BooksOfTheMoon

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 3

By Kamome Shirahama

Rating: 4 stars

The third volume of this enjoyable manga neatly resolves the cliffhanger from the end of the previous volume, and apart from some ominous grumbling at each other, nothing more is heard of from the Knights Moralis, who I assume will be back in a future volume. But we are introduced to a bunch of new mysteries, and Master Qifrey is revealed to have his own connection of some sort to the Brimmed Caps and isn’t above being devious himself.

Our window on the witching world, Coco, continues to be innocent and delightful, and she starts to make a connection with Tartah, the grandson of the quill and ink seller, who turns out to have his own problems.

There’s nice little world-building touches, like the idea that the ban on magic that affects bodies is so absolute that even healing magic is banned; and how much the idea of witches helping others in their society seems to be taken for granted by those around them, and they almost stop seeing the witches as people, and just as things that make their lives better.

It’s continues to be a fun and engaging series and I look forward to continuing the story in future volumes.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632368058

The Night Circus

By Erin Morgenstern

Rating: 5 stars

I’ve never found the circus hugely appealing, until I read this book. I remember it coming to our small town a couple of times when I was a kid, but I never found the wonder that some others seemed to find in it. But I so want to spend time in the Night Circus. Exploring its myriad tents, the monochrome colours and finding wonder and amazement around every corner.

This is a story of competition, of co-operation, of found family and love. I found the characters enchanting and the story riveting. The strange proxy competition between Hector Bowen and Alexander H has a dreamlike quality to it, never seeming quite real, right up until the stakes are revealed, right at the end. Celia and Marco, our protagonists, are people that you grow to care about, moreso than the people who raised them did. Hector is clearly an abusive parent to Celia, and while Alexander isn’t in that sense to Marco, he’s distant, never offering anything that could be seen as affection. These two, who are older than they seem, have lost touch with what it means to be human, seeing people as just pawns and playthings for their own competitions.

The contrast between them and their children is stark. Celia and Marco feel vivid and alive, thriving in the circus and building relationships while the elders do nothing but observe and plot.

The book was a pleasure to read, with smooth and joyful language that gets under your skin. Its structure involves lots of time-shifting, so you really have to pay attention to what’s happening when, but it’s very rewarding for it. I suspect it would reward rereading.

This was a beautiful book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Heartily recommended to anyone who’s ever enjoyed the circus or even wanted to enjoy the circus. It has the added benefit of having no clowns.

Book details

Publisher: Vintage
Year of publication: 2011

Under the Pendulum Sun

By Jeannette Ng

Rating: 3 stars

A gothic Victorian themed novel with added fae? Sounds right up my street. In a world where the Fae are real, and their home, Arcadia, can be found (ironically, only by getting lost), England does what it’s always done when a new frontier is opened up (no, not that one, but see below): sends missionaries to convert the heathens to the One True Faith. When Christian missionary Laon stops replying to her letters, his sister Catherine resolves to follow him there and find out what happened to him.

This is a very slow paced book, that works well for the gothic feel that it’s trying to invoke. The mysterious housekeeper is more Mrs Danvers than Mrs Fairfax, and the first meeting between Catherine and Laon, outside the castle of Gethsemane, that has been provided for the mission, is heavily reminiscent of Jane Eyre‘s first meeting with Mr Rochester. There’s more than one mystery around the castle and Catherine has to try and solve them, and to help Laon win his prize from the Pale Queen: access to the interior of Arcadia.

There’s a strong theological bent to this book, which sometimes makes it difficult for someone like myself, who grew up outwith that tradition, to follow the more subtle aspects of the discussion. While I’ve learned the core of Christian theology (partly, you sort of absorb it through osmosis in Britain, and partly, I wanted to be able to argue from an informed point during my Angry Young Atheist phase), it sort of feels like the whole book revolves around aspects of Christian theology that I struggled to follow.

The other problem I had with the book, is nothing to do with Ng or her writing, but purely what I wanted from it. When I read the description, my head immediately went to a completely different place: to the idea that empires of that era sent missionaries and were quick to follow them up with soldiers. I was intrigued by the idea of the British Empire trying to colonise Arcadia, and the way that temporal power was used to back up spiritual. That’s an interesting (to me) idea for a story, but it’s not the one that Ng wanted to tell. And that’s fine, but I still came away a bit disappointed.

