Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Jimmy Broxton

The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who written by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Jimmy Broxton is a graphic story celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who (which was last year in 2013). I mainly read it because it was shortlisted for a Hugo Award this year.
In this special one-shot story celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, a strange force flings the TARDIS and the Doctor into our own universe! Once here, the Doctor encounters a 10-year-old girl who happens to be a huge fan of the Doctor Who TV show. The Doctor grapples with being a fictional character and monsters lurking at the girl's school on the way to coming face-to-face with the actor who portrays him, Matt Smith!
Honestly, I found this a bit meh. The story was all right and the illustrations were OK but not my favourite. What I liked best was the premise of the story. The TARDIS malfunctions and punches through to our universe from the Doctor's default universe. The Doctor encounters a twelve-year-old girl who at first mistakes him for Matt Smith, until he shows her (and her mother) the real TARDIS.

To be fair, it was an amusing story, especially when they go to a Doctor Who convention, but I couldn't help feeling that it could be more. More funny, more deep, more something. But it wasn't a bad way to spend half an hour.

I recommend The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who to completist fans and anyone interested in a quick read. Also anyone wanting to read a complete story arc in one hit (which is always nice). I'm not sure people not familiar with Doctor Who will get as much about of this.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, IDW Publishing
Series: No.
Format read: PDF
Source: Hugo voter packet

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is the kind of début novel that one hears so much good stuff about, one regrets not requesting an early review copy when one had the chance. But the good (and first person) news is that once it was shortlisted for a Hugo, I had the perfect excuse (and attendant deadline) to buy myself a copy and read it. The fact that it also won a Nebula, an Arthur C Clarke Award and a British Science Fiction Award (among others) did little to dissuade me.
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
What I had heard about most before actually reading Ancillary Justice was "the gender thing". For those that haven't heard, one of the most talked about aspects of this book is the fact that because the main character is a ship AI and because her native language and culture don't use gendered pronouns or visual cues (like clothing, hair style, manner) that define gender, she has a lot of difficulty working out the genders of people in other languages (which do have gender pronouns). And, because the book is obviously written in English, this concept is "translated" by having everyone referred to using female terms except, occasionally, in dialogue spoken in other languages. (To be clearer, Radchaai is the language and culture that lacks gendering and it's spoken/practised in the Radch empire.)

Don't get me wrong, the gender thing is interesting and I like the way Leckie's done it — it makes me wonder why I never thought of doing something like that — but it was not, to me, the main point of the novel. Not by a long shot. Up until something like two thirds of the way in, the story is told in two time-lines. There's the present, where Breq, an isolated human component of an AI warship (called an ancillary), is on a self-imposed mission. And in alternating chapters we are shown the past (twenty years earlier), when the Breq ancillary was still part of the ship Justice of Torren. Both time-lines are told in first person, even though in one the person is indeed a single person, while in the other the person is a ship and hundreds of human-bodied ancillaries.

I think the way Leckie handled the point of view issues was really good. In the scenes with the Justice of Torren and its ancillaries, I really got the feeling that the ancillaries were just additional appendages of the ship. Like hands that could also see things.

The main thrust of the plot concerns Breq wanting to at least partially fix the spoilery events that led to her having to function as an isolated unit. These spoilery events involve a pretty monumental conspiracy theory (I don't mean that as a bad thing, it's good conspiracy theory) and are complicated by the fact that the book opens with Breq picking up a stray human. Although the start of the novel is slow action-wise, I found the gentle introduction to the culture helpful (because it is pretty different to what we're used to) and I found the worldbuilding information interesting enough to want to keep reading. Really, Leckie has built a fascinating culture. The pace increases as the story progresses, especially towards the end which became very exciting.

I was delighted when I got to the end and realised that Ancillary Justice was the first book in a "loose" trilogy. The story is fairly self-contained but there is obviously more to tell and I want to know what happens next. I've just checked and the second book is scheduled to come out in October, which strikes me as sufficiently far away that I might have caught up on my reading by then (or not...). Either way, I'm definitely looking forward to it.

