Sunday, January 30, 2011

Catching Fire



Catching Fire is the sequel to The Hunger Games and the 2nd in Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games YA action trilogy.

Following their victory in Panem’s Hunger Games (a form of gladiatorial combat that pits teenagers from different districts against each in a deadly game of survival), Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have returned home to District 12 to settle into a far more privileged life than the one they left behind when they were first selected to compete.

Winning the guarantees the victors and their families better living conditions than that experienced by most of those in the district. Despite having a nicer house and plenty to eat Katniss misses her pre Games life. The teenager regularly returns to her old house and goes hunting in the woods adjacent to the district with her friend, and part of the series love triangle; Gale.

It is after one of these trips that she arrives home to find Panem’s leader; the creepy and menacing President Snow (his breath smells of blood, ewwww!) waiting for her. The country’s dictatorial leader did not like the way in which Katniss won the Games and made the Gamesmakers look foolish in the process (the Head Gamesmaker apparently lost his life because of it), he’s also concerned that the girl seems to have become a hero and a revolutionary in the process and gives her a ‘friendly’ warning to watch herself, because he will be watching her.

The first indication of the crackdown is District 12’s generally friendly head Peacekeeper; Darius, being replaced by the brutal Romulus Stead, whose first act is to viciously whip Gale for a minor offence that would have been overlooked by Darius. Katniss also chances upon 2 refugees from a rebelling district who tell her that they’re headed for the deserted District 13, their belief is that it is not uninhabited as the Capitol has told people ever since they destroyed the district after a failed revolution 75 years ago.

During their victory tour of the country Katniss comes to realise how much her manner of winning the Games and her relationship with Peeta mean to the people of Panem, she also sees firsthand that her very presence can inspire the people to rebellion, something that has consequences for the inhabitants of Panem’s oppressed districts.

The Capitol’s response to the brewing rebellion is to announce the 3rd Quarter Quell (a celebration held every 25 years to remind the people of the Capitol’s victory over District 13), a special Hunger Games that will feature winners from previous Games, one male, one female, as Katniss is District 12’s only surviving female winner, she knows that this guarantees her reentry to the arena, predictably Peeta volunteers to take the place of Haymitch Abernethy (District 12’s only other living male winner) when the old drunk’s name is picked.

From that point on Catching Fire is largely a repeat of The Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta go to the Capitol along with their chaperone; fusspot Effie and mentor; Haymitch. Interestingly enough they’re the only 2 characters that seem to have an entourage and I had to ask myself why. What is because technically they were still minors? They encounter other past winners, the only ones covered in any detail beyond their names and district are: the charismatic Finnick Odair from District 4 the Games youngest ever winner, the elderly Mags also from District 4 (as Mags is over 80 and crippled this stretched credibility beyond breaking point for me), tough as nails Johanna from District 7 and the inoffensive Wiress and Beetee from District 3, the duo are nicknamed Nuts and Volts by Johanna for their eccentricity and technical know how. You know from this that these are the ones that will either help or hinder Katniss and Peeta in their fight in the arena. There’s a brief training period in which Haymitch attempts to counsel his charges and Katniss predictably refuses to listen. Then they’re shot back into the arena to revisit the nightmare again. Collins tries really hard in the arena scenes to make it scary and exciting all at the same time, and for the most part she succeeds, but there is still an air of ‘seen this all before’ about it. People fight, people die and it isn’t spoiling anything to let you know right now that Katniss survives. Although Suzanne Collins ends Catching Fire on a cliffhanger and I’m going to read Mockingjay (the concluding volume) to find out what happens I knew what was going to happen well ahead of time and the ending didn’t hold any surprises for me.

Catching Fire is largely like one of the many sequels currently beloved of Hollywood. It’s rather like she took all of the popular elements from the first book and repackaged them for the second one. I felt she would have been better served by forgetting about the whole arena scenario and concentrating on the rebellion of the Districts, the trilogy felt headed that way from the moment Katniss metaphorically gave the raised middle finger to the Capitol when she blackmailed them into giving her and Peeta the victory at the end of The Hunger Games. This second book was largely unnecessary.

That’s not to say there aren’t some good moments in Catching Fire, the action is tense and well written. Finnick is an engaging anti-hero. I’m still not entirely sure whose side he’s on. The hints that the inspiration for the series came from ancient Rome. Collins has gone on record as admitting this, but little things like the drink that makes people throw up so they can continue gorging are rather amusing. It is also addictive despite it’s flaws, which I’ll cover briefly next.

There are some problems from the first book that are still present: the love scenes are excruciating and really clumsily written, it’s hard to work out exactly why Katniss is conflicted between Peeta and Gale as they are essentially the same character, the main difference being that Gale can hunt and Peeta is an artist. I also find myself asking if the Capitol is as technologically advanced as the Games suggest they are why do they feel the need to keep their citizens in line by forcing them to live almost medieval existences? Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned to use the technology to either oppress or benefit their populace. I know, I know, YA novel, don’t think about it too hard. It bugs me however, and even more annoying I’m hooked enough to keep reading.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Changes



Changes is the 12th book in Jim Butcher's highly successful Dresden Files urban fantasy series. In the previous book Turncoat Harry was working to save the Wizard's White Council from itself. It's not clear exactly when Changes begins, but it seems to be business as usual for the Wizard for Hire until he gets an urgent phone call from his former girlfriend; Susan Rodriguez. The call contains news that shocks Harry and will also have the jaws of readers dropping.

Jim Butcher announced not long ago that there is a finite end to the Dresden Files, he's put it at book 20, there is evidence in Changes that he's building towards a slam bang finale. As with a couple of previous installments Butcher adds in various characters from the previous 11 adventures. Harry will be forced to team up with Susan, her offsider Martin (both are Red Court vampires, but on the outer with the court because of their apparent refusal to give into their natures), his regular police contact the feisty little Karrin Murphy, his apprentice Molly Carpenter, who Harry frequently refers to with the endearments 'grasshopper' or 'padawan' in some of the book's many pop culture references, his magical dog Mouse (there are revelations about Mouse's true nature in Changes, too), his half brother Thomas a vampire of the White Court, warrior of the Lord the Russian Sanya, his mentor Ebenezar McCoy and his fairy godmother the Leanan Sidhe. It's an eclectic bunch and they're going to war for a little girl that none of them know, but is important to them all. Well maybe not Lea, I think she's just in it for the potential of mayhem.

There are a lot of high octane action and magical sequences that lead to the blazing finale with the Red Court at Chichen Itza as the wizard/vampire war ratchets up a notch or twelve.

The pop culture references that Butcher litters the Dresden Files with are always a feature and the one where the group debated and about which members equated to various members of the Fellowship of the Ring was a particular highlight for me.

This time Harry has to make some deals that could have far reaching consequences for himself and his ever widening circle of allies and enemies.

Butcher has produced another winner, although be warned this one has a cliffhanger ending, however the conclusion should be contained in Ghost Story due out in in July of this year. There is also a collection of short stories featuring Harry Dresden called Side Jobs that is currently out in hardcover. Be warned that Side Jobs does contain some spoilers for Changes so should not be read until after completing Changes. July can't come quick enough for me.

I have one complaint, and this is the same as last time. That bloody authors note! I don't mind it being there and I do understand why, but either update it or remove it altogether.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Women



Women is the 2nd book in Cerebus' Mothers & Daughters story arc, which was begun in Flight.

