Saga, Vol. 5

By Brian K. Vaughan

Rating: 5 stars

Writing reviews of Saga is starting to get a little dull, really. Each volume is brilliant and moves the story in new directions that throw me off-balance but never to a degree that I stop enjoying the story or caring for the characters. Fiona Staples’ art also continues to be gorgeous, bringing the characters to life in their weird, sexy, horrific glory.

Alana and Marco have been separated by the wannabe revolutionary, Dengo, of the Robot people and while Alana tries to deal with him to recover Hazel, Marco has to team up with his enemy, Prince Robot IV whose child Dengo has also kidnapped.

This all happens in parallel with Gwendolyn and Sophie’s quest to find something that can save The Will, and doesn’t that storyline come with a kick to the gut!

I basically like all of these people and just want them to all talk over their problems, work them out and all live happily in a Friends-style apartment block where they’d be in and out of each others’ homes all the time. Yeah, I know. A guy can daydream though!

I don’t know how much Saga there is to come, but I look forward to the time when I can basically sit down with a bit pile of graphic novels next to my chair and just work through the whole story in one sitting.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632154385
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2015

The Annihilation Score (Laundry Files, #6)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

The sixth volume of Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series is the first not to be told from Bob Howard’s point of view, instead being narrated by his wife, Dr Mo O’Brien as she is tasked with establishing and leading the Home Office’s new superhero team while dealing with the Pale Violin that she has carried for some years and also trying to do something about her disintegrating marriage to Bob.

There’s a lot of interesting complexity in this book, particularly set as far into the series as it is. After reading it, I had a shot at the spoiler thread about it on Charlie’s blog (a ‘shot’ at it because it’s nearly 600 comments long!) which definitely helped contextualise it a bit.

One thing that I get out of it is that I don’t necessarily think I like Mo. And I really like that. The fact that Stross told a good first person story and didn’t make the narrator that likeable is the mark of a good storyteller. And coming with five books’ worth of background helps as well. Until now we’ve only seen Mo from Bob’s point of view, and, as Stross points out again and again, Bob is a highly unreliable narrator. But specifically this is the woman he’s still in love with and has been married to for a decade so when we see her from his point of view, she’s on a pedestal. From her own point of view, she’s, er, less so. And this is hardly the best time to getting into her head, as the stress of trying to contain the Pale Violin (which she names Lecter) and everything she’s had to do as Agent CANDID is finally getting too much for her. Just when she has to effectively build a new Home Office department from scratch and deal with the politics of that, not to mention separation from her husband, an attractive new male colleague and working with her husband’s exes.

So an awful lot in there, and I look forward to seeing more from her and Bob, although that could be a while yet, as the next book in the series is to be narrated by Alex (the vampire from The Rhesus Chart) and it’s only the one after that which will once again star Bob.

Mind you, I came to these books for the geek humour and spy thriller vibe, with a bit of Lovecraftian stuff going on in the background. That’s obviously a bit of a false-flag. The series is very clearly tending towards horror with a bit of humour thrown in. As CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN intensifies, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep on reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356505312
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2015

From Egypt to Babylon: The International Age 1550-500 BC

By Paul Collins

Rating: 4 stars

This book is nothing if not ambitious. It aims to cover a thousand years of history of the near- and middle-east in a little over 200 pages, while also sprinkling a liberal dose of (quite stunning) pictures of items and exhibits, mostly from the British Museum, from the era.

How well it achieves this lofty aim is a matter for discussion. Covering a century per chapter, the book can only but be very broad brush in its coverage of history, giving a general sweep of which empires were in the ascendency and what their relations were with their neighbours. In this, the maps dispersed around the book are very useful, but could be hard to find when I needed to refer back to them (which was often). Perhaps a separate ‘maps’ section at the start of the book may have helped here.

The book is very much ‘kings and empires’. There is no social or sociological history here. In part that’s inevitable given both the scope of history under discussion, and the time period: recovering much of the social and cultural history of these peoples would be much more difficult than who was king and what he was doing, just because that sort of information is much more likely to have been written down.

The images accompanying the text are lovely, although the items photographed rarely have any relation to the text. It is, however, always astonishing to me just how beautiful some of these objects were and how fine the craftsmanship on them was, for items produced so long ago.

