BooksOfTheMoon

The Wicked + The Divine Deluxe Edition: Year One

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 4 stars

I’d heard some good things about this series and it was the hard recommendation of a friend whose taste I trust that finally sold me. Firstly, the physical object here is beautiful. It’s a hardback book with a minimalist black cover showing the logos of the twelve gods who have been reincarnated for this Recurrence.

The art is of a style that I generally enjoy and I really liked it here. The story is intriguing and has kept me engaged the whole way through: every ninety years, twelve gods return as young people, help inspire and change the world, and within two years, they’re all dead. That’s quite the hook, and Gillen and co make good on it. This time round, the gods are all pop stars, allowing the writers to talk about our culture through that lens. Our PoV character is Laura, a fan, maybe acolyte, of all of them who Lucifer (aka Luci) takes a shine to. This is followed by attempted murder, actual murder and a mystery over a death.

Gillen is happy to build up his mystery slowly, as he builds his world. And you can’t help but get drawn in. With such a large cast, to start with, it is sometimes difficult to remember who is who and what their shtick is. This gets easier as the book goes on, and it ends on a heck of a cliffhanger, that completely threw me.

I’m definitely going to be picking up more WicDiv, and how can I not get these gorgeous hardbacks? My favourite ‘extra’ in this volume is the writer’s commentary at the back. Gillen goes through pretty much the entire comic, page by page, with his own thoughts and analysis, pointing out things that I missed in my first desperate rush to read the next page. It’s a great way to read the whole thing again in a more thoughtful manner.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632157287
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2016

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition, Vol. 5

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

In the final volume of Alita’s story (well, her first story, at least), Alita storms Nova’s lab, with only Kaos for backup. At one point, she utters the immortal line “My rage is ultrasonic”, which, I must confess, made me giggle a lot. Meanwhile, since his attack on Zalem failed, Den is making a suicidal charge against the Scrapyard, alone, except for Koyomi.

There’s a lot to enjoy here, especially Nova’s second entrapment of Alita in the Ouroboros program, and Den’s mental battle with Kaos, but I was very disappointed with the canonical ending. It just seemed very abrupt and, frankly, a rubbish way to end Alita’s story.

This is continued with a non-canonical coda, almost, that takes Alita to Zalem and sees her and Nova, along with Lou, confront the master computer of Zalem. This improves a bit on the canonical end, but seems very odd. Nova in particular behaves in very odd ways that don’t seem to follow from his previous actions. Why would he restore Alita like that, and give her that new, nigh-on invincible body?

There’s also a short story set in the Motorball world, not featuring Alita, with a slightly different art style. That was interesting, with quite a melancholy tone to it. The volume finishes with a couple of interviews with the author where, amongst other things, he talks about the end, and how it’s not what he wanted, but various factors converged to force him to end the story where he did.

As for myself, I think I’ll content myself with the non-canonical ending, and not seek out the sequel series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632366023
Year of publication: 2018

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition, Vol. 4

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

This volume picks up 10 years after the end of the last one, with Alita having left Figure Four at some point and is back working for Zalem again, in her guise as TUNED unit A1. This volume sees her encounter with Den, the leader of an anti-Zalem army, and Kaos, someone who can read an object’s history by just touching it. She also finally finds her lost father-figure Ido, although that reunion doesn’t exactly go as she expected.

This is a strange volume and the story felt sort of incomplete. Possibly inevitable, as the pace of the overall arc ramps up towards a conclusion in the next volume. Alita seems more vulnerable here and leans heavily on some of those around her, including her new Zalemite operator, Lou (who’s quite adorable, in a deeply nerdy way).

The storyline with the AR units feels like it just peters out, without really much resolution. There are supposed to be multiple AR units, but we only see two of them. If they are as powerful as is portrayed, they should have had a much bigger impact. Likewise, there’s no real explanation for the missing Figure, with just the occasional flashback to him.

Den, leader of the Barjack rebellion against Zalem, is an interesting character, and had the potential to be quite a complex, layered individual, but it doesn’t feel like that happened.

I’ll complete the series now, but I’m losing momentum.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632366016
Year of publication: 2018

The Complete Mapp and Lucia, Volume 1

By E.F. Benson

Rating: 3 stars

A friend recommended the Mapp and Lucia books to me some time ago, and I got given this omnibus for my birthday this year. Having read the first two (of three) volumes in this collection, I’m firmly of the opinion that I’m not going to read the third, nor will I be looking for volume 2 of this series. I didn’t hugely enjoy either book, although I preferred Queen Lucia to Miss Mapp, the eponymous protagonist of which I actively disliked. Individual reviews below.

Queen Lucia

Mrs Emmeline Lucas, universally known in the village of Riseholme, where she lives, as Lucia, is the undisputed reigning monarch of the village, in culture, music and art. Riseholme is awash with well-off, bored inhabitants, all heavily invested in the tiny dramas that play out in the village, from the saga of the guru to the mystery of who’s taken the empty house. Lucia is a ridiculous, pompous creature, but entertaining in her own way.

