Paper Girls, Vol. 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Cliff Chiang, was published in 2017 by Image Comics.
In my review for Volume 2 of Paper Girls I praised the artwork, but cited the randomness in the story for my three-star rating. Unfortunately Volume 3 of Paper Girls did not change those opinions – the artwork (and particularly the coloring) is gorgeous, but the story seems completely made up on the spot. Does Vaughan have any idea where he’s going with this series? If he does, he’s not doing a great job of foreshadowing it, in my opinion.
I think for now I’ll be dropping Paper Girls, unless I hear some really outstanding praise of the plot for subsequent volumes.
The Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan, was published in 2014 by Tor Books. The audiobook was narrated by Kate Reading and published by Macmillan Audio.
The Tropic of Serpents continues the story of Isabella Camherst, a dragon naturalist who manages to not only continually make good science and discoveries, but also get into adventures and effect politics.
My main complaint with the first book (which I also loved), was that the story was too much about the adventure and mystery and not enough about the science, culture, and characters. In The Tropic of Serpents, I feel like that complaint has been thoroughly soothed. Though there is a constant underlying goal, Isabella and her companions also spend quite a large part of the book just learning about and interacting with the people, plants, and animals around them.
Kate Reading’s performance in this series continues to astound me. Her role as Isabella is the perfect combination of high-born lady and over-excited naturalist. Since the series is in first person, it truly feels like Lady Camherst herself is reading the book to me.
I was hesitantly excited about The Memoirs of Lady Trent series after finishing the first installment, but after The Tropic of Serpents I just can’t wait to hear about the rest of Isabella’s adventures!
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, was published in 2015 by Orbit.
The Fifth Season tells the stories of three women, all struggling with sudden, life-changing circumstances. One is being sent, against her will, to a magic training school. Another has been assigned to mate with a man she’s never met. A third is experiencing the beginnings of a worldwide environmental catastrophe (a “fifth season”). The novel opens slowly and a bit confusingly – the world-building here is incredible, but the concepts and lore aren’t spoon-fed to the reader. But very quickly the three women’s stories ramp into equally fascinating and quickly-moving plots. After the first three chapters The Fifth Season is hard to put down. Ordinarily I prefer a slower book that focuses on characters instead of plot, but this one scratches both itches (and wonderfully!).
I’ve read reviews that assert that the prose is pretentious or full of itself. While I agree that the prose is, at times, dramatic, I actually really enjoyed that aspect of the book. The tone works in this world and for these women. I also love that a third of the novel is in second person – I thought that was hugely fun and interesting.
The amount of diversity (racial variety, LGBT+ inclusion, and of course the spotlight on spectacular women) in The Fifth Season is incredible. It doesn’t feel shoe-horned or awkward. It’s just there, part of the world. Inspirational.
This book left me raving over and over. I knew Jemisin was receiving significant accolades for her work, and now I understand why. The Fifth Season is absorbing, inspiring, and stunning in story, prose, and character.
All Systems Red, written by Martha Wells, was published in 2017 by Tor.com.
I put off reading All Systems Red because I somehow got the idea that it was a humorous hard sc-fi novel. I’m not a huge fan of humor in my novels and hard sci-fi takes a lot of effort for me, so despite a ton of glowing reviews I remained unexcited about it.
Well it turns out I was way wrong about even the basic structure of the book. Yes, it does have some levity in it, but it’s hardly hard sci-fi. It’s a novella, a page-turner, and very easy to read. Best of all, it’s more of a character-study than the murder android parody I was expecting.
All this to say – All Systems Red was a spectacular surprise.
The main character, Murderbot themself, is an absolute joy to have as a PoV character. They are funny, yes, but they’re also dealing with some serious mental shit, considering they’re an android – at times it feels like an anxiety disorder, at other times Autism, and a few times just good old fashioned introversion.
And there is a wonderful story complementing the character study: an action-packed little mystery that lightens the novella and adds serious dimension to Murderbot.
