themselves. My favourite of these was The Wicked + The Canine, which imagines all the gods as dogs, and my goodness are they adorable (the alt cover with dog-Amaterasu is the best thing ever).

We finally get Ananke’s story here, as her history and that of the gods finally spills out. We see some of that history (in fact, we see something out of each recurrence), and because the internet is sometimes amazing, someone out there has written a set of blog posts that give you the real world history of the time and place of each recurrence (warning, there are spoilers here if you’ve not read the book yet).

Gillen also gets to heavily troll the readers in one issue with 90 panels, across 10 pages that are just black. This made me laugh out loud at his audacity, but it definitely fits with some of the playfulness of WicDiv, in amongst the grief and pain.

This has been an epic journey, which ended on a much more hopeful note that I expected, and it’ll definitely be an experience to go back and read the whole story again at some point, with the full knowledge of the characters and events.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534313583

Changing Planes: Armchair Travel for the Mind

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 4 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of short stories linked by the idea that you can travel other worlds (planes) through the boredom of a missed flight at an airport with “a mere kind of twist and a slipping bend, easier to do than to describe”. The stories represent descriptions of these other worlds that the author has either visited (or, in some cases, descriptions from others who have visited). For the most part, they’re gentle anthropological imaginings of different societies and different species. Although that’s not to say that bad things don’t happen. When you’re talking about societies over time, that’s inevitable.

Peoples discussed include the Islai whose experimentation with genetic manipulation had a terrible cost; the Asonu, who just stop talking as they grow up, and the travellers who come to follow them and analyse the few utterings they do make; and the Hegn, where almost everyone has royal connection, and the attention they pay to their few common families.

It’s a great collection of stories, well thought out and written by someone with a strong anthropological background, which makes for some well told tales.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575076235
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2004

Dimension of Miracles

By Robert Sheckley

Rating: 4 stars

I was introduced to Robert Sheckley when I was in my 20s, by a friend who was keen to promote him. I took to Sheckley a lot and devoured pretty much everything my friend had, although I don’t remember this one from back then. Incidentally, this is the first Sheckley book that I’ve encountered that hasn’t been second hand. I thought all his work was out of print, so I’m very glad to see this available, and hopefully it’ll help introduce a new generation to his work.

Carmody, a human, is randomly selected in an interstellar sweepstake to win a prize (sorry, Prize). He collects this, and then has to set off on an epic voyage to return home, encountering gods, dinosaurs, parallel worlds, and, most terrifyingly of all, bureaucrats, along the way.

Once we’re off the Earth, the majority of the book is a sort of travelogue of Carmody’s attempt to get home, accompanied only by his not-so-trusty sentient Prize while being chased by a Predator tailored to him. He has conversations about the purpose of godhood; about the invention of science; and the meaning of death.

Sheckley is, first and foremost, a humorist. His work has been compared to Douglas Adams and, stylistically, it’s easy to see why. The humour is easy and unforced but present in just about every page, combined with satire regarding the world he saw around him. Like Arthur Dent, Carmody is an everyman (although less tea-obsessed), and he even meets a person whose profession is building planets (including the Earth) – all over a decade before Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series.

There’s an awful lot to enjoy here, and there’s a surprisingly poignant ending. I’m glad to have rediscovered Sheckley and hope that there’s more on the way (although I do think that his best work was in short stories, rather than the longer form).

Book details

ISBN: 9780241472491
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year of publication: 2020

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

By Natasha Pulley

Rating: 4 stars

In a Victorian London much like our own, Thaniel Steepleton comes home one day to find someone has broken into his home and left a gift for him – a pocket watch. It’s only when that pocket watch saves his life after an explosion at Scotland Yard some months later that Thaniel goes searching for the watchmaker, Japanese immigrant Keita Mori. Around the same time, Grace Carrow is trying to prove the existence of the ether, while simultaneously trying to avoid being married off by her parents. These three lives eventually intertwine in unexpected and life-changing ways.

I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a plot-driven book. For most of its length, it’s slow and fairly gentle. Spending time mostly with Thaniel and Mori, with Grace not getting nearly as much airtime as she deserves. It speeds up towards the end, in a way that was quite confusing (albeit deliberately so) and there’s a relationship that completely blind-sided me. Looking back, I can see some subtle signs of it building up, but it turns out that if I’ve not had it explicitly signposted, certain sorts of relationship just completely pass me by.

