"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · fiction · mystery · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{comic} questions

ACjacket_smallWho is AC? by Hope Larson, illustrated by Tintin Pantoja.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. hardcover, 176 pages. 12 & up.

borrowed from the Library because you know I am a big fan of Hope Larson’s work.

“Meet Lin, a formerly average teenage girl whose cell phone zaps her with magical powers. But just as superpowers can travel through the ether, so can evil. As Lin starts to get a handle on her new abilities (while still observing her curfew!), she realizes she has to go head-to-head with a nefarious villain who spreads his influence through binary code. And as if that weren’t enough, a teen blogger has dubbed her an “anonymous coward!” Can Lin detect the cyber-criminals vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?

“With ingenious scripting from graphic novel phenom Hope Larson and striking art from manga illustrator Tintin Pantoja, this action-packed story brims with magical realism and girl-power goodness.”—publisher’s comments.

I know I tend to rely on the publisher’s synopsis for its precision in “reviews,” however, I quote it here because I had to use it to orient myself—after I’d read the book. Granted, it was late when I read it, but Larson and Pantoja move quickly and I found myself with questions of identification that I’m not sure the novel intended.

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The story seemed straightforward enough. Budding writer and zine self-publisher, Lin has created a fictional superhero named Rhea Ironheart, but in her new town, Lin finds herself to have become a superhero of fictional proportion, strikingly similar to Ironheart. But where fantasy was just fine, being a super-heroic figure herself is problematic, and not just because of curfew or angry bystanders. A superhero was not how this author was willing to courageously put herself out there.

who is ac page

Who is AC? features a lot of courageous risk-takers from the awkward boy asking a hot girl out to self-publishing to blogging difficult emotions without regret. The problem of putting yourself out there, in print, in-person or on-line are the trolls and digital shadows, or trying to disappear or change when identity takes on additional technological complexities. And there is also the trouble with reality versus the identity projected onto a person by another. How can someone tell what is really going on if there isn’t a conversation, but a bunch of one-sided speech/documentation. Audience figures in, the need to be seen and heard—really seen and heard. We see a disconnect in reality , too: in the comparison’s between Trace’s family and Lin’s.

Hope Larson is gifted when it comes to characterization and familial and friend interaction; and this is what really anchors the story when everything else seems racing forward and far-flung. Her fluid transitions are beautiful, but end up shoving me into the action, often into another character’s sequence. “Can Lin detect the cyber-criminal’s vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?” Can she? Does she?

who is ac double

I love the multicultural town, the multiracial family, that Lin rides a bike and publishes zines. The illustrations are fantastic! And the reluctant hero is a girl who should hold up to some great storylines where the magically real intersects technology. Her enlisting the talented Pantoja to render an adventure that involves concerns popular to manga. Who is AC? is an intriguing intersection of American- and Japanese-influenced comic storytelling.

According to Booklist, “Fans of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon will find a lot to like here, and the added technological twist adds a freshness to the subgenre.” (Mar. 2013)

Who is AC? is an ambitious comic book to remain only singular volume, because it leaves plenty of strings to fill-out a series. For instance, forget who AC is; Lin’s new and strange alter-ego dubbed by an angry caller. I want to know who is responsible for creating her in the first place. Said cyber-criminal is the true oddity and just what the hell he is up to is confusing—unless confused is what he intends to render his hapless victims. Cue even weirder cyber-girl straight out of Tron. There isn’t time to possibly explain her in the novel either.

who is ac ac

What seems to matter most is Lin coming to grips with the change, to surrender herself to it to some degree and begin to ask and answer the titular question. It really is only a beginning. The question then becomes, was I excited enough to want to follow Lin and company into subsequent stories. Perhaps if I were some years younger, such as the age of the intended audience. As it was, I found myself impatient with what ultimately amounted to gestures.

__________________

a concenter-quality read: the diversity in lit qualification is evident; the protag and portrayal of family life and community yields verisimilitude and well as empowerment.

