The Witcher #2: Sword of Destiny by Andrej Sapkowski

Read: 7 November, 2018

As with The Last Wish, this is a collection of loosely connected short stories. There’s a strong theme of parenthood, with both Yennefer and Geralt grappling with their infertility, and with Geralt circling his destiny with Ciri. There’s also a scene where he comes across his birth mother, and faces the pain he feels that he was given over to the witchers rather than aborted. It’s an interesting situation, and it shows just how much he resents having been made a witcher – even while fitting the role so well. In terms of the destiny discussion, it’s also interesting to note that his mother – a sorceress – should have been infertile.

There is a scene where Geralt comes to the monument of the second battle of Sodden Hill and comes to believe that Yennefer (along with Triss Marigold and Coral) has been killed. It was rather moving to see the depth of his (misplaced) grief.

Yennefer shows up a lot, but she doesn’t get much actual interaction with Geralt. Any time they talk, they are either having sex or lamenting that they can’t be together and doomed to break up every time they try. We are shown Geralt’s own feelings for her, both at Sodden Hill and in his almost battle with his rival, Istredd. But while we’re told again and again that he loves her, we aren’t given much of a reason for it. If I remember correctly, this comes out a bit more in Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt, when the two of them form a sort of nuclear family with Ciri.

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Moonstruck, Vol. 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis (illustrated by Shae Beagle)

Read: 16 October, 2018

I really love the artwork! The colours really pop, and every character has a very unique style that made it easy to keep track of who was who. I also liked the two different art styles to show what was part of the main story, and what was part of the in-world book.

My only complaint is with the pacing. It starts off nice and slow as we get to meet our characters and see their rapport. Then the mystery starts, and we see a little of how Chet, the character who is mainly affected by the mystery, copes (or not) with what has happened.

All’s good for that first 2/3rds. After that, however, the story seems like it’s rushing to a finish line. There were times when I thought I might have accidentally skipped a page because things were happening so fast. Who are the baddies? Why are they doing what they are doing? There’s a bit in there about trying to rid the world of magic, which would fit with the central theme (the main character, Julie, is embarrassed of being a werewolf and wishes she were a plain human), but that’s just one line. It’s a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it moment that doesn’t do much more than simply nod to the central theme to remind us that it still exists.

The whole final conflict (starting with tracking down the ghost to find out where the final conflict would take place) could have been at least twice as long, and given Julie’s choice to stop the baddie some actual weight.

Aside from that, I did really like this. The characters are interesting, I love all the inclusion, and the art style is perfect for the story being told.

Brave Chef Brianna by Sam Sykes (illustrated by Selina Espiritu)

Read: 9 October, 2018

I really don’t know how to feel about this one. I absolutely love the artwork, first of all. It’s colourful and expressive, and all the characters felt recognisably unique (granted, this is a little easier when so many of the characters are monsters…).

I also liked the representation of anxiety. It’s shown graphically as a little black cloud that appears when Brianna is feeling overwhelmed. As her anxiety attack ramps up, the little cloud grows until it eventually obscures everything around Brianna.

Lastly, I just liked the representation of food service work and restaurant ownership. As hopping as the restaurant is, it still ends up at a slight loss (which is celebrated as a victory). The specificity of that environment added a nice touch to the story.

Unfortunately, a lot of the story just didn’t sit well for me. For one thing, a central plot point is that Brianna is adding illegal ingredients to her food and then serving it to customers without letting them know. She does this knowing that it is against monster tradition to eat flour or sugar. This is on par with serving pork to Muslims while letting them assume that it’s chicken. Not cool.

The other issue is that the big baddie of the story, Madame Cron, is coded as a WoC. She serves traditional, functional monster food, which loses out to Brianna’s imported human food. I’m not reading this SJW stuff into it, by the way – Cron is explicitly shown as having had a history of being oppressed by humans, and having been an activist in her past. And now, the message of the story is that she needs to let go of all that resentment because monster racism is over, and she needs to just let her neighbourhood get gentrified by the nice blonde woman with her non-ethnic cooking that everyone loves.

It would have been one thing if Brianna learned a valuable lesson about respecting Monster traditions, but the lesson is all Madame Cron’s (who is seen taking down a “no humans allowed” sign from her restaurant in her last panel). I just don’t know what to make of all that, but it doesn’t sit well with me.

Of Echoes Born by ‘Nathan Burgoine

Read: 7 October, 2018

This collection absolutely blew me away. I tend to struggle a lot with short stories – by the time I’ve found my footing with the characters and the setting, it’s already all over. Things happen to characters and I just don’t really feel what I know I’m supposed to be feeling because they are still strangers.

But Of Echoes Born was more like Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. The characters were so strong that I got an immediate sense of them. Burgoine will give me a whole love story in a handful of pages and I will feel it – I will feel that attraction the characters have for each other, I will understand their little inside jokes, I will totally buy into the love that they share.

Which, of course, just made my heart so much easier to break – which Burgoine did, again and again throughout the book. It never felt gratuitous or manipulative, though. Burgoine breaks, but he also heals, and nearly every story feels redemptive.

I really love that characters and locations come back through the stories, giving the collection a feeling of community. I’m pretty sure I also recognised at least one character from Triad Blood, though it’s been a while.

I  also love the way that art is used in these stories – and not just one type of art, but everything from painting to clothing design.

There & Then

I’m not a terribly huge fan of rape being used as a plot point, and I do think that this story could have worked without it. That said, I did really enjoy the story. I loved the magic system, and the way that the story taught me to feel for characters just based on what colours were named. I also enjoyed the origin story aspect of having the character discover what his powers mean and what he can choose to do with them.

Time and Tide

There’s a romance trope where a character comes home and is forced to confront a love from the past. I didn’t like this story as much as others in the collection, mostly because the magic and the art didn’t blend into the story the way they do in the other stories.

Pentimento

This isn’t a story where the characters happen to be gay, but a story where the homosexuality is the story. There’s the enforced closet, all the relationships that were never given a chance out of fear, and the complicated relationship between generations. But instead of being a sad, dark story – which it got very close to being – this is a story about magic art that heals history. I felt so uplifted when I got to the end, which was a wonderful feeling after a story that had, up until then, been so dark.

A Little Village Magic

Pentimento moved me, Village Magic outright had me blubbering. There’s the surface story about budding magical powers and a romantic relationship, but the backdrop is the restoration of a defaced LGBTQ+ monument. I love the message of found family.

The Psychometry of Snow

A twist on the ‘going home’ romance story, but again with the addition of magic. I liked this one a lot more than “Time and Tide”, if only because the magic system worked a bit better for me. I felt like “Time and Tide” needed too much exposition, which bogged the story down a bit, whereas the magic in “Psychometry” was pretty easy to grasp and then we had time to get on with things.

The Finish

This one was intense. Right from the beginning, we know that something will go terribly wrong, and that anticipation just gets ramped up with the time skipping and the frantic sex. The payoff was upsetting, of course, but it worked.

Here Be Dragons

Another one that had me crying. This might be a book written by a young(-ish?) author, but the sensitivity and feeling of what mental loss does to a couple is all there.

Struck

This one is a kinda funny story with a creepily laughable character, but then it sneaks in this delightfully heartfelt story about finding love and I really enjoyed it.

Heart

Burgoine is fantastic at evoking deep emotions in the limited format of a short story. I really fell for Miah and Aiden, and I bought them as a couple. Within a handful of pages, I cared enough for them to be really struck by their loss.

Negative Space

This could have been just another urban fantasy story about solving crime through magic. But Burgoine focuses all the attention on the main character, André, instead. So what we get instead is a story about suffering turned outward to help others.

Elsewhen

The main “character” in this one is Ottawa, as the protagonist helps spirits “cross over”. It was neat to see some of the city’s history. Mostly, though, this is another story about the queer community, and all those relationships that were stifled by bigotry. Like “Pentimento”, Burgoine doesn’t just wallow in the sadness of it, but rather redeems his lovers. It’s beautiful, and sweet, and sad, and it’s healing in a way.

Here & Now

A book end story, we come back to Christian (now Ian) and Dawn from “There & Then”. There’s enough here for the story to stand on its own, but it works beautifully as a sequel – answering questions that had been raised in “There & Then”, and finishing off the arcs for each character. I particularly loved that, while Ian was healing for Christian in “There & Then”, that very same interaction is shown to be healing for Ian, too. Both versions of himself needed help, and they were there for each other. Which is just such a wonderful metaphor.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Read: 1 September, 2018

I’d be really interested to find out how Pratchett and Gaiman collaborated on this book, because the narrative is a perfect meshing of their two styles. I recognised so much that was distinctively Pratchett or distinctively Gaiman, but all blended together to make a fantastic amalgam style with both footnote humour and mythic humour.

Some of the jokes haven’t aged too well, particularly where gender is concerned. The book also has a very ’90s/Fern Gully sort of environmental message that dates it rather unmistakably.

Other than that, though, this was wonderful.

Vampirates #1: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

Read: 29 August, 2018

Eons ago, I spotted a book in the bargain bin of my local bookstore called Vampirates. At that price, there was no chance in heck that I wouldn’t buy a book called Vampirates! I mean, that’s just amazing! I bet Somper is incredibly glad that he stumbled onto the name first. In fact, I bet the name alone has half made his career!

Unfortunately, the Vampirates I bought was Tide of Terror – the second book in the series. I didn’t want to start with the second book, but I also wasn’t intrigued enough by the name alone to justify buying the first book at full price.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and I found Demons of the Ocean on a friend’s shelf. She, also, had seen the amazing title of Vampirates on a book that was on sale, and also decided that it was worth buying for that alone. Between the two of us, we had purchased enough material to judge the series on more than just that incredible name.

And… it’s fine.

It drags a bit, particularly for a children’s book. Within the first few pages, the heroes’ last remaining parent has died and they’ve run away to sea. Only, they’ve capsized and each been rescued by a different pirate ship – Connor by normal human pirates, Grace by the titular Vampirates. And that’s basically it. They each make a friend, they each get to know their captain, and very little else happens. There’s pages upon pages of nothing happening.

On the plus side, there are a few moments of legitimate horror. There is a scene where Grace runs afoul of a Vampirate and I honestly started to wonder if I should be reading it aloud to my kid (it actually wasn’t all that gruesome, and I don’t think he picked up on the rape analogy at all). There’s also some fairly good creepy atmosphere while Grace is still working out what kind of ship she’s on, and I liked Connor’s moral difficulty with the whole pirating biz.

The setting is a little confusing. The story explicitly takes place in the future, but the in-story details all point to a fantasy-infused past. There are hints that there’s been an ecological disaster, and that’s why the society feels so “set back”, but there are no remnants of the modern world. Placing the story in the future adds nothing, while setting up expectations that aren’t met.

All in all, I found this to be much better than a series called Vampirates has any right to be. It isn’t fantastic, by any means, but it’s a solid children’s story with some good adventure and thrills.

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Throne of Glass #3: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Read: 18 August, 2018

I found this to be the weakest of the series so far. The pace, which has been a fair trot throughout, slows right down. Not only is this book the longest of the first three, it also has far less plot.

In summary, Celaena has been sent to a continent that still has magic so that she can learn to control her powers. She discovers a handful of things along the way, she makes a few new friends, but the whole book is essentially a really loooong training montage.

To pad this out, we get a bit back in Rifthold as Dorian gets a romance sub-plot and Chaol discovers the rebels. This still isn’t enough to fill the run time, however, so we also get Manon – a witch who has been recruited by the king. Unfortunately, her plot is also a training montage, so much of the book goes back and forth between her and Celaena, as they each get incrementally more powerful.

While I’m sure Manon’s plot will be important, delivering it in this way just bogged the story down. Celaena needed her training, but the book could have focused on Dorian and Chaol’s plots, or even Celaena’s mystery with the weird corpses they keep finding. That, and maybe cut about a hundred pages, too.

Also symptomatic of the editing issues with this book, every character seems to “purr” all their lines.

The pacing made this a tougher book to finish than the preceding two. That said, I do like increasing plotlines and character depth as we spend more time with the cast. And while I didn’t particularly feel that Manon’s plot fit into this book, I do like where her story is going. I also really like the way friendships are treated in this series – Celaena’s devotion to Nehemia is beautiful, and Chaol telling Dorian that he loves him was absolutely perfect. Friendships often get pushed to the sidelines in fiction, and it’s great to see them treated as relationships that are every bit as deep and important as romances.

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The Witcher, vol. 3: Curse of Crows by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Piotr Kowalski)

Read: 17 August, 2018

This is my favourite book of the lot.

I enjoy the random Witcher adventures – the monsters are interesting, I like the way Geralt interacts with people, and I always like the reveals at the very end that Geralt knew what was going on the whole time. But Geralt at his very best is Geralt when Ciri and Yennifer are around.

The artwork is also much better in this one, especially the backgrounds. The city shots, in particular, were gorgeous. Kowalski also did a good job of capturing the right body language and facial expressions to go along with Tobin’s writing.

As for Tobin’s writing, he’s once again managed to capture the characters’ personalities. This is especially impressive with the banter between Geralt and Yennifer, which rides such a very fine line – too affectionate and it isn’t them, but too teasing and it could come off as mean-spirited.

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The Witcher, vol. 2: Fox Children by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Joe Querio)

Read: August 6, 2018

As with House of Glass, I appreciate how well Tobin has managed to capture Geralt’s voice and the general tone of Witcher series.

The artwork, which disappointed me a bit in House of Glass, is still rather underwhelming. However, there is now a female character who actually wears clothing, so that’s at least a little improvement (have no fear – the central female character is still naked). This is authentic to CD Projekt Red’s vision of the series, so I can’t fault it for that, but it’d be nice to have a little more parity.

The story works, for the most part. I liked the ending twist, and I thought that that Tobin did a good job of building a paranoid atmosphere.

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The Witcher, vol. 1: House of Glass by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Joe Querio)

Read: 5 August, 2018

I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork for this one. It felt a bit rough or lacking in detail, and there were several panels where I had a great deal of trouble figuring out what I was looking at. In particular, Vara’s body (her arms, especially) seemed all over the place, proportionally. It’s not bad art, per se, but it could have been a lot better.

The story was okay. It definitely felt like a Witcher story, just not one of the better ones. There’s some good mystery and ambience building up, until Geralt finds the right person to talk to and they just infodump what’s going on. Which a lot of Sapkowski’s stories also do, so points for keeping it authentic, but those aren’t the stories that I really like.

All that said, I did enjoy the writing. When Geralt speaks, he sounds like Geralt. His humour, his deadpan, the way he just goes along with what people saying – even while he knows that they are lying – just to see what will happen… that’s truly Geralt. Even the “twist” at the end that he had a good idea of what was going on the whole time, even while the reader was befuddled by the mystery, reads just like Sapkowski’s stories.

I also liked the way Geralt bantered with Vara. They had a good rapport, and it worked better than just having Geralt wandering around by himself for half the story.

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