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.

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 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

The Wrath of an Emperor (Krishnavatara – 2)

By K.M. Munshi

Rating: 4 stars

The second volume in K. M. Munshi’s interpretation of Sri Krishna’s story sees his (mostly) indirect battle with the emperor Jarasandha, whose son-in-law he killed at the end of the first volume, and whose empire is now threatened. In between, Krishna and his brother Balarama have many adventures, make many friends, and forge the weapons that they would become known for.

I mostly knew the structure of the story in The Magic Flute, but this book tells stories of Krishna that I was completely unaware of. That he boards a pirate ship and displaces the captain; his sailing to a city of snake-goddess-worshipping women and freeing his tutor’s son from captivity as the princess’s husband; his joining the Garuda people and curing the paralysis of their prince. These are rip-roaring adventures and I’m really surprised that I haven’t heard of them.

There’s also quite deep political dealings, as he has to deal with Jarasandha’s attempts to strengthen his alliance and destroy the Yadava people and their city. This mostly has to do with various arranged marriages of princesses, and the desire of Princess Rukmini to marry Krishna, rather than be a tool of her brother and the emperor.

Following on from the first volume, Munshi continues to take a rather naturalistic line with his story, playing down the supernatural elements in other variations of the myth. His Rakshasas are barbarians who don’t respect Dharma, rather than literal demons. And his Garuda people are people who claim descent from a giant eagle, but who are just people who wear bird masks. This is an interesting interpretation of a myth that can sometimes be presented as much larger than life.

The treatment of women is sort of mixed. For every Revati (a giantess warrior princess whose country Balarama helps liberate), there are others who are there purely to be symbols of lust and desire and the path away from Dharma. Perhaps not unexpected in a myth this old, but still not pleasant.

If one can leave that aside, however, this is an exciting tale of adventure and politics, with the path of Dharma at the centre of it.

Book details

ISBN: 9788172764753
Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
Year of publication: 1966

The Magic Flute (Krishnavatara #1)

By K.M. Munshi

Rating: 3 stars

My parents got the the full set of Krishnavatara books when I was young, but I’ve never really felt the urge to read them until recently, when I’ve felt more interested in reading up on parts of my heritage. I knew some of what was in this volume from the stories that my parents told me as a child, and others from when the BBC showed a dramatisation of the Mahabharat back in the early ’90s but I enjoyed refreshing my memory of those, and fitting them into a single narrative (even if it was difficult to keep the various relationships straight in my head).

One thing I liked quite a lot is that the young Krishna feels very human. He’s frankly a bit of a git at times, when he steals butter and breaks jars, and the chapter that involved him killing a heron that seemed to just be protecting its children only made any sense when it was revealed that the bird was possessed (a couple of chapters from the end!).

It was also very interesting to read the note preceding the chapter on Radha which admits that she wasn’t part of the ancient texts, the first mentions only appearing in the first few centuries CE and not becoming fixed in the consciousness until the 12th century CE.

On a similar note, but within the text itself is the festival of Gopotsava, in which Krishna persuades his village to abandon a festival of Indra based on fear and, instead, celebrate the herdsmen, cattle and mountain that give them life, effectively elevating the landscape to godhood. I thought that was a fascinating mindset with defiance and grace in one action.

As with all ancient writings, some things don’t fit well to a modern mindset: polygamy is normal, and the idea of a childless wife lying with a man other than her husband (with appropriate rituals) to gain a child is a bit icky, as is the condemnation of women who don’t want children. There’s also a slightly uncomfortable connection between physical health and beauty on the one side and goodness and grace on the other. But all these have to be read in the context of their time.

The stories are full of action and memorable characters, for good or evil; it’s an easy book to read. I’m not sure if it was written in English or if it’s just a very good translation, but it’s very readable (although I’ve never figured out the obsession with appending an unnecessary ‘a’ to the end of many transliterated names: Balarama instead of Balram etc). I’ll definitely pick up the the rest of the series when I get the chance.

Book details

Year of publication: 1966

Tales of India: Folk Tales from Bengal, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu

By Svabhu Kohli

Rating: 3 stars

I’ve felt my lack of knowledge of the Indian side of my heritage over the years, so it was interesting to read this book, and compare it to the folk- and fairy-tales that I’m familiar with. In some ways, the stories were different, as reflecting their background, with kings with multiple (sometimes mutually jealous) wives, and very different animals. But in other ways, tropes that I was familiar with did pop up, such as the hero with his friends who all had their own power and who helped him at the opportune time (Prince Lionheart and His Three Friends), or the battle of wits between two friends/rivals (Eesara and Caneesara).

