The Massive, Vol. 1: Black Pacific

The Massive, Vol. 1: Black Pacific, written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Kristian Donaldson and Garry Brown, was published in 2013 by Dark Horse Comics. 

1 star

In the forward to The Massive Vol. 1, the reader is told that they should not care more about the apocalypse than about what happens after. We then read a story where the apocalypse is a synchronized set of natural disasters that slowly kills most of the planet… and what happens after is a set of mostly-generic people floating about and doing basically nothing in the middle of the ocean. I get that reading about apocalypses is often nothing but a guilty pleasure, but if Wood wants me to care more about the aftermath then he needs to make that aftermath interesting. Cool characters. A steady plot. A gripping mystery. Something. There’s nothing in The Massive – other than the apocalypse – to really interest the reader.

The Massive

Unfortunately, the artwork isn’t anything to write home about, either.

This one was a regrettable dud, for me!

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White Sand Volume 1

White Sand Volume 1, written by Brandon Sanderson and Rik Hoskin and illustrated by Julius M. Gopez, was published in 2016 by Dynamic Forces.

1 star

As much as I adore Brandon Sanderson’s stories, I don’t think his narratives lend well to the graphic novel format. Yes, his actions scenes and magical systems are amazing, and those obviously make for great artwork, but Sanderson’s best action scenes are backed up by lots of political intrigue, dialogue, and introspection – and none of those make for interesting pictures. Such is the case in White Sand. When magic is on the page the comic works brilliantly, but in-between it lags and gets confusing. I commend Hoskin’s efforts here, but I just don’t think White Sand was the right story to tell.

White Sand

Unfortunately the sketchy, messy artwork style in White Sand doesn’t work for me either. It makes it harder to distinguish between characters, interpret action, and enjoy the setting. ​

I definitely think Cosmere fans should check this one out just because it’s such a short read, but I won’t be continuing it until I hear that it has serious implications for the overarching story. It just didn’t work for me.

Sophie’s World

Sophie’s World, written by Jostein Gaarder and translated by Paulette Møller, was published in 1991 by Phoenix. 

3 star

Sophie’s World was written as an introduction to philosophy for young people. There is a story, but it’s a big book and much of the text is lessons. Because of that, it’s a dense read that’s not easy to absorb, but if you’ve never taken a philosophy course you’ll learn a ton.

I read Sophie’s World as a young adult and absolutely adored it (I even named a cat after the main character). Though my reread as an adult didn’t impress me the same way, I’d still highly recommend the book for young adults. They are the target audience, after all, and I think many kids and teens will find the broad introduction to ALL THE PHILOSOPHY really mind-blowing.

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So what didn’t I like this time around?

Most jarring for me was the translation. The tone shifts from patronizing to dry and academic in sudden, flow-interrupting ways. Some of the vocabulary choices were downright strange, which also kicked me out of the reading flow.

As an adult, the main character drove me nuts. I understand that this book is meant to reflect the traditional question and answer philosophical teaching style, but Sophie is an insufferable student and extremely disrespectful to her teacher and mother. She is constantly interrupting the lecture, making snide remarks about the lessons, and rudely questioning her teacher. She does not act like a fourteen-year-old who is eager and excited to learn. This is related to the tone issue I mentioned above, and I wonder if it’s caused somewhat by the translation.

Finally, the book suffers from a pacing issue that I’m not sure is solvable. In the first half of the book, philosophy lessons share the page with plot and character development. However, once the characters learn more about their situation they rush to finish their philosophy lessons, and, just when we most want to learn more about the mystery of the plot, the lessons take over almost completely. I wish more lesson could have been fit into the first half of the book, so that the second could have been lighter, easier to read, and more exciting. But, really, I’m complaining about the pace of a textbook.

Sophie’s World is still a great book, and one I’d heartily recommend to young people. I’m disappointed it didn’t live up to my memory, but I’m so happy I read it back when it was perfect for me.

