Tag Archives: dark

Landscape with Invisible Hand

Author: M. T. Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience (for language and dark themes, but mostly for language)

Young artist Adam Costello and his family remember a time when things were different. But it seems like a long time ago, now. Since the vuvv made first contact, bringing promises of new technology and wealth, well, everything has changed–and not for the better. Sure, the ultra-wealthy who live in close contact with the vuvv may have a pretty comfortable life. But for everyone else, the coming of the vuvv has meant nothing but hardship: economic collapse, no jobs, looting, costs of medicine going through the roof. Everyone is forced to make tough choices, and Adam chronicles it all in paint, watercolor, and VR rendering.

On the one hand, I’m not surprised that Landscape with Invisible Hand hasn’t made a big splash in the YA community or in the literary community as a whole. (I hadn’t even heard of it until I stumbled on it in the library, and the average Goodreads rating is only 3.59.) Because while this is a solid dystopian novel (novella, whatever), it’s hitting towards the end of that genre’s popularity storm and the type of dystopian is just enough off from the mainstream that it’s not going to fly so well. Plus, it’s not all mushy romance and fighting the invading hordes. It’s dark and depressing at times. . . . Which brings me to why, on the other hand, I’m shocked that this book hasn’t taken the literary world by storm. Other than the obvious–this is an M. T. Anderson book, people! Why is it not getting attention?! But back to my point: this book is one of the most intentionally, incredibly artistic books I have read in a long time. It delves into the darkness and reveals the underlying truths . . . and finds the spark of hope in it all. The topics it handles–while couched in terms of an alien invasion–are incredibly timely for readers today, at times painfully so. Not to mention that the writing itself, the actual choice and arrangement of the words, is remarkable. It’s all present tense, sparse, yet artistic, each word carefully chosen that–were it not for the obvious paragraph structure–I might almost have thought I was reading free-verse poetry; it has that sort of feel to it. Even the book design feeds into the whole artistic structure of the whole–the unusual proportions, the cover that looks like an oil painting on canvas, the way each chapter is outlined and titled by the picture Adam is working on at that time. I get that it’s not for everyone, but I would really recommend giving Landscape with Invisible Hand a try, even if the initial premise doesn’t sound so interesting. Because this reach of this story goes far beyond what it promises on the surface.

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The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga)

Mangaka: Hotaru Odagiri/Translator: Melissa Tanaka

Status: Ongoing (7 volumes, although the first 5 are 2-volume omnibus editions, so really more like 12 volumes)

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up in an orphanage, believing his parents didn’t want him, Yuki struggles to find meaning in his existence. Yet even in the midst of his pain, he brings kindness and healing to those around him, perhaps even more so as he begins to develop the ability to see a person’s emotions and past when he comes into physical contact with them . . . although not everyone takes his kind intentions well. But as Yuki’s strange ability grows stronger and other odd things being to happen around him, he encounters a beautiful, silver-eyed man calling himself Zess who seems oddly familiar. Then another beautiful man comes to the orphanage claiming to be Yuki’s long-lost older brother. Not only that, but Yuki actually has a large extended family, all of whom are delighted to meet him, and Zess is somehow connected to them all as well. But all is not well for this family as they find themselves trapped in a centuries long war against dark and evil forces, being endlessly reincarnated to fight over and over again. And Yuki himself is a pivotal figure in this was, the reincarnation of their princess, bringing healing and hope to them all . . . if only he could figure out why he doesn’t remember anything about his previous lives. All he wants to do is bring an end to this war and to the hurt felt by these people he has quickly come to love.

Love this manga soooo much! If you can imagine a mashup of Fruits Basket and Black Butler, you probably have a pretty good idea of what The Betrayal Knows My Name is like. You’ve got the gorgeous art (and people), demon contracts, and mystery/fight aspects that you find in Kuroshitsuji. Then you’ve got the super air-headed and kind MC, the oversized cast, the reincarnation aspect, and the dark family history themes that you find in Furuba. Not necessarily an expected combination, but it works. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and mysterious–but there’s a nice mix of cutesy slice-of-life segments filled with sweetness and humor as well. The cast is huuuuge, so it is admittedly hard to keep track of everyone at first, but as you get to know the characters, they become not only unmistakable but beloved. It’s rare for me to find a story in which I love so many of the characters so very much, which is one of the primary reasons that I give this a full five-star rating. As for the plot, there’s currently a lot of mystery and unknowns that could go in a lot of directions, so I’m curious to see whether it ends up some huge shounen-style fight or a hug-it-out shoujo conclusion or something else altogether. (I’m hankering for a very sappily sweet shoujo ending myself, but I’ll be thrilled just to see this story finished, whatever the conclusion. It’s been on hiatus for 4 years, and I had given up hope that it would every be continued. Soooo . . . happy dance that the mangaka has picked this series up again!) Fair warning that the mangaka is fairly well known for writing yaoi stories, but also firm clarification that this particular manga is not yaoi at all–it sits on the verge between shoujo and josei with aspects of shounen and a mild shounen ai flavor, but it never goes beyond that. So honestly, The Betrayal Knows My Name is generally appropriate–and highly recommended–for any T+ audience. Love it and looking forward to reading the rest!

