Categories
Book Reviews

Review: A Gathering of Shadows

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

V.E. Schwab kills it again with A Gathering of Shadows, book two in the Shades of Magic series.

This book messed with my emotions in so many ways, which–let’s be real–was in large part what made me pick up book two.

In A Gathering of Shadows, Schwab further explores Red London and the place of the Arnesian Empire amidst its neighbors. She explores this world through the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament that allows mages from around the world to test themselves against one another and represent their kingdoms. The event is a chance for political dealings and and peacekeeping.

As Rhy is coming into his own as heir to the Arnesian throne, Kell continues to rail against the boundaries imposed upon him by his adoptive parents and the self-imposed boundary of his life tie to his brother. Kell is desperate to be somewhere else. To be someone else. To be more than the shame of what he has done. Schwab does a great job with Kell, as while at times I’m quite annoyed with him, I also really feel for him. Ultimately, Kell’s resolve to maintain the boundary between worlds and not submit to the deeper impulses of magic is tested once again.

Lila’s boundaries are only increasing. She is living her best life as a pirate and aspiring magician. Lila finds herself shore bound once more in Red London, as her captain, Alucard Emery, is to compete in the Essen Tasch. Being a a new, dangerous experience that could take her even further away from the life as Grey London street thief, Bard decides that she must compete in the tournament. So she does it, posing as someone else. And she advances to almost the final round. Lila is such a badass. Like her crew mates, I’m not sure if I admire her or am terrified of her. But that’s probably as it should be.

Brilliant work. 5 stars, but damn that ending.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book Reviews comics

Review(s): Adventure Time Vols. 7-8

Adventure Time Vol. 7 by Ryan North

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Still insane. Still funny. Still really colorful.

I have given up on the bright green text over white commentary at the bottom of the pages, as it’s been pretty low comedic pay off for a lot of work on the eyes.

Otherwise I still love all of the people of Ooo. PB and Marcelline are life.

Adventure Time Vol. 8 by Ryan North

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first non-Ryan North Adventure Time arc wasn’t my favorite, but it was still entertaining. The premise was fun and somehow terrifying (welcome to Adventure Time). The peoples of Ooo have forgotten how to prepare food for themselves. Chaos ensues! Turns out the solution was inside Jake the whole time.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book Reviews comics

Review: Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alan Moore’s Watchmen is iconic and a modern-day classic, finding itself on “greatest books” and the like. It’s difficult to approach reviewing it considering its status as one of the most popular works in its medium. That being said, I enjoyed reading it, even and perhaps especially as I was so disturbed by its events and cast of characters.

Watchmen helped open up a new subversive sub-genre within comic books. It’s dark and gritty, yes. But most noticeably it lacks a central character to guide readers morally and emotionally. I’m reminded of Millar’s Kick-Ass, featuring a young man who dons colorful tights and exposes the ludicrousness and brutality of the caped-crusader lifestyle.

Tied as it is to the Cold War, Watchmen did feel dated to me at times. The lack of moral clarity regarding sex and consent didn’t land well either. The moral ambiguity and lack of totally-sympathetic characters were both intriguing and frustrating. I was left unsure the degree to which certain characters were right or wrong.

However, I think Watchmen is a brilliant take on the superhero mythos of our time and the problem of nostalgia. Veering toward nihilo, it is above all concerned with the real and the here and now.

Four stars.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book Reviews

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been on my TBR for some time. It was nice to not be disappointed.

I loved this book.

A Darker Shade of Magic is primarily driven by its characters and their desire to live beyond their station. Kell, apparently a pampered Prince of Red London, longs for the unattached freedom of normal life as he illicitly trafficks items between worlds. Lila Bard, street thief of Grey London, longs for more than what life has given her, for a real adventure.

While Kell and Lila desire freedom, the villains of White London desire power. It’s vile monarchs, Athos and Astrid Dane, are the stuff of nightmares, especially in the way Athos controls Holland. The later is perhaps the most complicated character of the bunch. It’s unclear to me whether Holland would been a “good person” without Athos’s control. Or if he would have simply been a free bad person.

The underlying pain and desire that suffuse this book have lodged the Londons in my mind, and I can’t let go. When I finished this book, I could not wait to jump into A Gathering of Shadows. Five stars.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book Reviews

Review: The Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hero of Ages is about how the end of the world might not be a bad thing.

Vin and Elend are given an end to their story as the power couple, having searched their own depths, are able to turn toward saving the world.

Spook finally comes into his own yet finds that his success is wrapped up in Ruin’s plans. His shame is instrumental in the world’s salvation.

But it’s Sazed the depressed Terrisman and his cynical yet desperate-for-hope takes on religion whose story Brandon is really here to tell.

This novel is Sanderson at his most Sanderson. The interplay if gods and humans. The existential, religious crisis. The emotionally insecure heroes. Lore that the reader somehow cares about that two books ago wouldn’t have made any sense.

The Hero of Ages is key to the unfolding story of the Cosmere and an excellent novel in its own right.

Five stars.

View all my reviews

Categories
Uncategorized

Review: How to Be an Antiracist

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part memoir, part history, and part call to substantive political action–Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist is brilliant.

I’m not sure that I can convey either the importance or the nuance of this book in this format. So let me just say that everyone should read it.

Kendi’s aim here is primarily to dismantle the idea of non-racism or race neutrality. One can either be a racist by supporting racist policies or be an antiracist by supporting antiracist policies.

The outworking of that thesis along with a history of racism were important enough, but Kendi weaves it all together with his own story of becoming an antiracist. That integration only aided his argument and made this book more than another socio-political treatise.