{images belong to Hope Larson and Tintin Pantoja}

"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · recommend · series · series · young adult lit

{book} the dead in their vaulted arches

>>a spoiler-free review<<

flavia de luceThe Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

(Flavia de Luce Novel #6)

by Alan Bradley

ARC thanks to Delacorte Press and NetGalley

release date: January 2014

“Young chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce once again brings her knowledge of poisons and her indefatigable spirit to solve the most dastardly crimes the English countryside has to offer and, in the process, comes closer than ever to solving her life’s greatest mystery-her mother’s disappearance…” –publisher’s commentary

Harriet de Luce has been the mystery haunting this Flavia de Luce series and I’ve been holding my breath not since that tantalizing conclusion to Speaking From Among the Bones, but from the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Harriet’s absence has stained everything: the grieving husband and distant father (the Colonel); the competition between motherless daughters (Ophelia, Daphne and Flavia) with the youngest left with only her mothers looks and mind, but no real memory of the woman who birthed her; and then there is an estate (Buckshaw) left with no known Last Will and Testament. Was Harriet a too adventurous young mother, careless of her husband, children, and inheritance when she went off to climb a mountain? Or is there something more to it?

We learn about what really happened—to a lot of people in The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. How did the Father and Dogger meet and what is the nature of their relationship? As if I didn’t already love Dogger to pieces. The course of the series has evidenced a deep love between Flavia’s parents: prepare for a terribly moving scene that makes his grief all the more stirring. Will the sisters come to peaceful terms? okay—let’s not be greedy.

There is some bow-tying in a book that would solve Harriet’s disappearance. But if you are looking for neat and tidy…  That consistency in the characters and their relationships we have come to love, has and continues to translates into messy feelings and complicated turns. For one, we still have Flavia struggling to find her place in a family where she receives the most affectionate parenting and siblingship from the servants and Dieter. In that audacious manner Flavia has become known for, she is going to attempt a rather grand scheme in The Dead in hopes to win her place once and for all. That is, if she can do something about that pesky and familiarly precocious cousin of hers that has come with Harriet’s return.

Natalya did not care for Undine and I cannot disagree. I find amusement, however, in just how similar in description she is to Flavia. Child-like, genius, sneaky, underestimated… But Undine is not the only distraction for Flavia, all sorts of people are littering the landscape and the mystery, old and new. The novel is no less ambitious than past books, but Bradley injects a turn that wends its way backwards through the series in an effort to fill in niggling details. It works, but will you be happy with where Bradley goes with the de Luce family?

Flavia has softened, become less heartless over the course of the series, and we see this growing-up girl in this finale. I sort of miss the morbid vengeful thing of the earliest books, but her emotional education is an appealing aspect to the story arc.

I read the Advanced Readers, Uncorrected Proof, but I do not imagine the ending will change all that much–which is too bad. I can get excited by the possibilities that raced through my mind with that one, how it translates into the spinning of tales, of futures, I’ve no guarantee of ever seeing. I do like what it all means for Flavia. I like that ending. But it is actually that very final lines that I wish I could get your opinion on, because it isn’t just that it rings a wrong note, it suddenly shifts the center of the Flavia de Luce Novel and that is not a good choice.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches involves a handful of endings, knotting those bows, exiting stage right and left. Leading up to them, we have the chemistry, visit the personalities of Bishop’s Lacy with Gladys to transport us there, Dogger’s well-timed presence, tense family meals, and the high drama of a family grieving what it’s lost and the lies that have perpetrated the crime. At the center of it all, the brilliant and determined Flavia de Luce who will finally come to realize her place–but only after she solves the mystery behind her mother’s disappearance. It shouldn’t surprise you but it is going to be quite a bit heartbreaking and just a bit gruesome.

———————————-

recommendations: by this point, you have to read all the previous books as this one responds to the over-arching characterizations and plot. This is a great historical fiction/mystery series for middle-school and up.

my reviews of books: #1 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie; #2 The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag; #3 A Red Herring Without Mustard, #4 I am Half-Sick of Shadows , & #5 Speaking From Among Bones (pending)

"review" · concenter · fiction · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Tales · young adult lit

{book} cinder

11235712Cinder (bk 1: Lunar Chronicles)

by Marissa Meyer

Fiewel&Friends, 2012

Hardcover, 387 pages.

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. –publisher’s comments

I am sometimes frustrated by an author’s choice to re-imagine a classic fairytale, but Marissa Meyer’s decision to transport Cinderella into a futuristic city and turn the protagonist into a cyborg was brilliant. The marketplace where Cinder sets up shop brought a more arid Blade Runner to mind, which follows with the adorable image of Firefly’s Kaylee with grease and a blush on her face. Flitting images before Meyers makes all images and references (intentional or no) her own. The hook of the premise and the promise of that red-glass slipper on the cover catches and does not disappoint.