I highly recommend Ancillary Justice to fans of science fiction and fantasy. Those put off by technobabble needn't fear; it's mostly absent. Or, more accurately, what confusing concepts are conveyed are more linguistic or philosophical than they are scientific, I found.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Orbit
Series: Imperial Radch, book 1 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Google Play

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J McKiernan

Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J McKiernan is the author's first short story collection and, indeed, his first solo book. I should note up front that, once upon a time, the author and I were in the same writing critique group. What this mainly means is that I'd seen early drafts of a few stories, a long time ago, and had very vague memories of them. But I thought I should disclose that up front.

There was a decent variety of stories in Last Year, When We Were Young, with most of them tending towards the horror side of the spec fic triangle. (Spec fic is a triangle now. Or maybe a triangular Venn Diagram, but I digress.) Some were more contemplative and serious, while others were more... gory. One was even science fiction. Looking over the table of contents again, most of the stories have very good titles.

I found I most enjoyed the more contemplative stories. My favourites were "The Memory of Water", "White Lines, White Crosses" and the titular "Last Year, When We Were Young", although the latter is perhaps less contemplative per se. The former two stories deal with loss and death in a poignant way.

Actually, I liked most of the stories in this collection. My least favourite tended to be the most gruesome, which is reflective of my horror preferences more generally. And although I am using the term horror to describe the collection as a whole, I'm not sure the three circus-based stories (for lack of a more accurate phrase) count as horror. Certainly not "Calliope: A Steam Romance" nor "The Dumbshow". "All the Clowns in Clowntown" is perhaps more borderline since it definitely has a well executed feeling of dread to it, but on the other hand, it's about clowns. I suspect coulrophobiacs may disagree with me on that point.

I also liked "The Haunting that Jack Built" — in part for the name — and "The Desert Song", both of which were set in rural Australia and both of which had fairly traditional horror elements. I liked the Australian angle and difference between the Australia of the past and the Australia of a not-so-nice future. I also liked "The Message", which packed a powerful punch, nonetheless.

All in all, this was a pretty solid collection and I would recommend it to horror fans and fans of dark speculative fiction. With a few exceptions, there was nothing too extremely horrific in the stories and I think most of them would be enjoyed by a fairly broad audience.


The Memory of Water — A story I found difficult to put down. Siblings remember their departed parents.

White Lines, White Crosses — A teenaged boy and his family move from Sydney to a country town that is eerily obsessed with hooning. It was a disturbing story with a creeping sense of foreboding.

Calliope: A Steam Romance — A patent clerk is captivated by a woman playing a calliope (a steam-powered musical instrument). True steampunk set in Sydney, even more steampunky when we learn that the woman is actually an intelligent automaton. Also, points for many physicist/scientist shout-outs.

Love Death — A young man brings his new wife to a necromancer, hoping to get her back. I may be a bad person, but I found the circumstances around her death pretty (blackly) funny.

The Message — You know when you read a genre book and you know you're reading a genre book but the characters in it don't know they're in a genre book? This story made me think about that phenomenon. A woman takes a job answering a mysterious phone. Obviously, it's far from an ordinary phone and certain aspects of the past resurface...

All the Clowns in Clowntown — Surprisingly epic for a short story. In this world clowning isn’t just something someone does, it’s who they are. The clowns have clustered together in Clowntown, living their lives, until one day <cue ominous music> the circus comes to town.

Daivadana — a disturbing tale of a diplomat (sort of) who gets caught up in an old Tajik religion. Pretty gruesome at times.

The Dumbshow — Another story in the same universe as "All the Clowns in Clowntown", set (I think) shortly after the events of the previous story. It's much less eerie and, being shorter, a more straightforward story. Honestly not sure how it would stand on its own without the earlier background.

The Final Degustation of Doctor Ernest Blenheim — A little hard to get past the self-cannibalism. And honestly once past that it was still a weird story. As far as revulsion goes, I think it did improve as it went along.