Spoiler
It’s definitely a spoiler, so hidden, but I can’t not mention the incest. While the early descriptions had me feeling an usually close bond between brother and sister, when it develops into full-blown incest, that pushed me right out of the story. No matter that Catherine thought she was a changeling at the time, they were raised together as brother and sister. It was important for the plot, in terms of sin being important to the Pale Queen (gotta say, I still don’t entirely follow that), but I still didn’t like it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857667274
Publisher: Angry Robot
Year of publication: 2017

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl

By Theodora Goss

Rating: 5 stars

Picking up right from where the last book left off, this volume sees the Athena Club rush back to England to try and find and rescue one of their own and in the process they uncover a larger plot that threatens the throne itself.

While I had some problems with the previous book in the series, this more than made up for them. It’s tight, tense and terrific. The interruptions from the other Athena Club members into Catherine’s writing process are much less irritating than the previous volume (although there are some adverts for previous books, Mary clamps down on that) and they’re now something I looked forward to rather than sometimes groaned at.

I love all the members of the club, they’re great characters (I think Diana has become my favourite), and although we got to spend more time with Alice this time round, the newest member, Lucinda gets little to do, which is a shame. It would have been nice to spend longer in the head of someone who’s just starting out on her journey as a vampire and is still trying to figure it out.

I’ve read a number of books recently where the villain’s motivation is plain racism. I find that particularly difficult to read, but it’s important – Moriarty’s way of thinking in this book is gaining far too much ground in the real world, and anything that can remind people that it’s not a sensible and acceptable way of thinking is to the good. I was very glad to see the Golden Dawn (urgh) get their comeuppance here.

Spoiler
The one thing that didn’t quite work, I thought, was the climax – the fight with Queen Tera. I thought all the members of the club were caught and held too easily, and then the way that Laura calmly shot her and got Diana to saw her head off was unpleasant. I do think that Goss could have spent more time both with the climax itself, and with the aftermath.
After cutting someone’s head off with a knife, Diana calmly goes back to eating jam roly-polys, apparently without a care in the world. But killing someone isn’t something that can be shrugged off that easily, especially in such a grisly fashion. I would have liked to have seen more fallout from that. Yes, she’s Edward Hyde’s daughter, but I’d still have liked to have seen how she felt after doing the deed. Or at least the reaction to the other Club members when they learned what she’d done.

I’d drop half a star for the grumble in the spoiler, but still round it up, ending the trilogy on a high note.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534427884

The Wicked + the Divine Deluxe Edition: Year Two

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 4 stars

This second oversize volume of WicDiv collects the third and fourth arcs of the overall story. The first arc in the collection steps back from the overall plot to do more character-focused issues on some of the remaining members of the Pantheon. Regular artist Jamie McKelvie is missing for this arc, with a bunch of guest artists brought in. This mostly really works, but I wasn’t sure about Kate Brown’s art for the first issue of the volume. It’s rather cartoony and, for me, didn’t quite work with the material. On the other hand, Tuta Lotay’s art for issue 13 is fantastic, and puts a soft touch to a delicate subject (and that issue is pretty hard-hitting). I also really like Brandon Graham’s almost dreamlike art for issue 17, which gave us more insight into Sakhmet, who was present right from the start, but who we hadn’t really spent any time with before this.

After dropping hints of her in the previous volume, we finally get to meet Tara in the flesh, as it were. It’s a shame it’s so brief though, as her issue is very powerful, dealing, as it does, with objectification and harassment of women.

The second arc not only goes back to the plot, but turbocharges it. After seeing Ananke’s questionable actions last volume (not to mention the frankly murderous behaviour at the end of that volume), here we see her further manipulate her “children”, culminating in a dark ritual that even Woden doesn’t like the look of.

Spoiler
Also, Laura/Persephone’s alive! *Happy dance*! And while I don’t necessarily blame her for killing Ananke, this can’t end well.