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Doctor Who, Series 10 (2017 TV Series)

BBC

Status: Complete (12 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The Doctor has made a vow. No more gallivanting off through time and space, no. He’s committed to staying at a  college, teaching a class, all the while guarding the vault hidden beneath the school and the secrets it contains. He could have just managed it, too, if it weren’t for her–Bill Potts, the chip girl from the school cafeteria who’s been attending some of his classes–standing in his office with her eyes full of that rare combination of wonder and wit and compassion and curiosity and  intelligence that The Doctor can never resist. After all, what’s the harm of just one trip, so long as Nardole doesn’t find out and scold him over it.

It’s always interesting (and just a bit scary) coming into a new series of Doctor Who when you’ve got a new Doctor or a new Companion, because there’s a different dynamic that’s not fully developed yet. I quite enjoyed the dynamic that developed between Twelve and Bill over the course of Series 10, however. Bill is unexpected, her reactions sometimes coming from a completely different line of reasoning that what I was expecting. It works, though, and she’s exactly who The Doctor needs at this point, someone who will challenge his way of viewing the world and who will make him feel alive. Adding Nardole into the mix is fabulous as well–I’m soooo glad they kept his character on for this season. His sass and worry-wart attitude serve both to keep The Doctor grounded and to keep the humor in the story, even in the dark points. And yeah, there are some pretty dark episodes here, although there are also some classic running-around-hand-in-hand-saving-people episodes. But I feel like, overall, this season’s a bit darker. It works, though. I feel like Twelve’s personality really shines through well, and he’s forced to wrestle with some stuff he’d rather not confront about himself. Ooh, and we get some more Missy involvement in the latter parts of the series, which is always fun. Also random, but kind of notable, while Doctor Who has always been a haven for diversity, I feel like it’s a more intentional focus in this series, in a good way. I enjoyed Series 10 quite a lot, and am eagerly anticipating the Christmas special–because we got left with quite the cliffhanger ending!

Produced by Steven Moffat & Brian Minchin/Written by Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss, Mike Bartlett, and Rona Munro/Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, & Matt Lucas

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The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch (Graphic Novel)

Story by Neil Gaiman/Art by Michael Zulli/Lettering & Adaptation by Todd Klein

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience/Partial Nudity

Our narrator invites to listen to his tale of a most unusual evening, one he might not have believed himself had he not experienced it himself. A couple of his friends convinced him to come along and help them entertain an out-of-town guest who shall, for purposes of his story, be called Miss Finch–a strange woman to be sure, a biogeologist with an awkward personality and a great desire to see extinct creatures like Smilodon alive in their natural habitat. As fate would have it, the party winds up in a bizarre underground circus of questionable taste, but fate takes a strange turn when they arrive at an exhibit in which one individual is to have their greatest wish granted . . . and Miss Finch is the one chosen individual.

I first read “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch” in Gaiman’s Fragile Things as a short story, which I found quite outstanding and memorable. This graphic novel adaptation is also quite intriguing, staying close to the spirit of the original short story. It’s this strange blend of magical realism and an almost macabre oddness that gets under the skin somehow. Typical Gaiman, that, I suppose–his stories have a way of being unsettling but brilliant in ways I didn’t even know stories could be. Zulli’s art is just perfect for the story, bringing together that darkness and unsettledness and all the totally out there aspects of the circus in a way that fits and ties everything together. I love the departure from a typical comic-book style; it’s more neutral tones and semi-realistic styles that work really well for this story (and are much more what I prefer in general). I would definitely read more of this artist’s works (and am pleased to see that he appears to have illustrated a few other Gaiman graphic novels!). I think for those who enjoy Gaiman’s work or who are looking for a different but quality graphic novel, The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch would be a great choice.

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Scythe

Author: Neal Shustermanscythe

Arc of a Scythe, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

In a world where all the needs of humanity are met, where even death is reversible, Scythes stand apart as essentially the only remaining source of true death. Established as a sacred trust to ensure that the booming and aging population does not completely overrun the earth and exhaust its resources, Scythes kill–or “glean” as they call it–although not nearly enough to mimic the effects of normal death in the past. One such Scythe, Faraday, has chosen to take on not one but two apprentices, in opposition to the traditions of the Scythedom. But the other Scythes turn his decision against him, deciding that only one of his apprentices will survive the apprenticeship, killing the other apprentice. Scythe apprentices Citra and Rowan will not readily bend to this edict, however, regardless of the pressure put upon them–particularly considering the feelings they have for one another.