The strange baby talk that she indulges in with her “grand vizier”, the rather camp Georgie is odd (and a little creepy to my mind). Georgie is possibly the most sympathetic character in the book, although he’s no less ridiculous than the rest of them. The inhabitants of Riseholme, while all scheming and gossiping, for the most part aren’t actively malicious towards each other. Lucia has a need to be the centre of attention and sometimes does underhand things to achieve that, but she usually gets her just desserts.

Spoiler
While I was fully expecting the guru to be a scoundrel, I was disappointed that the only non-white character in the book also turned out to be a thief. This left a sour taste to an otherwise entertaining escapade.

Three stars.

Miss Mapp

Miss Elizabeth Mapp lives in the village of Tilling, where she aspires to fill a similar role to Lucia, but is more just a hate-filled, hypocritical shrew. She has shallow, rivalry-filled friendships with her neighbours and spends her evenings plotting and playing bridge.

The most enjoyable relationship in this book was that between the “frenemies” Major Flint and Captain Puffin, who spend their days playing golf together, and their evenings “writing memoires” and “researching Roman roads” respectively. Miss Mapp’s intervention in that friendship especially made me quite angry.

I wasn’t interested in the stories of these people at all (although the duel was quite entertaining to begin with). I found myself waiting for Mapp to get her comeuppance on a regular basis, which isn’t the basis for me to enjoy a book at all.

Two stars.

Book details

ISBN: 9781840226737
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Year of publication: 2011

City of Miracles (The Divine Cities, #3)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 4 stars

Shara Komayd is dead (not a spoiler, it’s the first sentence on the blurb on the back). Her old friend and ally Sigrid finds out and sets out to find her murderer and avenge her. Amongst his grief, he finds himself in the middle of a hidden war and learns me than he wanted to about his own past.

This book is about cycles. Cycles of violence and revenge and, eventually, forgiveness. The Divinities of the Continent were the source of so much pain to Saypur; Saypur in turn imposed its will on the Continent, returning the favour. The book questions these sorts of cycles and what is required to break them.

Sigrid was probably my favourite character from City of Stairs. He was huge, inscrutable, competent, and just destroyed things that got in his way. But I wasn’t sure about making this book about him. But it was good to get inside his head and find what’s been driving him through the series. The way he held on to his anger and pain until it became a millstone around his neck. His fear of being unable to change, and the anger at losing the last person in his life that he truly cared for.

It’s exciting, with lots set-pieces, as the hidden enemy slowly starts to reveal himself, leaving Sigrud as the last thing in his way, now that Shara is gone. The pace is good, as well, and there’s a neat twist right at the end which made me smile (and, for once, I worked out the main ‘twist’ before it happened, which is something I’m normally awful at).

It left me with a feeling of melancholy, but this feels like a good way to end the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857053596
Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Year of publication: 2018

A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided

By Amanda Foreman

Rating: 4 stars

It usually takes me ages to read non-fiction books, but I raced through this one, and given that it’s over 800 pages, that’s not to be sniffed at. It’s very well-written, and keeps you turning the page, with a well-structured narrative, and lots of interesting characters. Despite its prevalence in popular culture, the American civil war is not one that I know very much about. This book has its particular angle, regarding the British links and reasons for British neutrality, but it also does a good job in covering the major reasons for and battles of the war.

I did find myself struggling a bit towards the end, as the number of people increased. Keeping track of who was who and which side they were fighting on was much harder by then, but made easier thanks to a very comprehensive index.

The book covered the political and diplomatic aspects of the British involvement with the civil war quite well, with Lords Lyons (the British “Minister” to the American Legation [not embassy]), Russell (the foreign secretary) and Palmerston (the prime minister) on the British side and William Seward (the American Secretary of State) and Charles Francis Adams (Lyons’ counterpart in London) on the American. It also covers individual stories well, following Britons who joined both sides of the war through their letters and other historical documents.

What I think it does less well is talk about the reasons that the average Briton joined or supported the different factions of the war. I was surprised by just how popular that the Southern cause was in Britain (Liverpool, in particular seems to have been a hotbed of sympathy for the South), given the general disgust with slavery, and I would have liked to have seen more on that.

Something else that I never really appreciated with the depth of enmity of America (both sides) to Britain in this period. It seems Seward in particular was happy to whip up the public against foreigners (particularly Britain) to bolster his political standing (plus ├ža change, eh?). This leads me to view the so-called “special relationship” between Britain and the US with more than usual cynicism.

This is a very readable, in-depth history of the American civil war, from the very particular perspective of the British links, but it’s a page-turner, and with nearly 200 pages of endnotes if you want to go into more depth. A good overview of the war.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141040585
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 2011

The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps

By Edward Brooke-Hitching

Rating: 3 stars

This is a quite interesting book of maps of places that don’t exist. Whether by mistake, through hearsay or just plain lying, people were persuaded that these places were real enough to draw maps of, and Brooke-Hitching has collected a number of these, which he presents, along with their stories.

The book itself is lovely, with large, colour reproductions of the maps, often with boxouts of details (if the mistake is a tiny island on a map showing the whole Atlantic ocean, for example). I do feel that some of the entries could do with being longer, and I did get a bit tired of islands in the Atlantic that were probably just cloud banks. The book itself says that mythical islands are as abundant in the mythologies of Eastern cultures as that of the west, but it only devotes a single entry (Wak-Wak) to any of them. I would have happily lost a few of the Atlantic islands in favour of some stuff that wasn’t centred around the West.

