Friday, August 31, 2018

August Site Update

And, just like that, summer's over, by the weather if not the calendar.

The previous nine reviews have been archived on the main site, and some minimal progress has been made on Phase II of the overhaul.


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rebel Genius (Michael Dante DiMartino)

Rebel Genius
The Rebel Geniuses series, Book 1
Michael Dante DiMartini
Roaring Brook Press
Fiction, MG Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Since the rise of the Supreme Creator Nerezza, the artists of Zizzola and their avian spirit guide Geniuses have been doomed; only Nerezza and her own monstrous Genius are allowed creative reign. Young Giacomo's parents used to be artists themselves, until Nerezza's troops slaughtered their Geniuses and turned them into half-mad Lost Souls... a fate that led to their deaths, leaving the boy an orphan to scrape a living out of the gutters. But despite deep artistic yearnings, Giacomo never had his own Genius - until an attack by city guards led to its arrival. Discovered by three other children who have their own forbidden Geniuses, he becomes part of a quest to find the three great instruments left behind by the Creator Himself, with which the world might be remade... or utterly destroyed. But others also seek the instruments, including agents of Nerezza and a rogue artist who created the ultimate blasphemy by daring to make his own living servant, a Tulpa. Can an untested, untrained boy like Giacomo hope to succeed where so many others have failed?

REVIEW: The author of this book, as the cover proudly announces, was a co-creator of the cult hit animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra... a connection that both explains and does not explain much about this story.
It explains the high visual component of the action, with the colored lights flashing about, the Geniuses with their bright plumage and gemstone-adorned crowns, and even the strong theme of "sacred geometry," the idea that reality can be broken down into a small number of "perfect" elemental shapes that form God's blueprint (more on this in a bit.) This was clearly written by someone used to having their ideas expressed in images, particularly animated images, and I couldn't help wondering if that was the original intent of this story: to be brought to life on screen, where it would've undoubtedly dazzled.
Given what I've seen of Avatar, however, it does not explain the overall flatness of the characters, which lean heavily on gender stereotypes, and how the story keeps explaining itself to the reader (perhaps a legacy of only having words to tell a tale when DiMartini is used to an animation team bringing them to life - it was as though he did not trust his ability to convey emotions without those images, and felt he had to explain again and again what was going on in the character's heads.) Hints of depth exist, but none of it feels authentic, not helped by the immaturity of Giaocomo and the other stars. Giacomo in particular is an annoyingly childish character in many respects, whose great importance (and, at more than one point, mere survival) is more a function of the plot than inherent courage or ability. It's ridiculously easy to sort the good guys from the bad based on first impressions; the one major betrayal was telegraphed early on. But this seems to be a common pitfall of this subgenre of fantasy... and here we get back to the Creator idea that dominates - indeed, stomps down on with an iron heel - so much of the story and the characters and the Renaissance-flavored world.
In my admittedly-limited reading of Christian fantasy - which this undoubtedly is, despite not actually using the words - there tends to be an oversimplification of plot and characters to emphasize Good and Evil, and (in this case especially) make for a fairly simplified creation story that discourages questioning... such as wondering at the seemingly-fickle abilities and blind spots of the god involved. Some few shades of gray trickle in by the end, but not enough to ameliorate the greater flattening effect.
Readers on the younger end of the middle-grade market might enjoy this one, but overall I've read too many other, more involved and interesting middle-grade titles to like it, despite some nice mind's-eye-candy appeal and potential. Which is a shame, as I saw so much more storytelling and character potential in the Avatar series than I saw here. (After reading this, though, I suppose it's just as well I never pursued the show, if it became this heavy-handed and overexplained. Maybe DiMartini just plain thinks more in terms of animation than straight-up writing...)

