BooksOfTheMoon

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book Six

By Bill Willingham

Rating: 4 stars

The sixth hardback collection of Fables collects three story arcs (maybe four, but the middle two are linked). The first takes us into the occupied Homelands, and tells the story of two of Geppetto’s wooden people who fall in love and petition him to make them flesh, and the price that is extracted from them. This is interesting as it’s the first time we’ve had a story from the point of view of the occupying forces of the Homelands. It’s nominally tangential to everything else that’s going on, but the end suggests that plans are being laid.

The second story sees Mowgli’s search for Bigby through Asia and North America, and his eventual return to Fabletown, where Prince Charming makes him an offer he can’t refuse. The third story starts out with Bigby’s mission (and the trip to the cloud kingdoms is really fun) and ends with him and Snow White finally getting their Happily Ever After.

The final story is a really fun adventure with Cinderella as she tries to sign a treaty with the cloud kingdoms to get their cooperation against the Adversary. It shows her in full badass mode, chewing gum and prodding buttock. I don’t think we’ve got to see much of Cinderella thus far, and showing her spy skills and getting to do cool action stuff is really good fun.

I enjoyed this volume a lot. With the Bigby/Snow White plot winding down, it feels like a good place to pause the series. Regular artist Mark Buckingham shares duties with guest artists for the first and last arcs. All the artists are excellent at their work and make reading the book a pleasure. Now, I just need a bit more of Flycatcher and Red Riding Hood…

Book details

ISBN: 9781401237240
Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 2013

Gideon the Ninth

By Tamsyn Muir

Rating: 4 stars

There’s been some positive buzz around this book on social media which intrigued me, but I was wary that it was the first part of a trilogy, until someone I trust said that it was (mostly) readable as a standalone. I’m glad I did pick it up, as it’s very enjoyable. I especially like the narrative voice of the protagonist, Gideon. She’s fairly young at just eighteen, and something of this immaturity comes across in her voice, in a good way (I laughed much more than I should have done at the “that’s what she said” jokes).

Gideon is an indentured servant of the Ninth House – owing them for her upbringing. She’s been trained as a swordswoman, and when the head of the house, the necromancer Harrowhark, is called to service by the Emperor, she reluctantly follows Harrow as her cavalier. They find themselves along with pairs from the other Houses in a race to unlock the secret of immortality.

There’s something a little And Then There Were None about the way that the groups are taken to an isolated location with a mystery to be unlocked in a race against time, which I enjoyed quite a lot. The necromancer/cavalier pairs from the other houses were distinctive and interesting, from the jovial married couple of the Fifth House to the “terrible teens” of the Fourth to the creepy, sanctimonious Eighth. Maybe the military Second House didn’t get much beyond being uptight military types, but they were probably the exception.

I loved the relationship between Gideon and Harrow, how these two girls who have known and hated each other their entire lives have to start to rely on each other to survive the challenges they’re thrown and how that eventually turns into trust. It’s an old trope, but carried off with aplomb.

The world is classic science fantasy. Although there’s a thin veneer of SF in the form of space travel and genetics, most of the action involves magic and the fights are all sword fights. I’ll handwave it away via Clarke’s Third Law though. There’s enough worldbuilding to keep us interested without drowning us in exposition (although there are more hints in the glossary at the end).

Spoiler
From the moment we find out what Ianthe had to do to achieve Lyctor-hood, we sense that Gideon’s days are numbered. This is a shame, but what a way to go out. There’s scope for her to come back in some form (they never found the body!) and there’s still a number of mysteries around her. As I said above, I enjoyed her narrative voice a lot. I’ll miss her if she’s gone permanently. I mean, I’ll read a book about Harrow, but I’ll be thinking about Gideon.

The epilogue sets up the next book and I’ll be intrigued to see where it goes – it seems to be getting ready to widen the scope an awful lot, from a single isolated mansion to the whole galaxy. I can’t wait to see where the story goes.

Book details

ISBN: 9781250313188
Year of publication: 2020

Rivers of London Volume 8: The Fey and the Furious

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Alongside the excellent pun in the title, this is probably one of the better recent Peter Grant graphic novels, as the Folly is called to investigate a drowned boy racer with a boot full of very unusual cargo. Once again, Peter finds himself entangled with the fey, reliant only on his wits to help him through.

Moreso than even usual, this graphic novel was Grant-heavy, with minimal appearances from Nightingale and Guleed (and none whatsoever from Molly, boo). There was an incident with Guleed that I think would have been interesting to expand upon, although with space restrictions, they made do with what they could, and the visual medium does help here, with facial expressions and body language.

The artist has changed again for this story. They’re good, and handle the fast action of the car racing well, but I still miss Lee Sullivan.