I’m still really liking Gillen’s writer’s commentary. It’s a great way to review what you’ve already read, but more slowly and thoughtfully, paying attention to things that you rushed past on the first pass. And comics, even a large book like this one, are still brief enough that you can make multiple passes like that in a reasonable amount of time.

A compelling story, combining very modern storytelling with ancient tropes in an effective manner. I’m both dreading and can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534302204
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2017

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

By Alix E. Harrow

Rating: 3 stars

I’m sort of struggling to write a review for this one, because it doesn’t seem to have made me feel as much as I think it should. It had so much that I enjoy in a book: a feisty heroine, a book-within-a-book, it’s a book about books and storytelling, but somehow, it hasn’t left as much of an impression as I thought it would.

January Scaller is the ward of the wealthy Mr Locke, whose father is his employee, scouring the world for rare and beautiful objects for Locke’s collection. When January finds a strange book, her world changes entirely.

There’s a lot to this book, with race and racism being pretty high up the list. January is the “Coloured” ward of a rich white man in early 20th century America, and we see early on how his influence protects her, and what happens when that protection is withdrawn. Race is very much on our minds now, in mid-2020, with the Black Lives Matter movement still strong after the death of George Floyd, and this book has a strong treatment of the various characters who are treated badly because of their race, and also their class. In particular the power disparity of those who have money and those who don’t. Locke’s New England Archaeological Society is full of the rich and powerful and they take pride in making it clear just how wide that gap is.

This is also a book about change, and travel. In the book, the Doors are a means of change, of new ideas travelling between worlds, and there are attempts to close the Doors, to prevent change and impose a strict order on the world. On my less good days, I feel that those forces are winning. While I wouldn’t describe the early 21st century as “orderly”, it does feel like moneyed interests (such as those in the book) are very much on top. But as the book reminds us, it isn’t forever. Change is inevitable, and those who try to stop it are eventually washed away.

One final thing, something I discovered quite by accident: the book is Augmented Reality-enabled. If you point Google Lens at the front cover, you get a beautiful little animation, and if you point it at the back, you get a little talk from the author about the book. I really like that, and I hope more publishers start doing something similar.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512464

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, #2)

By S.A. Chakraborty

Rating: 2 stars

Sometimes a book stays in the mind after it’s over for the wrong reasons. Not for the cool action scenes, or the way the characters grow and develop but for the frustration at the book and the pain the characters cause each other. This, unfortunately, was the case with this book. I enjoyed the big action sequence at the end (the only memorable one in the book, really), I could see various characters developing and changing, but the overriding impression that I was left with was one of harm and unkindness.

So many of the characters in this book choose to cause harm to others. Whether to grasp or hold on to power, or because they’re in pain themselves, they lash out at others, and that wasn’t something I enjoyed reading. I enjoyed The City of Brass because of Nahri’s outsider’s view, and her wonder at Daevabad. Five years later (when this one is set), all that wonder is gone, replaced by fear, entrapment, and loneliness. Ali is still a zealot, unbending and unwilling to compromise, while Dara comes across as powerless (ironic, given his huge new powers) and just a tool in the hands of people willing to wield him to destruction.

I struggle in cases like this to give a rating. The book is well-written and tells a compelling story. It’s just that it’s a story I didn’t care for. I don’t think I care enough to read the final book in the trilogy, not unless I can get it in the library or from a friend.

Book details

ISBN: 9780008239473

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 5

By Shannon Watters

Rating: 4 stars

The first story in this collection moves away from Roanoke cabin to Zodiac, as Barney settles in with their cabin-mates following their move to the Lumberjanes camp last volume (incidentally, there was a nice little introduction to the idea of people’s pronouns here, which wasn’t too thickly laid on, but a good way to show it handled well). Diane has been allowed to stay, and she takes them off on a treasure hunt for magic. After this, we’re back with Roanoke, as we move into a sports-based storyline involving roller ball. I’m not a huge sports fan, but there’s enough fun in this (especially given who the opposing team are) that it keeps my attention.

The second arc sees Parents’ Day, where the various parents come to visit. This revisits previous hints that Molly’s family life isn’t happy. Seeing her watching, smiling slightly sadly, as the others make happy reunions with their families is a little heartbreaking. This seems to be something that the authors are going to leave simmering and come back to in future.

