Review: Golem

Posted on September 26th, 2016 @ 19:58
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GolemGolem by Lorenzo Ceccotti

My rating:

Blurb:

Set in a future, post-Eurozone Italy, entrenched in a bizarre form of hyper-capitalism, GOLEM follows a young boy kidnapped during a political protest gone sour, who learns that he has the power to not only change the city, but reality itself. This intensely imaginative political-sci-fi graphic novel is a visual tour de force, created by contemporary design icon Lorenzo Ceccotti, better known as LRNZ, whose design-influenced illustration is a lush, fluid blend of manga masters like KATSUHIRO OTOMO with western comic icons like JOSH MIDDLETON, creating a style that is wholly unique and absolutely breathtaking.

Review:

[I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Some pretty good artwork in places, although I expected something more original, especially considering the length of this volume.

The basic idea in itself is, I’d say, typical enough of dystopian stories: country (here, Italy) in the not-too-far future, dominated by an apparent benevolent ruler (president Oudeis) who’s actually a tyrant, with “the masses” living day to day in blissful ignorance, smothered with all the latest technological toys and gizmos they could desire. Also a “terrorist”/”freedom fighters” group, because dystopian stories need that. All in all, terra cognita here, not bad, and not exceptional either.

The world depicted in this comics is interesting, and chilling, too, however it gave a strong Japanese vibe, and this felt a little strange. Lots of Japanese-sounding names (the Yoko brand, the Shorai “terrorist group”), aesthetics that clearly reminded me of quite a few cyberpunk/futuristic manga… Again, not bad per se, yet I couldn’t reconcile this vision with Italy. Not to say I expected stupid clichés here (nope, I didn’t want to see pasta everywhere, that’s just as bad as the French baguette as far as clichés go!), just… something that would’ve felt more European-centric?

The art was pretty good in some parts, though average in others, and most often dynamic: the fights looked and felt like fights, bodies in movement giving an impression of speed. As a work of art, as in painting/drawing, it was definitely interesting to look at.

The characters in general were sympathetic. Not unexpectedly at all, the rebels all have their quirks and cool tech and moves (cooking, hooked on computers, a sort of probabilities-projecting technology allowing them to predict their enemies’ moves by a couple of seconds…). However, I never got a real feeling for them, especially the two kids at the centre of it all.

Conclusion: In general, my impression was that of a story with good foundations, but not told as it would’ve deserved—both too long and too crammed considering its conspiracy aspect. The bland characters didn’t help.

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Review: Gaslight & Grimm – Steampunk Faerie Tales

Posted on September 23rd, 2016 @ 22:33
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Gaslight & Grimm: Steampunk Faerie TalesGaslight & Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

My rating:

Blurb:

Once Upon a Time, ageless tales were told from one generation to the next, filled with both wonders and warnings. Tales of handsome princes and wicked queens, of good-hearted folk and evil stepmothers. Tales of danger and caution and magic…classics that still echo in our hearts and memories even to this day, told from old, cherished books or from memory at Grandma’s knee.

Oh yes, tales have been told…but never quite like these. Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.

With tales by James Chambers, Christine Norris, Bernie Mojzes, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young, Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin, Elaine Corvidae, David Lee Summers, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, and Jody Lynn Nye.

Review:

[I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I found this anthology quite inspiring in general, and it left me with a better impression than anthologies generally do. I appreciated that most stories, while building upon the foundations of original tales, didn’t hesitate to stray from them at some point, instead of being “mere” retellings almost identical to their inspirations. For instance, the one inspired by “Rapunzel”.

The ones I liked best:
- “When Pigs Fly” (original story: The Three Little Pigs): airship and their badass captains, on a backdrop of Alliance vs. Rogues conflict. I was bound to like this one.
- “From the Horse’s Mouth” (The Goose Girl): a gritty retelling, that doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of a country at war.
- “The Giant Killer” (Jack the Giant Killer): with Jack being more of a Jane, with interesting devices and a tendency to get into trouble… but always with a certain style.