Meyer envisions a future-other place where fairytale magic has scientific leanings. The science fiction is fun, and it pleases me to see this female author stitching it into the fabric of a cinderella-cyborg. The possible resides alongside the impossible in a cyborg and how comfortably this sort of conflicts fit into the story of Cinderella. She is, in so many ways, an impossible girl who is so terribly probable as to be painful for the reader. She loves someone out of her league, someone who really mustn’t love her in return if he knows what is good for him. She is alien within her own family, and community. She is hard-work going no where. She is beauty (read potential) wasted or enslaved for small purpose.

A big shift is not content with a usual feminist revision, but in revisiting the possibility of origins. And why do we not ever think about Cinderella’s mother? Especially when the idea of the father comes across more the doting uncle in some ways… The mysteries Cinder sets up aren’t terribly hard, but the adventure is where the read finds its entertainment anyway.* What will Cinder do now or next? But for the extraordinary time spent on the “pumpkin” (however necessary), Cinder maneuvers pieces into place and pages click along.

Lines from the classic tale epigraph sections and in a way refocus and anticipate coming events. Not that Cinder remains all that anticipatory for long (thus the refocus). The bigger bones of the story are there, but plenty of the elements are either new or skewed marvelously.

The Stepmother is fabulously evil. And the Lunar figures are appropriately strange and creepy. The prince always shifted to a Miyazaki-princeling every time he showed up—much to my delight. Meyers gifts enough to flesh and clothe her characters, while allowing us the pleasure of wanting to see them continue into the sequel. A sequel in these endless teen/young adult series’ that I am actually interested in pursuing.

Marissa Meyer writes a highly entertaining adventure in Cinder with a heroine increasingly equipped into a figure that has me curious where Meyer is taking her. I am equally invested in this very intriguing quandary of Prince Kai’s (talk about revisionist’s play). The next book, Scarlet, visits Red Riding Hood and I do feel a bit anxious** about this—must say something about Cinder that I’m going to read it anyway.

recommendations: mg+; those who like a good visit w/ classic tales, futures w/ a tasteful salting of genetic engineering and dystopic murmurings, sci-fi talk midst a faerie-lore sensibility.

*feels like a young teen read through and through—wish I’d had this to read at N’s age. btw, this is a good thing.

*there are some great readings/tellings of Red Riding Hood, where might Meyers go with it?

"review" · concenter · fiction · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{book} the friday society

friday society coverThe Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Dial Books, 2012.

Hardcover, 437 pages. teen fiction. {owned}

An action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns–and the heroines who use them all

Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician’s assistant. The three young women’s lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It’s up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.—publisher’s comments.

That “modern irreverent flare” is the thing that seems to be snagging people’s attention with this read, and I can’t say I was immune. Of the few things anachronism truly has a hard time forgiving: playing with the language is one, so your long sword is made of pvc pipe, but none shall be referred to as “hot.” It’s just too startling.

confession: I am not a Jane Austen fanatic—I like her well enough, can appreciate her and all that, and Emma is hilarious fun. I know that as a female English Major in Literature I am supposed to have read every volume at least three times and swoon at the mention of Mr. Darcy. My reading of Wuthering Heights could be viewed as disrespectful at best. This does not make me immune to a love of the historical period or even ignorant for that matter, but maybe what it does make me is sensitive to the idea that not everyone does take to it; that perhaps the time frame harbors a language and culture that could seem impenetrable to potential lovers of Steampunk—a subgenre which necessarily must reside then and there historically, at least until more envision it further along the timeline.

I was reading a blog post the other day where a mother was trying to find fantasy books that might appeal to a daughter that only likes ‘realist’ fiction—to broaden her genre horizons and share her own love for fantasy. Well, The Friday Society is “contemporary chick lit” in steampunk clothing. A bridgework. And Kress does not approach the genre without credential, so if you worry that she is incapable there is a lovely anthology of short stories (Corsets and Clockwork) in which Kress’ is one of the best. Kress is being deliberate here and I find this bold move fascinating.