I tend to fly blind a bit here. I did read Women when it first came out, but I only read it as the issues, never cracked open the phone book until I read it for this and consequently can remember very little of it. Stylistically Women is about as far from what a standard comic was thought of at the time as you could get. There are pages of writing from two fictional treatises, normal comic book panels, full page pictures, other pages where one picture takes up the bulk of the space with the writing on one side and there are also large pages with one picture dominating and partial faces around it talking. It's not the easiest of things to read, but then Cerebus never followed any of the rules for writing graphic novels. I tend to think Dave made up most of these as he went.

Women follows a few storylines. There's Cirn, Astoria, the Roach, Cerebus, the lives of the people in the conquered city of Iest. The stories are broken up by written quotes from two manifestoes: Astoria's Kevillist Origins and Cirin's The New Matriarchy. In his introduction to the book Dave Sim explains his idea behind the theories of Kevillism as opposed to Cirinism and this is also in part why the 4 smaller books that make up the whole of Mothers & Daughters is called that. Cirinists are Mothers and believe that only women who are mothers have the right to rule, where as Kevillists are Daughters and believe that power should belong to ALL women, not just mothers. At least that's what Dave, Cirin and Astoria seem to be saying to me.

After being rejected by Blossom the Roach develops a new persona known as Swoon, this is a parody of Neil Gaiman's Dream from his ground breaking graphic novel The Sandman. As a result of this persona, the Roaches regular sidekick; Elrod becomes Swoon's transvestite 'sister' Snuff (a based on Dream's sister Death from The Sandman. I haven't read all of The Sandman, so I don't know know if Death was actually a transvestite or not. I assume not, but Dave had to do it to make Elrod; a male character, fit as Death; s female character). The Roach appears as 2 versions of Swoon, one is the black eyed version and the other is clad in the helmet and hose that Death wore in the early days of The Sandman, I assume this was because the version with the helmet and breathing hose just looks funnier. After having some truly bizarre dreams Swoonroach eventually breaks out towards the end of the book parodying all sorts of Roach characters including: Pittroach, Maxxroach, Spawnroach, Sabretoothroach, Laytonroach, Marvel U.K Roach and others. Some referenced characters, others were authors, publishers or concepts, you really had to be into comics to get 90% of the jokes. They were extraordinarily panels to draw, total chaos and unbridled insanity. I have no idea where the Roach will go from this.

Cirin's story mostly concerned her trying to assert her control over the city, obsess about Astoria and Cerebus and try to create a giant golden globe to attempt her own ascension. I found it rather amusing that her generals were called Greer, Steinem and Dworkin after 3 prominent feminists. Cirin survives an assassination attempt, but loses all semblance of mercy and quite possibly the people. This will affect her chances of ascension severely.

Astoria breaks her arm while being taken to Cirin, and the injury in fact mirrors one that Cirin herself suffered during the course of the book's events. She is on her way to the church where Cirin is, possibly flirting with capture and death by doing so when the people start to gather around her and refer to her as a messiah or saviour.

Cerebus finds his way to an inn, the same one where the McGrew brothers have been and holes himself up there. His intentions aren't clear, but judging by his alcohol intake he seems to want to drink himself to death. He emerges from the alcohol induced haze twice, once in a trancelike state, where he causes a section of the mountain above the city to rise up and smash through Cirin's headquarters (that's how she broke her arm) by lifting and lowering his sword. While's asleep he has dreams, he has one of being lectured by a young Cerebus and I can't help but think that child Cerebus is extraordinarily cute, the old Cerebus that lectures him in another dream is less cute. He also dreams about The Elf. In the dream she claims that she's the fake Elf, the real one looks totally different and was nowhere near as much fun and couldn't exist outside the Ambassador Suite of The Regency, she disappeared. The Elf also says that Cerebus created her from his mind, so in some weird way that makes Cerebus' her Daddy. Cerebus has huge problems with this concept, made ickier by the fact that the Elf said he created her to make her be his perfect daughter, she's the girl next door to him when he was growing up that he had a crush on, she's Jaka, she's Katrina, she's Doris, all these girls that Cerebus has had in his life. Cerebus does deny it, but it's probably true. Sigh. The second time Cerebus emerges from his alchoholic haze he starts flying. Flying above the city and knocking out the spikes on the mountain top. He touches down in front of Astoria and draws his sword back to kill her.

While much of this has been going on Death (not the one from The Sandman, who is now Elrod and called Snuff) has been stalking the streets of Iest. Before Cerebus can deliver the killing blow to Astoria Death appears in between the two and removed his hood. Death is Suenteus Po! Po found it necessary to adopt a disguise. I thought Po was long dead, but apparently not. With the appearance of Po three messiahs have appeared to the people of Iest. The thing that surprised me about Po was his size. He's a white haired, lanky old aardvark, but he's really tall. Because Cerebus is 3 feet tall it's always really hard to guage height around him, because next to him everyone is tall, but Po towers over Astoria. I'd put him at a similar height to the Roach and he's always been taller ever since Weisshaupt put him in the platform boots back in the Captain Cockroach days. Po puts his arms around Cerebus and Astoria and leads them into the cathedral to meet their 'hostess'. I was unsure if he was referring to Terim or Cirin.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Dragon and the George



Back to the challenge. Gordon Dickson's whimsical fantasy The Dragon and the George is the second of the D's and the 24th book overall.

The storyline of The Dragon and the George is basic, light hearted quest fantasy with one major twist. The dragon is in fact Jim Eckert; an assistant English teacher at Riveroak college who has become inadvertently trapped within the body of a dragon called Gorbash in an alternate medieval England, the 'george' is Jim's fiancee Angie. In this reality the dragons refer to the humans as 'georges'. It's an amusing reference to legendary dragon slayer Saint George.

No sooner has Jim worked out his situation and visited a cranky, old wizard by the name of Carolinus to do something about it, than Angie is abducted by an evil dragon and carried off to the dread Loathly castle. Before Jim can get Angie back he'll need to gather a band of brave companions to help him. There's Sir Brian, the bluff, good-natured, but none too bright knight, the proud Aragh; an English wolf, the warrior woman Danielle and the Welsh archer Dafydd. They will also be assisted in their endeavours by Danielle's father; the Robin Hoodish Giles o' the Wold and his band of outlaws, Gorbash's gruff, but good at heart grand-uncle; Smrgol, a timid mere dragon by the name of Secoh and Carolinus.

Friendships are forged and perils are faced, despite that you never really feel that any of the characters are in actual mortal danger. It may have been that I've read a number of similarly themed books over the years, they were quite popular for a while, but I was strangely underwhelmed by The Dragon and the George. It did seem to be one of the first of this kind, but other authors took on the same fish out of water theme and improved upon it. I couldn't name one if you asked me, they were always a very disposable type of fiction, but that may have been why Dickson's book left me a little cold. It was well received at the time and a decade and half after Gordon Dickson returned to the concept and wrote a further eight Dragon Knight books.

If you enjoyed The Dragon and the George and wanted something similar there are Gordon Dickson's Dragon Knight books, C.S Lewis' 3rd Narnia chronicle: Voyage of the Dawntreader also features the theme of a human in a dragon's body, there's also Christopher Rowley's Bazil Broketail books, which concern sentient battle dragons and the human boys who look after them.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Spirit Eater



The Spirit Eater is the 3rd of Rachel Aaron's 5 book series The Legend of Eli Monpress (the first 2 books were The Spirit Thief and The Spirit Rebellion) Although the title is quite apt for the book and follows the naming convention for the series, I just don't like it. It sounds somehow wrong.