There was a strong focus on Japanese characters (the author spent some time there, as an academic) and the book delicately draws the distinctions between the immigrants and the locals, without ever resorting to crude bigotry from its characters. (Subtle bigotry, on the other hand…) It also shows the balance that immigrants have to strike when they move to a new country between their history and traditions and blending in with their new home and where different people draw that line.

As you would expect, clocks, clockwork and time play a large role. Mori is a genius with clockwork, with his masterpiece being his somewhat adorable mechanical octopus, Katsu (who has a thing for stealing socks). Timing of events, and probability of others are important, and not just in relation to the bomb that nearly kills Thaniel near the start of the book.

So a charming novel, with a good heart, not to mention a very interesting female scientist, who’s bolshy and flawed. I also now totally want a mechanical octopus (even if I’d have to buy a lock for my sock drawer).

Spoiler
I totally shipped Thaniel and Grace, even though their marriage was literally one of convenience, and it was probably that which blindsided me to Thaniel’s blossoming relationship with Mori.

Book details

ISBN: 9781408854310
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year of publication: 2016

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer

Rating: 5 stars

My sister recommended this short epistolary novel to me, and while I’m not usually a reader of historical fiction, I absolutely devoured it. Set just after the end of the Second World War, author Juliet Ashton has just finished a tour for her last book and is now casting about for what to do next. Serendipitously, she gets a letter from a stranger on the Isle of Guernsey, which leads to a correspondence and an introduction to the eponymous Society.

Guernsey was the only part of the UK that was occupied by the Germans during the war, and the correspondence between Juliet and the members of the Society teases out the complexities of the occupation and the relationship. It was a terrible time, and there were many atrocities, but there were kindnesses and love as well, and the book balances that well.

The members of the Society are well-drawn, and, interestingly, one of the clearest is someone who doesn’t write any letters of their own but is a prominent figure in many of the others. To say any more would be a spoiler. Possibly my favourite character is Isole, a hedge witch and keen practitioner of phrenology. She’s an awful lot of fun and I love her voice when she’s writing. A delightful romance also develops later in the book which is lovely to read.

The epistolary form through an entire novel is unusual and, I imagine, hard work to do. I did enjoy it though. The voice for the period is mostly well done as well.

I had all the feels while reading this book, I loved it.

Book details

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Year of publication: 2009

The Best of All Possible Worlds

By Karen Lord

Rating: 5 stars

This is a remarkably sweet and uplifting book for a story that starts with genocide. The planet of Sidira is destroyed, leaving only small groups of survivors. One of these groups is resettled on the planet of Cygnus Beta, a world that prides itself on welcoming all those who seek refuge. A government civil servant, Grace Delarua, is seconded to help the new settlement. When the colony decides to scour the planet looking for those with genetic heritage from their world, to help rebuild their society, Grace is assigned to travel with a group, including Dllenahkh, one of the Sidiri leaders.

There’s not a huge amount of plot to this book, it’s mostly a travelogue through various societies on Cygnus Beta, having minor adventures en route. It’s the characters that shine through. The warmth with which they’re portrayed is delightful, especially given the awful nature of the event that brought them there. The Sidiri are known as an intellectual and thoughtful people, not prone to burst of emotion (I pictured them as slightly more laid back Vulcans) and the dry wit that Dllenahkh shows, and his surprisingly tender romance with Delarua is a pleasure to read.

This also feels very much like a book for our times, showing us an example of how a society should handle those in need of refuge: with grace and open arms. In a world where more and more countries are turning their backs on their fellow peoples, we need to be reminded of the alternative. Where the host encourages those who come to them to develop and grow and become they best they can be, while those who take up that offer in turn grow into their host culture, while maintaining their own traditions.

The focus here is very much on Cygnus Beta, with only minor hints being dropped in about the wider galactic society and the four peoples (including Terrans) who make up humanity as a whole. The world-building is nicely done, and slides neatly into the story.

This isn’t a flashy novel, but it’s one that I found has worked its way into my heart without me really noticing. I cared about the characters and their relationships, which, to me, means the book is a success.

Book details

ISBN: 9781780871684
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2014

The Wicked + the Divine Deluxe Edition: Year Three

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 4 stars

I have a tendency to race through graphic novels at breakneck speed (well, that’s true of most novels, but especially so of comics). Hence I really like the writer’s commentary at the end that lets me re-read it, more slowly, a few pages at a time, paying attention to things that I never noticed first time round, and generally decompressing a bit. This was especially helpful here, in issue 27 where I had been reading so quickly that I didn’t even notice that I was reading panels out of order (this is a neat section with multiple stories being told on the same page, in differing layouts, with panel borders linking stories). I got the gist of it, which was all I wanted at the time, but it was good to go back and read it the way it was intended.

But, my goodness, WicDiv repays a close reading and then some. This third year covers the whole of what Gillen calls the Imperial Phase, following Ananke’s death, how the remaining gods turn things up to eleven and how that goes very, very wrong, culminating in two huge twists (or “reveals”, as Gillen prefers) at the end of the book.

WicDiv has always been a story of excess, whether that’s hedonism, sex or love, and all the gods give in to that excess in the Imperial Phase. There are tough themes covered in the story, from the co-dependence of the goth kids to Sekhmet’s nihilism and Persephone’s fatalism. some are shocking and some are just heartbreaking.

While there’s a lot covered here, and we finally get a glimpse of the Great Darkness that Ananke had talked about before, we don’t really get much idea of what it is or what the gods are doing about it (although I suspect that may be coming in the final year). I can’t wait to find out – even if I’m sure it’s going to be mostly heartbreak and misery for the cast.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534308572
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2018

Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air

By Jackson Ford

Rating: 2 stars

Warning: although I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews (or at least hide them), the stuff that is worth talking about in this book is all spoiler, from the second paragraph onwards. The executive summary is that it’s a fast-paced thriller with a likeable protagonist, but has Problems that mean that I’m done with the series.

The biggest problem for me in this book is that it made me want a child to die. Literally – I wanted a four-year old child to be killed. The child in this case is Matthew, the antagonist for our protagonist Teagan and her team, who can not only create earthquakes with his own telekinetic powers, but positively relishes doing so. He is lacking in any empathy whatsoever, has no self-control and hurts people (and kills them) for fun.

And what he wants to do is set off earthquakes. In California. He’s also a genius and after learning about tectonics, he deliberately triggers the San Andreas Fault, and then goes after an even bigger fault called Cascadia (which I’d never heard of, but Wiki says is A Thing). His mother is completely unable to control him – he’s never been told ‘no’ by anyone around him and has, as a result, learned to be sociopathic and compassionless.

Yes, a horrible person – but a four year child. And the author made me want him dead, and be disappointed when Teagan prevented this from happening. And I’m not sure I like that.

Also, is the moral of the series that unless you’re held in indentured servitude by the government, with the threat of vivisection hanging over you, any superpowered person will automatically be awful? Every powered person we’ve encountered so far in the series, other than Teagan (who just wants to be a chef), is a monster – an impression not lessened when we find out about the Director of the “school” that created Matthew right at the end.

Also, Teagan seems to be losing members of her team at the rate of one a book. While Carlos’s betrayal and demise in the first book was well-done, and a good twist, Paul was killed off just to show that Matthew is a Bad Person.

The book was well-written and is a good thriller, in that it keeps you engaged and keeps you turning the page. But I’m not engaged in the world any more at all.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356510460

Monstress, Vol. 5: Warchild

By Marjorie M. Liu

Rating: 4 stars

I’m really very fond of this series, but I’m starting to lose track of it. At this point, I think I might pause and wait for the story to complete before I go back to it, although I can’t seem to find how long that might be. In this volume, the long-threatened war between humans and arcanics finally erupts, and Maika pauses her own plans to help defend the city of Ravenna.

This volume highlights the bitterness of war and the choices it forces us to make. We’ve always known that Maika is an angry and hard person, but here we see her kill just to make a point to pull others into line. Zinn, meanwhile, has gone from an unknowable creature of shadow to some sort of rambling, lost child, trapped in his own mind.

The one shining light amongst all the misery is Kippa. She doesn’t get it easy here, not by a long shot. She makes mistakes and poor choices, but her heart is pure and, like Maika, I’d drop everything to save her if she needed it.

As for the rest of it, the politics; trying to remember who’s currently possessed by what; the plots and counter-plots; who is allied with whom and why (or who wants to double-cross whom), I think that needs a clear run to be able to follow it. I’ll keep an eye on the series, I think, because the story it’s telling is one worth being told, and Sana Takeda’s artwork remains magnificent, but given the complexity, it’s hard to keep up with the overall story when we only get a few chapters a year.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534316614
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2020

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