Torch Song — The speculative element sneaks up on you in this one, but I quite liked it. A shot tale, good punch. Title very apt.

The Wanderer in the Darkness — Sci-fi horror, so it automatically put me in mind of Alien. My only issue with it was a character leaving an airlock without his helmet and then not dying. Oh well.

A Prayer for Lazarus — I think I read part of this before, possibly an earlier version. Anyway, creepy story told from a young girl's point of view about her mother's descent into a form of zombie-ism.

The Haunting that Jack Built — I quite liked this story. Set in a rural, small town in the Australian 1950s, Jack builds a house while the townspeople can't help but notice women disappearing when they come to visit him. (I think I'd read at least part of this story before.)

They Don’t Know That We Know What They Know — A weird story with a fitting title. Reminded me a little of "Daivadana", although it's actually pretty different in the details. A seer interrogating the dead body of a young terrorist.

The Desert Song — A sort of zombie story, set in rural future post-something bad Australia. I liked it and the ideas in it but I found it a little inconsistent.

Last Year, When We Were Young — One of my favourite stories in the collection. And it's a great title, which works well for the collection as a whole. A speed ageing plague has infected humanity and the concept is taken to its horrifying conclusion.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2014, Satalyte Publishing
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: review copy courtesy of the author
Disclaimer: although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Aussie Horror Reading Challenge

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Tsana's July Status

Hello, readers! It's been a month heavy on reading and also comic books. I will admit, I took advantage of having bought the first three volumes of Saga by reading them all in a day and queueing up the reviews to post while I was on holiday. (In case you were wondering why that particular week seemed slow.)

It's been a bit of a long month, as well, with a lot happening, or so it feels looking back. The most dramatic news was that on of my favourite imprints,  Strange Chemistry (of Angry Robot), closed its doors. Very sad news, especially for authors with upcoming books that were cancelled with various degrees of suddenness. I still have some Strange Chemistry books left in my review pile, so keep an eye out of those. (Sadly, there was one book I reviewed that got pulled before publication and another ARC I have which is presently not being published and hence I probably shouldn't review... :-/ )

On a completely different note, my next status update will be a few days early (in the sense that I usually aim for the 15th of each month) because I will be off to WorldCon in London and then a holiday. Before that, there will also be something exciting coming to the blog, but you'll have to wait to find out what. It does mean that I'll probably have some reviews stored up to post while I'm away, so it won't be a complete black hole. Anyway...

What have I read? 

What am I currently reading?

I'm currently reading three main books, ignoring books I've been part way through since last month but haven't picked up since (but still plan to). The novel I'm currently reading is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It's been Hugo-shortlisted, which is why I'm reading it now, and I've heard lots of good things about it from many people, which is why I'm reading it at all. So far, it has lived up to expectations better than I expected. The start is a little slow (I'm about a quarter of the way through), but I'm finding it sufficiently interesting to make up for the pace.

The short story collection I'm reading is Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew McKiernan. I've only got four stories left, so the review should be up soon. They're mostly horror-ish stories, some more horrific than others.

And finally, I'm reading the non-fictional Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer. I was intrigued by the extract of it provided in the Hugo voter packet and then, when I saw it in a real-life bookshop, I was entranced by how pretty it is. And my husband agreed that it could be an early birthday present. And it's so pretty. I'm also reading it intentionally slowly — because it's that kind of book — so who knows when a review might appear (or what kind of review it would be).