The story picks up where The Spirit Rebellion left off. Eli and his 2 companions; swordsman Josef Liechten and demonseed Nico, have escaped from the duchy of Gaol, narrowly avoided the long arm of the law in the person of Spiritualist Miranda Lyonette, and managed to increase Eli's ever growing bounty at the same time. Eli decides that it's time to lie low for a bit, until his past catches up with him. Pele; the daughter of Eli's friend the Shaper Slorn, comes to beg the thief's help. Her father has disappeared, she fears he's met with foul play, and Eli is the only person she trusts to find him.

The hunt is now on. While Eli, Josef and Nico look for Slorn, Miranda Lyonette and her ghosthound Gin are on Eli's trail, and the insane swordsman Barak Sted still wants to fight Josef and his magical blade Heart of War. The audience is treated to magical battles between godlike beings and demons, feats of daring and skill, there are bandits and spirits. This one is a fun ride and there are more hints that Eli and his friends are at the heart of something far more serious than Eli trying to increase his bounty to the unheard of a million gold standards as a monument to the wizard/thief's personal vanity.

Although readers get to see Eli, his friends and their enemies this book is really about demonseed Nico and the terrifying and dark power that resides within the girl. The question of what a demonseed really is, is answered. More about the relationship between Josef and Nico becomes clear. Eli's mysterious past is slowly uncovered, he doesn't appear to have been in the thievery game for himself all that long, which surprised me, and we get to see his mysterious protector; Benehime the Shepherdess. I wonder exactly what game she's playing and what Eli's part in it is.

I appreciated the focus of the story not being totally on Eli. It's a nice change of pace. It was also good to see that villains can survive more than one book with the return of Sted. One new character that intrigued me was the flamboyant Sparrow, who works for the Council of Thrones scheming Sara. His manner of dress and somewhat amoral character put me in mind of Simpkin from Margaret Weis' and Tracey Hickman's Darksword series.

The reveal at the end about Eli's parentage was a real jaw dropper that I did not see coming.

My only real complaint is that I have to wait until May for The Spirit War.

Flight



I was surprised and a little delighted when I opened up Flight and discovered that my copy was both signed and numbered. How I managed to get one of the signed, numbered, first editions I have no idea. Just lucky I guess.

The story begins with Cerebus fighting for his life against the Cirinists. When the first rumours of the battle reach Cirin, who is busily burning books with her assistant Clarinda (I wasn’t sure if this was the same Clarinda who attends Mrs Thatcher or whether it’s just a common Cirinist name), she refuses to believe it because how could a 3 foot tall creature take out 8 of her crack soldiers? What’s more impressive is that he did it with one arm, because he refused to let go of Missy. The aardvark’s struggle draws attention from the local townsfolk and they rally behind him. The initial rebellion is put down hard and quickly, but before they can catch Cerebus he disappears.

Sparked by Cerebus’ actions normalroach remembers all his past incarnations and who used or inspired him and changes again. This time he’s Punisherroach (a take on the Marvel vigilante The Punisher, how Dave never got served with more cease and desist orders I do not know). The Punisherroach is armed with pearl handled, semi-automatic crossbows and they’re also remarkably accurate, or so he says. When he went into battle against the Cirinists I fully expected them to not work and for him to be massacred, that’s generally what happens to the Roach. This time the crossbows did work and he became a one man wrecking crew as far as the Cirinists were concerned and a rallying point for the fed up populace. Elrod still wearing his roach suit takes charge of the new saviour and leads him a brot…cleansing centre and introduces him to a pros…spiritual advisor called Blossom. The Roaches encounter with Blossom causes him to morph quickly into Loboroach (Lobo), Cableroach (Cable), Venomroach (Spiderman’s evil alter ego Venom) and finally Ghostroach (Ghostrider) before becoming a milder, slightly more lucid version of the Punisherroach persona. As an amusing aside the Cirinist commander who delivered Iest to Cirin was called Normina Swartzkof.

The Cirinists are starting to fragment as two of the most powerful members of the church (Mrs Thatcher and Mrs Kopp) jockey for position and Cirin herself becomes obsessed with the still imprisoned Astoria because of her knowledge of Cerebus.

Readers get to see a number of other characters who have featured throughout the book: Kcorr the mad ruler of Imesh, Death as he was portrayed way back in the early days, The Elf (yay!), she’s still at the Regency looking for the fake Elf, Dan and Drew McGirt who are not faring well in a Cirinist controlled Iest, we see Posey’s sad, final fate. I felt sorry for him, he never hurt anyone and just tried to keep himself alive, he did believe in Cerebus, though and it was ultimately this faith that led to his death, George who is arguing with himself about just what his actual purpose is, Lord Julius, who spends his part of the book trying to dodge a Cirinist assassin and is saved by his assistant, even the Andy Warhol inspired artist makes an appearance.

The Pigt story started back in issue #3 seems to come to a head as they arm and march on Iest, but when the omens don’t quite work out as they expected argue amongst each other and decimate their own forces.

While all this is going on Cerebus is back in the Seventh Sphere. He won’t be misdirected by Po this time. He’s going up, exactly where up will get him he doesn’t really care, he’s going to do it. He eventually ascends to the Eighth Sphere and comes face to face with Suenteus Po…and he’s an aardvark! Po is the 3rd aardvark. The legendary mystic has lived through a number of incarnations, it’s not clear whether he is an aardvark in all of them, though. It’s not even clear if he can exist on any other plane other than the ones he appears to Cerebus in anymore. He explains his life to Cerebus and also cautions him against believing what George told him as he’s not the most reliable or impartial of commentators, no matter what he claims.

Just as Cirin and Astoria are about to go head to head Cerebus returns to this sphere of existence with a loud POIT!

There were two passages that stayed with me from Flight. One was Posey’s death. That really rocked me. The other was one part of the aftermath of Cerebus’ rebellion, just after he disappeared. The fact that a 3 foot tall creature fighting with one arm could kill eight of the previously unbeatable Cirinist troops and give people hope was not good for the controlling regime. They had to quarantine the entire section of the city that had seen it. Cirin gave the order to move all mothers and children under 5 out of the area and kill everyone remaining. Plague was the pretext used. There’s a moving encounter of a young girl who doesn’t believe the plague excuse, she has to see her mother and baby brother moved out and pitifully asks her mother to tell her brother when he’s older that he once had a sister, she then willingly goes to her execution. Despite their rhetoric the Cirinists were no better than the equally repressive regime that they replaced.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Melmoth: Epilogue



I think the epilogue is my favourite part of Melmoth. Call me a philistine, but I still like a bit of action in my comics or graphic novles and the epilogue of Melmoth has that.

Cerebus is sitting in his usual semi catatonic state outside the cafe while 2 Cirinist guards talk nearby. The aardvark's pointy ears prick up when one of the guards mentions to her companion that she was assigned to Jaka while the Palnan was imprisoned. Interest turns to rage when the guard casually and proudly admits to having abused Jaka when in custody.

There's no other way to put this: Cerebus goes apeshit. He attacks the women. Swinging his sword wildly, fists clenched, teeth gritted, eyes bulging, blood flying, still clutching Missy, he kills the guards.

As he cuts them down he recalls a conversation with Bear one night. It was the first time he had ever heard of the Cirinists. Interestingly enough the younger Cerebus' snout is elongated again. I thought the shortening of his snout was Dave the artist refining his technique, it may have been that, but it also seems that he took a conscious decision to portray Cerebus' younger self with the longer nose. Bear tells Cerebus about the Cirinists. They seem to be mind linked, kill or hurt one and they all come running, like a nest of hornets. Bear actually says if he ever injured or killed a Cirinist he'd cut his throat before they could get him, basing this on what happened to someone he knew who had done just that and been caught. George's face and his words: die alone, unmourned and unloved, comes to Cerebus.