The story is very plot-heavy, with little character development, and possibly the most interesting snippet in that area comes right at the end, with some internal captions from Beverley musing on her relationship with Peter which is both sweet and kind of ominous.

Like the last volume, there’s some articles at the end discussing the historical background to some of the story elements, including street racing and fairy myth. These are interesting, but I’d have preferred it if the text were in straight columns rather than at an angle. It might look cool, but it does make it a bit harder to read.

All in all, a fun, standalone story. Not essential, but a good read for fans of Peter Grant and his world.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785865862

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

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

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

Night Watch (Discworld, #29)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

I bought this book when it came out in 2003*, as I did with all new Discworld books at the time, read it once, and for whatever reason, it never quite gelled with me, so it’s been sitting on the shelf and has never been reread. But I know lots of people for whom Night Watch is their favourite Discworld novel, so eventually I thought I should give it another go. And I’m quite glad that I did, because it’s a very good book. There’s a lot of depth to it, with complex discussion of justice, revolution, complicity and much more.

But (you knew there was going to be a ‘but’), for me, the best Discworld novels marry complex themes with a light touch and lots of humour. While there are lines here that made me smile, there were none that made me laugh. And, to be fair, even Pratchett would struggle to wring humour out of torture and police brutality. So while I enjoyed this book a lot (and will probably reread it again), I still pined a bit for Men at Arms.

Here, Vimes is pulled out of his comfortable life, shoved back in time and left with nothing. He’s got to capture a dangerous criminal who came back with him, teach his younger self how to become a copper and worry about a revolution, all without breaking history. We’re introduced to an older, more dangerous Ankh-Morpork, one that hasn’t yet been tamed and strengthened by Lord Vetinari, where a paranoid man sits on the Patrician’s chair, seeing plots wherever he looks. And has his special Watch squad, the Unmentionables, out “dealing” with them, while the rest of the Watch looks the other way, and tries not to think about the special cells under the watch house.

So, a good book, a very good book. Lots to think about, and, despite everything, a lightness of touch as well. I can see why so many people love it – it’s got a good plot, complex characterisation (for Vimes, at least) and interesting themes. But for me, it’s a little too dark and is a little short on the humour that I feel characterises the cream of the Discworld.

* Yes, I’m one of those cheapos who waits for the paperback**
** That reminds me, another (lesser) complaint is that there’s far too few footnotes in this book

Book details

ISBN: 9780552148993
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 2003

Star Daughter

By Shveta Thakrar

Rating: 4 stars

This was a fun coming of age story, which I enjoyed quite a lot. Sheetal Mistry is the daughter of a mortal man and a living star, who came to earth for a while, fell in love, had a child and then left again. Sheetal has grown up having to hide her silvery, glowing hair and her heritage, but as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she finds her powers harder and harder to control, until she accidentally seriously burns her father, and has to go on a quest to the immortal realm and find her mother to save him.

Sometimes it feels like you don’t realise how important that representation in media is until, after a decades long drought, you start to see yourself. In the last few years, we’ve had a slow drip of south Asian characters appear in our stories (I’m a big fan of Yaz from Doctor Who), but characters living in the West, with a Hindu upbringing are still pretty rare. That was a lot of what I loved about this book, seeing the foods of my childhood, and recognisable archetypes of my family and others while growing up.

And speaking of representation, Sheetal’s best friend, Minal, is gay, which is something that is also rarely (ever?) seen in the media. Being gay in south Asian culture is still a bit of a big deal, so it’s good to see this treated like the normal, non-event that it is (and the relationship that Minal forms with Padmini, a member of the court, is very sweet).

This is a YA book and Sheetal’s emotions are writ large, with everything feeling like the most important thing in the world (although, I mean, in her case she does literally have her father’s life hanging on the line). At that age, things do feel like that, but her reaction to finding out her boyfriend’s secret and the lack of willingness to communicate with him did frustrate me.

The immortal realm that Thakrar imagines is both a magical, ethereal place, and a very “human”, for want of a better word, place, full of intrigue, politics and back-stabbing, with her own family at the heart of it. She has to discover and come to terms with a family she has never met, and at the same time, worry about their motives.

One thing that I did grumble about was the political organisation of the heavens. As I grow older, despite what people say, I seem to be turning into more of a grumpy old lefty, and the idea of “a few royal houses govern[ing] the masses” makes me unreasonably annoyed. A society as long-lived and slowly changing as the stellar court would be pretty conservative, but it seems to me that they could learn a thing or two from the humans they constantly claim to inspire.

A fun book that may have made a greater emotional impact if I’d read it 25 years ago but which is still an enjoyable read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780062894625

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