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Neverending Story (Michael Ende) - My Review
The Unwanteds (Lisa McMann) - My Review
The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson) - My Review

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Fairy Quest: Outcasts: #2 (Paul Jenkins)

Fairy Quest: Outcasts: #2
The Fairy Quest series, Outcasts Issue 2
Paul Jenkins, illustrations by Humberto Ramos
Boom! Studios
Fiction, MG? Fantasy/Graphic Novels
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Red and her forbidden friend Mister Woof have made it to the cave of the Mapmaker, but their journey is far from over. The iron-fisted ruler of Fairyland, Grimm, still pursues the rogue characters - and the path ahead is at least as dangerous as the path behind. To reach the real world and their own chance at a happy ending, the pair must follow the Yellow Brick Road through Oz and past Wonderland... but these places aren't the fairy tales they used to be.

REVIEW: I needed a quick palate-cleanser after my last read (and after another bad news day), so I figured I'd return to this series for the second issue. It picks up right where the previous installment left off, with Red and Woof in the sanctuary of the Mapmaker's cavern - where they learn the fate of forgotten stories, a fate that might befall them if they fail. Meanwhile, Grimm and his armies haven't given up pursuit of the pair, even as Wonderland and Oz offer their own threats. Still an enjoyable riff on tweaked fairy tales, with a cliffhanger promising more adventures ahead.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Sisters Grimm: Fairy Tale Detectives (Michael Buckley) - My Review
Fairy Quest: Outcasts: #1 (Paul Jenkins) - My Review
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia C. Wrede) - My Review

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Too Like the Lightning (Ada Palmer)

Too Like the Lightning
The Terra Ignota series, Book 1
Ada Palmer
Fiction, Literary Fiction/Sci-Fi
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: On 2400's Earth, power structures and societal norms have been radically altered. Humans no longer identify with geographic nations but with Hives of like-minded people. Nonviolent criminals are sentenced to life as Servicers, essentially slaves unable to own property or acquire money and required to aid any who demand it. The family unit has largely been replaced by bash'es, community dwellings of mates and friends. And, ever since the bloody Church Wars, organized religion has been outlawed, priests replaced by sensayers: those trained in the innumerable belief systems and philosophies of humanity who act as spiritual counselors.
Mycroft, a Servicer with access to some of Earth's most powerful individuals, was assisting the prominent Saneer-Weeksbooth bash' - center of the global transportation system that keeps the modern age moving and nations borderless - when he stumbled across a secret that would eventually remake the world: the boy Bridger, whose mere touch and willpower could bring toys, drawings, and mere ideas to life. As one of the few privy to the child's secret existence, he takes it upon himself to defend him from a world not yet ready for him, and to defend the boy from a world he is not yet mature enough to face... but a series of seemingly unconnected events begin to tip the global balance of power. In such chaotic times, secrets will undoubtedly be revealed, for good or ill.

