Tag Archives: 1850-1859

Fables & Reflections (Graphic Novel)

Author: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, vol. 6

My rating: 5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience

Late one night, a blooming artist faces his deepest fears. In September of 1859, a man writes to the paper declaring himself emperor of the United States. For one day out of the year, Caesar leaves his position and takes to the streets, disguised as a beggar, to think and plan beyond the attention of the gods. In 1273, young Marco Polo finds himself lost in a desert sandstorm, beguiled away from the path by voices–real or imagined he cannot tell. On his wedding day, the son of Morpheus of the Endless will find great joy followed by great sorrow, enough to change his existence forever. And through all these stories and more, the presence of Dream weaving through their realities, touching people and altering their minds and hearts–as is the wont of dreams.

Fables & Reflections may just be my favorite Sandman volume to date. It’s quite an eclectic collection. The first good chunk of it–several individual stories–is all essentially historical fiction, more magical realism than true fantasy, really. And I loved the way Gaiman wrote these stories, the way he wove Morpheus into these historical lives and the way he drew attention to lesser known historical figures. The story of Emperor Norton–of whom I had never heard before this–actually moved me to tears. From there, we move to what I would consider more traditional Sandman stories: a kid wandering into the Dreaming, meeting Matthew the raven, and hearing stories from Cain, Abel, and Eve; a highly stylized story of a ruler of Baghdad during its golden age; and perhaps most significantly, a retelling of the story of Orpheus spanning multiple chapters and tying him in with Dream and the Endless directly. The storytelling in all of these tales is absolutely top-notch–clear and insightful and beautifully phrased, basically everything I love about Gaiman’s writing. I also found the art in this volume to be more appealing than that which I typically find in this medium. It’s still definitely a more comic-book style, but the flow is nice, there’s a greater focus on the text (with fonts and such used to great effect), and the coloring is generally appealing; the art suits the stories well. For those who enjoy Gaiman’s writing, I would definitely recommend Fables & Reflection. It’s probably advisable to read the other volumes first, but this could probably stand on its own and be fairly easy to follow as well.

Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, P. Russell Craig, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, Duncan Eagleson, Kent Williams, Mark Buckingham, Vince Locke, & Dick Giordano/Colored by Danny Vozzo, Digital Chameleon, & Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh/Lettered by Todd Klein/Introduced by Gene Wolfe

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Heart of the Dragon

Author: Keith R. A. DeCandidoheart-of-the-dragon

Supernatural books, vol. 4

My rating: 4 of 5

SPOILER ALERT: The events in this book take place after season 5, episode 8, so there are likely to be spoilers for any episodes prior to that. Plus, knowledge of events leading up to that point will be very helpful in knowing what’s going on in this book.

In 1859, an honorable ronin, known as “Heart of the Dragon” for his brave feats, is defeated by a far-sighted demon and turned into a vengeful spirit, one that may one day be of great use to the forces of darkness during the apocalypse. Years later, a young descendant of this ronin discovers how to bring this spirit back and bend its will to his own petty vengeances. The rash of mysterious (and obviously supernatural) deaths that follow become a plague to three generations of Campbells and Winchesters as the spirit returns once every 20 years.

My experience with media tie-in novels has been extremely patchy, with some being little better than poorly-researched fanfiction (minus the fandom) and others actually being great stories in their own right. I thing Heart of the Dragon is a surprisingly good story . . . if you love the TV series and know what’s going on. And I do have to say, watching the show up to season 5, episode 8, is basically essential to really get much out of this book. But within that context, I was actually really impressed and enjoyed this book quite a lot. I felt like DeCandido got a much better feel for who the characters are than he did in his previous novel Nevermore (which didn’t really impress me). The characters don’t just have a few phrases or stereotypical elements that typify them; they act and talk more like I expect Sam and Dean and the rest to act and talk on-screen. Plus, I thought the plot was interesting. I’ve heard people complaining that there’s just too much going on or that only a small portion of the story actually focused on Sam and Dean. True on both counts, but I enjoyed having a story that spanned from Mary and her parents to John and Bobby to Sam, Dean, and Castiel. Plus, the author did a great job of bringing in authentic period detail in relatively subtle ways to help keep the time jumps distinct. My biggest complaints are probably just me being snobby, honestly; for instance, the author uses “Cass” instead of “Cas” for Castiel’s nickname–he claim’s it’s what’s officially in the scripts, but I’ve never seen that actually used anywhere. Why would you even? But truly, I really enjoyed Heart of the Dragon for both its great characterizations and its interesting plot . . . but mostly for the characters.