Cerebus flees, still hanging onto the one thing that reminds him of Jaka; Missy, he runs. The Ciinists give chase, but before they can get to him Cerebus jumps the wall and keeps on going. The final 4 panels are chopped into long thin sections, narrowing in on Cerebus' effort filled face, the final one being one narrowed eye. It very effectively gives the impression of being with Cerebus as he runs, again Dave displays that cinematic style of his.

A nice cliffhanger ending that leads into the next book.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Melmoth



The bulk of the Melmoth book is devoted to the middle section. It's essentially 2 stories, Cerebus in the city after finding Jaka gone from Pud's pub and a visual depiction of Oscar Wilde's last days. I suspect that Dave was at this stage of his life more interested in telling the story of the Irish writer than he was in telling that of his earth pig hero, but he did do both.

The story is broken into 2 parts that run alongside each other. One is Cerebus at a small cafe, it has the same waitress who angered normalroach in the prologue, so it's safe to assume it's the same cafe. The other is Wilde's dying days as he is attended by his friends Robbie and Reggie. It's never made clear if this is the same Oscar from Jaka's Story, and if it is then the author is doing some odd things with time. Cerebus's story which seems to run concurrently with Oscar's is taking place in the days following Jaka's capture and Oscar was supposed to serve 2 years of hard labour for being an unlicensed writer, and he has definitely done that.

Cerebus offers the cafe owner a gold coin, in return for food and lodging for the rest of his life. The man is only too happy to agree. He can actually have the entire cafe renovated extensively just with the interest he earns off the coin. Obviously the Cirnists seriously screwed up the economy of Iest.

Initially Cerebus is attended by the bad tempered Janice, but she is soon replaced by the young, somewhat dippy, but much nicer natured Doris. Her taking Cerebus order and being very particular with his raw potato was extremely funny and reminded me of a few waitresses I've dealt with.

For the most of this Cerebus sits almost catatonic out the front and rarely speaks beyond occasionally saying 'Aye'. He never lets go of Missy, he clutches her the entire time. As he sits there characters from the series occasionally wander in and out of the landscape. Henrot Gutch, Boobah, Posey (I was amazed to see that he was still alive, poor little man was caught by the Cirinists and sentenced to 5 years hard labour for being an orhtodix cleric in violation of the upper city quarantine. Poor Posey.), Prince Mick and keef. Cerebus actually holds a conversation with Mick, they've been forced to marry the Buttock Sisters in order to get their wealthy father to bail them out of the hell that Iest has become.

When Oscar passes there's a wonderfully poignant page of Cerebus and Doris watching the house he was in and holding hands.

There's another conversation where Doris talks about an old boyfriend who she's not sure if she's still in love with or not and asks Cerebus if he knows what she means. The aardvark answers 'Aye' and in his mind is a picture of Jaka.

Melmoth was a definite departure from the storyline and I've wondered if there was more to the main story of Cerebus that we never saw, because Dave could not have known how interested he would become in Oscar Wilde when he originally came up with the overarching storyline of the whole graphic novel.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Melmoth: Prologue



In terms of presentation Melmoth is similar to Jaka’s Story. It’s not arranged in issue format, but with a prologue, a 200 or so page story and then an epilogue. It also continues Dave’s interest/obsession with Oscar Wilde. It is considerably shorter than Jaka’s Story and it’s author refers to it as a short story. In terms of it’s length as compared to the other phonebook collections it is much thinner.

Frustratingly the prologue does not seem to pick up where Jaka’s Story left off and doesn’t concern any of the central characters from that book. The chapter opens on a scene outside a cafĂ© in Iest. It focuses on a large, clean shaven, bespectacled man wearing a plaid suit jacket. The size of the man, his exaggerated jaw soon tip readers off that this is another one of the Roaches incarnations, as the focus narrows you also realise that in true Roach style his glasses have little antenna attached to them. In appearance he looks rather like the Roaches version of normalman. Normalman by Jim Valentino was a highly exaggerated spoof of Superman and an Aardvark-Vanaheim title, although by the time this issue came out it may have been under Deni Loubert’s Renegade Press label. Normalman used the Superman legend as a basis for the title character’s origin, with the twist being that he had no powers and was therefore normal and not super at all.

The depiction makes sense, because under the ultramatriarchal Cirinist dictatorship the Roach is essentially powerless, as is anyone against the Cirinist military machine. Much of the dialogue is mindless profanity from the unnamed Roach character. His only interaction is with a bad tempered and rude waitress who he cannot criticise because he will be arrested by the ubiquitous soldiers of Cirin and with two guards who ask him what the problem is and order him to remove the antenna from his glasses.

That’s it. The chapter does give the readers an idea of what life is like under Cirin’s iron fist, but what happened to Cerebus?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unsympathetic Magic



Unsympathetic Magic is the 3rd of Laura Resnick’s Esther Diamond urban fantasy series (still waiting for DAW to release Disappearing Nightly). As I had a lot of fun with the 2nd of these: Doppelgangster, I was looking forward to reading Unsympathetic Magic.

It starts off very promisingly. During Doppelgangster, a doppelganger of Esther managed to land her a guest role as a homeless bisexual junkie prostitute on controversial cop show The Dirty Thirty (it’s part of the Crime & Punishment stable of shows. This is obviously a gentle dig at Law & Order and it’s 86 spin offs). While filming one night in Harlem the lead actor gets sick and Esther heads off after the crew to get something to eat. Along the way she encounters a sword wielding young vigilante, a zombie and 2 gargoyles. This causes her to try and get help and as she’s dressed for the character of Jilly C-Note she winds up getting arrested. After calling in order; the show, her agent, her friend Max and failing to get an answer she calls her ex-boyfriend detective Conor Lopez. This is pretty much life as normal for Esther.

Lopez obligingly bails Esther out and doesn’t believe a word of her story, he never does, but a little investigation proves that the incident does need looking into. Having lost her keys in the struggle with the gargoyle,s Esther is locked out of her apartment, so goes to see her friend; the 350 year old magician Maximilian Zadok. The words mystery and magic are like a red flag to a bull where Max is concerned and Esther soon finds herself at Livingston Foundation, a charitable organisation for underprivileged youth set up by billionaire Martin Livingston. Since Livingston’s death the foundation/cultural centre has been managed by his widow; Catherine. The zombie, whose name in life had been Darius Phelps, worked at Livingston. A chance encounter with an old flame; Jeff Clark, gets Esther a job teaching acting to the kids at the centre and gives her a reason to hang around there and investigate further.

Before long Esther, Max, Jeff, Biko (the sword toting vigilante) and his older sister Puma are looking into an evil voodoo practitioner known as a bokor operating out of Livingston and about to call down some cataclysmic magic on New York. Esther’s never really over relationship with Lopez is rekindled and this time she’s the one who gives him up for their own good.