AdrienneSteamPress2

{Adrienne Kress. Photo: Tanja Tiziana}

As much as the modern language should have turned me off of the read, I liked The Friday Society. It was light and fun, and I enjoy Kress’ style. I like the feminist inclusions. Cora Bell is remarkable to me because Kress has built in recognizable vulnerabilities with which to commiserate and creates an opportunity to show some self-determination, e.g. Andrew and the kissing and the effort or lack thereof to overcome his distraction. Some young female leads seem immune to that sort of foolishness and I liked this lead for having hormones and not necessitating deep emotional attachment—call me old fashioned that way.

in which I elaborate: We have a strong female protagonist who kisses a young man who is not an actual love interest. She does not end up with him. Turns out that the attraction is not the first sign that they were fated and the make-out sessions (a term used, 256) do not confirm ours suspicions of such. Cora is physically attracted but unsure that she even likes/respects Andrew. She kisses him back because she likes it, and pursues further kisses for the same reason. What does the Cora/Andrew spin tell us? One: Girls experience sexual feelings/response/pleasure, too—even to distracted and foolish extents. Two: just because she likes kissing and is attracted to a male she does not “love” does not make her a loose woman, but rather it may actually be possible if not normal to be sexually attracted to someone not “loved.” Three: just because she wants and enjoys does not render her incapable of applying her intelligence to the situation; which, after validation of the first two points, is awesome to see played out. You are neither a slut nor a freak, but you should be wise. [read 256-8.]

Accusations of being a “tease” are thrown around regarding Cora, but more often with the gorgeous and gregarious Nellie. Nellie who is, like the other two, in the throes of deciding who she is and whom she envisions herself becoming. What responsibility can and should she take for happening to be born physically beautiful?

confession: I flinch at the use of the word “squee.” And Lady Sparkle? I, like Cora, cringed, but Nellie is a dynamic and a personality to be missed. I like Nellie as much as Cora. She seemed ridiculous to me at times, but between her candor and the parrot Scheherazade I was won over. But not completely, not yet; which may have more to do with those moments where I just did not feel “girly” enough. Some women’s fiction alienates me in the same way.

Few of the characters are to be missed, really. Kress has a way with villains (Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is home to some of my favorite villains ever). The non-villainous Raheem and his possibilities have me curious, though I was experiencing a dreadful surfacing notion that I was in for a Charlie’s Angels twist. Fortunately Kress resists the urge to be normal and thus predictable (and I hope this continues). One point of resistance is Michiko. Michiko is not a token character, but one who could and should be an available historical figure to explore in parallel to the other two. She is one of three and Kress develops each of the three along their own paths (in alternating, 1st person, narrative sections), using “happenstance” to intertwine and affect each other until the most natural conclusion could be met.

“Go home, Michiko.” How she wanted to. She missed Japan—the countryside, the food. Understanding what the hell people were saying. (93)

Michiko understands very little English and comes from a very different culture. She carries the easiest explanation for physical bad-assery, but few authors would be this daring. Cora and Nellie click. Michiko takes some work.  It does take time for the three to work together, but Michiko is the more solitary line of the three. She is held most dramatically in in relationship to the others by this sense of fate, paths crossing in various and frequent inventions, all surrounding crimes being perpetrated in their vicinity.

“We’ve already been pursuing this, each of us, in our own way. And somehow we always manage to help each other out. It’s fate. It…it has to mean something. Everything is connected. Right?” She turned to Michiko, who nodded, but it wasn’t clear if she was agreeing with Cora or just humoring her. Nellie still didn’t look convinced. Cora sighed and sat down at the foot of the bed. “Haven’t you always wanted to just do something yourself?” she asked, her voice softer. “To make a real difference? Not for anyone else. Not an assignment or a task. Something that you made the decision to do?” (353)

The Friday Society is an excellent read for a young woman, especially perhaps the ones who take themselves too seriously literarily. Kress infuses a lot of personality and concentrates on building her characters. She has a great sense of humor. At times the crime-story seems frustratingly secondary–probably because it is. I found it a bit ridiculous at times and I acknowledge that that has to do with my aging, but I found the earnestness of it appealing. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kress does with this series.

recommendations: I mentioned young ladies, but young gentleman could do with reading these sort of heroines, too. for those looking for an accessible steampunk or science fiction or historical fiction (Kress is good with tech language as well as detailing costuming, place and normalities without breaking pace).

an author interview by InkyGirl regarding this book.

a Sci-Fi Experience 2013 qualifier

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"review" · fiction · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{book} uglies

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Scholastic Press, 2005.

paperback, 448 pages. borrowed.