I am so glad I picked up All Systems Red, despite my apparent complete misunderstanding of what it actually is: a gripping sci-fi action blended with a beautiful and highly entertaining character study.
Kill Six Billion Demons, Book 1, written and drawn by Tom Parkinson-Morgan, was published serially beginning in 2013.
Kill Six Billion Demons has an incredible scope for a comic. The amount of backstory in-world lore is, frankly, overwhelming. I love that this is a huge and full world and that there’s a ton to explore, but I wish the extra info had been dumped a little slower or more naturally.
The artwork is breathtaking. Like the story and lore, the level of detail in the artwork is immense. In this case, though, it’s undeniably a good thing. Every page is meticulous, every character is beautiful (and, often, horrifying), and the color palette is exquisite.
But while I wholeheartedly appreciate the work put into and the appeal of the story, it just doesn’t work for me. It’s the kind of “dump the reader in and they’ll get it eventually” kind of writing that frustrates me. When combined with the overwhelming world-building… I ended up just enjoying the artwork.
So I won’t be continuing to read Kill Six Billion Demons, but I encourage other web-comic fans to try it out and I’ll definitely be watching for more from Parkinson-Morgan.
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson, was published in 2010 by Dark Horse Comics.
I started reading Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites on a late cold night in a quiet house knowing it was on my /r/fantasy bingo card, but not remembering which square. There’s a non-human protagonist square and this is a story about talking dogs – it was probably that one!
Imagine my surprise fifteen minutes into the book when OH NO IT’S HORROR.
The horror in Beasts of Burden is slow to develop. For the first few issues it’s not present at all – those stories are purely for character and world-building. But the creepy builds and builds, and by about the halfway point, Beasts of Burden is definitely a spooky book. There is one panel in particular that I can’t seem to shake because of how much it moved me with its haunting and evocative creepiness. (It’s the one of the mother. Trust me, if you read this book you will know what I’m talking about, and I’m willing to bet it will stick in your head too).
I am not a horror fan, especially on a late cold quiet night when it comes up on me in surprise. But the horror in Beasts of Burden is tempered with lighthearted characters and delicate artwork. For me, this book ended up being more moving and moody than scary, which was a great relief.
Other than the creepiness, I absolutely adored Beasts of Burden. The artwork blew me away. The lines are wonderful (particularly the expressions), but the colors steal the show. Thompson’s spectacular watercolors (she won an Eisner for Wonder Woman: The True Amazon) are again on display, and add yet another level of moody depth. The characters are all fun and feel quite special, and the world builds slowly but surely into quite an interesting fantasy setting.
Even if you’re not a fan of horror, I’d highly recommend Beasts of Burden for the story, the characters, and (most of all) the stupendous artwork.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass, written by Jim Butcher, was published in 2015 by Roc. The audiobook was narrated by Euan Morton and published by Penguin Audio.
As much as I love The Dresden Files and Codex Alera, The Aeronaut’s Windlass doesn’t work for me. I spent the whole time I listened to the book trying to figure out why I wasn’t having fun, but in the end I really have no idea. It seems like a good book. It’s steampunk, which I don’t like, but the steampunk elements are fairly light. There’s a lot of time spent on a ship but that’s certainly not a turn off for me – I adore Liveship Traders! There’s a ton of action – hand-to-hand fighting, fighting with magic, naval/air battles – that keep the story moving very quickly.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a long book, but it also feels very shallow. The characters lack depth and are not backed up by a particularly interesting world or magic system. There is the hint of some really cool political drama, but I didn’t care enough about the world and characters to get invested in the politics. Of course that affects the action as well – without spending time getting to know and love a character, it’s hard to care when they’re engaged in epic fight scenes.
The exception to all of this is the sentient cat. Every scene with Raul was a joy, and of all the characters he had the most depth.
I’m disappointed I didn’t like this one, but I’m still eagerly awaiting the next entry in The Dresden Files. I’m certainly not giving up on Butcher!