BooksOfTheMoon

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

By Natasha Pulley

Rating: 4 stars

In a Victorian London much like our own, Thaniel Steepleton comes home one day to find someone has broken into his home and left a gift for him – a pocket watch. It’s only when that pocket watch saves his life after an explosion at Scotland Yard some months later that Thaniel goes searching for the watchmaker, Japanese immigrant Keita Mori. Around the same time, Grace Carrow is trying to prove the existence of the ether, while simultaneously trying to avoid being married off by her parents. These three lives eventually intertwine in unexpected and life-changing ways.

I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a plot-driven book. For most of its length, it’s slow and fairly gentle. Spending time mostly with Thaniel and Mori, with Grace not getting nearly as much airtime as she deserves. It speeds up towards the end, in a way that was quite confusing (albeit deliberately so) and there’s a relationship that completely blind-sided me. Looking back, I can see some subtle signs of it building up, but it turns out that if I’ve not had it explicitly signposted, certain sorts of relationship just completely pass me by.

There was a strong focus on Japanese characters (the author spent some time there, as an academic) and the book delicately draws the distinctions between the immigrants and the locals, without ever resorting to crude bigotry from its characters. (Subtle bigotry, on the other hand…) It also shows the balance that immigrants have to strike when they move to a new country between their history and traditions and blending in with their new home and where different people draw that line.

As you would expect, clocks, clockwork and time play a large role. Mori is a genius with clockwork, with his masterpiece being his somewhat adorable mechanical octopus, Katsu (who has a thing for stealing socks). Timing of events, and probability of others are important, and not just in relation to the bomb that nearly kills Thaniel near the start of the book.

So a charming novel, with a good heart, not to mention a very interesting female scientist, who’s bolshy and flawed. I also now totally want a mechanical octopus (even if I’d have to buy a lock for my sock drawer).

Spoiler
I totally shipped Thaniel and Grace, even though their marriage was literally one of convenience, and it was probably that which blindsided me to Thaniel’s blossoming relationship with Mori.

Book details

ISBN: 9781408854310
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year of publication: 2016

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

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

City of Stairs (The Divine Cities, #1)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 5 stars

The Holy Lands of the Continent were protected by their Divinities; invincible, world-conquering, until one man rises up in the land of Saypur and kills the gods, ending the rule of the Continentals. Generations later, the consequences of this are still being played out, and when there’s a murder in Bulikov, the former city of the Divinities, it sets off a chain of events that threaten the fragile equilibrium.

I loved this book. It’s complex, with no black and white tale of oppressed and oppressors. The history of the Continent’s long and bloody rule of Saypur is remembered as fiercely as the current Continentals see their own poverty and desolation. There’s a spiral of hatred that feeds on itself, something that feels very real and is deftly portrayed by Bennett.

I got to thoroughly like Shara, our protagonist (not to mention Sigrud, her, er, secretary, who doesn’t say much, but his actions speak volumes). Shara is quiet, small, very intelligent, with a passion for history. Something that comes in useful in a city that is practically nothing but history.

The worldbuilding is neatly done as well, with a drip-feed of information early on filling us in on the fact that the Continentals aren’t allowed to talk about their dead gods and aren’t allowed to know much about their own history. There’s a chapter later on that fills in a lot of history about the gods and how they were killed, which on the one hand feels like an infodump, but it’s filling in information for the other characters too, rather than an “As you know, Bob…” sort of thing, so I’ll let the author away with it.

The Divinities loom large in this book, despite being (mostly) absent from it. The god of Order, Kolkan is particularly interesting, with his many edicts and hatred of any kind of pleasure. I’m not sure if it’s intended as a criticism of the sterner sects of real-world religions, but that’s certainly my reading of it.

A nice idea in the book is that now that the Divinities are dead, real world physics can assert itself. The world is moving out of a period where everyone (on the Continent, at least) lived through the miraculous intervention of the gods, and now they’re developing motor cars, the telegraph and photography. It’s not quite steampunk, but is definitely a society that’s moving towards industrialisation.

A very interesting, complex book with a lot of ideas. And one that can be pretty much read standalone as well (although I certainly intend to look out the sequels). Definitely recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9781848667983
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2015

Monstress, Vol. 4: The Chosen

By Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda

Rating: 4 stars

With the core group separated, Maika finds her way to her father and learns about his plans in the upcoming war, as well as about Zinn. Kippa has her own adventures and while it seems that her gifts are awakening, she has lost nothing of the sweetness and belief in others that make her my favourite character by a mile: “I can’t abandon people because they make mistakes – I would have to abandon myself” is an example of what makes her so. Despite all she’s been though, all the betrayal, this is still how she thinks, and I love her for it.

The complex storyline does make it difficult to keep track of who’s who, who’s currently allied with who and who’s in the middle of betraying who. I look forward to the story being completed, so that I can go back and read the whole thing in one go.

Takeda’s art is still utterly delightful. The manga-inspired style fits the story well and brings the whole thing alive. Roll on the next volume!

Book details

ISBN: 9781534313361
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2019

Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven

By Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda

Rating: 4 stars

In the third volume of the incredibly pretty Monstress, Maika and her pals enter yet another city while looking for answers. This time, Zinn, the monster living inside her, pretty much manifests itself whole and remains connected to her only by tendrils. By now it feels like the whole world is looking for Maika, and the constant running is getting a bit exhausting (and I’m just reading).