REVIEW: It's not often that I can say a Bad review is a generous rating, but I had to take into account the fact that, in most ways, this story and this reader were completely mismatched from page one. Given that I could not have been the intended audience, take my opinion with a healthy dose of salt.
This is a literary novel to its marrow, a book where the reader is expected to be conversant in eighteenth-century philosophy and ancient politics and numerous other topics I generally find as fascinating as drying cement, and at least as thick to slog through. Without such interest or expertise, it read like the written version of the Codex Seraphinianus, an art book purporting to describe a surreal alternate world that contains bizarre pictures such as multi-headed birds and transmogrifying humans, but with all text written in an entirely invented, intentionally untranslatable script. Like the Codex, I was presented with strange, often baffling images of a world I could scarcely relate to, with walls of words that meant next to nothing to me. This sense of disconnect was not helped by the writing style, which deliberately (and often aggravatingly) mimicked eighteenth-century styles in its slow, description-heavy pace, frequent tangents, and multiple breaking of the fourth wall to address the hypothetical reader, not to mention a general expectation that I'd find anything the narrator chose to describe gripping; at more than one point, I was supposed to be spellbound as various characters calculated statistics. Characters - of which there were far too many, often with multiple names that I was supposed to somehow keep straight - were universally unlikable caricatures, often twisted (not helped by an unreliable narrator who might be insane), with not a single healthy relationship between them. The future world claims to have cast off gender identity, yet time and again gender-based stereotypes (not always tied to anatomical gender) played out in heavy handed ways - some of which was deliberate given the narrator's proclivities and Points Being Made about society, all of which was tooth-grinding. Most of the cast seemed to be terribly important, Hive leaders and such, but be danged if I cared about any of them, especially viewed through Mycroft's writing. It all takes place in a future that's essentially a bizarre update of the Enlightenment, one where radically altered societal norms merely create new markets for deeper deviations and depravities and hedonism under the surface... but, since I couldn't care about the characters, I couldn't care about the world that their actions and power games might save or destroy. What's the plot actually about? Darned if I could describe it even after reading it, as the plot (a dense and convoluted thing involving murders and possible religious cults and a coming global recession and power plays, all only incidentally touching on the miracle boy Bridger) really isn't the point. Like many literary novels, it's more about the themes, the ideas, the mood, and the various topics the author wanted to lecture about via the loose framework of a book. (I was not at all surprised to read that the author is, in fact, a history professor.) Naturally, as the first in a series, the ending doesn't really wrap up much, making it all the more disappointing.
I had heard many interesting things about Too Like the Lightning. It was a contender for major awards. It had lots of positive buzz. And I can see just enough to understand how someone other than myself would be taken with it (enough for me to soften the rating I almost gave it, to allow for my own lack of literary taste): it does create a very unique future, for one thing, with societal changes on almost every level in ways that some authors neglect. But ultimately I could not enjoy it. My lasting impression is that any book where a character who quite literally can conjure life with a touch is relegated to a half-forgotten subplot compared to economic crises and what amount to board room meeting minutes has gone wrong at some point.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Foundation (Isaac Asimov) - My Review
The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu) - My Review
Moby Dick (Herman Melville) - My Review

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Fables: Legends in Exile (Bill Willingham)

Fables: Legends in Exile, Volume 1
The Fables series, Issues 1 - 5
Bill Willingham, illustrations by James Jean and Alex Maleev
Fiction, Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A long, long time ago in a land far, far away, the denizens of the myriad realms and kingdoms of Never lived out their fairy-tale lives, largely unconcerned with the fates of their neighbors... until the Adversary rose. His conquering armies destroyed everything they could not enslave. Only a small population managed to escape to a strange and distant land known as Earth. Here, forced together by circumstance, they banded together to create the community of Fabletown, granting amnesty for past mischief and crimes. Unaging, living among the mortal "mundy" population in secret, they wait for the day they can reclaim their former lands.
When Snow White's sister, the wild child Rose Red, disappears, her apartment covered in blood, her former boyfriend Jack (of beanstalk fame) is the first suspect; he may have been pardoned like the rest of them, but he's still a trickster at heart, and if he could slay giants then killing a girlfriend isn't a seven-league step. But as Bigby Wolf and Snow investigate, they find the truth isn't as neat as a fairy tale.