It sounds like a heap of crazy fun, and at times it is, but overall I was disappointed. The middle section of the book really drags. There’s far too much tell and nowhere near enough show. To totally understand what’s going on it is necessary for the author to educate her readers about voodoo, or as it is referred to in the book; vodou. She seemed to get a little bit carried away and there are about 3 chapters of infodumping, I had to check a couple of times just to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally picked up a copy of Voodoo for Dummies. I like Esther’s voice as narrator and for a while there in the middle it kind of got lost. I enjoyed the secondary character of aging wiseguy Lucky Battistuzzi in Doppelgangster and he doesn’t appear in Unsympathetic Magic, which I felt was a missed opportunity, as Esther is still singing for her supper at Bella Stella. Lucky is apparently holidaying in Sicily during this book, so that gave me hope that he may reappear in the future. Max didn’t seem anywhere near as funny this time around. Biko and Puma were needed, but they were rather generic, to use a film term they felt like they came right out of central casting. I also picked the villain far too early, and I’m not normally good at that, so Ms Resnick must have really telegraphed her punches.

On the good side of the ledger, I liked Jeff, the snarky, ex-boyfriend, he was a refreshing change from the too good to be true Conor Lopez, although I doubt he’ll return. Lopez got a bit more depth, he actually lost his temper with Esther (something that would have happened a lot earlier if he were a real person) and a mystery arose around him that will hopefully be explored further. I can’t find anything that specifically refers to Laura Resnick having ever been involved with the film or TV world, although her father (respected and prolific SFF author Mike Resnick) has written a number of works that were filmed, so that may account for her apparent in depth knowledge of the workings of a TV show. Esther’s descriptions of filming on Dirty Thirty certainly hinted at some familiarity with the industry. I also liked the character of the show’s narcissistic star; Mike Nolan. Esther’s an amusing and engaging heroine so I will follow her adventures with Vamparazzi, due out later this year. Towards the end of Unsympathetic Magic Esther was pressuring her agent Thackeray ‘Thack’ Shackleton (another peripheral character I’d like to know more about and see more of) to get her a role in a play called Vampyre, so that leads nicely into the upcoming book.

On a side note and continuing the TV show talk I could see this series making an entertaining show. It’d be better than most of the dross that audiences get served up.

Jaka's Story: Epilogue



I don’t know that the epilogue was really necessary. Most of it is a conversation between 2 of Jaka’s maids. She’s been given her old suite, the one she had for her last year in Palnu. Since returning she has eaten and drunk very little and spends most of her time starting vacantly out the window. I felt it may have been more effective as a single path with Jaka simply looking out the window in a mirror image of an earlier panel of her 11 year old self doing the same thing.

Mystery Achievement



Mystery Achievement; the 3rd chapter of Jaka’s story opens with the heroine in the dungeon. This is not a situation Jaka has ever had to deal with. She is in darkness most of the time, she has two buckets in her cell; one for food and one for bodily waste, she shares the cell with cockroaches and rats, she is scared out of her wits. The prisoner in the cell next to her cautions her to speak only in whispers and never when there is a guard within hearing distance. They’ve been known to slit the tongues of loud talkative prisoners. Like Jaka, the other lady is also from Palnu. As they talk the revelation comes that Jaka’s fellow prisoner was in fact her childhood nurse! Jaka wonders how she could have ended up in the dungeon, wasn’t she a Cirinist? Yes, she was. She’s also a Borealan in possession of forged Palnan citizenship documents. The Cirinists don’t discriminate when it comes to lawbreakers, it’s a one size fits all policy. Break the law, forfeit your life. Jaka’s uncle is the only thing keeping her alive.

After seeing and hearing her old nurse led away to be executed, Jaka is removed from her cell and relocated in a much nicer one. It’s light, sparsely furnished and even has a window! That’s the good news. The bad news is the introduction of one of Dave’s most terrifying characters: Mrs Thatcher. Just as Oscar was Oscar Wilde, Mrs Thatcher is the former British PM Maggie Thatcher. Just like with Oscar Wilde Dave nailed the character. Physical appearance, mannerisms, speech, it was all the Iron Maiden to a tee. It’s somehow even worse when you can hear and see the character in your mind say the lines as they are written. Mrs Thatcher is a hardline Cirinist and if something as innocent as dancing is deemed illegal by Cirin, however flawed her reasoning, then it is wrong. Jaka is forced to sign documents saying that dancing is wrong, whether she believes it or not, she has Pud’s death laid squarely at her feet. My blood boiled when Thatcher did this. Pud was executed, Jaka did not pull the trigger, she did not arbitrarily decide that it was a killing offence for him to admire and lust after a beautiful woman. It was all I could do not to scream at this woman. Her readings from Pud’s journal almost brought tears to my eyes. Eventually, her spirit broken, Jaka is allowed to see Rick.

His hair cut short, and his face clean shaven, Rick looks different. They haven’t hurt him physically, at least if they have there’s no visible evidence of it. He has changed though, the spark, the glint in his eyes is no longer there. Even though she’s made good little citizens of them both and they can be sent to Palnu where they’ll no longer be her responsibility Thatcher isn’t done yet. Under leading questioning Rick admits that his heart’s desire has always been a son. Thatcher then tells him that Jaka used a plant extract to terminate her pregnancy, and that the unborn child was a boy. Jaka’s reason for doing this is not revealed, but I suspect that it was motivated partially by the fact that she knew an unemployed Rick would not be able to support a wife and child and maybe also some personal feelings, she couldn’t dance while pregnant and would men still find her attractive if she were with child? It’s too much for Rick to bear. He lashes out and hits Jaka. The distraught man is given into the custody of his mother, while Jaka is sent to Palnu, where she will become Lord Julius’ responsibility. Although Rick acted out of rage and grief he cannot be permitted to hit a woman and get away with it, so Mrs Thatcher instructs her brutish assistant Clarinda to break his left thumb. Dave drew a single panel with the word crack looking like a finger bone and broken in the middle. There also Rick’s thin scream of anguish.

The two final pages were single drawings. One is of Cerebus returning with the paint to see the aftermath of the Cirinist attack and the other is of the dungeon with the doors to Jaka and her nurses now empty cells open.

In between the breaking of Jaka and her subsequent forced confessions we saw scenes from her final days in Palnu and the humiliation that Lord Julius heaped upon the shy, sheltered 11 year old that forced her to leave. On her twelfth birthday Jaka used some of her jewellery to purchase passage on a ship bound for Iest. All she took with her were the clothes she was wearing, some shirts and Missy.

There was a contrast with the artwork in this chapter. The images of the darkened cells and even Jaka's bright, but spartan room contrasted violently with the sumptuousness of her privileged life in Palnu. The Palnan scenes were where Gerhard's intricate and detailed backgrounds came into their own. The cells in the dungeon were black and oppressive you could feel the fear and misery of that horrible place in the art. I felt Jaka's Story was a highpoint for the series artistically. In my opinion at the time Dave and Gerhard were one of the most talented duos in the industry.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Poet



The 2nd chapter of Jaka’s Story is entitled simply The Poet. Although readers get more of Cerebus (now called Fred) and Jaka, The Poet is really about Oscar.

Oscar returns from the upper city to his lodgings halfway down the mountain. Before writing Jaka’s Story, Dave read a biography of the Irish playwright and wit Oscar Wilde, and became very interested in the man. There’s no doubt that the character of Oscar in Jaka’s Story is most definitely Oscar Wilde, and Dave decided to portray him in all of his self indulgent glory. Of the other 4 characters living in this secluded little community only Rick likes Oscar. Jaka and Pud cannot stand the man. Fred may have crossed paths with him as they moved in the same circles during High Society, but he stays hidden in the apartment most of the time, and any previous association is not mentioned, although Jaka does say he was at the Regency on election night. (Cerebus ran for President in High Society).