The illustrations in this edition were absolutely delightful. Stylised and distinct, the illustrators (the only ones credited with working on this book, by the way, no mention of the editor) have a style that really fits with the stories. The stories themselves are divided into three sections: animal tales; outwitting and outwitted; live and death; although, of course, there’s quite a lot of overlap between the sections.

These aren’t stories that I grew up with, but the tone is similar enough to something like Grimm that they have the feel that they could have been. It’s an interesting book and if these stories were old friends, then I would treasure it, but as it is, I’m content to have just read it and move on.

Book details

ISBN: 9781452165912
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Year of publication: 2018

The Fantastical Feats of Finn MacCoul

By Norah Montgomerie

Rating: 3 stars

Despite being a native of Ireland, I know very little of Irish mythology. I know of the existence of Finn MacCoul (or Finn MacCool as I know him) and the story of the Giant’s Causeway but beyond that, I don’t know any of his stories, so seeing this volume lying on a friend’s bookshelf was fortunate.

Mythology definitely has its own rhythm and flow. The stories often follow a pattern, which can suggest some slowness on the part of the king of the Fian as he’s caught by the same lure more than once. There’s a lot of repetition within the stories as well, possibly as an aide memoir to the bard or storyteller, but which can be trying to the modern reader. I also feel that there’s probably a lot of context that I’m missing when reading these, so more and more detailed explanatory notes would have been nice.

This volume is taken entirely from Scottish folk tales of Finn, rather than the extensive Irish catalogue, hence the Giant’s Causeway story is missing, but there’s still a lot of stories here.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841588179
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 2009

The Gospel of Loki

By Joanne M. Harris

Rating: 4 stars

This book retells the fairly familiar story of Norse mythology, but from the point of view of the trickster god, Loki. As you may imagine, the Trickster isn’t the most reliable narrator, but Harris does a good job of getting inside his head and making him sympathetic, even when recounting some of his more unpleasant acts (such as arranging the killing of Baldor). As well as that tale, we have other familiar myths recounted here, including his involvement in acquiring mighty weapons for the Aesir, getting Thor to dress up as a bride and tricking Frey to give up his runesword.

This is all told in the first person, and we see Loki from the start, when he was tamed from the Chaos by Odin, to the early desire to belong and fit in at Asgard to the disillusionment and anger that leads to his turning his back on the gods and eventually to Ragnarok.

Loki is an engaging narrator, with a wry wit and humorous turn of phrase. The reader finds themselves being drawn into his point of view and wanting him to succeed, even as we follow him to the final betrayal at the end of the world.

Harris has done a great job here of finding a fresh retelling of the Norse myths and this is a very enjoyable way to rediscover them.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473202368
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Year of publication: 2014

Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others

By Anonymous

Rating: 3 stars

This is an interesting series of myths from ancient Mesopotamia, which were probably the origins of the tropes and archetypes that appear again and again in western mythology and narrative. The introduction to each one is interesting, but the actual myths themselves can be difficult, as they have been reconstructed from fragments of recovered clay tablets, and many fragments are still missing. This can be a single missing word, or entire sections of the text.

Also, to modern sensibilities the tales are awfully bare, with little embellishment. The introduction suggests that this is because these were only notes that would be mnemonics to the storytellers of the time who would fill in the details and make the stories come to life. This is interesting, but it does make reading these sometimes a bit of a chore.

Book details

ISBN: 9780199538362
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year of publication: -1750


By Roberto Calasso, Tim Parks

Rating: 3 stars

This book is going to be difficult for me to review because it’s not what I was expecting or wanting. I was hoping for a book that would take me through some of the stories of Hindu mythology, an area in which my knowledge is woefully inadequate, being limited to hazy childhood memories. However, it turned out to be more a setting out of some of the principles of Hindu philosophy, using some of the stories to hang that on to. This is a noble aim in itself, but it’s not what I was looking for.

Taking the book in its own right then, there’s a lot of dense material here. Often you’ll find a short story or parable from one of the ancient texts, and then a large amount of philosophy hung off the back of that. I must confess that I did struggle a lot with that, and a lot went sailing over my head. Difficult, dense, but probably rewarding, if you were willing to put more effort into it than I was.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099750710
Publisher: Random House
Year of publication: 1996

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