REVIEW: This award-winning series re-imagines fairy tales into the modern world, retaining many of their original, darker quirks; those expecting watered-down Disney versions should probably look elsewhere, as the writing draws off the older, more twisted versions of tales. (This is not a children's graphic novel by any means, with gore and sexual content.) Bigby the wolf, struggling to stay on the right side of the law, wouldn't be out of place in a noir novel, a grizzled detective always ready to see the dark side of any given situation, who knows full well that past amnesty did nothing to eliminate the less pleasant aspects of his fellows' personalities. His partner of circumstance, Snow, has risen far since divorcing her cheating husband Prince Charming (who is up to his old ways again, earning a spot on the suspect list), technically the second most powerful person in Fabletown under the largely-figurehead King Cole. Side roles go to familiar figures such as the last surviving member of the three pigs, the former Frog Prince (who still snacks on the occasional fly out of habit), and Snow White's assistant Little Boy Blue, among others. The illustrations are nicely detailed, with many imaginative touches. As for the mystery of Rose Red, I found the conclusion a trifle unsatisfying, but overall it worked, and it did fit with what the reader knew, even if Bigby held a few details of his deductions close to his chest until the final reveal (in a self-confessed "parlor scene" without a parlor, because he so rarely has a chance to gather suspects to reveal a culprit in his line of work.) At the end, a written backstory fills in Bigby's past in Never, and hints at what compelled him to follow the others to Earth and ultimately try his hands (or paws) at heroism after a lifetime of unrepentant villainy. A nice read all in all, though I'm not sure if I feel compelled to follow the series or not; this one reads fine as a standalone, with touches of "pilot episode" setting establishment.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Fairy Quest: Outcasts: #1 (Paul Jenkins) - My Review
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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Furthermore (Tahereh Mafi)

Tahereh Mafi
Fiction, MG Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: On the cusp of her twelfth birthday, Alice Alexis Queensmeadow is certain her life can only get better, because it's hard to imagine it growing worse. Three years ago, her beloved Father disappeared with only a ruler in his pocket, leaving her Mother to crumble with despair and Alice to fend for herself against the rest of Ferenwood. In this land bursting with color and magic (the former being a mark of the latter), Alice alone has no pigment, marking her as forever different, forever lesser - and boys like Oliver have always let her know about it. Only now Oliver is trying to get her help for some reason. She's determined to refuse... until he tells her he knows where her Father is: the near-mythical realm of Furthermore, where magic is even wilder - and more dangerous - than anything she's ever known.

REVIEW: With clear nods to Alice in Wonderland in both the main character's name and the nonsense-tinged nature of both worlds she travels through, it's no wonder the plot tends toward the silly and surreal. Unfortunately, so do the characters, to the point where I just plain didn't like them for far too long. Alice is too immature, stubborn, and mercurial to begin to care about, though Oliver's little better, deliberately playing games and hiding things. The worst of the lot, though, is the narrator, who often tries far too hard to be both Clever and Profound, and who jerks the reader around too much and too often. This is a shame, as both Ferenwood and Furthermore have some great potential and bright mind's-eye-candy details (showers of bright "rainshine," night skies exploding with galaxies and planets, origami foxes from two-dimensional realms, and so forth); being forced to experience them through the double-clouded lenses of the characters and the narrator does little to serve them. Things happen, but more often than not because of stubborn, silly, and stupid things Alice does or doesn't do (or Oliver does or doesn't do - he's not entirely blameless in more than one near-disaster), with escapes materializing as quickly as dangers. The conclusion wraps up far too fast and tidily given the peril involved in reaching it, and a couple key plot points turn into limp red herrings by the end.
Younger readers, particularly those taken with surreal wonderlands and the odd clever turn of phrase and less interested in character integrity, would enjoy it more than I did. As for me, despite the potential and a few fun moments, I spent far too much time thinking I should've picked another book from my pile... a bad sign, I feel, when one is reading.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Best of Lewis Carroll (Lewis Carroll) - My Review
The Divide (Elizabeth Kay) - My Review
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente) - My Review

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Retrograde (Peter Cawdron)

Peter Cawdron
John Joseph Adams Books
Fiction, Sci-Fi/Thriller
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: "They just nuked Chicago."
With those four words, the first international mission to Mars plunges into disarray. Like the other scientists, Elizabeth came to the red planet for the research opportunity of a lifetime, enduring grueling training both physical and psychological, but nothing could have prepared her for war on Earth. Just when they should be coming together, though, the teams begin to pull apart, as paranoia and nationalism grip the scientists... but is that all that's at work, or is some more sinister game being played? Soon, it becomes clear that the real threat isn't millions of miles away on Earth, in the radioactive rubble of its major cities. The danger is right there with Elizabeth on Mars.