New Booksies

I have another large book haul this month, which only serves to make me more behind on my reading. Such are the pitfalls of being a book blogger. And also of spontaneously buying books because you can.
  • Ambassador 1: Seeing Red by Patty Jansen — purchased because on sale and because I've been meaning to read it.
  • Bound by Alan Baxter — ARC from Voyager. Already reviewed.
  • Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis — purchased because it looks pretty great.
  • The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman — purchased paper book because we went to a paper bookshop and it saves me having to buy it when I'm at WorldCon or something.
  • The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter — purchased at the same place and for the same reasons as above.
  • Saga Volumes One, Two and Three — as above and also because Volume Two is Hugo shortlisted. Already reviewed: One, Two, Three.
  • Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer — purchased with above because it's pretty. And because I'm hoping it will motivate me to write a bit more than I'm currently managing.
  • A Wrong Turn At the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson — purchased because AWW and Aurealis Award shortlisting.
  • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes — ARC from (US) publisher via NetGalley. Looking forward to it.
  • Help Fund my Robot Army!!! & Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects edited by John Joseph Adams — collection of SFF stories in the form of Kickstarter proposals. A Kickstarter that I backed a while ago (because that is the most obvious choice of delivery for such a book).
  • Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier — Purchased because. Already reviewed.
  • Big Bang (Hal Spacejock #7) by Simon Haynes — Purchased because I realised it existed.
  • Daggers of Dresnia by Satima Flavel — ARC of the first in a début fantasy series (which was a smidge late getting to me).
  • Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress — ARC via NetGalley of short (maybe novella?) SF book. Have enjoyed the author's short stories in the past.
  • Loving the Prince by Nicole Murphy — ARC via NetGalley, science fiction romance.
  • The Sorcerer's Spell by Dani Kristoff — ARC via NetGalley, fantasy erotica (eek).

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Chasing the Valley: Skyfire by Skye Melki-Wegner

Chasing the Valley: Skyfire by Skye Melki-Wegner is the concluding volume of the Chasing the Valley trilogy. I have previously reviewed the first book, Chasing the Valley, and the second book, Borderlands. It has been a journey I have enjoyed a lot; I don't think I've read anything quite like it before. This review will contain spoilers for the earlier books.
What if you achieve everything you’ve dreamed of – and it turns into a nightmare?

Danika and her crew of refugees finally reach the Magnetic Valley. Will it be the safe refuge and land of freedom they had imagined? When a runaway girl is shot down before their eyes, Danika and her friends realise that this new land is no paradise. They must try to fit in at all costs – even if revealing their secrets will mean a death sentence.

The conclusion to the Chasing the Valley trilogy will reveal explosive surprises and terrifying new dangers.
Skyfire picks up only moments after Borderlands left off. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that it opens with the sky (in the distance) literally on fire. The crew has reached the promised land of the magnetic valley but it is not the verdant utopia they were lead to believe. (I suppose there wouldn't've been much story if it were.)

The country they find themselves in is an improvement on what they left behind but not as much as they had hoped. There are strange laws about what people with certain proclivities (magic) can and can't do in society and the ruler is a three hundred year old man with a singular proclivity. The crew quickly learn that no one likes to question the ruler or speak against him at all (always suspicious). Have they stumbled out of the frying pan and into the fire? If you mean a literal fire (in the sky), then yes. But enough about the plot.

I'm a bit conflicted with how this series finished off. On the one hand, all three books have very different settings and new problems to go with them. The new setting isn't actually the part I feel conflicted about. It's the way in which the story escalated book to book. The personal stakes were already pretty high (death if they didn't flee in book one), but by the third book new revelations up the ante to the point of them needing to save the world.

But the thing is, it was all actually foreshadowed from the start. So although some elements seemed to me to come from left field, they didn't, not really. I have no doubt that the author had planned out the entire series before book one was done.

It also ended in a place where I wanted to know what happened next. Sure, the world was safe (that's so not a spoiler) and everything was probably going to be  OK... but that doesn't mean that the next step was obvious. I would like there to be more books about Dannika and the others, but I suspect there might not be.

Oh, and the thing I complained about in my review of Borderlands — someone not picking up an important object — was actually resolved. Not quite the way I would' have liked it to be, but in a way that made sufficient sense given the plot. So yay.

Anyway, Chasing the Valley is an excellent series. All three books have been very close to being five stars for me, but just not quite. Skyfire is the same. Obviously, that still makes it a really good series. I highly recommend it to everyone.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2014, Random House AU
Series: Chasing the Valley, book 3 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier is a YA historical fantasy set in Sydney in the 1930s. I have to admit, I didn't know very much about Sydney in the 1930s until I read this book but it certainly seems like it was an interesting period.
The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.

Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.

Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.

When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living . . .
Razorhurst follows two main characters, both of whom can see ghosts: Kelpie, a street urchin and Dymphna, the most expensive prostitute in the city. Kelpie has survived on the streets in large part thanks to some ghost who have taken her under their wings, helped her find food and taught her general survival skills. Dymphna has survived mostly by being good at what she does and having the right appearance and upbringing to impress higher society types.

One of the things I found really interesting was the way the story was told. Alternating chapters were from Kelpie and Dymphna's points of view and in between chapters there were short, semi-omniscient mini-chapters (I'd call them sections but they did have headings, if not numbers) telling the story of someone's past, usually. If not a flashback to one of the main characters' pasts, then the back story of one of the secondary or incidental characters. As a story-telling method it worked really well. The reader gained information that neither Kelpie nor Dymphna knew, which fleshed out the plot and, in some cases, cast other events in a new light. Or gave us back story for the main characters which it didn't make sense to insert into the main narrative. In this way, Razorhurst is as much about the region of Surrey Hills more generally as it is about Kelpie and Dymphna specifically. I found it a really effective way to set the historical scene.

I enjoyed Razorhurst a lot. Larbalestier has a way of revealing information gradually that worked really well for me. There were some things we didn't learn about Kelpie until much later, which other authors may have foregrounded much sooner. I'd be more specific, but I don't want to ruin the reading experience for others. In part, though, I think this is also a reflection of how Kelpie hasn't had much opportunity — until the start of the story — to put her own life into context with those around her who aren't also living in the streets. For example, she doesn't even know how old she is at the start of the story and doesn't understand why people keep asking her that anyway. Dymphna, on the other hand, has always been very aware of her place in life and society and how to play the roles she needs to to survive. More acutely horrible things have happened to Dymphna, but she's also had more opportunities and knows how to make use of them. Kelpie, on the other hand, has mostly only had to worry about finding (barely) enough food and somewhere warm to sleep.

The ghosts are an important element in the story but not actually the driver of the plot in anyway. They're just another form of character and, at times, a challenge for Dymphna and Kelpie to overcome. The main plot is of the "who will try to kill us next and where can we be safe" variety, and the whole novel spans approximately twenty-four hours.

I highly recommend Razorhurst to pretty much everyone. Well, not younger-than-YA readers, since there's several short bursts of acute violence — the story does revolve around razor gangs, after all — but anyone interested in historical fiction as well as the more speculative element. I think the story will work for both types of readers, and for readers who don't usually read YA.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2014, Allen & Unwin
Series: No.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBookstore
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Friday, 11 July 2014

Saga Volume Three by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples

Saga Volume Three, written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is (obviously) the third volume of collected comic issues, comprising of issues 13 to 18.
Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. Searching for their literary hero, new parents Marko and Alana travel to a cosmic lighthouse on the planet Quietus, while the couple's multiple pursuers finally close in on their targets.
When I read the first two volumes (my reviews of Volume One and Volume Two), I was a little weary of the number of female characters. But as the story has progressed, it seems to have accreted more of them, which I appreciated. The cover art of this volume is a good example; neither of those two characters were proper characters when the story started.

Gwendolyn, the woman on the cover, while not wearing what I would call sensible clothes (but they could be worse), proves herself to be an interesting character. We first learn of her only through Marko, who was engaged to her before he went to war. She initially sounds relatively insignificant but when she shows up in person, we find out that, just as Marko changed when he went to war, so to did Gwendolyn when she stayed back.

One of my favourite characters, who's been around since Volume One but who I haven't mentioned, is Izabel. She's the ghost of a teenage girl who died stepping on a landmine. More accurately, the ghost of half a teenage girl. She's pretty great and not the kind of character I would have expected to see. (Even if we can see her intestines.) Also, she provides a counterpoint to everyone being wrapped up in the war. Although her parents were freedom fighters and despite the way she died, she's not invested at all.

