Author: Neil Gaiman
The Sandman, vol. 5
My rating: 4.5 of 5
WARNING: Mature Audience
Barbie used to be married to Ken, and now she lives in a New York apartment building next to her best friend Wanda who used to be a guy. Barbie is a princess traveling with her animal friends on a quest to save her kingdom from the evil Cuckoo. Both worlds are real . . . or maybe neither is? But as her two realities bleed into each other, Barbie finds herself locked in a fight for survival and depending on her friends in both her worlds.
A Game of You is definitely a trippy ride, perhaps the most trippy of any of the Sandman books I’ve read so far. Which isn’t to say that it’s not good; it most certainly is. It’s just that describing or defining it presents a share of challenges. For one thing, this whole volume deals with a lot of symbolic significance that I am wholly unqualified for (and uninterested in) discussing, so on that topic I’ll just say to read the preface by Samuel R. Delaney in the 2011 edition. It’s brilliant and really helpful in understanding a lot of the symbolism. But even if you don’t feel like delving into all that, A Game of You is just a great story, taken simply at face value. You’ve got interesting characters, an almost Alice in Wonderland sort of feel to parts, plots, magic, worlds ending, ancient promises being honored–with Morpheus watching over it from a godlike position. I can’t explain it properly, but this volume really feels like a Gaiman story in the best sense; the writing, the characters, all of it has the flavor and depth that I really love in his writing. As for the art, it still holds to a more traditional comic book art style, so I don’t exactly love that. Not that there’s anything wrong with that style; it’s just never been my preference. Having said that, the art is certainly well done, and the style works well with the storytelling, plus there’s some great use of coloring and lettering styles to emphasize the meanings in numerous places. Overall, A Game of You is an excellent addition to the Sandman stories, and I continue to look forward to reading the rest of the series.
Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch, & Dick Giordano/Colored by Danny Vozzo/Lettered by Todd Klein/Introduced by Samuel R. Delany
Author: Sydelle Rein
FanFiction ID: 8249420
Status: Complete (21 Chapters)
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Something is off about Merlin; Gwaine can tell. And he’s determined to find out what. When he does discover what’s going on, it’s a bit more than he was expecting–blackmail, evil plots, oh, and Merlin has magic, that’s new. Not entirely surprising, though. In any case, Gwaine’s determined to help his friend out whether Merlin wants help or not. Of course, that might have worked a bit better if they had both had a complete grasp of the nature and magnitude of the issues they were facing.
If you’re looking for a good Merlin fanfic, Sydelle Rein is one of the top writers I would recommend. And Iron Grip is admittedly one of my favorites even among this author’s excellent body of work. The writing is very readable and enjoyable, the plot is credible and true to the conceptual style of Merlin in general. And I love the way the author fleshes out Gwaine’s character and the friendship between Gwaine and Merlin. I mean, their friendship is one of my favorite things about the TV show to begin with, and there is definitely not enough of it in the show. So seeing it developed more here is fabulous. I think the author did a good job of balancing that with Merlin’s relationship with Arthur as well–the bromance and banter is still definitely present. As is Gwaine’s picking on Arthur, which is lovely and very funny. Overall, Iron Grip is a nicely balanced and very enjoyable fanfic which I would certainly recommend.
Note: You can find Iron Grip at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8249420/1/Iron-Grip.
Author: V. E. Schwab
Shades of Magic, vol. 2
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Lila Bard has already done the impossible, slipping along with the Red London Antari Kell from her own world into his. Now she’s pushing the limits even further, finagling her way onto a privateer’s crew and studying magic–a skill she couldn’t possibly have any ability for, only she does. Meanwhile, back in London, the city is teeming with people all preparing for the great Essen Tasch, a huge magical tournament between powerful competitors from three neighboring countries. Prince Rhy is in charge of the preparations, and as usual, he is throwing himself into the spectacle with gusto. But he and Kell both feel a deep underlying tension as they continue to discover new, uncomfortable ways in which their life-connection links them. And if something isn’t done to let off some steam, they’ll both be likely to go off in some unseemly manner–probably sooner rather than later.
