Tag Archives: fantasy

Field Tripping (Graphic Novel)

Authors: James Asmus & Jim Festante

Illustrator: José García

Status: Ongoing (2 issues/5 projected)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Mrs. Flubbins’ class is off on another exciting field trip in their magic bus, ready to explore whatever wondrous adventure their teacher has in store today. It starts off great, exploring a world where you can experience all four seasons in a single day . . . until they find that this world also has man-eating plants. Then their controls get messed up, and they find that they can’t get home. The class ends up jumping from world to world . . . for seven whole years. Those of them who survive, anyway, although even they find themselves irreparably changed. Still, for all that Mrs. Flubbins hasn’t saved them, she’s still the adult in their lives and they look to her for guidance–until their teacher’s captured by pirates, and they have to save her instead.

Field Tripping is–quite frankly–a trip, and I kind of love it. The beginning harks strongly back to The Magic Schoolbus, like, almost uncomfortably so. Only, this graphic novel goes darkside pretty quickly. It’s like the authors are imagining what all could have gone wrong in a situation where a teacher takes her students without their parents’ knowledge on field trips using magic–like, realistically (as realistic as one can be in such a hypothetical, fantastic situation), that’s dangerous and sketchy at best, right? This story plays that up, with most of the students being dead by the end of the seven-year gap, and the survivors being cursed or stuck in magical armor or transformed into a bear or something crazy like that. But it’s not just dark and dour–actually, it’s not really dour at all. Because the personalities presented here are just plain funny, especially since these kids have basically grown up together at this point and know each other really well. And the authors do a good job of adding in situational humor to keep it from being overwhelmingly dark. The art is fabulous as well, and plays into the atmosphere and balance of it all quite well. Field Tripping has been an extremely interesting story so far, and I’m quite interested to see how the rest of it plays out. Recommended.

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These Unfinished Creatures (TAZ: Balance Fanfic)

Author: marywhale

AO3 ID: 12434553

Status: Complete (6 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

Rated T; Mature Audience, because please, consider the source material, okay?

VICTORIAN GOTHIC AU. The Raven Queen has sent Kravitz to Neverwinter to track down who keeps stealing souls from the astral plane . . . undercover as a living human, which is crazy weird considering he hasn’t been alive in centuries. At first, even remembering to breathe is a chore, but he soon manages to blend in, taking a job as an assistant at Hecuba’s funeral parlor. It’s a good cover, even though he’s still not making much (any) progress in his investigation. When Hecuba’s ex and his friends hold a funeral for their friend, Taako, things get weird. No one’s mourning properly, the militia comes to confirm Taako’s really dead–something about being wanted for poisoning a bunch of people? And this Justin person who shows up and deals with the militia for the family is really distracting. Not to mention, this group of friends seem to be investigating something on their own that closely ties in to Kravitz’ own investigations. . . . Might be an opportunity to crack the case and get to know this Justin person better at the same time.

First off, I have to say that I adore marywhale’s The Adventure Zone fanfic just in general. The writing is great, the ideas are creative, and the characterizations are excellent and in character–appealing but not shying away from the characters’ faults. These Unfinished Creatures  is one of my favorites. I love the whole Victorian Gothic atmosphere, for one; it works surprisingly well with these characters and especially in a story focusing on Krav and the Raven Queen so much. I enjoyed how their relationship is portrayed as well, including how different Krav’s perspective on it is from that of Taako when he sees them together. The relationship/romance between Krav and Taako (because, of course, “Justin” is Taako and the funeral was fake, naturally) is sweet–and just as bumpy and messy as these two goofs can possibly make it. The mystery is well plotted and interesting, although the culprit is kind of obvious if you think about it; however, said culprit makes a good villain (I already hate him in canon), so it works. The other supporting characters are also excellently done, particularly Lup and Barry (yay!), and it’s really fun to look in on this group from what’s essentially an outsider’s POV. Plus, I just love the development that goes into Krav’s character here; he’s such an adorable nerd and I love marywhale’s interpretation of his character. Seriously, just read this fanfic, then go read all her other stories. They’re fabulous.

Note: You can find These Unfinished Creatures at https://archiveofourown.org/works/12434553/chapters/28300203.

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The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, Vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Author: Usata Nonohara

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In what seems to her to be only a short sleep, young alchemist Mariela finds herself 200 years in the future. You see, she put herself in a state of suspended animation in order to survive a huge monster stampede, but something went wrong and she slept waaaay longer than she was supposed to. Upon waking, Mariela finds that the world around her has changed significantly; the monster stampede destroyed a lot of the town where she lived, alchemy is no longer commonly practiced in the area, and the potions that she once was barely able to subsist by selling are now a premium item. Only, she’s going to have to be careful and keep her abilities secret from all but a select few if she wants to settle into a quiet, everyday life like she wants to.