Five stars.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book Reviews

Review: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a collection of speeches that Greta Thunberg has given from 2018-2019 at various summits and gatherings in the West.

Her primary aim is to castigate the leaders of today for bit doing nearly enough, if anything, to address the climate crisis. She also defends and addresses concerns over her school strikes.

She ultimately makes the case that world leaders shouldn’t have to be woken from their political sleep by he and other teenagers. If there were any room in the politics of today to simply heed and act upon the words qualified scientific authorities, perhaps we could be on the way toward doing something rather than nothing about the current predicament

Five stars.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book Reviews

Review: The Grownup

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First read from Gillian Flynn, and damn, what I have been missing!

The Grownup is a short read that won’t let go, starting with the opening line: “I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.”

The narrator is confident and apparently trustworthy, until things start to fall apart. And ultimately, readers are left unsure whom to trust by the end. Seriously, though, I cannot forgive Flynn for the ending, and I will be filing a formal complaint. It was frustrating in all of the right ways and left me unsettled as a Thriller should.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book Reviews comics

Comic Reviews: Blackbird, Trees, and Kick-Ass 1

Blackbird, Vol. 1 by Sam Humphries

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nina Rodriguez always seems out of the loop on why her life sucks and why her family just can’t get it together. She’s always been sure that magic is real, but no one believes her. Nina is desperate for answers, but she is really desperate for some control over her own life.Blackbird is a delightful book from co-creators Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel. Bartel’s artwork makes it. The pages are just consistently beautiful.

This series is apparently on hiatus, which sucks considering all of the open-ended questions from book one. The Beacon and the Jackal? That cop who knows what’s up with the cabals?

Four stars for magical romp through Los Angeles with hopefully more coming soon!

View all my reviews

Trees Volume 1 by Warren Ellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think the world is ending, and it has something to do with aliens and some huge metal “trees” they left at various locations around Earth. There were so many times while reading Trees that I was unsure what was happening. The art style isn’t my favorite either, but…I want to read the second volume, so I felt I couldn’t give it less than three stars

View all my reviews

Kick-Ass by Mark Millar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Certain aspects of Kick-Ass have perhaps not aged well. The main character’s incel-ish-ness as a part of his whole tragic background story feels dated. Not to minimize his issues, but the whole horny, lonely, can’t-talk-to-a-girl trope is just overdone, to say the least. And then there’s pretending to be gay so that he can get closer to said girl. Yeah.

Now that that’s out of the way, though, Kick-Ass is fast-paced and action-packed. And while I was pretty over the titular character by the end of it, I was left definitely needing to read more Hit-Girl. This book is very violent. But the juxtaposition of said violence with the fact that the heroes in this book are freaking children, disturbing as it was, was very engrossing. Three stars for a…you know…kick-ass, rockin’ story with hopes for more Hit-Girl in the future.

View all my reviews

Categories
Bookish Content

A Million People and a Thousand Places

I recently reviewed Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline. This sophomore novel from the founder of io9 was excellent. Like their first novel, Autonomous, it wove together science and technology, with social change and politics.

One of the main concerns of the time travelers in the book is what they name as the “Great Man” vs. “Collective Action” theories of time travel and social change.

According to the “Great Man” theory, key people and specific times are integral to the time line. Therefore, if one were to say, kill a young Adolf Hitler, one would sidestep the rise of German Nationalism and the Holocaust (or at least the worst of them). I think this idea might be found in the “fixed points” in Doctor Who. Certain times, people, and places, are integral to the way things currently are. Therefore, if one were somehow able to change a fixed point, the timeline would change in dramatic ways.

Those who espouse the collective action theory would argue that any significant changes to the timeline can only be achieved through broad social movements and gradual shifts in attitudes and behaviors. So if one were to kill young Hitler, all of the other factors leading to the Third Reich, etc. would still be in place, and history would more or less play out in the same way, granted with changes in the details. Perhaps certain events could be less or more severe. Events might happen later or earlier. Different people would be involved. But much like the toppling of a powerful autocrat without substantive multilateral change in a government or country, another, perhaps worse leader will take their place.

For me it seems pretty clear that the latter view is much closer to the way the world actually works, though the debate remains only a thought experiment as it relates to time travel obviously.

There is another angle on this discussion, however. While meaningful social and political change may only be achieved through changing the hearts and minds of many people and cultivating a community of action, as it turns out, each individual in that group is vitally important to the end result. Somehow, even though the many, many individuals in a particular movement may not be discernible as one looks back in time, each and every one is integral to the whole. Each is in a sense a “Great Man” within the collective.

Beth, one of the main characters in the novel, writes a paper on these two views. She encapsulates this new angle when she writes that “collective action means that when someone does something small or personal, their actions can change history too.”

The theme of the individual vs. the collective is central to Western culture, often emphasizing the former over the latter. It’s a theme that has certainly been central to my own life, as I became obsessed with Rush, whose early lyrics were initially heavily influenced by Ayn Rand but whose later lyrics were more interested in the tension of personal autonomy in the midst of loving community (more on that here). I think that it’s also been central to my religious life. I grew up in a religious milieu that was hyper-individualized, and I’ve spent the last ten years or so defining myself as “not that.”

There was a moment, then, in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Resistance Reborn, that I simply loved. Poe Dameron, who in many ways represents the classic, rugged, Western individualist, is giving a speech to the rag-tag group of Resistance supporters who are again on the run from the First Order. Then Poe Dameron, the guy who put his own ego above the safety of the Resistance,, tells his comrades that their fight is not about one person and one place but rather “a million people and a thousand places.”