There was a lot of interest, though. The story of Gregor MacGregor and his shameless invention of a territory in Latin America is fascinating, not to mention heartbreaking for the people he hoodwinked. And the idea that people for a long time thought that California was an island isn’t something that I had encountered before. Nor the belief that Australia had a huge inland sea, fed by a huge river network.

So a lovely book to dip into at random, but could have done with being a bit more balanced and less Euro- and American-centric.

Book details

ISBN: 9781471159459
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Year of publication: 2016

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 4 stars

In the 22nd century, humans have cracked one of the big problems in spaceflight: how to keep humans alive outwith the safe, nurturing environment of Earth. Their answer: somaforming. Instead of changing the environment to suit the human, they change the human to suit the environment (on a limited scale at least; generally minor changes, where the recipient is still recognisable as human). Ariadne O’Neill and her three shipmates are members of a crew (Lawki 6) sent to the planets of a star, fourteen light years from Earth to investigate its planets in the name of exploration and the drive for human knowledge.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I really enjoyed the simple steadfastness of our protagonist and her shipmates, their love for each other and the fact that Chambers avoids the obvious impulse to have conflict between the crewmates to drive the plot. She doesn’t do that, and I think the book is all the stronger for it.

I also love the science-driven nature of the plot. Lawki 6 is a pure science mission, privately funded without any desire to terraform or exploit what they find. They tread lightly, find joy in their discoveries, and weep when they accidentally kill some of the life they find. Chambers describes this with a light touch that nonetheless touched me to my core.

There’s a deep ambivalence around the ending which could be incredibly positive or very depressing, depending on what happens next. Chambers leaves this to our imaginations, and I choose to believe in the more positive choice. I choose to believe that Earth responds to the message that Ariadne sends and whichever direction they go, they will do so with joy in their heart and the blessing of their home.

PS: I googled ‘Lawki’, and it could be either a place in Poland, or an acronym for “Life As We Know It”, which seems more relevant.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473697188

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)

By C.S. Lewis

Rating: 4 stars

I read and enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe several times as a child, but it wasn’t until I went to university, that I heard about its religious subtext, which surprised me (not growing up in a Christian household). This was the first time that I’ve re-read it as an adult and the religious subtext is pretty blatant coming to it now (I especially liked the mention of Jadis as being a Daughter of Lilith, rather than Eve), but it’s still a very enjoyable read. Despite the allegory, I still felt the pain of the temptation of Edmund and the humiliation and death of Aslan just as much as I did as a child.

It reads very much of its time, in terms of language and assumptions, not to mention style. I pretty much grew up on Lewis and Enid Blyton, so it was all very familiar to me, and comforting, in a way, but it does make assumptions about gender, class and status that would be more challenged today. The voice of the narrator talking directly to the reader is also something that has fallen out of favour in modern writing. It definitely feels, not exactly ‘dated’, but recognisable as not being a modern story (even setting aside the contents).

Even so, I still think it holds up well as a children’s book that draws the reader in and holds their attention well. Characters such as Mr Tumnus, the beavers and, of course, Aslan will live long in the memory and affection of readers for a long time to come.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006716631
Publisher: Fontana Lions
Year of publication: 1980

City of Blades (The Divine Cities, #2)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 4 stars

General Turyin Mulaghesh resigned her commission in anger to live out her days, looking for a peace she may never find. But her country still has need of her, so by fair means and foul, Prime Minister Shara Komyad (hero of the previous book, City of Stairs) enlists her to a secret mission to the city of Voortyastan, former home of the divinity of war and death.

This is a book in which war and soldiers loom large. There is obviously Voortya herself, the goddess of war, and General Mulaghesh, hero of the Battle of Bulikov, and with dark rumours to her name. But there’s also General Biswal and the different ideas of what being a soldier means to these old friends. It’s no secret that I’m an old leftie, who often looks on in horror at the acts of the military, carried out in my name. Mulaghesh sees being a soldier in a different light: she sees it as a chance to serve, to do what is required and nothing more, while Biswal sees it as a grand endeavour, worthy of praise and lauding. The tension between these two world views is what drives the book.

There’s as much cool history and mythology as in the previous book, this time focused on Voortya, and I especially loved the idea of the strength of the contract between the gods and their people. Its’ a clever idea. Sigrud from the first books shows up again, this time as a leader of his people. He hasn’t let it make him soft, though, and he’s there for Mulaghesh to rely on when she needs him.

Mulaghesh herself is an interesting character, much more fleshed out than she was in City of Stairs. She’s haunted by her past and has spent most of her career trying to make up for what she did during the war against the Continent; and meditating on the meaning of war and what soldiering is about; and trying to protect those under her command.

It’s not nearly as chin-stroking and head-nodding as I’ve been making out, though. It’s also a fast-paced adventure with some great action sequences. Very much a worthy sequel, with some real depth of character.

Book details

ISBN: 9781848669598
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2017

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