BooksOfTheMoon

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 Jägermonsters. 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

Grandville Noël (Grandville, #4)

By Bryan Talbot

Rating: 4 stars

The fourth instalment of DI Archie LeBrock’s adventures takes place around Christmas, and has his pal DS Ratzi off to see the in-laws, while his landlady asks him to find her missing niece. Shorn of his usual sidekick, LeBrock takes the case that, as all roads do, leads him to Grandville, and a charismatic cult leader, as well as an agent of the Pinkerton detective agency.

This book delves a bit into the mythology of the Grandville series, including the persecution of humans and their growing calls for equal rights and the history of Christianity, with a search for some “lost Gospels” also in the mix. Billie gets more to do this time round as well and throws a bombshell at the end that looks like it will affect events to come. Although Roderick Ratzi is mostly absent from this volume, LeBrock does find an alternative sidekick in the form of American Pinkerton detective Chance Lucas who is also after the leader of the cult that LeBrock is investigating. It’s the first time that we’ve had a lead character who is a doughface human but alas, he does mostly just take the Ratzi role and doesn’t get to do an awful lot in his own right.

The theme this time round is religion and cults, including how charismatic leaders can rise and lead people into saying and doing horrific things. Something which is all too relevant today. But amongst this grimness, Talbot throws in a reasonable amount of humour as well, both visual and textual. It makes for a very entertaining read.

The art is still gorgeous but previous warnings still apply: despite the cartoony style, this is adult, and often violent, stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9780224098069
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Year of publication: 2014

The City of Lightning (The Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne Volume 2)(Girl Genius, #15)

By Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio

Rating: 4 stars

In this volume of the long-running webcomic, we see the conclusion of the fight against the Beast of the Rails that formed the cliffhanger from the previous volume (and gains Agatha an awfully cute new clank), before the gang makes it to Paris to try and find something that might help free Mechanicsburg from its time stasis bubble. We also find out why Gil is behaving even more strangely than usual and get some insight into the machinations of The Other across Europa.

So lots of intrigue, humour, lovely artwork but not enough Jägermonsters (there’s rarely enough Jägermonsters). It’s getting harder to keep the whole story in your head at once, which isn’t surprising given how long long the comic has been going for, but it does make you wonder if there’s any end for the story planned, and how far away it might be.

Book details

ISBN: 9781890856632
Publisher: Studio Foglio
Year of publication: 2016

The Beast of the Rails (The Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne Volume 1)(Girl Genius, #14)

By Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio

Rating: 4 stars

In the fourteenth (fourteenth!) volume of the Foglio’s epic Girl Genius series, our heroine, Agatha Heterodyne, has escaped from the time-locked Mechanicberg and is trying to get to Paris, where she hopes to learn enough to free her city. The logical way to get there is by train, but these aren’t just any trains. They’re run by a monastic order, who have their own views about the sanctity of the timetable, and have the firepower to back them up.

The introduction to this volume says that it would make a good jumping on point for new readers, but I think that’s crazy talk. We’re thirteen volumes into an ongoing story with well-established characters and a pretty damn complex plot (besides, the whole thing can be read for free online).

The story is as fun as ever, as we rejoin Agatha, Gil, Martellus and the rest of the cast, each with their own, complex stories, motives and machinations. There’s not nearly enough Jägers in it for my taste, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the Jägermonsters. Now, roll on the next volume! (You see what I did there…? ‘Cos they’re on a train…? I’ll get me coat…)

Book details

ISBN: 9781890856618
Publisher: Studio Foglio
Year of publication: 2015

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