Broxo (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Zack Giallongo

My rating: 3 of 5

Warrior princess Zora has left her home without her family’s knowledge, traveling to the distant land of the Perytons, hoping to win an alliance for their peoples. But she arrives to find a land deserted and desolate . . . or, well, deserted except for the monsters and zombies that keep trying to eat her. Then this boy shows up, all full of attitude, saves her life then just walks away with his huge monster/pet. Obviously, Zora’s going to follow him in an attempt to get some answers. But the boy, Broxo, who boldly calls himself king of the land, either has no answers or is unwilling to offer any. Clearly, something strange is going on here, and despite being warned to leave, Zora’s not about to go without getting to the root of what’s happened here.

For first impressions, Broxo wasn’t a bad graphic novel, but it didn’t really grip me or win my affections either. It’s got a fairly contemporary graphic novel style, as opposed to a classic comic book or a manga style. The visuals work, for the most part, although I must confess that it took me a moment to realize that Zora was actually a girl. In general, the style is just kind of more “boyish” if you will, rougher lines, strong movement, that sort of thing. If this were a manga, it would be distinctly shounen. The colorization supports that same feeling, although this is definitely intentional, with dark, neutral colors being dominant in this desolate place. The characters, again, weren’t bad but didn’t particularly win me over either. Partially, this is because the reader is dumped into the story at a point where everything is happening to the characters, but you’ve got no backstory, no reason to relate to the characters, nothing. So I didn’t really feel for their situation like I should have, at least not until much later in the story. Zora and Broxo’s relations with each other were weird, too–at one point awkwardly distant, at another fighting or working alongside each other as if they’d known each other for years. I guess part of that may be intentional, since they do seem to be at that awkward age where emotions and social skills are just all over the place anyhow, but it still made their relationship kind of hard to understand. And the whole mystery thing was weird, although some of the adventure parts of the story were interesting in a shounen sort of way. So yeah, Broxo definitely isn’t my favorite graphic novel ever, but it wasn’t especially bad either. . . .

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Facing the Truth (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Sanguine Ink

FanFiction ID: 9431009

Status: Complete (18 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

On the way back to Camelot after ridding an outlying village of dangerous monster (and of course, Arthur just had to leave his nice magic sword home when dealing with a scary magic monster), the king and his knights find themselves ambushed. Arthur finds himself separated from his knights by a magical wall of fire, and naturally, Merlin finds a way through the fire wall to Arthur, is unwilling to risk Arthur’s life by fighting, drinks the poison that suppresses his magic, and gets himself stuck in a dungeon with his king (who is also his best friend, whether he admits it or not). And oh hey, they’re not actually after Arthur at all; they want Emrys and his powers at their beck and call. Oops. Merlin may not get out of this one with his secret intact.

I have to say that I really love the way this author writes Merlin and Arthur. I mean, the writing style in general is fabulous–easy to read and grammatically correct, yes, but also just really fun to read. But beyond that, the characters are excellent. They are definitely in character, but more than that, they are the best of their characters. You get tons of Merlin sass and a good bit of Arthur attitude as well. What’s more, you get inside Merlin’s head, so you get all his little sarcastic comments to himself that are just brilliantly funny. And the bromance between them portrayed here is great–the same feeling as the best parts of the show and their interactions there. While the other characters are not involved in this story as much (what with Merlin and Arthur being locked up together then traveling together for a good chunk of the story), when they do show up, they also evoke the best of their characters in the show, the things about them that I love the most. As for the plot, it’s a nice balance of whump and hurt/comfort combined with adventure. There’s enough actual plot to keep things interesting, and it’s really cool to see Arthur’s development as he adjusts his ideas regarding magic and actually communicates with the magic users in his kingdom. Plus, you’ve got a really awesome battle scene at the end which is quite original and engaging and generally amazing. Merlin is totally badass, and it’s super cool. I think Facing the Truth exemplifies the best of a lot of the things I love most about the Merlin fandom, and as such, I would highly recommend it.