The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life is a mostly tranquil seinen slice-of-life fantasy light novel. I enjoyed its easygoing pace, the fairly extensive worldbuilding, and the “just ordinary folks” characters that grace its pages. There’s definitely a lot of focus on (what is for Mariela) the mundane–gathering ingredients, going shopping, making business deals, meeting people, making potions. I can see that being boring for some people, but I found the placid pace to be relaxing. There were, however, a few things that I didn’t love about this story. For one (and this is quite possibly just me), I found it a bit hard to get into the story right at the start. Also, the author tends to repeat certain bits of worldbuilding information when concepts crop up in different chapters, making me tend to think the sections may have been originally published separately. In any case, it can get mildly repetitive. Additionally, while Mariela’s perspective in the most common (and best, in my opinion), the author does throw other characters’ perspectives in, sometimes seemingly at random, and it’s sometimes hard to tell where one stops and the other starts. My final issue with this story is that slavery is a part of this world, so much so that characters we’re clearly intended to see as “good people” are actively a part of the slave trade. And that just morally bothers me, even though the author builds up excuses like the only slaves are really bad criminals and such. It still gets under my skin. Still, on the whole, I enjoyed this story–enough so that I went ahead and picked up the second volume to start right away, so. . . . Recommended for fantasy lovers who enjoy a quieter-paced, slice-of-life sort of story.

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Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill, vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Author: Ren Eguchi

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Mukouda was perfectly happy enjoying a quiet life in Japan with convenient food delivery right to his door and fun web novels to read on his weekends off work. But somehow, he got accidentally caught up in a hero summoning to another world . . . only, his stats are waaaay weaker than the others who got summoned, plus the kingdom that did the summoning is incredibly sketchy seeming to him. So, since he can’t go home, he decides it’s time to set off into this new world on his own. Turns out, his summoned stats may not make him a hero, but they do come in pretty handy–especially the random ability to order food and other supplies from the same online market he used back home, which are not only delicious but, when consumed in this world, also have cool and unexpected stat benefits!

In one sense, Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill is your typical isekai light novel, and yeah, there are so many of those around now that it’s kind of getting boring. But in another sense, it’s rather unique, which gives it a certain appeal. Like, the main character comes into the story fully aware of what’s happening–he’s actually read enough web novels about this sort of thing happening that he’s just like “nope” and runs off to do his own thing. Mukouda is an amusing combination of lazy and clever, such that he uses what he has–his online market skill, his ability to cook, his connections with others, whatever–to make his life more reasonable, guarantee his safety, and even turn a profit. A lot of the story is just him cooking and interacting with others about food, so if you’re not into that, you’ll likely find this pretty boring, although there’s definitely fantasy monsters, magic, fights and other isekai tropes here as well. But yeah, a lot of the stuff he makes even comes with paragraphs that are basically recipes describing how to make the thing. On the whole, it’s a very casually paced, easygoing sort of story, nice for when you’re looking for something relaxed. Other than the cooking stuff (which some folks may like and others not, obviously), the only big complaint I had was that there are so many unusual ways for depicting communication that it got kind of tangled and confusing at times–one specific character gets bold font, thoughts get another, telepathic communication gets another, oracles from a goddess another, plus with normal communication the speaker is sometimes only indicated in parentheses at the end of the statement. It’s a little annoying, but I got used to it as I read more. Generally, I would recommend Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill if you enjoy casual isekai stories and don’t mind the excessive focus on cooking; it’s actually a pretty fun story.

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Shadow Magic

Author: Joshua Khan

Shadow Magic, vol. 1

My rating: 3 of 5

Thorn just wanted to find his dad and bring him home, but somehow he’s been kidnapped by slavers, bought and made squire by the executioner Tyburn, and dragged off to the shadowy kingdom of Gehenna where the dead are rumored to walk. Meanwhile, Lilith Shadow (Lily to the friends she mostly doesn’t have anymore) has been forced to take up the mantle of leadership over Gehenna following the tragic death of the rest of her family. Political tensions, forbidden magic, loveless engagements, betrayals, and murder run rife as these two teenagers try to find a way through the chaos.