I know all the premises of Scythe sound really weird and dark and complicated–and they are. A huge chunk of this book is set up and world building and background, which is completely necessary to understand the story as it develops. But Neal Shusterman is such an incredible author that the background doesn’t feel like an info dump at all; rather it’s interwoven as a part of the story such that you don’t even realize you’re being fed these huge chunks of backstory. As for the premise, strange as it is, it works remarkably well and allows the author to focus in on several interesting philosophical and psychological points. In this world, humanity really wants for nothing. Death–however much focus may be put on it due to the Scythes’ part in the story–is incredibly unlikely for any given individual within the next century or so. Even apparent age can be turned back so that a centenarian can appear (and feel) twenty again. In this state, Shusterman draws attention to the stagnation that occurs when people don’t have anything to struggle for, any clock to race against. On the other side of society, he brings in some interesting observations regarding the sort of people who would be chosen to be Scythes–and the effect that such a horrendous job would have on those people. Add to all the interesting world building some absolutely stellar characters and an intense, rather horrifying plot, and you’ve got an incredible book. I would highly recommend Scythe, although I would also caution a certain level of reader maturity due to the violent focus of the story at times. I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume in this set!

As an aside, is the cover of the book not just fabulous?!

 

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Popular Hits of the Showa Era

Author: Ryū Murakami/Translator: Ralph McCarthypopular-hits-of-the-showa-era

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE (21+)

A random act of violence ignites a war between two previously laconic and loosely organized groups of individuals.  On the one hand, a group of young men who gather together for no particular reason and whose highest aspirations are to peep on the neighbor through the window and sing karaoke on the beach. On the other, a collection  of somewhat older women–“aunties” if you will–united by nothing more than a common personal name. But as hatred of the other group sparks, both the young men and the aunties suddenly find themselves united against each other, motivated and inspired in ways they’ve never known before. And the heat of that fervor drives them to find more and more creative ways to rain destruction on the opposing party.

I initially found Popular Hits of the Showa Era through a review by Arria Cross@Fujinsei–which you should go read right away, because it’s excellent and informative and also fun. One of the things Arria mentions about this book is the dark humor of it, and I can totally see that it is written to appeal to a dark sense of humor. Personally, I didn’t find it funny (sorry), but I can very much appreciate that there are people to whom this book would be absolutely hilarious in a disturbing sort of way. But even though I didn’t find it humorous myself, I still found this book enjoyable in other senses. For one, it’s an intriguing commentary and satire on contemporary Japanese society, and just the flavor of the culture is interesting. Even more so, I found the psychological exploration of the book to be fascinating–the way in which the characters were just drifting through life and also the way in which this conflict affected them, making them feel alive and purposeful. I kind of think the author’s telling us something dangerous and terrifying but also important about humanity here. And I have to warn, this is NOT a book for everyone, and I would advise to approach it with caution. Because it is very, very violent. Bloody and gory and explicit and violent. There’s purpose for that in the story; it isn’t violent just for the sake of being violent. But it’s still there, very much in your face for the entirety of the story. Finally, I did want to comment on the title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era. Each chapter title  is the name of a song that was popular during the Showa Era, and that song flavors and flows throughout the chapter in one way or another–not that it has a huge effect on the story itself, but it’s a nice touch.

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Clockwork

Author: Philip Pullmanclockwork

Illustrator: Leonid Gore

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a small German town, a group of townsfolk gather by the fireside in the tavern to hear a story. And a horrifying tale it is, in keeping with the usual for Fritz, one of princes and strange happenings and creepy clockwork makers. But things go from typically frightening to truly terrifying when said creepy clockwork maker walks right into the tavern in a gust of wintry air as if he’d stepped right out of Fritz’s story by magic.

I love Philip Pullmans’ writing, both the craftsmanship of it and the variety of it. I think Clockwork might be surprising–and possibly disappointing–to those who know his work mainly from the His Dark Materials books. Rather than being some big fantasy tale, Clockwork is a tightly woven, neat little fairy tale of novella length. And viewed as what it is, I think this book works excellently. The characters are distinct, and you get to know exactly what you need to about them to really appreciate the roles they play in the story. And the interwoven storylines fit together while still leaving just enough unexplained to maintain the eeriness of the story. The atmosphere and the tension that’s developed throughout is one of the strongest points of this story, to my mind–one of the reasons this works best as a novella, since this atmosphere would be impossible (or at least exhausting for the reader) to maintain through a longer story. Finally, this book has the makings of an excellent fairy tale: the sense of rightness, the magic, the darkness, and the happy ending. For those who love a good dark fairy tale, I would definitely recommend Clockwork.

 

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