2017 Favorites

I had so much fun reading in 2017: 50ish novels, 12 non-fiction prose books, 85 comic books and graphic novels, and an average rating of 3.4 stars. I also completed a big project to read and review every comic book in Civil War II, which was Marvel’s big event of the year. The event itself was bad, but the project was super fun and I learned a lot about criticizing comics.

I also started writing reviews this year, which changed the way I read for the better. Instead of reading something and coming to an intuitive like or dislike, when writing reviews I *have* to decide what worked for me and what didn’t. It’s made me a more critical and picky reader, I think, but also a much more active and attentive one.

Anyway! Here are my top reads of the year. If you have read or decide to read any of these, PLEASE let me know what you think!

Favorite novel: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I am a fan of YA literature, but recently it’s felt like I’ve been disappointed over and over by the lack of depth in my YA reads. To me, a shallow novel for a young adult shows disturbing disrespect for the customer – an age group that can be more discerning and sensitive than adult readers.

The Scorpio Races does not have that problem.

On the face of it, it’s a very good horse book; I’m used to skimming over incorrect horse details in novels, but there’s no need in this one.  And below the horse-book surface, The Scorpio Races is a lovely, slow story with a gentle and believable romance and a fantastic horror/fantasy element. Stiefvater’s imagery is stunning, particularly when she describes the water horses – who are, truly, horrendous monsters.

To me, The Scorpio Races is what YA should be – young, complex characters and beautiful but readable prose layered on a plot relevant to young people.

So I love this one not just because I’m a horse lover. While the horses in The Scorpio Races are superb, they are outclassed by absolutely astounding prose and two extraordinary main characters. I recommend it to horse lovers, fans of YA, or anyone who enjoys audiobooks (the actors for this one really enhance Stiefvater’s gorgeous words).

Favorite novel runner up: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni features 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 – for example, the villain is mostly just another fascinating character, and does little in terms of intrigue or action. But I’ll trade fight scenes and mysteries for an engrossing character study any day.

You should read The Golem and the Jinni if you are a fan of either character-driven fantasy or magical realism. If you’re a fan of both, like I am, you’re in for a spectacular treat.

Favorite series: Tawny Man, by Robin Hobb

Hobb’s character work is outstanding – I think her creations are the closest to real people I have ever experienced in a piece of fiction. Her skills at manipulating the reader’s emotions are unmatched. Nothing happens in her books and I don’t even care. Or I care too much, really. Sob.

If you are a fan of SFF, I highly highly highly recommend reading Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in her first trilogy. You may not love it – I didn’t. But if you at least like it, please keep with the series. It gets more beautiful and heart-wrenching with every installment.

Favorite comic: Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake written and drawn by Natasha Allegri 

Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake is a comic based on a one-episode joke from a kid’s cartoon, but it manages to seamlessly combine gripping story, poignant character moments, adorable artwork and hilarious dialogue.

Favorite comic runner up: Captain America: Sam Wilson, Volume 3: Civil War II written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Ángel Unzueta and Daniel Acuna​

This year was a spectacular time for Captain America to be black. Spencer and his team took what’s happening in the country today, made it fit perfectly in the Marvel Universe, and then threw Captain America Sam Wilson at it. The result is timely, disturbing, and the absolute highlight of the Civil War II event.

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3)

Oathbringer, written by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2017 by Tor Books. 

5 star

I’ve been putting this review off because I don’t feel like I have anything else to add to the extensive conversation the fantasy community has been having around this book. I loved Oathbringer. I think it’s the weakest of the three books in the series – it has a massive slow section that doesn’t quite pay off the way the other two Stormlight Archive books do – but it also expands the world and the Cosmere in huge ways.

I don’t usually buy books, and very rarely read physical novels anymore, but I am very glad that I bought the paper form of Oathbringer. The book is just impressive: the artwork is gorgeous and the scale of the physical object reflects the scale of the story (they’re both BIG).

Oathbringer

Sanderson continues to level up in his character-development skills. In Oathbringer, I particularly like how he used character weaknesses to slow down the power-progression of some of the more powerful characters – that seems like a clever way to prevent power creep in book three of a ten book series.

I felt like the best parts of Oathbringer were not huge reveals or twists, as I’ve come to expect from a Sanderson novel, but instead shining character and inter-personal moments. If I could just spend the entire book enjoying Adolin, Shallan, and Kaladin exchange banter, I would do it in a heartbeat.

As I mentioned in my review of Edgedancer, I read that novella right after Lift showed up in Oathbringer. I definitely think Edgedancer is best read before or during Oathbringer for the best experience, but I don’t been like the novella is actually necessary. It’s much like Warbreaker – reading it first makes certain moments better, but nothing is going to be confusing if it’s skipped.

I wish we could get a Stormlight Archive every year, but after reading Oathbringer it’s even more obvious why that’s just impossible. These books are immense in literal word count, in character count, and in scope and scale. As much as I want more of the story, I wouldn’t trade more frequent books for less detail or breadth of story. I love them the way they are!

Heirs of the Force (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights #1)

Heirs of the Force, written by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, was published in 1995 by Boulevard Books.

2 star

Young Jedi Knights was one of my favorite series when I was little. It’s YA (bordering on middle grade, I think), and follows Leia and Han’s children, Jaina and Jacen, as they begin their training as Jedi Knights. It is now out of print and doesn’t seem to exist in ebook form, but copies are available on eBay for five dollars or so.

Star Wars Young Jedi Knights Heirs of the Force

The book is a very fast read and extremely light. The characters – Jaina, Jacen, and their friends and allies – are all shells of interesting characters. They have these aspects that are tantalizing, but in this first book they are written extremely shallowly. If Heirs of the Force were three times the length, it would remain YA but would be a much better and more impactful story. As it is, I only feel any sort of attachment to these characters because of my nostalgia and because I know what their futures hold.

Heirs of the Force was certainly worth five dollars and two hours of time, but I hope the rest of the series gets better – this one was just too short and light to make a good book.

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening

Monstress, written by Marjorie Liu and drawn by Sana Takeda, was published in 2016 by Image Comics. 

1 star

I really struggled with giving Monstress a star-rating. In the end, I decided to give it the rating that reflects my personal opinion, not my critical one. I know that this comic is adored and critically acclaimed, but I just have too many issues with it to have an enjoyable experience.

The story doesn’t make sense to me. There is a lack of coherent world-building that leads to confusion in the rest of the plot. We aren’t provided with any concrete information about characters’ roles, powers, relationships – the only consistent character-building is the spectacular outfits (which, admittedly, are a huge plus). And right when we get to the fourth issue or so, when I finally thought I had a grip on all the factions and characters, an entirely new race is thrown at me, with zero context. Between the chapters we often get info-dumps in the form of academic lectures, but I found the lectures impossible to understand. There’s too much world, too many ideas, and not enough space to make natural and comprehensible world-building possible.

Or maybe I just wasn’t willing to work hard enough for the story?

Monstress

The artwork, for me, is a mixed bag. The coloring is gorgeous, of course, and the setting and visual design are exquisite. But there are also some very awkward misses – moments when human (I think) characters don’t look human, and other moments when action is impossible to understand from the artwork. Of course this could all be deliberate. It certainly added to the horror aspects of the comic.

This is my second attempt at reading Monstress. I desperately want to enjoy it – it’s by a publisher I love, created by two women, and extremely well-regarded. I mean it won a Hugo! But I’m left to conclude that this is just not a comic for me. I can’t believe that most people – who obviously generally love it and rate it very highly – leave the book as utterly confused as I am. I was relieved every time the main cat and the fox boy were on the spread, because those were the only two aspects of the story I really felt like I understood at all.