Remarks on a couple of other stories:
- “The (Steamy) Tale of Cinderella (Cinderella, obviously): set in a fleet gathered around the princely ship, where the fated ball is to be held. But the Prince isn’t just some charming vapid man, Cinderella is more interested in machines than in snagging a man, and there’s a nice LGBT dimension. I do regret, though, that the latter was presented a little abruptly, out of nowhere—there could have been so much more, instead of the (at first) traditional approach of shaming same-sex relationships. Fortunately Cinderella’s and the Prince’s decision is an interesting one.

- “The Hair Ladder”: I liked the different relationship dynamis between “Rapunzel” and “the witch”. I wasn’t convinced by the mother, however, as she was much too selfish and vain, and felt like a cardboard villain.

But overall, these stories were more 3 to 4 stars each than anything really bad. “The Walking House” (Baba Yaga) is probably my least favourite.

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Review: A City Dreaming

Posted on September 21st, 2016 @ 23:42
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A City DreamingA City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

My rating:

Blurb:

M is an ageless drifter with a sharp tongue, few scruples, and the ability to bend reality to his will, ever so slightly. He’s come back to New York City after a long absence, and though he’d much rather spend his days drinking artisanal beer in his favorite local bar, his old friends—and his enemies—have other plans for him. One night M might find himself squaring off against the pirates who cruise the Gowanus Canal; another night sees him at a fashionable uptown charity auction where the waitstaff are all zombies. A subway ride through the inner circles of hell? In M’s world, that’s practically a pleasant diversion.

Before too long, M realizes he’s landed in the middle of a power struggle between Celise, the elegant White Queen of Manhattan, and Abilene, Brooklyn’s hip, free-spirited Red Queen, a rivalry that threatens to make New York go the way of Atlantis. To stop it, M will have to call in every favor, waste every charm, and blow every spell he’s ever acquired—he might even have to get out of bed before noon.

Enter a world of Wall Street wolves, slumming scenesters, desperate artists, drug-induced divinities, pocket steampunk universes, and demonic coffee shops. M’s New York, the infinite nexus of the universe, really is a city that never sleeps—but is always dreaming.

Review:

[I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Quite a strange book, in that it didn’t exactly have a plot, more of a collection of “slice of life” moments. Well, moment in the life of a being able to bend reality to his will, or almost, surrounding himself, whether he wants it or not, with other exceptional beings.

After years, decades of wandering around, M is back in New York, where he gets reacquainted with old friends and enemies (not mutually exclusive), gets entangled in the local magic politics, finds himself facing strange worlds and creatures at times, all the while trying to remain “in good terms with the Management”—in other words, balancing feats of magic just right enough to live nicely, without getting much of backlash. And let’s be honest, M’s friends are often worse than his foes, considering the dire straits they take him into.

The New York M evolves in is definitely strange and enchanting in its own ways, mixing daily mundane places and events with happenings out of this world. Immortal mages trying to kill each others, the two Queens of New York trying to get the upper hand each int their own sly ways, revenge and curses, magical underground trains, apprentices coming out of nowhere, traders playing at human sacrifice… There are so, so many odd things in that city, in M’s world in general.

The major problem I see with this novel is the fact it’s a collection of mini-adventures, connected by a loose red thread much more than by any kind of solid plot. M meets some old friend who drags him on a crappy errand, or has to go and trick pirates to free another friend who got kidnapped, or finds himself in an alternate world whose rules may very well trample his own perception of reality… and so on. The blurb was misleading, in that its wording led me to believe there would be more of a plot (there’s no real war between the Queens, for instance, and some of the stories felt repetitive). Instead, the connectors are people and places rather than events leading to other events, and not in the way of a more traditional narrative. Which is an interesting thing or not, depending on how you perceive it.

While I wasn’t too convinced at first, in the end, this technique nevertheless offered glimpses into a magical world, and I found myself wanting to see which new adventure would unfold in every new chapter—not to mention that whenever connectors met, they still gave a sense of things tying together, but just a little, just enough, not as a series of convenient coincidences. (Because -that- can also be a problem, when a plot is too well packed and loose ends are too nicely tied.)