Oscar is rude, highly arrogant and vain, but Rick seems to like him. I think Rick kind of likes everyone, though. Jaka does admit that to a large extent Rick is a child. He tells Oscar that he wants Jaka to have a son and when their son is 10 years old he’ll get him a foal for his birthday. His reason for this gift is so that the child will lift that foal above his head every day until he turns 13, by which stage he will be strong enough to lift a full grown horse above his head. This is Rick’s plan for ensuring that his son won’t be a skinny runt like he is.

Jaka and Pud tolerate Oscar because they have to (Pud’s dead mother gave him a 90 year lease on the house he occupies), but they make no secret of their dislike for the man. Stuck inside the apartment all the time Fred becomes adept at bouncing a ball into a bucket, and he and Rick spend nights while Jaka is dancing, trying to best each other at this.

Pud’s lecherous thoughts about Jaka continue and he rehearses in his head over and over a conversation he may never actually have with her. Jaka unwittingly fuels the innkeeper’s fantasies by complaining about her difficulties with Rick, and his friendship with Oscar, while dressed in her scanty dancing costume. One night Pud acts, he actually initiates the long thought about conversation with Jaka, however before he can complete it a customer arrives at the tavern. He’s a wizened old man, who claims to have been a veteran of some long ago Iestan conflict, and he’s seeking refuge from the Cirinists. Jaka dances for him and for the first night in a long time she feels alive again. She rushes back to the apartment to share her news with Rick and Fred. They are engaged in their moronic game and shush her. This upsets Jaka and she runs to her room in tears. Rick goes to console her and Fred hears another of their heated arguments. One of their major points of disagreement is Rick’s insistence on going into the city to buy paint for Oscar, he’s painting one of the heads on the road outside the tavern. Fred makes a decision.

The following morning Jaka finds a note penned by Fred and runs to Rick in hysterics. The aardvark, probably the most wanted person in all of Iest, has gone to buy the paint. A bleary eyed Rick stumbles into Fred’s room and comes out mumbling that he took his sword and he’s the best in all of Estarcion, Jaka said so herself. It’s true, of the four people on the mountain Fred or Cerebus is the most likely to be able to fight his way out of any trouble he may find himself in. This calms Jaka somewhat.

Oscar has been working on a book. His publishers insist on calling it Daughter of Palnu. Oscar calls it Jaka’s Story. The story that we have been reading in between what is going on in the present is Oscar’s story about Jaka. He completes it and via Rick sends a letter to Jaka requesting that he be allowed to watch her dance. Genuinely pleased and slightly amused, not to mention more than a little intrigued, Jaka sends a reply, also through Rick, granting her permission.

A marvellous night follows. Jaka dances. She dances for her husband Rick, for her employer Pud, for Oscar and for the little, old man that is Pud’s only genuine customer. She dances for herself. For a time I was transported back to Issue #6 The Secret, when Cerebus first saw Jaka and fell in love with her. This however is Cerebus and happiness cannot be allowed to continue.

Oscar rises and excuses himself to go and retrieve his new manuscript to read it to them. The moment he mentions the title Jaka knows what it's about and knows how Oscar got the information, how could Rick have told Oscar about her life? Why? Does he not understand what a betrayal she feels that is? Before Oscar can return or Jaka can finish her argument with her husband the door crashes open and three masked, armed Cirinist soldiers enter.

The old man smashes a bottle and attacks, he’s shot with a crossbow bolt before he can even get close to the warrior women. They agree that his execution was an act of self defence. Before Jaka’s horrified eyes they accuse Pud of illegally operating a tavern and allowing immoral and illegal activities. The penalty is execution and it’s carried out then and there. The peaceful Mama’s boy Pud Withers dies a violent death, whimpering the word ‘Mama.’ as he dies. Jaka, too should also be executed for dancing, she immediately announces that she is Jaka Tavers, niece of Lord Julius of Palnu and claims diplomatic immunity for herself and her husband Rick Nash. One of the soldiers still wants to execute her, but is overridden by the other 2, who insist that she must be questioned. Jaka leads an inebriated Rick out to their wagon and they climb inside.

Unaware of what has just happened Oscar returns with his manuscript. He convinces the women that he was not a patron, but a tenant. For having written a book without a licence he is arrested and sentenced to 2 years hard labour.

Thus ends The Poet, chapter2 of Jaka’s Story.

Dave did a great job with Oscar. Aside from the man’s appearance, speech and mannerisms he tied his fictional creation into the real person on which he was based in a number of ways. He speaks to Rick about a work which can only be The Picture of Dorian Gray, only he does not claim credit for it, he sneers at the work and says it was written by a rival; Lord Wotton. Wotton is a character from the famous book. At one point Pud accuses Oscar of being a somdomite, an angry Oscar informs him that the correct pronunciation is sodomite. The Marquess of Queensberry once accused Wilde of being a somdomite. Wilde then sued Queensberry for libel, which forced the Marquess to prove that the accusation was true. Wilde wrote a play called Salome, about the biblical dancer and stepdaughter of King Herod Antipas. The play was initially refused a licence in England because it was about a biblical character. I think there are definite links between Jaka’s Story and Salome and of course Oscar in Cerebus is arrested for writing without a licence. The real Oscar Wilde was found guilty of the crime of sodomy and sentenced to 2 years hard labour, just as the fictional one was. There are quite possibly other links and references, but these are the ones I could find.

Lord Julius also appears briefly in Jaka’s Story. As he occasionally does, he comes out of nowhere, he’s wearing a dress, obviously a very bad disguise, has a nonsensical conversation with Oscar, and then disappears again. Oscar believes that Julius is Jaka and Rick’s mysterious guest, and there’s a brief running gag about Cerebus wearing one of Jaka’s dresses.

I felt that Dave’s artistic style in this story was less cartoony. Cerebus/Fred of course looks like he always has, so is a cartoon, but the rest of the characters were less caricatured than had been the case in the past. It was particularly noticeable in a drawing of a young Astoria, aged 17 and just married to Lord Julius, she was truly stunning.

There were 2 really effective passages. One was Jaka and Oscar getting ready for the final night. They were both contrasted picking out their outfits and it was very amusing to watch them 2 of them go through their extensive wardrobes before settling on their respective costumes for the night. The other was the killing at the end. When Jaka’s story finished Aardvark-Vanaheim brought out a series of t-shirts (I actually have one) with the legend: ‘I survived Jaka’s Story.’ Not many people got out alive. Pud and the old soldier were executions pure and simple. Cold, clinical, quick and chilling.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pogrom's Progress



The opening chapter of Jaka's Story is called Pogrom's Progress.

It appears that Jaka and Rick are living halfway up the mountain from the cinematic widescreen shot Dave gives readers it looks like there are about 3 houses clustered close together. The general store combination pub is owned by a mild mannered middle aged chap called Pud Withers. Pud never seems to appear without his apron and it’s obvious that he lusts after Jaka, but is too shy and scared to do anything about it. He often rehearses the short conversations he has with Jaka over and over in his mind, what he actually says and what he desperately wants to say. Jaka dances for him in the pub, even though no one ever shows up to see her, and in return Pud pays her and allows her and Rick to rent out a nearby house that he also owns. The lack of customers baffles Jaka, she doesn’t understand, as she’s always drawn a crowd before. Possibly Pud doesn’t want others to see her, so discourages custom, although a more likely reason is that the Cirinists probably regard what Jaka does as immoral and illegal.