A Gathering of Shadows is the excellent sequel to V. E. Schwab’s hit story A Darker Shade of Magic. First off, I do have to note that you really need to read these in order; there’s a lot you won’t catch in this volume that is explained much more clearly in the first book. Secondly, I must say that A Gathering of Shadows well lives up to the standards of the first volume–possibly even exceeds them. It is really quite a remarkable book. The characters, who I loved from the first volume, are given a greater chance to bloom. Lila, in particular, shines in this book as her personality and thought processes are more fully revealed. We get to see a lot more of Rhy as well, which is fun. And the rakish captain Alucard Emery is introduced in this volume, adding another interesting dynamic to the cast. As for the plot, you’ve got two major threads, the first and the one that plays the largest role in this book being the games themselves, and the second more insidious being a plot seeping over from White London. Looking at it in retrospect from a birds-eye view, the plot is actually a bit gawky, but it doesn’t feel that way at all in the midst of reading it. It flows gorgeously. Where I did run into issues with the plot is at the end–the second plot doesn’t get a chance to resolve, and you’re left with this huge cliffhanger. So. I loved A Gathering of Shadows, but I’m don’t know how I’m going to wait for the next volume to be published. If you haven’t dived into this series yet, I would say go ahead and read the first volume; it ties up quite nicely at the end. But just save this volume until the third comes out, pick up both of them, and just plan to read straight through them both.
Author: V. E. Schwab
Shades of Magic, vol. 1
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Kell lives in a London where magic is the norm, where children play games involving testing their magical abilities from the time they’re young. But unlike any other citizen of his world, Kell has been to other Londons where things are very different. You see, he is an Antari, one of the last, an individual who has the ability control the magic that allows one to cross between the worlds. As a loyal subject–and adopted prince of what he terms “Red London”–Kell works for the king and queen, delivering messages to the royalty of the other Londons, “Grey London” and “White London”. He’s been known to carry other items across the boundaries between worlds as well, which is technically illegal but also profitable and exciting. Kell’s smuggling habits become a bit too exciting, however, when a package turns out to be a trap. And the help of an unmagical, Grey London girl may be his only hope for surviving the ensuing mess.
Okay, so you’ve all been telling me for . . . what seems like ages that A Darker Shade of Magic is amazing. So I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, and I agree. I probably should have read it before, but there you have it. V. E. Schwab crafts quite the exciting and enjoyable story. The writing style is very approachable, with a good balance of description and action. I really appreciated the third-person style that the author used; you see so much first-person writing now that a well-done third-person story is quite refreshing. One of my only complaints about the writing is the use of different languages for people from the different worlds–and I totally get why this was used, it was just annoying to me to try to read unpronounceable words that I ended up just skipping in the end. Minor issue on the whole, though. The characters were fantastic, and I really grew to care for Kell, Lila, and Rhy by the end of the story. I also really loved that the story developed in the way it did–worlds-impacting choices and meaningful camaraderie as opposed to unnecessary and forced romance (which I see way too much of). I would definitely recommend A Darker Shade of Magic for those readers out there who haven’t read it yet, and I’m certainly looking forward to reading the subsequent volumes of this series–as well as anything else I can find by the author.
Authors: Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience
Fey sisters Serana and Meteora have lived in ageless, carefree youth for uncounted years, but that all changes when one of them accidentally reveals their Queen’s most carefully kept secret. In punishment, the both of them are stripped of everything they have always relied on: youth, beauty, magical power, the freedom of the Greenwood, even the presence of each other. The two are dumped into the human world, miles apart, in the forms of fat, powerless old women. And so, they must find a new way to live, blending in with humanity and seeing humans in a new light. But even the Queen’s curse can’t keep them wholly separated, and in the midst of this new life, the two sisters find new purpose and unity.