 

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Mercury

Author/Illustrator: Hope Larsonmercury

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In 2009, Tara Fraser runs through the town of French Hill in Nova Scotia, passing the burned out remains of her old family home–the place she’d lived most of her life. Little could she imagine the deep ties she unwittingly retains with her ancestress Josey Fraser, a girl who grew up on the very same homestead back in the 1850’s. But when Tara finds an unusual quicksilver-containing family heirloom in her mother’s old jewelry box, the ties that connect these two girls begin to reveal themselves, uncovering a history of unexpected fortune and tragedy both.

My experience reading Mercury was really kind of mixed. I really love what the author tried to do here, melding the stories of these two girls. And I think overall the way the story revealed both of their stories side-by-side was very effective. But I found the extreme similarities between them rather forced at times; their own appearances were too similar, as were the relations between them and their best friends (who were also remarkably similar). I guess this is something that works better for the middle-grade audience this seems to be intended for, but it was counterproductive for me as a reader. On the other hand, I did like the characters and their stories. And I loved the setting, both in historic and present-day Nova Scotia–it’s pretty rare to find graphic novels set in Canada, so that’s always fun. The art was nice too, definitely a western (non-manga) style, but in a modern graphic-novel sense, not in an annoying comic-book sense. The other thing I found notable about this story was the touch of magical realism thrown in towards the end of the book. From reviews I’ve seen, this is pretty typical of Hope Larson’s writing, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it, so it really threw me. On the whole though, Mercury was a nice graphic novel, most recommended for a middle-grade or high-school audience, but with enough depth to be appreciable by adult readers as well.

 

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The Gift of Sarah Barker

Author: Jane YolenGift of Sarah Barker

My rating: 4 of 5

It is truly stifling to be a free spirit in a world bound up with rules and ceremony. So Sarah finds to be true living in a highly structured Shaker community where every action is watched and judged. Yet though the consequences may be severe if she’s caught, she still dares to slip away to be alone and delight in the birds and beauty surrounding their small community. Meanwhile, Abel finds himself questioning the same rigid Shaker rules, struggling to match them with both reason and with the rampaging thoughts and feelings that growing up is forcing him through. And when he encounters Sarah, when he truly notices her for the first time, something changes irrevocably in a way that would be direly condemned in their society that forbids nearly all interaction between men and women.

How should I say this . . . The Gift of Sarah Barker, based on its cover, is exactly the sort of book I hate: sordid romance made to seem more thrilling by the danger of a highly disapproving society. If it hadn’t been written by Jane Yolen, I would never have even tried reading it. I’m glad I got past the cover (gross misrepresentation, by the way) and gave the story a try. What I found within was an intriguing historical novel, told in two voices, revealing a fascinating view of a most unusual community. I found out things about the Shaker community in the 1850’s that I had never heard of before, so that was interesting. Moreover, Sarah and Abel are well developed individuals who struggle with all sorts of complex issues (ones that are actually applicable to normal people today) and who have characters that I truly enjoyed reading–not just love-struck obsessives. There is a love story involved, true, but it doesn’t take up nearly so much of the book as I had expected AND it’s actually dealt with realistically. I actually would really recommend The Gift of Sarah Barker, especially to young adult (and older) readers who enjoy historical fiction or are interested in this time period.

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The Braid

Author: Helen Frost

The year is 1850, and famine is sweeping across the land. Worse still, many of the Scottish landlords are finding it isn’t worth their while to continue to allow tenants on their lands. Such is the situation Sarah and Jeanie’s family find themselves in, forced to leave their home and find a new place to live. The family decides to sell what little they can and take the next ship to Canada in hopes of starting a new life there, but Sarah finds her heart so tied to the land that she can’t bear to leave, choosing instead to hide while her family is forced to depart without her. Sarah makes a life for herself with her grandmother on the nearby island of Mingualay, while Jeanie and the others make the difficult journey by ship across the ocean. Yet even as they are separated by great distances, the sisters are connected by precious memories . . . memories they carry physical evidence of in the form of a braid made from their intertwined hair.

Helen Frost does something beautiful and special in the writing of The Braid. She has crafted not only a sensitive and poignant tale of the difficulties the poor faced during the potato famine and subsequent emigrations, but she has also created an intricate, elegant poetic work, weaving dual voices, praise pieces, repeating ideas, and detailed line structure. Yet she has managed to create a work that is still very natural to read–sparse, raw in places, yet rich and expressive. The Braid is an excellent work of poetry, historical fiction, sisterly affection, and romance, all wonderfully woven together into a touching, brief volume. Definitely recommended reading.

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