BooksOfTheMoon

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

The Burning Page (The Invisible Library, #3)

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 5 stars

Irene is on probation after her escapades in The Masked City but now a new threat has arisen, one that is destroying gates back to the Library and possibly threatening the existence of the Library itself. Irene must go up against the traitor Alberich to save everything she holds dear. Oh, and her own life, if she can manage it.

I loved this book. I’m a big fan of the series as a whole but I think this may be my favourite entry so far. The threads of the previous two books are pulled together and the long-promised threat to the Library itself is realised. Irene has to try and protect Kai and Vale, not to mention try to separate friend from foe while avoiding assassination attempts left, right and centre. We see her fraying more than we have done before, and we see more of Inspector Singh, although he’s still just a face without really an awful lot of personality. The story went on at a cracking pace rarely giving the reader (as well as Irene) space to breathe before the next threat was upon us; it’s an effective device.

Although Tor have signed two more books in the sequence, this does feel like the end of an arc, with various things tied up and brought to some sort of a conclusion. Of course, there’s lots of things still left dangling: Irene’s relationships with Kai and Vale; the politics of the Library; Alberich’s fate and more, but this is a satisfying book and a decent enough end that I’m happy to reread the earlier books with this as a conclusion point, without waiting for the others (which I will, of course, buy as soon as they’re out).

Book details

ISBN: 9781447256274
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2016

Karen Memory

By Elizabeth Bear

Rating: 4 stars

Karen Memery is a working girl (a “seamstress”) in a city something like San Francisco in an age where airships plough the sky, Singer have built walk-in sewing machines and mad science is licensed. One day a girl arrives at their door fleeing for her life, with her pursuer right behind her. This sets off a chain of events that include mind control, murdered street walkers and a US marshal coming to town.

There’s an awful lot to enjoy in this book. The setting starts off subtle so you hardly notice when the oversized Singer and nasty electric glove show up. Karen is a great narrator, and the book is written in her vernacular, also helping envelop you into the world of the book. It’s nice to see a story where LGBT characters are prominent, yet not playing to that (moreso since much of the book does place in a brothel), not to mention people of colour playing prominent roles (one major secondary character is black, another is Indian [from India, not Native American]). I think perhaps there was one capture/escape cycle too much but the book is very readable and a lot of fun.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765375254
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2015

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

By Sydney Padua

Rating: 3 stars

This is an odd book. It’s a steampunk alt history set in a pocket universe concerning the imagining of what Ada, Countess of Lovelace, and Charles Babbage might have got up to if the former hadn’t died young and the latter had completed his analytical engine, aka the first computer.

There are several short stories featuring a pipe-smoking Lovelace and organ-hating Babbage, ranging from preventing Samuel Taylor Coleridge from completing his poetic masterpiece Kubla Khan to having to stop a runaway economic model. The stories, plus a longer piece involving organised crime, are all available on the author’s website, but it’s nice to have a collection.

I said that this is an odd book. The comic stories themselves only make up a relatively short portion of the book. The rest is dedicated to footnotes and endnotes, not to mention some rather extensive appendices about Lovelace, Babbage and the difference and analytical engines. Another review here points out that the book has the same sort of structure as Lovelace’s only major publication, a translation of Luigi Menabrea’s article about the analytical engine, complete with her own extensive notes, which far outstrip the work being translated. This is something that I hadn’t considered while reading the book and does shed new light on the structure. I still found it a difficult thing to read, though. In the end, I started parsing the stories multiple times. Firstly reading the stories themselves, without interruption, then going back and re-reading them with the footnotes and the endnotes.

In the end, the work feels very slight, but there’s enough historical context to be interesting, and it’s great fun to see various other Victorian figures show up, including Charles Dickens and George Eliot, as well as the recurring figure of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. And for those of an academic bent, the footnotes, endnotes and primary sources included are a treasure trove to be pored over in a leisurely fashion. Personally, that’s not my cup of tea, but I still enjoyed the energy and fun of the stories themselves.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141981512
Publisher: Particular Books
Year of publication: 2015

Grandville Mon Amour (Grandville #2)

By Bryan Talbot

Rating: 4 stars

I read Grandville a few years ago and was immediately impressed by the vivid and quite stunning artwork, the sense of scale, the world-building of the alt-history, oh, and the random anthropomorphic animals. This sequel lives up to its predecessor in all those respects and more.

This time Detective Inspector Le Brock must chase down a dangerous fanatical criminal, who was once a hero of the British rebellion against their French masters. “Mad Dog” Mastock has escaped from the Tower just before his execution and Le Brock must pursue. The trail leads him, and his faithful sidekick Detective Sergeant Ratzi, back to Grandville: the great city of Paris, where high-class prostitutes are being murdered and a conspiracy that stretches back to the liberation of Britain.

The art continues to enthral me. Both the style and the vividness are a joy to behold. The anthropomorphised characters always keep you slightly off-balance, in a good way, and I quite like the fact that it’s never really commented on, except in an occasional good-natured insult (“Catch, Beaky” to a vulture, for example). The world itself is deepened as we see more of the history between Britain and France and the war of independence.

The book isn’t long, I finished it in just under an hour, but it is definitely worth savouring. I’ll definitely be rereading the series and I look forward to picking up the next volume in the series as well.

Book details

ISBN: 9780224090001
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Year of publication: 2006

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1)

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 4 stars

Irene is an agent of the Invisible Library, which exists between realities. She goes out to one of the many alternate Earths and brings back rare, important and sometimes dangerous books to be kept safe within. Her latest mission is to retrieve a book from a steampunk-esque alternate Earth and is given a new apprentice. However, she soon discovers that the world that she’s been sent to is infested with chaos magic, that her new apprentice has secrets of his own and that a terrible threat stalks her in her quest for the book.

This is a great fun story. I’m a book geek (big surprise from someone who’s reviewed how many books on a social network for readers!) and this pressed so many of my buttons. From the intelligent, capable woman who can rewrite reality with Language to the hints of the mysterious Library itself to the steampunk world that Irene finds herself on, there’s lots to enjoy here.

The main thrust of the story here has a conclusion, but the main plot is only just beginning. I look forward to volume 2 (coming this year, according to the author!).

Book details

ISBN: 9781447256236
Publisher: Tor UK
Year of publication: 2015

Agatha Heterodyne and the Sleeping City (Girl Genius, #13)

By Phil Foglio

Rating: 4 stars

Goodness me, I think this may be the best Girl Genius volume to date! Agatha has jump-started the castle and as it returns to full power, the full might and power of the fully armed and operational Mechanicsburg is unleashed upon the Wulfenbach hordes. In the middle of all this, the Storm King pretender, Martellus, kidnaps Agatha and teleports her to his refuge, far away. As you’d expect, it all goes horribly wrong.

What with a fully operational (and as twisted as ever) castle, and a full complement of Jagers, this book does not lack for action. The humour knob has also dialled up to 11 and there are many laugh out loud and ‘punch the air’ moments. The story is racing along and getting ever more complex, making these paper collections all the more important for those of us who struggle to remember what happened three hours ago, never mind the days between pages online. That doesn’t stop me from reading them online, but you definitely get more out of it when you can read a whole volume.

The art, as always, is beautiful and the double page spreads definitely make an impact (moreso on paper than online). At the time of writing, this is the last available Girl Genius collected volume. No more binging, I’m going to have to start waiting a year or so between them which is nearly as frustrating as reading the story a page at a time. Ah well, I’m off to go and relieve the frustration by starting again from the start.

Book details

ISBN: 9781890856595
Publisher: Studio Foglio
Year of publication: 2014

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