These stories also provide an interesting view on modern life: night scenes, drug addiction, poverty (so many people around you, who won’t see you as you’re being dragged down…), making and losing friends, art and pleasure, unpleasant acquaintances, wealthy lifestyle vs. a more subdued kind of existence, choices to make in the face of adversity, responsibilities, humanity… There’s a strong current of life to this New Work, carrying its people just as much as its people carry it, and the author pictures it funny, dark and loving tones all at once.

Conclusion: I can’t say I absolutely loved this book, however it contains a lot of imaginative elements, and the New York, the City with a capital C described in it, was such a vivid backdrop that it may just as well be called a character as well. 3.5 stars, going on 4.

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Review: Nine Candles of Deepest Black

Posted on September 18th, 2016 @ 19:11
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Nine Candles of Deepest BlackNine Candles of Deepest Black by Matthew S. Cox

My rating:

Blurb:

She saw it coming. She knew it would happen―but no one believed her.

Almost a year after tragedy shattered her family, sixteen-year-old Paige Thomas can’t break free from her guilt. Her mother ignores her, doting on her annoying little sister, while her father is a barely-functioning shell. He hopes a move to the quiet little town of Shadesboro PA will help them heal, but Paige doesn’t believe in happiness anymore.

On her first day at school, a chance encounter with a bullied eighth grader reawakens a gift Paige had forgotten, and ingratiates her into a pack of local outcasts. For weeks, they’ve been trying to cast a ritual to fulfill their innermost desires, but all they’ve done is waste time. After witnessing Paige touch the Ouija board and trigger a paranormal event, the girls are convinced another try with their new fifth member will finally work.

Once the darkness is unleashed, it’s not long before they learn it will give them exactly what they asked for―whether they want it or not.

Review:

(I got a copy from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.)

A little lengthy at times, but overall an enjoyable “coming of (witchcraft) age” story that, while resting on archetypical elements, turns out to go deeper than what could be expected at first. Even though, looking at it with a more mature eye, I wouldn’t shelve it as a favourite, I can say that teenage!me would probably have loved it (I really was into that kind of witchcraft stories at the time).

For once, I’ll start with the elements I found problematic. First, depending on its moments, the story reminded me of “The Craft”—incidentally, a movie I had liked when it came out in 1996—since it rests on similar premises: girl moves to a new town, arrives in a school where she doesn’t know anyone, quickly becomes friends with the local wannabe-witches, then becomes the last member they needed to perform their rituals… and said rituals turn out to be not-so-nice magic after all. I don’t know if this was on purpose or not (after all, the author listed his inspirations at the end of the book, so I don’t see why some would have been hidden and others not). This said, this kind of plot is definitely not unique, and I’ve seen it in several other movies and books, so…

Quite a few tropes, like the ones mentioned above, are also involved—the goth-looking girls being bullied because they dress in black, the Ouija board… I’d deem this as “problematic… or not”, because truth be told, there are days when I just love myself a handful of tropes.

Finally, another thing I sometimes had trouble with were the descriptions, more specifically the ones about clothes. They’re not bad; it just felt odd when Paige’s outfit, for instance, was described every time she changed. The really strange thing here is that a character not changing clothes during a whole movie or series spanning more than a couple of days would bother me, yet when I see it mentioned in written form, actually I’d prefer it not to be. This is clearly linked to the medium: I’ve had the same feeling with other novels, too. As for other descriptions, the ones of the “mirror world” were creepy-good, although I wasn’t too impressed with the antagonist’s appearance, to be honest.

Where “Nine Candles” shone for me, on the other hand, was on the tropes it did -not- use, and on the presence of Paige’s family. For instance, in this story, you won’t find the typical, vomit-inducing love polygon, causing the main character to balance between which love interest to choose why the world is getting destroyed. Vapid love has no place here, as another character quickly finds out when she fails to get what she wants, and the one truly strong love is actually the one of family bonds. Because what’s thankfully missing as well is the Absent Parents trope, with our MC happily traipsing around unsupervised like every 16-year-old in the world does.