REVIEW: Retrograde starts fast and rarely slackens its pace. Several characters remain general sketches, but tend to have a little more depth and complexity than first appears, especially as tension brings out the worst instincts in the scientists (Elizabeth included, sometimes.) Liz and the others prove resourceful, as astronauts by nature need to be, but are not beyond the odd mistake, nor are they beyond occasionally-blinding bouts of emotion. It makes for a dangerous balancing act, even as the death toll and danger ratchet up with every chapter.
The technology is rooted in real-world research and engineering, highlighting the difficulties and possibilities of creating a human presence on Mars. It's not so simple as throwing up a dome and planting crops; the very soil (or regolith, rather) is carcinogenic, and dangerous radiation levels constantly bathe a surface mostly unprotected by atmosphere. Even the possibility of groundwater hardly makes the red planet more inviting. Nevertheless, the technology (or, at least, the theories for such technology) exists, or is within a few decades of existing (apparent rejection of science and progress by a major spacegoing nation's current leadership notwithstanding.)
Toward the end, a couple developments almost strike false notes, leaps that feel a bit forced specifically to jab proverbial knives into protagonist Liz's heart (but, then, that's pretty much a main function of a thriller's plot), and the conclusion leaves the tale open to possible sequels. Overall, though, it's a fast-reading story of attack, survival, and raw ingenuity in the harshest of imaginable environments.

You Might Also Enjoy:
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Monday, August 13, 2018

Words of Radiance (Brandon Sanderson)

Words of Radiance
The Stormlight Archive, Book 1
Brandon Sanderson
Fiction, Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: The storm-swept world of Roshar stands on the brink of destruction... but few are aware of the danger, and fewer still can stand against it. The Knights Radiant, people bonded to the elemental spren and powered by Stormlight, long ago abandoned the world, and in the centuries since knowledge of them has been lost and deliberately obscured. If the world is to survive, the Knights Radiant must be reformed... but how, and by whom?
Highprince Dalinar's visions of past cataclysms drive him to seek the Knights, but an incompetent king and petty, infighting nobles stand in his way. His former friend Sadeas has shown his true colors in a betrayal that turns the highprinces against each other, even as unity may be the only key to salvation. But Sadeas is more than just a selfish, short-sighted man, as so many lighteyes princes are; indeed, he may know more about the coming cataclysm than even Dalinar.
Kaladin Stormblessed, once a slave doomed to die as part of Sadeas's disposable bridge crews, finds himself elevated to the rank of captain, unthinkable for a darkeyes... but he finds no peace in his new rank. His ability to inhale and channel Stormlight, and his bond with the windspren Syl, have changed him irrevocably, though even as he hides his true nature from his new lord Dalinar, he struggles to determine what to do with his powers - just as he struggles with his own hatred every time he sees Dalinar with his new ally Highprince Amaram, the man who slaughtered Kaladin's former companions and branded him a slave when he stole the Shardblade Kaladin himself had earned in battle. Syl insists that he cannot indulge his vengeance, that he must find a higher calling, but Kaladin cannot let injustice stand unanswered - even if it costs him everything he has gained.
Shallan's plan to steal from her mentor Jashah to save her failing family ended in disaster - but Shallan's accidentally-discovered abilities prompted the scholar to keep her on as a student, believing the would-be thief to be an important key to her own research. When disaster strikes and leaves Jasnah dead, Shallan and her newly-bonded spren Pattern must take up her research and mission: to find a lost city on the war-torn Shattered Plains. There, perhaps, humanity might find safe harbor from the coming Everstorm. But first Shallan must master her own Stormlight-fueled skills, and confront secrets she's been hiding from herself for most of her life.
Meanwhile, the seemingly-unstoppable Assassin in White strikes down rulers around the world, sowing chaos and bloodshed and confusion, as another force hunts down the emerging Knights Radiant even as they begin to feel their powers.
The Everstorm is almost upon them all...