Somehow Cerebus finds his way to this place. I can’t remember him being aware that Jaka was working there, in fact I don’t think she was prior to the Cirinist takeover, and it seems rather improbable that of all the places in Iest Jaka could be that Cerebus just happens to find his way there. Pud probably knows who he is, after all how many aardvarks can there be in Iest, but agrees to let him stay with Jaka and Rick and even have an occasional ale just so long as he doesn’t overdo it.

I thought some of the moments in this first chapter belonged to Rick. He’s just so clueless. He’s really happy to meet Cerebus, but doesn’t twig that he’s the former pope until he overhears a conversation between Jaka and Cerebus. Rick, he’s a 3 foot tall aardvark, he doesn’t try to disguise this. Who else could he be? Cerebus is up front with Rick about how he feels about Jaka, he tells him right from the start: ‘Kid, Cerebus is in love with your wife.’ Rick’s response is: ‘I know. Isn’t she great?’ How he’s survived this long I do not know. It is in fact Rick who comes up with the idea of giving Cerebus an alias, he calls him Fred. No, no one will ever suspect who he really is. There’s also a very funny exchange between Rick and Jaka when the dancer scolds him for embarrassing Cerebus by asking him to create a pillar of fire over dinner one night. Rick’s defence is a furious: ‘IF! I asked him IF he could create a pillar of fire!’

In one heart felt conversation Cerebus goes over all the times he’s wronged Jaka, analyses who was in the wrong (mostly him) and apologises for it. Jaka accepts the apology, but says that she also knows that they just don’t work together. She confesses to Cerebus that she lost the baby. Cerebus is sorry for her and she accepts that as well. The person that seems most hurt by the loss of the child is Rick.
Cerebus agonises over Jaka’s relationship with Rick, it’s not helped by the fact that he can hear everything they say and do while in bed at night from his room. The walls in the house seem to be paper thin and everyone knows everyone else’s business and can overhear everything said in the place. The presence of Cerebus also puts a strain on Jaka and Rick’s marriage and things are often tense between the 3 cohabitants.

Readers still don’t know a lot about the invasion. Jaka does tell Cerebus that it was chaotic in the city with men having their hands cut off and their tongues cut out (I winced when I read that). There is one other person living up there with Pud, Jaka and Rick, his name is Oscar. Rick’s the only one who mentions Oscar and he’s not present in this chapter, but he may turn up later on.

The story of the now is broken up by the continuing story of Jaka’s youth, she was a desperately lonely child, with only Nurse and Missy for company and Nurse wasn’t exactly pleasant company. It’s really not surprising that she ran away. The story of Jaka as a child is told with one large drawing to illustrate the event and well written passages heavy on description.

Very little happens so Dave relies heavily on his words and his sheer brilliance at conveying expressions and small movements with his art. You wouldn’t think that a comic so light on action would be able to hold a readers interest, but it does and it does so easily.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ruined



Ruined is an odd little gothic piece for the Twilight set.

Somewhat self centred and spoilt New Yorker Rebecca Brown is sent to live with her father's old friend; Aunt Claudia, in New Orleans while her father is working in China. The New York native finds it hard to fit in to her new surroundings, doesn't make friends amongst the cliquey set at her upper class prep school and just wants to go home, until she meets Lisette.

Lisette is a pretty young girl Rebecca's age, the problem with Lisette is that she's been dead for over 100 years and is largely confined to the cemetary near Rebecca's 'aunts' house. There's a mystery surrounding Lisette's tragic death, there's also a curse associated with the ghostly girl and only Rebecca can lift it.

The plot and the characters in Ruined are fairly unremarkable, except for Lisette, who I quite liked and could not help feeling a litle sorry for. What does set the book apart from much of the other YA fare out there are the beautiful and heart felt descriptions of the exotic New Orleans and it's turbulent, often violent history. The sequence when Lisette takes Rebecca on a tour of New Orleans hauntings is also extraordinary and it's a shame that the rest of the book does not live up to that.

Author Paula Morris describes New Orleans so well and has such depth of feeling in her depiction of the town that I was surprised to discover that she was not a native New Orleanian, but hails from New Zealand. She must have been one of many who came to the gulf town and fell in love with it.

The Spirit Rebellion



The Spirit Rebellion is the 2nd book in Rachel Aaron's The Legend of Eli Monpress. It follows The Spirit Thief.

In the first book of this entertaining series readers were introduced to the charming wizard/thief Eli Monpress and his two partners in crime: swordsman Josef Liechten, wielder of magical blade Heart of War and Nico, a young woman who carries a powerful malevolent demon in her slight frame. People also met dogged young Spiritualist (sort of a magical mountie) Miranda Lyonette and her loyal ghost hound; Gin. Despite following Eli and co on a mad adventure in the kingdom of Mellinor readers were left with many unanswered questions. How did Eli come to be a wizard and a thief? How did Josef come by his legendary sword? What exactly is the true nature of the demonseed that infects Nico and why is she so devoted to Josef? I was also curious about the Spirit Court (the organisation that Miranda works for) and the true nature of her relationship with Gin.

In The Spirit Rebellion some of these questions would hopefully be answered. Although his caper in Mellinor was not entirely successful Eli wasn't too concerned. He and his two companions had escaped relatively unscathed, they were still at liberty, although the renumeration had not been exactly as much as he had hoped for he had made some profit out of it and he had achieved his main goal of increasing the bounty on his head, which seems to be a matter of personal vanity for Eli as much as anything else. Nico did however require a replacement for her magical cloak which had been destroyed in Mellinor.

Things weren't looking quite as hopeful for Miranda. Her failure to capture Eli had raised some suspicions about her in the Spirit Court (very pleased that readers got a look inside this organisation) and even lead an accusation of betrayal suggesting that the acquisition of the Great Water Spirit Mellinor had been planned along with Eli all along. Knowing that her accuser; Hern, was pursuing some personal agenda Miranda and Gin went on the run and would have to clear their names without the backing of the Spirit Court.

An old acquaintance of Eli's provides a new cloak for Nico, but as payment demands a Fenzetti blade, known for their magical properties. The only Fenzetti blade that Eli knows of is in the Duchy of Gaol, whose controlling Duke has erected a thief-proof citadel. This has got trap written all over it, but Eli never refuses a challenge.

Eli and Miranda are once again on a collision course and will they be forced to work together again to save themselves and another kingdom?

One thing I neglected to mention in my review of The Spirit Thief was the novel and fun magic system that Rachel Aaron has come up with for her series. The basic premise is that everything has a spirit (fire, water, wood, etc...), but only wizards and Spiritualists can effectively communicate with the spirits. Spiritualists bind willing spirits into jewellery, typically rings, wizards don't require channels like rings, but use their powers to talk to the spirits and coerce them into helping. Eli's success is largely built on his ability to charm spirits into doing almost anything he asks. Rachel Aaron writes the spirit sequences very well and it's obvious that she has a lot of fun with them. The conversation between Eli and a rather dim witted cart wheel was, for me, a comedic highlight of The Spirit Rebellion.

At some stage all the major protagonists will face death and danger. Eli and Miranda up against the Duke and Hern. Josef and Nico square off against the giant bounty hunter Sted, retained by the Lord of Storms to take Nico's demonseed.

Things become a little darker, but the light touch is still there and this series has been a delight thus far. I'm hooked and will soon be searching The Spirit Eater for answers to the questions that The Spirit Rebellion raised.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Jaka's Story: Prologue



Jaka's Story has, in my mind at least, become one of those legendary turning points in the book's history. It's different from the previous phone books in a few ways. I probably didn't fully appreciate that the first time, because I read it as the issues came out, so nothing really changed. The way the phone book is presented and arranged is different, though.