Note: You can find Facing the Truth at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9431009/1/Facing-the-Truth.

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Mighty Jack (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke

Colorists: Alex Campbell & Hilary Sycamore

Mighty Jack, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Jack’s summer promises to be anything but enjoyable–his mom’s working extra this year to support her kids, so Jack’s left to take care of his sister Maddy who never talks and needs extra-special care. He can’t even spend the time he’d like making friends . . . and that girl who lives down the street and practices swordplay in the yard sure does look like she’d be an interesting friend. A family trip to the flea market  changes everything, however, as an unusual man sells Jack a pack of weird seeds, promising they’ll change his life. They certainly do that! For one thing, Maddy gets remarkably excited about these seeds, pouring herself into planting and taking care of them. For another, well, the seeds sure do seem to be magic–as in, some of them get up and move, some have faces, others explode or give you special abilities if you eat them. Crazy cool stuff, but pretty dangerous, too. Enter the sword-swinging girl from down the street. Lilly is entranced by the incredible things Jack and Maddy have growing in their back yard, and she knows how to deal with the more dangerous stuff. Maybe this summer won’t be so bad after all.

Wow. I have loved Ben Hatke’s work ever since I first read Zita the Spacegirl, and Mighty Jack was certainly not a disappointment. It sort-of plays off the whole Jack and the Beanstalk story, only it’s re-imagined to such an extent that it doesn’t really feel like a retelling at all; it’s brilliantly original. As with the Zita stories, the characters, art, and story are all fresh and rich, colorful and inviting. It all just draws the reader in in such an enjoyable way. I loved all three of the main characters, the way they fit together, the way they grow throughout the story, the way their flaws influence the progression of the story, all of it. Extra perks to the author for strong female characters, for a cool homeschooler, and for including a character with autism, all of whom are a rich part of the story. I loved Jack and Maddy’s mom and Lilly’s brother as well–yay for developed and interesting supporting characters. Bonus points for the cameo of characters from the Zita stories–the guy who sells Jack the seeds and basically jump starts his whole story is a crossover character, and his placement in this story was fun. Regarding the art in particular (besides the obvious fact that it’s awesome), I loved Hatke’s skill in giving subtle expression to the characters, especially in the way he showed so clearly how Jack is just at the age where girls are becoming interesting and how he totally has a crush on Lilly, but how their relationship grows to be so much more than that. It’s powerful, how much he can express with so little. Also, I totally love the color palette used in this graphic novel. Mighty Jack is a graphic novel that I would highly recommend for anyone, regardless of age, although it’s technically children’s fiction–great story that I’m looking forward to continuing in future volumes.

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Millions

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 3.5 of 5

We all have our own ideas about what we’d do with a huge cash windfall, but it’s not often that someone actually gets to see how they’d really react. Of course, Damian’s probably not your typical individual in any case. Ever since his mother’s death, he’s been trying especially hard to be good–no, to be excellent–learning about the saints of old and doing his best to imitate their ways. So when a huge bag of pounds falls from the sky near a train track only a few days before the switch over to euros, Damian’s sure it’s a gift directly from God. His big brother Anthony (the more worldly and financially interested sibling) isn’t so sure, but he’s more than willing to help Damian spend the cash. Only, how much can a kid actually do with a bag full of cash, really? Soon inflation floods their school as they pay large amounts for trinkets and small favors. And they can’t make truly large purchases without a grownup, it seems. Even charitable donations online (Damian’s idea) require a credit card. So all in all, an interesting experience, but not nearly as satisfying as they’d hoped. And when other people begin to get suspicious of the brother’s good fortune, it seems their windfall may be far more trouble than it’s worth.