There’s a focus on Kippa that hasn’t been there before, as she continues to prove that she’s the best, sweetest and kindest character in the whole series. I fear that even if she doesn’t die, her innocence will. The cat, Ren, here is quite interesting. I’m conflicted by him. He’s betrayed Maika in the past, but it’s hinted here that he’s not entirely acting of his own volition and I’ll be interested to see where that goes.

Once again, Maika continues to make poor decisions, and sometimes it feels like she’s a sulky teenager. She’s got the attitude and the manners, although she does also have the strength to rip you limb from limb (quite literally). This, tied to anger management issues, causes a problem. I don’t find her hugely sympathetic, to be honest.

I’m glad that I read the whole three volumes in pretty quick succession, since otherwise I think I would really have struggled with all the different factions, who’s currently betraying whom and who or what is currently possessed by tentacled horrors with too many eyes.

The storytelling and panel layout sometimes felt a little muddled and it took a few reads of a few pages to figure out the structure and what was going on. Despite this, the art remains absolutely stunning and the little comic drawing of Seizi cuddling a young Maika at the back is worth the price alone.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534306912
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2018

Kings and Wizards (Girl Genius: The Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne Volume 4)

By Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio

Rating: 4 stars

Volume 17 of the collected Girl Genius graphic novel moves the story on quite apace. It feels like there’s a lot more plot than the last couple and most exciting it was, with both the Other and the undead Storm King attacking Paris. It takes the combined efforts of Agatha, Martellus, the Master of Paris and their various hangers on to win through, and the cost of victory is very high.

It’s very often the secondary characters in this series that are the ones that shine and this volume gave small, but choice, roles to Castle Heterodyne and the Beast of the Rails – both currently in adorable mini-clank form. The regular Jagermonsters are back as well and have some fun, and we get to see Agatha doing real Mad Science while under enemy fire, which is always fun.

So one of the better entries of a consistently good series, and one that moved the plot on. I look forward to the next one now, as Agatha leaves Paris for London.

Book details

ISBN: 9781890856670
Publisher: Studio Foglio
Year of publication: 2018

Grandville Force Majeure (Grandville, #5)

By Bryan Talbot

Rating: 4 stars

The fifth, and final, instalment in DI LeBrock’s adventures is a bit of a corker. Framed for murder and on the run from his colleagues, he’s got to solve the murder, deal with the gangster Tiberius Koenig, who wants to bring London into his criminal empire, and save his family, all while being pursued by his own mentor, the Holmesian retired DCI Stamford Hawksmoor.

The story trots along at a good pace, and although the last quarter or so is wrapped in plastic, as an anti-spoiler mechanism, I figured out most of the big twists in advance (and on that, in my considered opinion, the idea of Roderick Ratzi selling out LeBrock is the most unbelievable thing in the whole series. And this is a series with steampunk Zeppelins, crazy red dinosaurs, and sexy anthropomorphic prostitute badgers) but it was still fun taking the journey. There are some great one-liners and mad mob-boss Koenig steals every scene he’s in.

The art is, once again, amazing. Talbot goes into the process a little in his piece at the end of the book, and part of the explanation as to why this is will be the last Grandville book is that each page would take 3-4 days to complete, which just isn’t long term commercially viable. The usual warning regarding the art applies though. Although it’s quite cartoony looking, and there are talking animals, this is a violent book, with adult themes that is very definitely not suitable for children.

At some point now, I think I need to go back and re-read the whole series in quick succession, to get a clearer feel for the characters and the overall plot, but this was a highly enjoyable conclusion to a highly enjoyable series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781910702246
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Year of publication: 2017

The Incorruptible Library (The Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne Volume 3)(Girl Genius #16)

By Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio

Rating: 4 stars

Volume (*checks notes*) 16 (sixteen!) of the collected Girl Genius webcomic takes Agatha and her companions beneath Paris to some of the micro-kingdoms that lie beneath and on to the Immortal Library itself, in search of an expert in time who Agatha hopes can help her unlock her city from the time-bubble it’s currently trapped in. En route, she finds heroes, villains, a new Muse and the Storm King.

Phew, there’s so much going on now that even reading a whole volume at a time feels like it’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on. It’s only a matter of time before I have to binge-read the whole thing again from the start. I’m still enjoying the story and the art and, of course, the J√§germonsters. The Beast and the Castle in miniature form are both adorably sociopathic and homicidal in their devotion to their mistress.

So yet more twists, more characters and more mayhem. Lots of fun, although I do wonder if there’s an end planned for this series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781890856656
Publisher: Studio Foglio
Year of publication: 2017

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening

By Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda

Rating: 4 stars

I had never heard of this series before it won the Hugo Award for best graphic story in 2017. I’m quite glad that I did pick it up though, as it’s got an intriguing story and is lushly drawn. It’s got a very striking first page, with a full page image of a naked woman, and it’s only on second glance that you see the missing arm from the elbow down, the collar and the anger in her eyes. The woman is Maika Halfwolf and the story takes a flying start from there, as we’re thrown into this rather horrific steampunk world, with Maika trying to find out about herself, her mother and her history while trying to stay alive and out of the hands of the many factions who want to either kill or use her.

The world that the story is set in is fascinating. There are dead gods, immortals mating with humans to create a race of magic-using Arcanics and a war that could destroy everything. There’s a monster inside Maika that she struggles to understand, much less control, but as the fox-child Kippa says, monsters are people too.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and although I’ve reread segments, I think it’s probably worth rereading the whole thing. I certainly look forward to the next volume to see what Maika, Kippa, the cat Ren and Maika’s monster get up to next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632157096
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2016

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