Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #25: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan WakesTarget: James S. A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

The Expanse has received a lot of attention, mostly from other authors, for being a fresh take on space-based science fiction.  The books have also received high praise for their cinematic fight sequences and politically charged plot lines.  The books are each fairly lengthy, sitting well over the 500 page mark, but manage to feel like much shorter novels thanks to brisk pacing and strong, dynamic characters.

In spite of the ‘space opera’ tag, the stories of The Expanse are really more like war stories, having more in common with John Scalzi than they do with Iain M. Banks or Alastair Reynolds.  The scope of the setting is mostly limited to the solar system and there isn’t the same sense of wonder and discovery that has become associated with New Wave Space Opera.  Instead, The Expanse feels like older styles of space opera that focused more on combat, and the brave actions of courageous soldiers against overwhelming odds and the threat of the unknown.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #24: Cursed Pirate Girl Volume 1 by Jeremy Bastian

Cursed Pirate GirlTarget: Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl: The Collected Edition Volume 1.

Profile: Comics, Fantasy, Pirates!

Way back in June, I attended the Denver Comic Convention.  In the process of browsing the expansive artist alleys, I came across a curious man with a nose ring doodling some incredibly intricate, scrimshaw-esque pictures.  Next to him were copies of his book, Cursed Pirate Girl, bound in a distinctive light blue cover and filled with more of the same detailed black-and-white drawings.  It was easily the most interesting thing I’d seen at the Con so far.  I impulsively grabbed a copy.  Two hours later, covered with the paper flakes of Pirate Girl’s beautiful faux-old ragged pages, I was in love.

Now, to be fair, I love fairy tales.  And Cursed Pirate Girl is a fairy tale for people who love the idea of adventure on the high seas; being spirited away by a noble pirate captain and exploring forgotten ruins in search of treasure.  It’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making with more water.  And this is where the review comes off the rails, because I’m horribly biased towards this kind of storytelling, not only because it’s basically just a fairytale wrapped in salt-soaked ropes and topped with a talking parrot, but because it is a well-handled coming of age story that casts the girl as someone capable of anything.  Congratulations Mr. Bastian, you’ve punched all of my buttons.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #22-23: The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, Volumes 1 and 2 by Tom Hutchison, Alisson Borges and Kate Finnegan

The Wicked WestTarget: Tom Hutchison’s The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West Volumes 1 and 2.  Art by Alisson Borges and Kate Finnegan.  Collecting the original miniseries and Issues #1-5

Profile: Comics, Fantasy, Western, Oz

The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West is a truly stunning graphic novel.  Pitched as a reimagining of the L. Frank Baum masterpiece in a ‘Wild West’ setting, The Wicked West manages the difficult task of remaining true to its roots while exploring new territory.  But what stands out is the strength of the characters.  Both fresh and familiar, these new iterations of the much beloved Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are the driving force behind a story that is incredibly dynamic and compelling.

The Wicked West SouthThe Wicket West opens with Dorothy, who goes by her last name in this adaptation, making her way towards the Emerald City.  It has been three years since a twister pulled her and her horse, Toto, from their Kansas home and dropped them on the Wicked Witch of the East.  The Munchkins gave Gale the witch’s ruby spurs and gem-encrusted pistols as a reward and she’s been on the yellow-brick road ever since.  But the road has been pulled up by bandits and Gale has been lost for years.  Being lost has kept her off the radar for a while, but when she stumbles into a saloon filled with flying monkeys, the hunt is on again.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #21: Birds of Prey, Volume 2 by Duane Swierczynski, Jesus Saiz and Travel Foreman

Birds of PreyTarget: Duane Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey: Your Kiss Might Kill.  Art by Jesus Saiz and Travel Foreman.  Collecting Issues #8-12 and Issue #0 of Birds of Prey (N52)

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction

I really enjoyed the first collection of the new Birds of Prey, so it is with mixed feelings that I report that Volume 2 leaves much to be desired.  Between the jerky plot jumps and the ill-conceived Poison Ivy arc, the issues in this volume never really get down to business.  Some of this is due to the Night of Owls and Issue #0 ‘crossover’ events, which derail the existing plot lines in really jarring ways.  But even the two arcs that belong to the Birds feel clunky and don’t have the same storytelling hook present in Swierczynski’s first arc.