There is, very probably a canon of Young Adult reads. The sort of collection where if you want to be taken seriously as a reader of YA you must have read certain authors and titles. Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series is on it—as it should be. I have heard it referenced often, and thanks to Natalya who brought it home from school on Friday, I finally made the excuse to read book one: Uglies.

This is where I admit to disliking the titles in this series (Uglies, Pretties, and Specials) and their continual use throughout the novel. I also admit to loathing the ridiculous name of that section of the city called Pretty Town. Why? I feel immediately sucked into that hideous simpering hole that is the cliché of prissy female adolescence. Westerfield is a genius.*

In this future-scape, Tally is only a few short months away from a full-body-altering surgery that will make her “pretty”—and she needs to be pretty. Her best friend Peris (such an unfortunate spelling for the male) has had his surgery and is already in Pretty Town where life is just one party after another, to say nothing of the social ramifications of left being Ugly. All she has to do is behave and wait it out until she turns 16, too. But Tally makes a new friend, Shay, who despite their being the very same age has different views about the impending change—in fact, Shay is going to run away to where other rebels have fled, to live in the wilderness. This shouldn’t have affected Tally except she is the only one who knows where Shay went and the government wants Tally to find that settlement. Tally has to betray her friend or risk never becoming “pretty” and lose everything.

Tally has to follow clues in order to find the settlement and she is daring and resourceful if nothing else. She is also able to grasp the full scope of what is going on as the Utopic shine begins to tarnish and the truth behind all those Pretty faces is revealed. But the homespun wilds is no cake walk either. Growing up, peeking behind the veil of propaganda or idealism, it seems, is serious business, people. It is a testament to Westerfield’s ability that he can draw characters who have their moments of wisdom as well as absolute foolishness—characters who can be neither likeable or heinous.

Westerfield writes great action and adventure and any romance serves to develop the characters further and melds seamlessly into the turn in the plot. However, the question at the center of Tally’s adventure remains throughout: which promises will she keep and whom will she betray? Her own interest rarely figures in after the first—after we come to understand how being Ugly versus Pretty figures in. And even then, Westerfield paces the world-building, using the initially narrow scope of our first person narrative as an excuse to tease out new and enlightening perspectives as the character learns more and more about the society/world about her.

Needless to say, there is a lot of criticism regarding appearance, conformity, stereotyping and there is a healthy dose of eco-criticism as well. Westerfield creates a sensical Utopia, taking the reverse of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and prettying everyone up rather than catering to the lowest denominator. While it may not seem fair from the first, it doesn’t seem wholly unreasonable, feeding into our own contemporary “understandings” about social and biological interaction. Tally is a good average adolescent, a reliable avatar. Passive and typical until she becomes more willingly decisive and singular as Westfield slowly introduces complications until he ups the ante irreparably. He turns the pages and it would do to have book two (Pretties) on hand.

recommendations: 12 -17 (middle school-12th); anyone human; those interested in sci-fi, dystopia, and/or action/adventure; social and/or ecological critique done in a surprisingly non-heavy-handed way considering how it dominates the story.

*although “genius” in this way may not have been intentional.

"review" · fiction · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{book} grave mercy

Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts — and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must be willing to take the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as mistress to the darkly mysterious Gavriel Duval, who has fallen under a cloud of suspicion. Once there, finds herself woefully under prepared — not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?-jacket copy

You know those teen/young adult novels featuring a strong heroine coming of age during an hour of great intrigue and world-altering events? Most (if not all) feel they must have a romance, coming to terms with sexuality being a key ingredient to bildungsroman; and for the sake of presenting a strong heroine they would play the romance as a secondary part of the plot. Unfortunate for some of these stories, the text finds the romance much more interesting and cannot seem to keep it out of focus. Grave Mercy takes its cue from adult fiction and suggests, why not do both? Authors like Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell, and Jayne Ann Krentz write kick-ass female protagonists taking on the traumatic, the criminal, and the steamy swoon-worthy romance all the time. And with Grave Mercy you needn’t worry about the more explicit nature of “not-young-adult” books—or even other young adult books, or Teen lit…I get to this later.