I should point out right from the start that most people seem to like Shadow Magic more than I did–my dad loved it enough to pass it on to me, and the average rating on Goodreads is a 4.14 at the moment. And I did enjoy the story for the most part in the moment, although I also have a number of issues with it. It’s a fast-paced read that never takes a breath–seriously, you’re thrown from one perilous situation to the next the entire time, which does increase the story’s stickiness and engagement factor but isn’t really the best way to go about doing so. And honestly, overall, the story just feels kind of tropey . . . although, maybe that’s not even quite right. It’s perfect, but in a way that feels like the author tried too hard, like it was run through an algorithm of “what should be in a story” and all the major plot points were spit out from there. Which, again, really isn’t fair because I know the author worked hard to be creative and original, but that’s just the feeling I come away with. There were certainly things I liked–the concept of an ancient giant bat, the spitfire princess  who breaks the rules, the boy who dares to defy those above him in station and befriend the princess. (But let’s be real, even those are kind of tropey . . . well, except the bat. That’s just plain cool.) Other things like the division of the kingdoms based on traditional elemental classes or the naming of everything in Gehenna based on dark, mythological things that are meaningful to some readers but have no contextual basis in the story world . . . I just don’t love those aspects of the story. As for the big whodunit mystery, it seems pretty obvious, and the red herring thrown into the mix just feels unnecessary. I guess I should remember that this book is written for a middle grade audience and is supposed to be exciting, fast-paced dark fantasy, but I would have still liked to see more real character development, some actual humor, a few moments to just pause and breathe. Not on my top recommendations, although it was an ok read and I think most people would likely enjoy it more than I did.

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Burnt Sugar (Short Story)

Author: Lish McBride

Firebug Story

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Ava and her friends Ezra and Lock are on a job–for the magical mafia, which, not their choice really but definitely their norm at this point. It ought to be a fairly simple task, present a sufficient show of force that the witch they’ve been sent to deal with pays up. Not too hard when you’ve got a werefox, a half-dryad, and oh, a girl who controls fire on your hands. But of course, things are never simple for these three.

I adore Lish McBride’s novel Firebug, so it was with delight that I discovered this digitally-released short story set in the same world and following the same three main characters. Chronologically within the story’s timeline, “Burnt Sugar” actually predates Firebug and gives us a good picture of an (honestly) pretty average mission for these three. Which isn’t to say the story’s average, by any means. It’s exciting and suspenseful, with a great sense of humor and some amazing friendships. Seriously, I just love these three and the relationship they share so, so much. And really, a plot that involves gingerbread houses, health-conscious witches, and a girl who can summon fire with just a thought–what’s not to love? Also, if you’re not familiar with this author/series and would like a sampling, “Burnt Sugar” actually provides sufficient information to appreciate the characters and what’s going on, while avoiding being a straight-up info dump. (Granted, if you’ve read Firebug, some of the information provided is unnecessary, but not annoyingly so.) I would definitely recommend this short story, honestly to a broad audience, although particularly to fans of quirky, funny urban fantasy.

Note: While this story is available for digital purchase, you can also read it for free on Tor.com at https://www.tor.com/2014/12/10/burnt-sugar-lish-mcbride/.

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Nobody Likes a Goblin (Picture Book)

Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke

My rating: 5 of 5

Goblin is enjoying a nice quiet morning in the dungeon, hanging out and having fun with his friend Skeleton, when a group of adventurers randomly burst in, cause a ruckus, and take everything–including Skeleton. Goblin is determined to get his friend back, even though his neighbor warns him that nobody likes a goblin and he’ll only find trouble out in the wide world. And while he does find trouble aplenty on his quest, he also finds his friend . . . and a whole bunch of new friends as well.

I am convinced that Ben Hatke’s books are basically perfection, like, all of them. They’re cute and quirky and innocent and heartwarming in a way that just grips you and pulls you in. In Nobody Likes a Goblin, we’re presented with a flip-side of a common enough story. As both a D&D player and a reader of fantasy novels, I’m quite familiar with the whole adventurers raiding a dungeon thing . . . just not typically from the perspective of the dungeon’s typical residents. Generally, we’re led to think of goblins, skeletons, and such as villains (to, in fact, not like them); yet in this story, these characters are innocent protagonists while the adventurers are the troublemakers. Expectations are challenged, and (while not explicitly stated as such) a certain racism is revealed and also challenged in this story. And Goblin and his friends are presented in such a heartwarming, charming way that you can’t help but root for them. The art in this story is lovely as well, giving additional charm, atmosphere, and character to the work as a whole. Nobody Likes a Goblin truly is an adorable, beautiful picture book that I would highly recommend.

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Gravity Falls: Lost Legends (Graphic Novel)

Author: Alex Hirsch

My rating: 5 of 5

Welcome back to the weird, wonderful town of Gravity Falls for a collection of never-before-told tales! Follow Dipper and Pacifica as they go where no human has been permitted before (not that they were actually invited) in a quest to retrieve . . . Mabel’s stolen face. Or join the gang as they dive into the wonderful world of comics, breaking all genre boundaries (and the fourth wall) in search of Grunkle Stan. Watch in wonder as Mabel faces the challenges of dealing with none other than . . . herself? And enjoy a peek into the childhood adventures of the older Pines twins. Weirdest of all? The whole thing is narrated by none other than Gravity Falls’ own Shmebulock!