But before I can get into the details, we have to go back to the end of Volume 1.  In my review of Trouble in Mind, I noted that by the end of the collection, they had only really gotten one layer off the onion-like mystery that was the first story arc.  Evidently, I was the only one who liked that.  So, instead of diving further into this story of biological weaponry and clever brainwashing, we are dropped ass-first into a totally new arc that looks to be about Black Canary’s New 52 backstory.  No time is given to the old plot and there is literally no resolution to be found anywhere in Volume 2.

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Read Fofo’s reviews of Birds of Prey (N52)

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #20: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The RithmatistTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist

Profile: Young Adult, Fantasy, Steampunk

So Brandon Sanderson took a break from his endless list of epic fantasy projects in order to dabble in the ‘Young Adult’ fantasy market.  The result is, in many ways, a well-written subversion of the Harry Potter books.  Of course there’s more to The Rithmatist than that, but it does seem that Sanderson was aiming to distance himself as much as possible from the story of a kid chosen by fate to save the world from evil.  Unfortunately, it’s still the story (and the characters) he ended up writing.

The Rithmatist’s protagonist is Joel Saxon, a super-nerd with an obsession with Rithmatics.  Joel attends the prestigious Armedius Academy, one of only eight schools allowed to teach Rithmatists, not because he is good at Rithmatics, but because his parents worked there as a chalk-maker and a janitor.  Joel has no magical abilities whatsoever, but his obsessive study of the art has given him incredible knowledge its theory and practice.  When Rithmatist students begin disappearing, Joel is drawn to the case but quickly finds himself in over his head.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #19: Dial H, Volume 1 by China Miéville, Mateus Santolouco and David Lapham

Dial H Vol 1Target: China Miéville’s Dial H, Vol.1: Into You.  Art by Mateus Santolouco and David Lapham. Collecting issues #1-6 and #0

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Like many of China Miéville’s novels, Dial H tries to alter the way readers look at its genres.  It uses the tropes of superheroics to tell an entirely different kind of story with a lot of style and unique take on the world of DC Comics.  It is a quintessentially Miéville story, where the rules have to be learned, or re-learned at the very least.  And in spite of all that, it stays true to the comic book canon and is a huge breath of fresh air in a space that has been stagnant for a while.

I am a huge fan of Miéville’s ability to turn the boundaries of genre into creative playgrounds and Dial H doesn’t disappoint in this respect.  It is a brilliantly rendered series that taps into the ‘weird’ space that DC has been attempting to capitalize on in their ‘New 52’ reboot.  It isn’t as grand in scope or story as some of the great graphic novels, like Sandman, but it bridges the gap between a superhero story and a ‘larger’ adventure.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #18: Princeps by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

princepsTarget: L. E. Modesitt Jr.’s Princeps (Imager Portfolio #5)

Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction

After reading both Scholar and Princeps, I honestly think I was wrong about Modesitt’s motivations behind abandoning the ‘present-day’ progression of his Imager Portfolio series. Pinceps is the second book in the Portfolio to follow Quaeryt, an imager that lived hundreds of years before the events ofImager.  In my review of Quaeryt’s first novel, Scholar, I accused Modesitt of fighting off stagnation by radically shifting the setting and the protagonist.  But now I’m beginning to think that he wrote a huge amount of backstory for the island nation of Solidar and was getting frustrated at being unable to use it in Rhennthyl’s storylines.

Princeps continues to flesh out the formation of Solidar, as the restless city-states of the continent are gearing up for full-fledged war.  But the primary focus of these books is increasingly an ongoing treatise on the value of intellectualism, the dangers of populism and an indictment of racial intolerance.

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Read Fofo’s reviews of the Imager Portfolio