So if you like historical political intrigue that is twisty but not so complicated as to be indecipherable, Grave Mercy is good. If you like a good bildungsroman of a traumatized girl learning to find her own path, her own calling—ditto. If you like a classic romantic tale?—welcome. If you are intimidated by a 500+ read, don’t be. Grave Mercy’s balance and thus accessibility to such a wide range of audience makes it an easy Christmas gift—for girls.

I picked up Grave Mercy because I was fascinated by the idea of Death having daughters, their being assassins and what the author will do with this in a historical Brittany setting. Now, I know there will be a discomfort with this concept of a god/saint of Death as it follows through. If you have a good grounding in mythology and old lore, you may have less an issue as Death does not necessarily mean Devil or Satan or wholly villainous and handmaidens needn’t mean black witch. Assassin, of course, remains discomforting, which works beautifully as one of the major conflicts in the novel. The author also uses the uncomfortable perceptions of Death (and its cult) to create tension, especially when Ismae comes up against such a sainted figure as Gavriel Duval turns out to be.

Ismae is fairly typical in that despite her rough upbringing and her training as an assassin, she is naïve about most things. Then there is the part where Ismae skips some of her classes—excused, of course—and she is just young and raised in a convent. The effect should be comedic and necessary to the development of the character. And Ismae does become more sure of herself, learning, earning a more commanding presence.

I think Gavriel Duval is mid-twenties to Ismae’s 17 when they meet. His station affords him a handful of extra years as well so he gets to play the older and wiser who also happens to be a loving and loyal person who has worked out his issues with his saint and is as virginal as he can be without risking his masculinity. He comes dangerously close to being nauseatingly perfect—as I think about it, he is, but while reading, he wasn’t—which is disgusting that LaFevers pulled this off and I must re-read at some point to figure out how she does it. It likely has to do with a) I have yet to be vaccinated against a classic romance hero, and 2) the narrative choice. Grave Mercy is a first person limited to Ismae. Her earliest observations cue the hero (Gavriel) and we are, afterward, as subject to his charms as she is.

Grave Mercy is restrained and somewhat prim on sexual matters—but then, so is our narrator and the setting. The allusions are strong enough to get warm or repulsed depending on the situation. I have to say that it does this better than Divergent, which gets kudos for tempering the sex, too.

I am eager for the second book in this His Fair Assassins Trilogy, not because I can’t get enough of Ismae and Gavriel, the historical setting, or its political conflicts, but because of Sybella and Beast. LaFevers teases the reader with a very interesting supporting cast; and having them also relieves us and author of the pressure of having to extend out that famous instantaneous physical response romances harbor. I appreciate the unapologetic nature of the romance, especially as LaFevers balances it well enough within her ambition for historical adventure and intrigue.

LaFever imagines a gorgeous 15th century Brittany, transporting her reader with ease. Though, really, she makes everything easy. Drama does not seep into hip-wading melodrama; the action carries us along through world-building, multiple conflicts and characters with very little trouble. She uses shorter sentences, which at times make the “I”s and “My”s dizzy, but it moves the story and balances the action and introspection. The narrator never addresses the reader, but is conscious of them, a storytellers device I don’t see enough and was excited to see.

The opening pages are gorgeous. There was a lovely simile the text couldn’t seem to do without a bit further in, but there were few awkward moments and a reminder that clever segues aren’t needed to carry the reader along. The premise, the simplicities in the story with their added fascinations, the characters, the setting, and an inability to anticipate everything compels the reader.

I am a huge fan of LaFevers’ Theodosia Throckmorton series and I am impressed with how differently the author has styled herself in this new series. She goes by R.L. LaFevers for Theodosia, so I had to verify the connection. And yet, that which is so so delightful in Theodosia is what makes Grave Mercy so successful: LaFevers’ finesse for historical detail; including lore and new perspectives on the “old ways;” and unorthodox, clever and daring female characters.