In fact, Paige’s family is very present, and turned from slightly annoying in the first chapters to a solid cluster that nothing can break. “Annoying” because of the initial situation: the father depressed and absent in mind after the death of the elder sister Amber, the mother only paying attention the younger sister Melissa, and Paige being somewhat invisible in the middle—it was a bit extreme, and led to Paige appearing at first like a pouting child. Especially since Melissa is really, really cute and nice, and not at all the spoiled brat cliché often expected when younger siblings are mentioned. But then, it turned into situations where Paige made a fragile truce with her mother, rediscovered her relationship with Melissa, and more. And Paige’s “wish” during the ritual (not a spoiler, everybody did expect The Ritual, right?) was a noble one, not a selfish one, confirming her character as a good person.

Families are present throughout the whole novel: as loved ones; as people to trust and who’ll support you even though they’re not convinced you’re saying the truth; as potential victims; as triggers of darker deeds; as ways of highlighting to which extent some characters are superficial, too. More than one aspect, and more than one family, is explored here, and I really liked that.

Conclusion: in its theme, not particularly original, yet definitely worth it for the inclusion of family themes (not only biological families—Paige and Co are also a second family for Sofia, for instance). It would make a good coming of age-slash-horror story for teenage readers. 3.5 stars.

Enregistrer

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Review: Smoke

Posted on September 12th, 2016 @ 19:50
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SmokeSmoke by Dan Vyleta

My rating:

Blurb:

England. A century ago, give or take a few years.
 
An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.
 
An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government.  Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie – knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and coldhearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.

Review:

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I really liked the premise: sin and violent emotions taking on shape and scent, through a strange smoke people let escape in spite of themselves, in an alternate Victorian setting where, much like in real Victorian England, the “lower classes” are considered as sinful, while the “upper classes” are supposed to be their betters—and what’s best here than -not- displaying the dreadful Smoke, right? However, ultimately I couldn’t care about the story at all, nor about the characters. I partly blame this on the rhythm, and partly on the choice of narrative tense and voices.

The first chapters, albeit a little slow, had the kind of atmosphere I hoped the whole novel would carry throughout, involving a private boarding school, creepy students, and masters entrenched within their stinky moral rectitude. Lovely, isn’t it? There is so much one can do with such a setting (can you tell I like boarding school settings?). There was so much promise to the strained relationship between Julius, the apparently perfect, almost angelic student who submits others to his own rule on top of the teachers’, a monster in elegant disguise, and Thomas, a murderer’s son, openly convinced that he’s a monster and will end up like his father.

Alas, after that, or more specifically about the part where the boys go visit London, things went downhill.

I can definitely say the narrative style didn’t convince me: a blend of a first and third person, but also of present and past tense. Unfortunately, first POV present is difficult to properly achieve, and third POV present is even more difficult… and it just didn’t work here, bringing a constant jarring note to the story. I spent more time being bothered about the tense shifts and sometimes confusing points of view, than really paying attention to what I was reading. Not to mention that some of those narrators weren’t so useful, being brought in for one scene, then never again—in other words, I never got to get a feeling for these characters, not enough to care about what happened to them. This extended to the actual main characters, who could have had an interesting dynamics as a twisted love triangle, united in sin and darkness as they were uncovering a plot that may or may not destroy England as they knew it.

Another really bothering thing was how the Smoke was everywhere, permeating every stratum of society, at the heart of the mystery… yet in the end, there was no clue as to -why- exactly it existed, what brought it out of humans. Something supernatural? Something physiological? Nada. And since there’s no indication whatsoever that there’ll be a second volume, for now it looks like we’ll never know. (Also, because the origins of Smoke, its nature, are involved in the plot our three “heroes” unveil, the absence of revelation and information is all the more annoying.)

It took me weeks to finish this novel, and to be honest, had I not felt like I owned a review for NetGalley, I’d have DNFed it.

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