I enjoy this graphic novel so much! I’ve read Lost Legends three times so far, and it has yet to grow old. Because honestly? This book is basically the series, and when does that ever grow old? Seriously, these four stories are slated as tales that were just a bit too weird to make the cut for the cartoon . . . but I could totally see them being there. Not that I’m sad they ended up as a graphic novel instead, though. They’re perfect for this medium, especially the story where they go into graphic novels as part of the plot. It’s hugely fun to see the various styles on the page, going from old-school comics to manga to gritty contemporary stuff to superhero comics–plus the visual effect when they fall into the margins and cut through the pages. It’s great–probably my favorite story of this set. Throughout all four stories, we see the characters being very much themselves and in character. But we also get character growth, which is also amazing. At least two of these stories take place late in the series (one of them post-Weirdmageddon), and it shows. Pacifica begins to come into her own and make choices that aren’t totally based on her family’s approval. Mabel begins to realize how over-the-top and kind-of selfish she can be. Just generally the characters are fabulous and the stories are a lot of fun. Highly recommended to fans of the cartoon.

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Minor Mage (Novella)

Author: T. Kingfisher

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Oliver knew he wasn’t very impressive, only a twelve-year-old minor mage with three spells, an armadillo familiar, and a bit of herb lore. But he was all his small village had, and he did his best by them. Which is why it hurt all the more when it stopped raining and his small community turned into a mob, ready to force him to go to the Cloud Herders in the mountains to go get rain–because scared and ill-prepared or not, he had already been packing to go.

I’ve heard good things about the work of T. Kingfisher (pen name of Ursula Vernon) in the past, and having read Minor Mage, I get why. This novella (or short novel, nearly) is a delightful fantasy tale in so many ways. The main character isn’t some big, impressive individual who has it all together. He’s just a kid who tries, who cares what happens to others and does his best. So the story has an approachable “everyman” sort of feel to it. The writing is approachable as well, comfortable to just dive into and enjoy. And what a tale poor Oliver gets himself involved in! He’s got monsters trying to eat him, bandits kidnapping him, and a crooked mayor falsely accusing his friend. But that’s just it–he makes a friend along the way, a really interesting individual as well. Plus, there’s the armadillo, whose sarcastic humor and insight are a blast. And really, who would write an armadillo familiar? It’s brilliant. As far as intended audience, I do have to side with the author in saying it’s a children’s book, although one that could be greatly appreciated by adults as well; however, I can totally see how most adults would consider it too dark and violent for kids as well so . . . parental guidance recommended, I guess. In any case, I would definitely recommend Minor Mage as a fabulous fantasy coming-of-age story, and I’m planning to try more of the author’s work.

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In the Shadow of Spindrift House

Author: Mira Grant

My rating: 4 of 5

Harlowe and her friends have been there, done that. They’ve made a name for themselves as teen detectives. Solved cases adults wouldn’t touch, even some paranormal ones. But now they’re growing up, and Harlowe feels like they’re losing something, maybe losing each other. So in one last try to keep the group together and make it work, she brings them something special: a haunted house, tied to her own family history and possibly to her parents’ deaths, with a huge payout if they manage to find the original deed and find out who the house really belongs to. None of them can resist. But they aren’t the first who have ventured into the house. Who’s to say whether they’ll be the first to succeed and make it back out alive?

I really enjoyed In the Shadow of Spindrift House, a paranormal novella by Seanan McGuire, written under the pen name Mira Grant. Right off the bat, I loved the idea of teen detectives who have grown past the point where they can call themselves that, who have already had their popularity and are no longer cute. I mean, you see stories about kids going around solving mysteries and doing crazy stuff all the time. But what happens when those kids grow up? Are they able to adapt, or do they keep doing that crazy stuff . . . only now, it will get them killed or arrested or something? Just saying, it’s an interesting idea to play with, and I thought the author addressed it well, putting this solidly in a new adult fiction kind of genre. Only with lots of eerie paranormal stuff going on. I also liked the way the mystery and the atmospheric creepiness gradually built, tiny details adding up over the course of the story. The author also did a great job of creating characters and relationships that I cared about–enough so that certain parts of this story actually hurt, so fair warning there. There’s a certain lack of definition to some of the paranormal elements of this story, and I still can’t quite decide if there was enough definition, or if I would have preferred a bit more clarity. For instance, there’s a good bit of effort put into building the themes of nature and the sea, and we definitely can tell a lot just from that and from the historical stories that Harlowe and her friends uncover. But we never get a name for what we’re dealing with, or an actual explanation, or anything like that. So I guess I’d recommend this book for those who prefer things a bit more mysterious and open-ended. I would definitely recommend In the Shadow of Spindrift House, though, and I certainly intend to try more of the author’s writing.

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