I’ve said many times over, and I’m sticking with it, that I love Frank Cottrell Boyce’s writing. Having said that, Millions–while certainly enjoyable–was not nearly as enjoyable as his other books. I think part of this is just that it’s his first book and things are still kind of coming together. Part of it was just the characters; I didn’t personally connect to them as much as to some of his other characters. And yeah, a big part of it is the weird, metaphysical aspect of Damian’s obsession with saints, to the point of having visions and people thinking he’s nuts at times. The way it’s presented, I would almost consider the genre to be magical realism . . . only, it’s not magic, it’s more supernatural . . . ? So I’m not quite sure what to even consider that, but it’s kind of weird, and the weirdness of it flavors the whole story. I enjoy the author’s books much more when they tend to the extreme tall tale and exude huge amounts of geekiness, on the whole. Still, the basic writing style was definitely Boyce’s, and thus, was quite enjoyable to read–in that regard, if you like his other books, you’ll probably like this one. Also cool was the historical perspective on the changeover from the pound to the euro in England and all the hubbub and excitement that entailed . . . or so I would say if England had actually made that change, but since it still uses that pound to my knowledge, that’s just kind of weird, too. Still, a good perspective on what this sort of change might entail and probably did involve in other countries. I do also appreciated the differing perspectives on finances and the value of wealth, including the realization that money is honestly kind of empty in the end, even if it can buy lots of cool stuff. So yeah, Millions was definitely an interesting and enjoyable read, even if not quite on par with the author’s other works. Still recommended as a solid middle-grade story, for sure.

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What the Mind Forgets (Supernatural Fanfic)

Author: Revhead

FanFiction ID: 12459300

Status: Complete (33 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience/21+ for significant slash & trigger warnings for rape/non-con/heavy whump

Spoiler Alert: may contain spoilers through season 11/AU after this point

Sometimes, it seems like the Winchesters just can’t catch a break. After only four months of wedded bliss, Dean goes missing, leaving a frantic Cas and Sam behind searching for him, with no success. Seven months later, Dean turns up on the side of a road, half-dead and with no memory–not of who he is, of hunting, or even of the people who mean the most to him. Heartbroken, but determined to do what’s best for Dean, Cas agrees to stay away from him and allow him the chance at a normal life, one not filled with monsters and a broken past laden with regrets. But what Sam and Cas don’t realize is that the one thing Dean doesn’t need right now is to be left alone.

I have to admit, I’ve been rather hesitant to review this story. Because really, it’s extremely intense and graphic at points, and yeah, there’s a lot of sex. But at the same time, What the Mind Forgets was an extremely well-written story, one that was thoughtful and moving and captured the characters well. So here’s the review, but read the story only with that in mind. Also do know that, as the author points out, there is a valid happy-ending stop point at chapter 22, so if you stop there, you have a few loose ends, but you miss the worst of the ick and violence–although there’s still a lot of sex up to that point. This is primarily a slow-burn romance story about two guys who are married, after all. Which is a really interesting starting point, in my mind, starting AU at the end of season 11 and instead of the whole BMOL and having Mary back, giving us a fully-human Castiel and a bit of downtime for him and Dean to have some happiness together. It’s sweet, and it makes the ache of Dean’s amnesia that much more intense. Now normally I hate the amnesia trope, because that’s usually exactly what it is–an overused and poorly handled plot device that messes with an otherwise decent story. Not so here; the author highlights all the emotional and psychological issues of Dean’s amnesia both from his perspective and from Cas’s in a well-thought-out manner. The loss, the confusion, the pain of seeing someone you know only they’re not really the same person at all inside. It’s heartbreaking. But it’s also really sweet, seeing a new relationship developing between Dean and Cas, seeing Dean trying so hard, seeing the gradual transformation in Castiel. I really loved that–enough to make it well worth the reading in spite of the above warnings, and I’m looking forward to reading more of this author’s work.

Note: You can find What the Mind Forgets at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12459300/1/What-the-Mind-Forgets.