The first major difference is the cover. It's the first of the phone book covers that does not feature Cerebus at all. It's predominantly white where the cover of Church & State II was largely black. It's a picture of a young girl, swathed from head to toe in heavy winter clothing, accompanied by an older woman, who is also dressed for the weather. As there are snow covered swings in the background, it's a good guess to assume this is a playground of some sort.

The way the book is arranged is different. Previously the books have been mostly broken into chapters that corresponded with the issues. Jaka's Story doesn't. It has a prologue, 3 large books and an epilogue.

The prologue is broken into 2 parts that run alongside each other. One is a standard comic style story with panels that show Jaka going about her morning routine and for the first time readers meet her husband; Rick. Although Rick is a bit of a slacker it's hard not to like him. He's strangely child like. I did wonder exactly why Jaka fell for him, he didn't seem her type at all, then again he probably was about as far from Cerebus as you could get and maybe that was why.

The other part of the story which featured a young Jaka was in a different style, it mirrored the grown up story in some ways in that it was a child Jaka going about her general day. She was a lonely child, strictly supervised by a distant, cold woman, who was her nurse. The only real friend the young Jaka had was a doll called Missy. Missy was a shapeless doll with a wide open mouth and buttons for eyes. In some parts this chapter was seen as if from the doll's perspective and we never saw Nurse's face. When it was shown it looked like Missy.

The kicker came at the end when the reader discovered that through all her trials and tribulations Jaka still had Missy and she still sat on a shelf on the wall looking over Jaka, protecting her, just as she always had.

There is no mention of Cerebus or the city and the reader is still unaware of exactly what has happened or how it has affected the lives of ordinary people like Jaka and Rick.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

GRRM's Not So Happy New Year

If anyone was wondering what had happened to normally prolific blogger and author George R.R Martin since just before Christmas when his Not a Blog fell mysteriously silent, this blog post explains what happened.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

More Joe

From Joe Abercrombie's blog.

You can read about it in Joe's words by clicking on the link above, but fans of Joe Abercrombie and the world of The First Law can rejoice, because the author has signed a deal with UK publisher Gollancz for another 4 books set in that world.
Good news!

Ben Cousins My Life Story



I couldn’t help but compare Ben Cousins My Life Story with Matthew Richardson and Martin Flanagan’s Richo, about the only things the 2 have in common is that they’re both football biographies and the subjects of them spent time playing for Richmond Football Club. Whereas Richo is described as ‘not a normal football book’, My Life is very much a 'normal football book'. It essentially chronicles the life and times of Ben Cousins in the man’s own words (I suspect it was ‘ghosted’ by someone though).

I was a little surprised that Cousins decided to call the book My Life Story and not Such Is Life (the final words of bushranger Ned Kelly, Ben called his documentary that, he has the words tattooed across his stomach and he admits to identifying with the legendary bushranger). The early part of the book is pretty much like that of every other footballers biography out there. Brief family history, early years, adolescence, getting picked by an AFL club, fitting in, becoming a decent player, etc… That is until Ben discovers ‘recreational’ drugs.

For almost a decade Cousins managed to avoid detection, although he was regularly using and abusing drugs of dependence. He did this with a mixture of cunning and luck, he also used the somewhat flawed testing system along with it’s 3 strikes policy that the AFL uses to check their players. I suspect many people bought the book for the story of Ben on drugs and the author doesn’t shy away from any of that. I did wonder how he hadn’t managed to accidentally kill himself or completely fry his brain on some of his binges. While he may be hard on himself and remarkably honest about what he was up to during those times, he seems to let a few well known (some were team mates) friends off easily and probably omits certain details about them.

Being a Richmond supporter one part of the book I found of great personal interest were Ben’s views on team captain Chris Newman and former player now assistant coach Wayne Campbell. Because when it comes to how he sees people on pure football terms he doesn’t tend to pull punches it was interesting to see that he has very opinions of both men. Up until this point I wasn’t too sure about Newman’s leadership capabilities or Campbell’s coaching ability. According to Ben I was wrong.

For an honest and confronting account of how someone who had absolutely everything going for them: looks, talent, wealth, money and success, could nearly throw it all away because of an addiction I’d recommend Ben Cousins My Life Story.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Spirit Thief



I first saw Rachel Aaron's The Spirit Thief in a local book store and was intrigued by it. I love caper stories or books about thieves and that's exactly what The Spirit Thief appeared to be. Picking it up you see a big number 1 on the spine and the words The Legend of Eli Monpress. No! Not another bloody series! I'd already read a few pages and it intrigued me, so this was going to be a case of could my common sense override my desire? My mind was kind of made up the following month when the sequel to The Spirit Thief - The Spirit Rebellion appeared on the shelves, to be followed the next month by The Spirit Eater. I checked out the author's website and she set a few misconceptions people have had about her books to rights. It is not a trilogy, yes the monthly release schedule is very similar to what Orbit did with Brent Weeks Night Angel trilogy and Orbit are also Rachel Aaron's publisher, but there are 5 books in The Legend of Eli Monpress, and the 4th is due out in May of 2011, so I have no idea why they released the first 3 month after month. Secondly it's not Urban Fantasy, not sure who would think this from a look at the book, but there you have it, people are strange. Finally it is not Paranormal Romance, I can see where this happened, handsome, bad boy looking bloke on the cover, and while Ms Aaron said that there is romance in the book, it's not the focus. So what actually is The Spirit Thief? Well, aren't you lucky you've got me to answer that question?

Australian author Karen Miller recommends the book with these words on the front cover: 'The Spirit Thief is a delightfully giddy romp of a novel' Ms Miller is spot on. The Spirit Thief is a caper novel. It's anti-hero; master thief Eli Monpress, is along with his cohorts: swordsman Josef Liechten, bearer of the world's most powerful magic sword and the demonseed Nico, out for what he can get. Everyone thinks he's going to steal the most powerful magical artifact in the fairy tale kingdom of Mellinor, however he turns the tables on all and sundry by escaping the prison they've put him in and kidnapping King Henrith of Meliinor! What follows is a game of cross and doublecross, as the straight down the line Spiritualist Miranda with her ghosthound Gin, go after Monpress, his gang, and the kidnapped king. Henrith's dispossessed brother; Renaud, enters the fray and things really kick into high gear, add in a determined bounty hunter who desperately wants the blade carried by Josef, the unstable demon that lurks below Nico's surface, and things are ready to go off like fireworks on New Years Eve. I had a huge amount of fun when reading The Spirit Thief and the fact that there are 2 more already out there ready to read increases my enjoyment.

There's a lot of Locke Lamora in Eli, although the book itself doesn't have the same impact as Scott Lynch's stunning debut The Lies of Locke Lamora. In the makeup of Eli's small team there are echoes of The Princess Bride and the kingdom of Mellinor could have come straight out of the Happiest Place on Earth in Anaheim, California. Ghosthound Gin is a calming and sensible influence on the sometimes irrational Miranda and they were 2 more characters I warmed to. There's an obvious attraction between the Spiritualist and the flamboyant wizard/thief, although Eli escapes at the end, you know this is not the last time the paths of these two will cross. I quite liked one of the peripheral characters; the inquisitive, eager to please, junior librarian Marion. I hope she makes an appearance in the sequels.

If you're looking for a fun, light romp and a name to watch for the future then you could do worse than to pick up Rachel Aaron's The Spirit Thief. An extremely promising debut.