We also get to know two new characters with their own story line: two reporters who have caught the trail of the story of Alana, Marko and their child. They run around trying to chase down leads and, in the process, we learn about their home world. Really, I think it's fair to say that the more we learn about each character, the more interesting they become.

I've been enjoying Saga and I'm sad that I now have to wait for an indeterminate time for the next volume. I also recommend starting from the start if this is the first review that you're reading.

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2014, Image Comics
Series: Saga, Volume 3 of ongoing
Format read: Paper! Glossiness!
Source: Purchased from the Science Fiction Bookshop

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Saga Volume Two by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples

Saga Volume Two, written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples is the second volume of collected comic issues. It contains issues 7 to 12. It continues the story right where Volume One left off, telling us more about the background and history of Mako, the narrator's father.
SAGA is sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and horrific monsters, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters her strangest adventure yet... grandparents.

I didn't think about it that much when I was reading Volume One, but I quite like the style of the narration in Saga. The way it's included puts me in mind of voice overs in movies which take place over action-y scenes and that was exactly how I pictured it. It also means that, despite the narrator still being a baby in the comic (not much time has passed since it started), we can start to get to know her as an adult.

Volume Two introduces a few new characters — one in particular that I wasn't expecting to see so soon — and progresses the plot incrementally. That is one of the frustrating things about reviewing comic books; the nature of the medium makes them very brief and difficult to go into much depth over. (I say this before having listened to the Galactic Suburbia Spoileriffic episode; I'm sure they found plenty to talk about for almost two hours.) So I present a few random thoughts.

I was amused that the language written in blue letters is called Blue. I also checked what it was with Google Translate. I had suspected it was Esperanto, and turns out it is. It was an interesting choice to have a couple of pages of dialogue written entirely in Blue. That was the point at which I decided to check what the language was, but I ended up not translating all of it because it wasn't mysterious from the context (and also because lazy). Still, it was an interesting contrast to other scenes where only one person is speaking in Blue and the other doesn't necessarily understand them.

I was also really taken by the style of the historical vision art. (I would call it a flashback but it flashed to before the character's lifetime.) The way it sort of blurred was really cool. It was only used in one bit, but it was memorable.

Saga Volume Two is a recommended read for people who have read and enjoyed Volume One. I don't recommend starting at Volume Two because of plot continuity. I am definitely going to read the third volume.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Image Comics
Series: Saga, Volume Two of ongoing (? Three so far)
Format read: Paper!
Source: Purchased from the Science Fiction Bookshop

Monday, 7 July 2014

Saga Volume One by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples

Saga Volume One, written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is the first volume in a science fantasy/space opera comic book series. First volume in the sense that it's the first trade collection of the first six individual issues. I picked it up because I've been hearing some good things about it (and some less good things that still made me curious) and because Volume 2, which I shall get to shortly, is on this year's Hugo shortlist for Best Graphic Story. Also Volume 1 won the same Hugo last year.
When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.
The story opens with the baby on the cover being born and is lightly narrated by her future self. This opening volume sets up several story lines: there's the parents trying to keep their baby safe and not get themselves killed in the middle of a warzone, and there are two unrelated character groups trying to track them down and kill them (and capture the baby).

The story deals with forbidden love — the parents come from different races (who, obviously can interbreed) — particularly in the reactions of other characters when they are confronted with the couple. It's also pretty gritty, in that there's a lot of violence and hardly anyone is a nice person (although possibly not as literally bloody as grimdark fantasy, but I'm not so sure). Also there are a lot of boobs, some of them needless. Like the spider lady bounty hunter really didn't need to be topless (and as a bounty hunter, I have to wonder why it seemed like a good idea). By contrast, the only penises that appear are in the background on a (weird) prostitute planet, which still contains more boobs. If you didn't pick it up from the last few sentences, this is not really a PG read; it's definitely intended for adults.