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride (manga)

Mangaka: Kore Yamazaki/Translator: Adrienne Beck

Status: Ongoing (7 volumes currently)

My rating: 5 of 5

For her entire life, Chise Hatori has been able to see fey and spirits, beings that no one around her was even aware of. You can imagine the troubles she’s had because of it. Now she finds herself orphaned and sold at auction to a strange magus with a rather horrifying skull-like visage. But surprisingly, Elias (the magus) doesn’t want to just use her for her powers–although it turns out she has some rather rare and significant powers indeed. Rather, he invites her to live with him in his home in England and apprentice under him. And gradually, Chise blossoms, going from a sad old woman convinced she brings misfortune to everyone around her to the youthful girl she should be, capable of loving and caring for those around her with a smile. And she’s not the only one who’s changing because of her presence there.

Apologies for the cruddy summary; this has to be one of the weirdest and most difficult to summarize stories I’ve come across to date. One of the reasons I’ve not read this before–most of the summaries I’d read sounded pretty awful. The trouble is that The Ancient Magus’ Bride is different from basically any manga I’ve read before, although there are certainly elements that remind me of other stories. It has a good bit of back story that develops gradually, for one thing. Also, a great deal of the story is a gradually developing drama that reads almost like a slice-of-life story–just with magic, lots and lots of magic. I really love the flavor of the magic that’s used here; it’s heavily tinged with older English folklore, enough so that it’s easy to forget sometimes that this is actually set in contemporary England. I would say that the story’s flavor is equal parts Fullmetal Alchemist (which is totally weird, I know), xxxHOLiC, and English folklore–it sounds crazy, but it’s a really beautiful combination in practice, kind of a josei/seinen magical slice-of-life story. I absolutely love the way the characters grow and develop over the course of the story, as well as the ways their relationships change over time. It’s both heartwarming and dynamic. The art goes along with this well, being unique and attractive in a clean, seinen sort of way. I would highly recommend The Ancient Magus’ Bride, and I look forward to what the mangaka will bring with the remaining volumes.

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A Christmas Prince (2017 Movie)

Netflix & Motion Picture Corporation of America

My rating: 3 of 5

In the search for her first big scoop, fledgling reporter Amber Moore (and does anyone else find it hilarious that her last name is still Moore here?!) travels to the small European kingdom of Aldovia to cover the coronation of Prince Richard. Or his abdication.  The prince does have a reputation as a bit of a playboy, and nobody’s really sure if he’ll step up and fill his late father’s shoes or not. Through an unexpected mix-up, Amber finds herself mistaken for Princess Emily’s new tutor, giving her unprecedented access to the royal family up close and personal. And what she finds is not at all what the rest of the press had led her to expect.

First off, I can’t believe I actually watched this; it’s exactly the sort of Hallmark-y film that I usually avoid like the plague. . . . But Rose McIver is kind of irresistible, and moreover, she actually manages to make the movie palatable.  It is very much your expected cheesy Christmas romantic drama, with loads of improbability, predictability, and sentimentality. Even the music and the camera filters used scream “classic Christmas film”–as in old, maudlin film. Yet surprisingly, I found myself liking the characters. McIver does a great job (the one thing that’s not surprising) portraying her character, drawing out the uncertainty, clumsiness, awkward curiosity, and compassion of Amber quite effectively. Ben Lamb’s portrayal of Prince Richard is more expected but still well done, and I quite enjoyed Honor Kneafsey’s work as young Princess Emily and her growing friendship with Amber. Other than that, there’s not much I can say–I enjoyed A Christmas Prince, which is more than I can say for most films of this sort, but I also found it to be pretty typical of the sentimental Christmas movie genre on the whole, for what that’s worth.

Written by Nathan Atkins/Directed by Alex Zamm/Produced by Amy Krell/Music by Zack Ryan/Starring Rose McIver, Ben Lamb,  Honor Kneafsey, Tom Knight, Sarah Douglas, Daniel Fathers, Alice Krige, & Tahirah Sharif

 

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