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.
Author: Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Illustrator: Goñi Montes
My rating: 4 of 5
Jack is special. Ever since he was little, he’s been able to see shades of those who have died, but things got even weirder when he was in 5th grade. He says it’s like he’s got spikes on his back that ghosts can grab onto and stick around. This is the story of his first three ghosts, the ones who changed his life forever.
Ghost Hedgehog is the first of Hoffman’s stories that I’ve read, and I have to say that it’s whetted my appetite for more. The story is creative and interesting, with a timeless feel that’s broken only by the occasional reference to a cell phone or suchlike. The writing style is accessible and down to earth, very enjoyable to read. It’s told in first person, focusing on a small period of time when Jack was eleven, although the tone of the writing is more mature than that–like maybe he’s looking back as an adult to how he got where he is. This story’s pretty short and could easily be read in one sitting. The ending leaves a promise of so much more, though, whether in the reader’s imagination or in other stories. I would certainly be interested in reading a sequel and definitely plan to try more of Hoffman’s books. Recommended.
Note: This is a Tor.com original story and can be purchased digitally or read only for free at https://www.tor.com/2011/11/16/ghost-hedgehog/.
Author: Grace Ellis
Illustrator: Shae Beagle
Moonstruck, vol. 2
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Werewolf barista and (secretly) aspiring author Julie and her friends score an invitation to a fairy frat party. It’s one of the hottest parties of the year–literally. The entire frat house is bespelled to be a little piece of summer in the midst of Blitheton winter. Fortunately, Julie’s girlfriend Selena is smart enough to keep their entire group from eating or drinking anything. Julie’s friends, the idiot band that the run into at the party . . . not so much. Two of the band members manage to get themselves stuck in the frat house, unable to leave unless the entire band performs at the fraternity’s next party–which would be a lot easier if Mark would get his scrawny vampire butt back to the fraternity instead of refusing to go anywhere near. Naturally, because they’re way too accommodating, Julie, Selena, Chet, and Manuel somehow find themselves trying to sort this all out, only to find themselves caught in a bigger plot–a party war between two separate fairy fraternities. As if they didn’t have enough drama and complications to sort out between themselves already!
I really love the cute fluffiness of this graphic novel series. If you’re in the mood for epic, intricate plots and high stakes, this isn’t really the story you should be picking up. But if you want sweet relationships where the characters are trying to make it work, even as they deal with real struggles like trust issues, then Moonstruck is perfect. Of if you love casual urban fantasy, where all sorts of magical/supernatural beings live normal lives playing computer games, working in coffee shops, playing in bands, and hanging out with friends. Some Enchanted Evening does a good job of showing the growing relationships between this group of friends while providing some solid humor (Mark is an idiot–the whole band are idiots–and Chet’s whole Newpals thing is ridiculous but also amusing). Again, the plot isn’t so much a high-stakes, intense thing, although it does push the characters to deal with some of their issues, which is nice to see. It really does seem like it’s setting us up for something major in the next volume or two, though, especially Cass’s ominous and untold visions being thrown into the mix. The art is consistently super-cute–lots of pastels and fun extras thrown into the background. Recommended.
Author/Illustrator: Keezy Young
My rating: 5 of 5
Being a ghost, Blue had missed human interaction . . . until he found Hamal, a guy who can actually see and talk to ghosts. The two quickly become friends–okay, Blue maybe has fallen a bit in love–and the small gardening shop Hamal works at soon becomes a popular hangout for a number of lonely ghosts. But something dark is creeping into the area, and Hamal seems to be at the center of it all. How far will Blue have to go to protect the guy he cares for and the other ghosts?
Taproot was one of the most charming, refreshing stories I’ve read in a while. Originally a webcomic, it’s now available as an updated single-volume graphic novel. But yes, it has that independent, webcomic sort of feel, which is delightful. The main characters are just absolutely lovable and sweet; like, I wanted things to work out well for them right from the start. And, not to give away too many spoilers, but I promise, they do get their happy ending. The art is really nice–distinctive and attractive. I really love the mix of bright colors with dark, especially the way the panels are overlapped to provide a fade-in at certain points. It’s used well to emphasize the contrast of light and darkness in the plot itself. As for the plot, again, a good mix of feel-good fluff and eeriness that resolves well and left me feeling happy. Taproot is the perfect sort of story for when you need something short to cheer you up and make you believe in hope again.
Author: Grace Ellis
Illustrator: Shae Beagle
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Julie lives in a world where magic and mundane go together seamlessly–for instance, her best friend and fellow barista Chet just happens to also be a centaur. Or at least Chet was a centaur, until they tagged along on a date with Julie and her new girlfriend Selena to a back-alley magic show . . . where the magician stole their magic and left them a normal human. Horrors! Now the friends are on a mission to trap this magician and get Chet’s magic back before any more magical people are hurt.
Moonstruck was one of the sweetest, most charming graphic novels I’ve read in a long time. Right from the start, the cute art and pastel palette are just delightful. Add in the marvelous variety of character designs, not only in the main characters but also in the background, and you’ve got a story that’s visually engaging and charming. There’s a huge amount of diversity presented here, too, but (major kudos to the creators) in a way that feels natural and relatable, not forced or contrived. The characters are who they are, and I love them for it. As for the story, a great deal of it is character building and relationships, both romantic and friendships–lots of great friendships here, and the love story is sweet. Add in the coffee-shop dynamic and some light-hearted humor, and you’ve got a pretty cozy story. But then you’ve also got a certain amount of adventure, as these friends deal with Chet’s loss of magic and their subsequent tracking down and defeating of the magician. It’s a good balance. Probably more than anything, I love the characters and how they deal with real, complex emotions and situations. I love that Julie deals with worries and uncertainty, and I really want to see her backstory explored more in future volumes–like, we know she’s not all about being a werewolf, but why does she not like that about herself? In any case, I would definitely recommend this first volume of Moonstruck, and I’m looking forward to reading more.