So far, I'm enjoying the story, which is just as well because I already have volumes two and three ready to go. It's definitely aimed at SFF readers and I wouldn't call it anything other than science fantasy, genre-wise. (OK, I lied, I might also call it space opera, but I remain faintly confused about what space opera actually is.) There are some interesting species represented, like the robots that book completely human (to the point of reproducing the same way) except for having screens for faces. By contrast, the welcoming committee on the prostitute planet was a bit weird and alarming.

Saga seems not to be for the faint of heart, but it's not as dark as quite a lot of fantasy books I've read.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Image Comics
Series: Saga, Volume 1 of (ongoing?)
Format read: Paper! Gasp!
Source: Purchased from (Swedish retailer)

Friday, 4 July 2014

Chasing the Valley: Borderlands by Skye Melki-Wegner

Chasing the Valley: Borderlands by Skye Melki-Wegner is the second book in the Chasing the Valley trilogy. I have previously reviewed the first book, Chasing the Valley. If you haven't read the first book, it's probably best to skip this review if you're spoiler averse. I'm pretty sure just the blurb contains a bit of spoiler.
Danika and her crew of escaped refugees are seeking the safety of the Magnetic Valley – and trying to evade Sharr Morrigan, the king's most lethal hunter. But the borderlands they must cross to reach the Valley are smugglers' territory: lawless, wild and steeped in ancient magic. When one of the crew is badly wounded, Danika turns to the smugglers for help – and accepts a bargain that might prove deadly.

It is Lukas, however, who hides the most dangerous secret. What has he seen through the eagle's eyes? The answer can be found in an alchemy charm and a smuggler's tale, and will lead Danika and her friends to an electrifying, unputdownable showdown.
"Unputdownable" is a silly word, but it is a good descriptor in this case. As soon as I started reading Borderlands, I was wondering why I hadn't picked it up sooner (it's been out for 6 months). Oh well, at least I don't have to wait to read the third book, which has just come out.

Borderlands has everything I loved about Chasing the Valley, including things I had forgotten I loved. Five(ish) teenagers continue their difficult and high-stakes journey from their home city to the mythical Valley where they hope to seek asylum. They're still being chased by the King's ruthless hunters (and one in particular who has it out for them) and, even without that, the going is tough.

Danika and the crew meet new people, loose people, gain other people... actually one of the things that has really amused me across both the first two books is that, after learning before they left that a crew of five is the optimal number to survive the journey to the valley, they crew has almost continuously contained five people. Not always the same five people, but five people. So I guess the advice at the start was right (and it probably shouldn't amuse me as much as it has).

There was only one small thing that bothered me in this book and it really was small. Without venturing into spoilers, there was one point where some valuable (and useful) stuff was available to be easily grabbed, and we're not told whether anyone did grab it. Only, through omission, that Danika did not. I'm hoping it comes up again in the third book and we learn that Teddy the thief grabbed it when Danika wasn't looking. Sorry about the vagueness, there.

Honestly, I don't have much else to say about Borderlands. I really enjoyed it, for all the same reasons I enjoyed the first book. The worldbuilding, including the magic system, is pretty original, particularly in execution. The behaviour of the royal family continues to be baffling — possibly too baffling, in terms of plausible sustainability — but works with the story. Looking back at my review of book 1, I see that I objected to the fact that everyone seemed to obey the taboo of not exposing their necks before they turned eighteen and could safely reveal their proclivity (type of magic). That was actually addressed in book 2, when they meet people who live outside the law in a different way to the main characters. So yay.

Basically, Chasing the Valley continues to be an excellent series. I highly recommend it to any fans of fantasy, especially anyone interested in fairly original, alchemical fantasy. It is a series to be enjoyed by all readers, young and old. Although I won't argue that it is indeed YA (the main characters are around seventeen), it doesn't necessarily "feel" like YA secondary world fantasy. Possibly because my experience with other YA secondary world fantasies has been less good, but if you're in the same boat, don't pass up Chasing the Valley.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2014, Random House (AU)
Series: Chasing the Valley book 2 of 3
Format read: ePub (iBooks)
Source: Purchased from iBooks
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge