The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni, written by Helene Wecker, was published in 2013 by Harper. The audiobook was narrated by George Guidall and published by HarperAudio.

5 star

The Golem and the Jinni features, truly, some of the most spectacular characters I’ve ever read in a standalone novel. And I’m not just talking about the titular golem and jinni –  but also every other person in the story. There is so much humanity to love in this book. That does mean that the book is fairly light on plot – the villain, for most of the book, is just another fascinating character. But I’ll trade fight scenes and mysteries for an engrossing character study any day.

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The setting, too, becomes a sort of incredible character. The neighborhoods and cultures the golem and the jinni join are fleshed out, fascinating to read, and, it seems, historically accurate.

If you are a fan of either character-driven fantasy (Robin Hobb’s books, the Temeraire series) or magical realism (The Night Circus, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell) I would highly recommend this incredible book. If you’re a fan of both, like I am, you’re in for a spectacular treat.

 

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The Boy on the Bridge

The Boy on the Bridge, written by M.R. Carey, was published in 2017 by Orbit. 

4 star

The Boy on the Bridge is a sort of sequel to The Girl With All the Gifts, sort of prequel to it, and sort of side-by-side story. Since The Girl With All the Gifts is best read knowing absolutely nothing, I’m going to keep this review extremely light.

If you have not read The Girl With All the Gifts, you should get right on it. It’s a quick read, a page-turner, but highly emotional and satisfying with a fascinating world and engrossing set of characters. Don’t read anything about it before you go in – including the Goodreads synopsis or the back of the book.

The Boy on the Bridge mostly takes place before The Girl With All the Gifts, adding a wonderful amount of context and world-building. It also provides closure and completes the duology. I feel like “end of a series” is so rare nowadays, and it feels very good. Refreshing.

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If you’ve read and enjoyed The Girl With All the GiftsThe Boy on the Bridge is more of the same interesting setting, just with different (but as fascinating) characters (including a deeply troubled one which struck me as particularly impactful). If you haven’t read The Girl With All the Gifts, then you need to get right on that!

Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Cloud of Hate and Other Stories

Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Cloud of Hate and Other Stories, written by Fritz Leiber and Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Howard Chaykin, was published in 2016 by Dark Horse Books. The original comics were published in 1973 .

1 star

For this year’s /r/fantasy bingo, I am attempting to complete a card just for comics and graphic novels. Some of the squares are easy (sequel, time travel, horror) and fit in nicely with my current habits and tastes. For others (/r/fantasy Goodreads Book of the Month, fantasy of manners), it’s proven difficult to find any book for the square, much less one that appeals to me.

One of the toughest squares has been /r/fantasy author appreciation. Most of the authors are older, more obscure, or both, and none of them are primarily comic book creators. I am so lucky that comic adaptations of Fritz Leiber’s creations exist; it’s the only title I’ve been able to find that actually works for this square.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

All that to say – this book is not for me. Artwork in a comic is very important for me, and the art style of “retro” comic books is not to my taste. I need my comics to have a respect for women (even if the two main characters are horny men) and this comic…does not.

As a more specific complaint, I have some serious issues with the text. For one, every sentence, excepting direct questions, ends in an exclamation point. This fact, combined with the all-caps lettering and aggressive artwork, makes it seem like every character is yelling all the time. It’s disturbing, exhausting, and very distracting.

Also, most of the commas seem to have been replaced by ellipses and dashes. Here is an actual example of dialogue from the book:

“I TELL YOU, MOUSER — I LIKE IT NOT! WE SHOULD BE SEEING THE RAYS OF DAWN — INSTEAD WE RIDE INTO EVEN BLACKER NIGHT! SEVERAL LEAGUES BACK, WE CROSSED THE BORDER OF SHADOWLAND! NO LIGHT OF THE SUN EVER PENETRATES THIS BLEAKNESS!”

Ugh. Exhausting.

On the bright side, the stories are simple and read very quickly. Considering how much I disliked both the artwork and the lettering, my enjoyment of the plots themselves was a surprise and a relief.

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Howard Porter, was published in 2001 by DC Comics. 

2 star

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel is another comic book I would never have read if it weren’t for my attempt at doing /r/fantasy’s book bingo with comics and graphic novels. This one is for the /r/fantasy’s under-read and underrated list square; as far as I can tell it is the only comic on the list! Unfortunately, while I certainly understand why it’s on the list, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the book.

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Most notably, the artwork is just goofy at times – people are way out of proportion, boobs don’t function according to physics, and expressions are ridiculously exaggerated. I wonder if this is just a product of the late 90’s. Since artwork in a comic is so important to me, this was a significant drawback.

The story, in contrast, is very interesting and a fun read. The ways the members of the Justice League were taken out were highly creative.

I was disappointed with Lady Talia’s character. She was (and, I think, still is?), in love with Batman, but steals all of his information and technology for her father, who wants to decimate humanity. Then immediately after completing her plan, she conveniently sees the error of her ways and betrays her father. It’s all just too convenient, and lacks conviction from the writers.

JLA: Tower of Babel is a volume which had a very cool idea and overall story, but suffered from poor characterization and bad (or possibly just dated) artwork. Still, I’m so glad I was forced to read something so outside of my wheelhouse!

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi, written by John Scalzi, was published in 2016 by Subterranean Press. 

4 star

Miniatures is a very small (and easily read) book full of very short stories (and one poem) by the sci-fi great John Scalzi.

I am a huge fan of Scalzi’s blog but haven’t read much of his fiction – just Redshirts (which I did not like, even as a Star Trek fan) and Old Man’s War (which I loved). I do plan on reading more of his stuff, but nothing fit nicely with /r/fantasy bingo (and we all know /r/fantasy bingo is the most important aspect of book selection). So when I saw such a small tome at the library, I thought it would work well as a palate cleanser that wouldn’t interfere with bingo.

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And it was! Miniatures is an extremely quick read, with cute little blurbs of commentary and extremely quick, light stories. It’s a fun book.

My favorites were a couple of stories set in a shared setting: an Earth where aliens are no longer extraordinary and are now a part of everyday life. I would love to read an entire book (or even another collection of short stories) set here; they were hilarious, creative, and intriguing.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 6: Who Run The World? Squirrels

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 6: Who Run The World? Squirrels, written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson, was published in 2017 by Marvel. 

5 star

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 6: Who Run The World? Squirrels is another winner from North and Henderson.

All of the usual praises apply – the jokes, the expressive artwork, the wholesome characters. Especially for this volume, we get more time with Doreen’s allies; this book has entire issues just for them. They’re unique, they’re cute, and they’re really fun to read about.

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I see a lot of complaints about the plot – which I definitely think is a valid criticism – but I don’t read Squirrel Girl for the plot. I read it for Doreen, for the hilarity, for the cleverness, for the silliness. In this case, I gladly trade a little bit of solid plot for more funny ridiculousness.

The Decoy Princess

The Decoy Princess, written by Dawn Cook, was published in 2005 by Ace. 

4 starThe Decoy Princess starts out very slow, and I struggled to maintain interest, but after the first twist (and you’ll recognize it as soon as you get to it), the book picks up significantly and doesn’t ever really let up.

Decoy Princess

Though the main, surface-level story is great, the teases to an underlying world are intriguing, and the best part of the book.

Most of the characters are unashamed tropes, but it works well and it results in some really interesting characterization. In particular, there is a relationship between the main character and another woman which feels at the same time tropey and very, very real.