I was trying to think of the best way to describe this book and it occurred to me that it’s best described like an animated map, showing the rise and fall of empires across a millennium. I wondered if such a thing existed, and, of course, the Internet didn’t fail me. The first third or so of this map covers the period of this book (in about 30 seconds!). The map shows the empires, but the book still adds nuance and some depth to the relationships, although it’s easy to get lost in the many kings, countries and city-states that emerge and disappear within a few pages. It’s difficult to remember that a civilisation that only lasted a few pages was probably around for decades (or even longer) of real time.

That’s an inevitable problem, I suppose, with condensing history as much as this book does, but it’s still a great short introduction to the cradle of civilisation and holds up a mirror to the international wrangling that our own civilisation continually goes through.

Book details

ISBN: 9780674030961
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Year of publication: 2008

Gunnerkrigg Court Vol. 5: Refine (Gunnerkrigg Court #5)

By Thomas Siddell

Rating: 5 stars

The fifth collected volume of of the utterly marvellous webcomic takes us to the end of Annie and Kat’s year nine at Gunnerkrigg Court. Annie is now medium of the forest and her friend Andrew is medium of the Court. She has to balance her new duties with her education, not to mention all the ups and downs of being a teenage girl.

There are some lovely stories in this volume, especially that of Mort and how Annie helps him find peace, while at the same time finding out more about Jeanne, the ghost trapped in the Annan Water. The new romance between Kat and Paz is incredibly sweet and Annie’s initial reaction to it is very believable for the girl that we’ve come to know over the last forty-something chapters.

The chapter that followed Renard and Hetty was beautifully told as well, with Renard’s obvious pain over his past choices contrasting with the selfishness of Hetty. Renard is now one of my favourite characters in the story, which is saying something, in a story that has so many wonderful characters to choose from.

The final chapter is a suitably dramatic end to the year for the kids of the Court but it’s the last couple of pages that really make it, with the revelation of the deepening of Robot’s involvement in the cult that grown up around Kat.

Every time I think that Gunnerkrigg Court can’t get better, it does. Siddell is growing as both a storyteller and an artist. However, now that the volume has ended, it’ll be at least a year until the next one. Many webcomics work okay running a few pages a week (and Siddell has been nothing if not reliable at doing so) but I find GC impossible to read on such a schedule. I usually let a chapter or two build up and read them then, but it’s really when you have a whole book in one go that you can appreciate the story properly. I don’t know how much more there is to come, but I look forward to the day when I can put the entire set next to my chair and just work through them all in one giant binge. Until then, I’ll keep reading one chapter, and one book, at a time.

Book details

ISBN: 9781608866915
Publisher: Archaia
Year of publication: 2015

Carry On, Jeeves (Jeeves, #3)

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 5 stars

I am a huge fan of P. G. Wodehouse, having come to his oeuvre quite late, particularly the bumbling but ever-likeable Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s personal gentleman, the inimitable Jeeves. This volume is an entire collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories, including several that go on to be referenced elsewhere in the canon. For example, the infamous article for Milady’s Boudoir is first written here and we get to see how the gastronomic artist Anatole came to work for Aunt Dahlia (the only good egg in a handbag of aunts). This volume also has a rarity: a story narrated by Jeeves himself, not Bertie. This could have been a disaster, as so much of the fun of the stories comes from Jeeves’ cunning plan, but Jeeves’ horror of Bertie adopting a child and his elegant solution do work and don’t spoil the magic at all.

The stories aren’t exactly what you might call inventive or artistic: Bertie, or one of his pals, gets into a scrape (often with an aunt) and Jeeves gets him out again, often through an unnecessarily complex plan. But they are very good fun, and Wodehouse’s prose is a joy to read. Bertie’s narrative voice is clear and distinctive and the whole thing just comes together.

If you’ve got a horror of upper class Englishmen of a certain era, then avoid like the plague, but for the rest of us, if you see this (or, indeed, any Wodehouse novel) don’t hesitate to pick it up!

Book details

ISBN: 9780099513698
Publisher: Arrow Books
Year of publication: 1925

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