REVIEW: Sanderson evidently does not believe in recaps or easing readers back into a world; he drops them in the deep end to sink or swim. Since I didn't reread the first volume before picking this one up, that made for some floundering and confusion, as I struggled for my bearings. Once I regained the feel of the world, though, Words of Radiance proved to be another enjoyable entry in this truly grand and sweeping epic fantasy series. All manner of peculiar cultures and creatures populate Roshar, tied by a deep history whose echoes still shape societies long after the original truths and roots have been forgotten (or deliberately obscured; the dominant church of much of the region did much to distort and destroy that which disagreed with its teachings, as churches are wont to do.) As for the characters, they continue to grow richer and more complex, revealing unexpected strengths and weaknesses that usually ring true. A few developments here and there felt forced, one or two of the new characters didn't quite fit in, and something that occurred in the epilogue (no spoilers, sorry) helped shave a half-star from the rating, but overall I enjoyed this one nearly as much as the first one. I'll have to remember to read the third book sooner rather than later, however, so I don't have to spend quite so long re-immersing when I next return to Roshar.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Rhapsody (Elizabeth Haydon) - My Review
A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin) - My Review
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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Disenchanted & Co. (Lynn Viehl)

Disenchanted and Co.
The Disenchanted and Co. series, Book 1
Lynn Viehl
Pocket Books
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance/Sci-Fi
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: In the colonial nation of Toriana, the march of science has done nothing to dispel the power of magic - utter nonsense, according to Charmain "Kit" Kitteridge, but when she gains a reputation for breaking spells, she's perfectly willing to make a business of it. People are reluctant enough to hire a woman, especially a scandalously single woman with no desire to marry, and she can't stand to see everyone, even her best friends, get in such tizzies over stuff she's never once seen work. But her latest job, helping the wealthy Lady Walsh investigate increasingly-malicious attacks from a "spirit" in her home, lands her in the heart of a dangerous game she doesn't understand, forced into company with a longtime-rival deathmage and a local constable, in a plot that might finally make even the great skeptic Kit believe in the blackest of magic.

REVIEW: In reading this book, I experienced the frustration of being given mismatched pieces from different puzzles and being forced to try to cram them together. On the one hand, Toriana - a steampunk alternate America where the American Revolution failed - is a decently realized setting, clearly with much thought put into its history and structure (a little too much thought, to be honest, as the writing is prone to tangents on this account.) On the other, I'm given the flimsiest and, frankly, least likable characters to follow through it, not to mention numerous other distractions and clutter.
The nominal heroine, Kit, prides herself on defying a sexist, oppressive society and setting her own course... but she's spent her entire life apparently thinking of everyone else in the world as stupid simpletons for believing in magic just because she personally has not seen it.  Yes, Kit is the only clear-eyed woman on a planet of the blind. Even her best friends must be morons in her eyes; it never dawns on her that maybe, just maybe, there's a little more to this whole magic thing until she's repeatedly struck over the head. (Not a spoiler to say magic is real: it's clear fairly early on that she's oversimplifying her reality in her flat denial, especially when she reveals within two chapters that she can see spirits following funeral processions.) Then there are the two love interests, both of whom seem more interested in what she isn't, or what she should be according to society and their personal twisted fantasies, than what she is; deathmage Lucien is a vampire-level stalker, while constable Tommy is such an innocent, straight-laced boy one frankly wonders if he'd ever even honor his wedding night out of fear of impropriety. But, then, Kit, for all her bluster about independence, turns out to be little but a shallow, easily-dominated woman when men finally treat her as women are supposed to be treated: stalked, abducted, and practically pinned down. (The sex scenes, like most of the "romance," felt like they didn't belong in many ways, more of those mismatched pieces being pounded into the puzzle. But, then, there's a whole unpleasant undercurrent to the treatment of women and sex here.) And this isn't even getting into the magical end of the tale, which keeps changing its rules and coming up with new loopholes and twists and things magic can or can't do to the point that I gave up caring. Why bother, when I didn't care about any of the characters involved? The story eventually builds to a tangled mess of a climax, bringing together threads of politics, history, magic, relationships, Kit's personal history (which, coincidence of plot-convenient coincidences, is deeply entwined with unfolding events), and more - only to fall back on the one of the oldest, stalest, most head-smackingly lame tricks in the book to slip out of the Gordian knot it had tied itself into.
In the end, among myriad other questions, I was left to wonder why. Why spend all that time and effort crafting Toriana, only to populate it with shallow sketches of characters? Why shoehorn in a "romance" straight out of the worst old bodice-rippers, where love meant a man showing a woman her place and the woman deciding she enjoys being a thing instead of a person? Why create magic so convoluted that the story has to keep stopping itself to explain new developments the whole way through? Why spend so much time having characters dance around insulting each other or denying obvious things rather than progressing the plot? And why, oh, why that complete cop-out of a conclusion? I cannot answer those questions, but I can answer the question of whether I'll follow Kit's further adventures: not just no, but a resounding no.