The artists change between the arcs in the volume. While I enjoyed the Carolyn Nowak’s art on the first story, Ayme Sotuyo’s work on the second felt “more Lumberjanes” to me. Both are very good and fit the type of storytelling going on here, but the second just spoke to me more. As always, everything to do with art is subjective, and YMMV.

The themes of friendship to the max, and found families persist in this volume, as the girls grow ever-closer, and the camp becomes ever-weirder. Lovely stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9781684153121
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2019

Flotation Device: A Charity Anthology

By E.M. Faulds (editor)

Rating: 4 stars

This anthology from the members of the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle was put together quickly after the start of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, in aid of various charities. All the authors donated their stories, so all the money (minus PayPal fees) went to the chosen charities. Given the cause, how could I refuse?

There’s quite a variety of stories here, light and dark, and of varying lengths. The opener, Of Gods and Monsters was strong, with a modern take on a fantasy Quest, where the princess gets pregnant with the Chosen One’s child and the Mighty Wizard storms off in a huff, so they have to find another solution. Sweet and funny, a fun way to start the collection.

Other highlights included The Map, or a Pocketful of Dog’s Teeth about a carny and their con trick against a punter; Amaranth, a metaphor for depression wrapped in a superhero story and The Snow Baby about a boy and his younger brother who’s been hidden from the rest of the village for fear they’ll kill him, which turned out better than I was expecting.

Some stories are short but pack quite a punch, such as The Anniversary by Ruth EJ Booth. Christopher Napier’s The Sea Calls its Own is longer, but has father-son feelings going on, and an end that punched me in the guts.

There are some well known names in here, such as Hal Duncan, with Threnody. I’m sorry to say that having read several pieces by Duncan in different collections, I’ve never entirely clicked with his style. Neil Williamson also contributed a story: Rare as a Harpy’s Tear, which is lyrical and melancholy.

I’m saving my favourite story for the end though. I must proclaim an interest here, in that I know Brian Milton personally and he’s a lovely chap, but I always perk up when I see a new story by him. His style is whimsical and light, but always full of heart. Here, he contributed Some of the Great Old Ones are on the Pitch, a story in broad Scots about a kerfuffle at a Partick Thistle football game. And, because some people apparently found this difficult to interpret, he’s provided a translation into the Queen’s English on his website. Heartily recommended if you need a smile today.

This is a good collection, with many of its stories based in Glasgow or Scotland, and for a good cause. Definitely worth your money and your time.

Book details

Publisher: Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle
Year of publication: 2020

Robots vs. Fairies

By Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (editors)

Rating: 4 stars

This is another gem from Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” over on Whatever. The idea of an anthology features robots and/or fairies tickled me, and I’m very glad I picked it up, as it’s a very strong anthology with a lot of big names in it.

It opens with Seanan McGuire‘s Build me a Wonderland (featuring both robots and fairies), which is a great read that satirises theme parks, consultants and HR. This is followed by a thoughtful story by Ken Liu on life in Silicon Valley, robot nannies and the way they change the social fabric around them. It’s also filled with geek popular culture references (particularly from the Star Trek episode Darmok), which always goes down well with me.

Other highlights include Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt, about a human librarian of a fairy library, which is a huge amount of fun; Just Another Love Song about a New York banshee just trying to make a living as Fae disappear around her; and To a Cloven Pine, Max Gladstone‘s science fictional take on The Tempest.

Hmm, looking at that list, it looks like I’m on Team Fairy, which surprises me, since I would consider myself much more Team Robot. The things we learn about ourselves.

Special mention to Catherynne M. Valante‘s closing story A Fall Counts Anywhere, which, like the opening story, also features both fairies and robots, this time in a very literal take on the anthology title, with robots and fae fighting it out, Battle Royal-style, in a WWE-style wrestling ring. Very fun, and with a surprising amount of pathos for such a silly concept.

So a great anthology for any fan of fairies and/or robots. With an absolutely beautiful cover to boot.

Book details

ISBN: 9781481462358
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Year of publication: 2018

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