________________________________________________

I picked up Grave Mercy for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) and it works: Death is a figure; it has the dark, dank, and creepy; it features an intrigue. It could’ve been darker, more disturbing, but the author minds an audience and I like that she doesn’t feel the need to follow things down the darkest or most impossible holes.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Hardcover, 549 pages (that fly by). Library book (but if N has her way, we will be owning this one).

shorter and sweeter reviews:

Deanna @ Polishing Mud Balls review

Melissa @ Book Nut review

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · fiction · philosophy/criticism · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Uncategorized · young adult lit

{comics} pluto vol 1-7

If you are going to check out this manga series by Urasawa x Tezuka from your local library, please be sure they have all 8…As it is, I need to carve out time to find the 8th volume somewhere. Believe me, one volume will throw you into the next and you’ll not want to hit a wall. You know that dramatic Noooooo! that one can hear outside the house as it echoes down the street, from above the city, and even into outer space? Yeah, that was me.

URASAWA Preeminent manga artist Naoki Urasawa, collaborating with editor, producer and manga writer Takashi Nagasaki, creates a daring revisionist take on Osamu Tezuka’s timeless classic Astro Boy. Conceived under the auspices of Tezuka’s son Macoto Tezka, a visual artist in his own right, Pluto: Urasawa × Tezuka is more than just an homage piece — Urasawa takes Tezuka’s masterwork and transforms it into a new groundbreaking series of his own. Pluto: Urasawa × Tezuka will surely delight loyal Tezuka fans, but it will also capture the imagination of anyone who loves a compelling work of great science fiction.

× TEZUKA The legendary Osamu Tezuka is arguably the most influential person to shape the landscape of the narrative art form known as manga. In 1964, Tezuka created a revolutionary story arc in his Astro Boy series called “The Greatest Robot on Earth.” Tezuka’s engaging tale struck a chord with the children of that time to become the most popular story line of the series. It would also prove to profoundly influence and inspire a generation of manga artists to come. –Powells “about the author

This is where I admit to not reading much manga and my touches with Astro Boy are fleeting. I’m proof that Pluto will be accessible to just about anyone. It will help to know how to negotiate the right to left movement of the book and page, but it isn’t that hard to figure out. And Pluto is well worth the effort to step outside your norms and pick up manga.

note the mimicry of the top two panels. this portion of Pluto: 001 involving the story of North .02 is beautiful and heartbreaking.

Theirs is an idealized world where man and robot should coexist. But not everyone cares for robots and someone or something is out to destroy both the seven great robots of the world and key robot’s rights figures. Gesicht, a Europol detective and one of the seven, is brought in to investigate the serial murders marked by the composition of the remains, horns coming from the victims heads. What follows is a puzzle steeped in a near past and a race against time to stop the murderer from striking again.  Visiting Asimov’s rules, the conversations on Artificial Intelligence and its potential evolution fascinate. As for the political messages…who didn’t find weapons of mass destruction and declared war anyway?

All destruction and creation is not without consequence.

Pluto was created as a tribute to Urasawa’s hero Tezuka and the challenge was, in part, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Astro Boy. Loosely based on Astro Boy, Urasawa refers to Atom as he’s called, and apparently references the original series throughout, including imitating a few classic images.

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Gesicht could use a vacation from his work, and he and his wife keep talking about it, even as his work interrupts the best laid plans. Pluto writes a familiar script for both human and robot alike. Indeed, many people in the story have a hard time discerning the differences between the most advanced robots and humans. Even so, Urasawa creates very human connections with the most obvious looking robot, primarily by placing them in very human situations. There is some discussion as to the fairness and the value of creating humanizing expectation while yet holding robotic expectations as well. The conflicts on the level of characterization as well as the greater arcs are beautifully balanced and interconnected. There are a lot of philosophical ideas, and historical parallels, a lot of action, an incredible amount of intrigue. Not one piece works without another.

Moving in and out of time, ranging all over the planet, the transitions are easier than one should expect. The progression of the story wasn’t expected. I’m not going to give anything away, but there are moments of absolute dread. I really need to read volume 008, except I worry. But I have to read it. I need to know how it could possibly end happily. And I have to know more about that creepy teddy bear. Yes, Urasawa manages to make a teddy bear more terrifying than a demented robot kept in pieces and raving in the boiler room.

If you get to very little manga in your time, consider Pluto worth some of it; especially you sci-fi fans.

*also Hiromu Arakawa’s Full-Metal Alchemist (Viz Media).

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 Pluto by Urasawa x Tezuka

Viz Media, 2009 (orig. 2004); tradepaper.

w/ post scripts and interviews and the like in each volume.

—-2012 Science Fiction Experience–@ “Stainless Steel Droppings”—-