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The Emperor's Edge (Lindsay Buroker) - My Review
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Expanse: Origins (James S. A. Corey, Hallie Lambert, and Georgia Lee)

The Expanse Volume 1: Origins
The Expanse Origins, Issues 1 - 4
James S. A. Corey, Hallie Lambert, and Georgia Lee; illustrations by Huang Danlan, Triona Farrell, Juan Useche, and Rahzzah
BOOM! Studios
Fiction, Collection/Graphic Novel/Media Tie-In/Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Earthers Jim Holden and Amos Burton, Belters Naomi Nagata and Detective Josephus Miller, and Martian Alex Kamal: perhaps the most famous crew in the solar system, seemingly always at the heart of history-changing events. Fate brought them together aboard the gunship Rocinante, but all of them have histories and secrets that shape who they are and who they might become. In this graphic novel, glimpse their backstories.
Based on the Expanse series, created by James S. A. Corey.

REVIEW: As one might infer from the rating, I had a mixed reaction to this one. It skews toward the TV series more than the novels (understandable, as two of the writers are from the show and the art clearly favors the actors over strict book descriptions), so book purists would likely be disgruntled. (Me, I enjoy both versions: fandom has prepared me well to accept parallel universes as equals.) Indeed, it's very unlikely these would stand well on their own if someone wasn't familiar with the show, making the whole collection feel more like marketing than an independent series of stories.
The stories themselves are odd choices. The weakest is the first, Holden's backstory, which does little to elaborate on events that were mentioned in passing elsewhere. It's strange that the ship's captain and ostensible lead (even in an ensemble cast, the captain tends to be the unspoken lead) gets the least involved entry, and I couldn't help feeling that cards were deliberately being held close to the writers' vests here, to the detriment of the tale. As the first story, it set things off on an awkward foot, as I found myself wondering if I'd overpaid for graphic novel adaptations of lines from the show. Fortunately, the other three entries become more interesting, exploring events that viewers and readers (at least, readers up through Book 5, where I'm at) don't already know and meshing well with existing canon, though I'm no continuity hawk to notice incongruities. The art is serviceable, though I admit that I've been spoiled in that regard with some of my other graphic novel reads, which generally feature more cinematic styles and spreads.
Ultimately, while it offers insights into character development (and likely foreshadows future events), it ends up feeling a little too much like a marketing cash-in for me to give it a full fourth star. (More power to 'em, of course, for having a hot commodity, but it does affect my reaction.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Leviathan Wakes (James S. A. Corey) - My Review
All Systems Red (Martha Wells) - My Review
The Expanse: Season 1- Amazon DVD link