So, I’m normally a huge fan of Jane Yolen’s writing, but Except the Queen just didn’t hit me right. I still liked it–a 3-star rating is still a definite like–but I probably won’t ever read it again. I even suspect it’s actually quite a good book, but still. . . . The first part of the story, while they’re still in the Greenwood, was very difficult for me to get into; I had to force myself to read the first 6 chapters or so. It was only after Serana and Meteora became a part of the human world, as they became more human themselves, that I found them at all possible to relate to. The actual structure and build-up of the story was quite good–I think if it had been written just a bit differently (maybe by just Jane Yolen; I’m not familiar with Snyder’s writing), this could have easily been a 4.5- or a 5-star read. I did love that a good chunk of the story is told in letters exchanged between the sisters, and that’s probably one of my favorite aspects of this story. One of the biggest negatives was that the story is told from numerous perspectives that flop from first person to third person to (very weirdly, and just for the Queen) second person. It’s kind of off-putting. Still, for those who don’t mind a few issues along those lines, I do think that Except the Queen is an original, intriguing sort of contemporary urban fantasy that melds intrigue, romance, and the sweet daily lives of two little old lady sisters quite nicely.
Author: Heather Tomlinson
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Once upon a time, four children were the best of friends: three humans, a boy and two girls, and one fae, a drac who loved mischief and gave the other three a salve that allowed them to see the true form of the fae. Years passed, and the four grew apart. Princess Aurelie lost her mother and became caught up in great responsibilities as her country descended into war. Her dear friend Netta was blinded by another fae, angered by her ability to see him truly, and now she refuses to leave her quiet country town. Loic, the drac, is convinced that his friends abandoned him on purpose and has isolated himself in the world of the fae. And Garin has returned to his home country with his parents–a country that is at war with the land of the princess he loves. Yet none of them have forgotten their affection for each other, and as circumstances rage around them, the four find themselves once again drawn together. . . . And just perhaps, the bonds they share will be enough to save them all.
Having never read any of Heather Tomlinson’s work, I was intrigued by the cover and summary of Aurelie, which promised something along the lines of a new fairy tale or maybe a retelling. I really wasn’t expecting the story that unfolded, though–a politically-charged, romantic fantasy along the lines of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner’s writing. I loved it! The plot and the prose are tight and sure, making this a short but engaging tale. The multiple perspectives (of all four friends) work very well in this context. I found it particularly intriguing that Tomlinson chose to give first-person perspective to the three “secondary” main characters–Netta, Garin, and Loic–while writing Aurelie’s perspective in third person. It’s unusual, but it works; I actually didn’t notice until a good ways into the story. The slightly French feel to the story gave it an interesting flavor as well, something more along the lines of Perrault’s fairy tales as opposed to the Brothers Grimm, say. Aurelie was exciting and sweet both, full of unexpected turns and great characters, and I would highly recommend this story, especially to those who enjoy the works of authors like Pierce and Turner.
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody Mysteries, volume 14
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The year is 1917, and the war is beginning to make travel extremely difficult. Not that that’s about to keep Amelia and her brood out of Egypt. Defying any danger with a stiff upper lip, the Emersons make their way from England back to their archaeological digs near Luxor, only to find that local tomb robbers have discovered a previously-unknown tomb . . . one they suspect might be royal. Of course, the family deems it their duty to find this tomb and protect it before the robbers completely clear its contents. Meanwhile, the family is kept busy on other fronts keeping Ramses away from the War Office and their attempts to bully/persuade him into doing more secret service work behind enemy lines. Amelia’s certainly got her hands full–and couldn’t be happier!
As with all of Peters’ Amelia Peabody books, The Golden One is a delightful admixture of mystery thriller, archaeological adventure, and historical romance of the best sort. Her portrayal of the setting is detailed and skillful without being burdensome–you get what you need to appreciate the setting, but she doesn’t spend pages on unnecessary description. The balance of the historical setting–the war and such–against the Emersons’ personal lives and interests is also excellently done, suiting the largely first-person style of the narrative. I also enjoyed in this volume having the contrast between Amelia’s own first-person voice–very Victorian, feministic, and full of personal witticisms–and the extracts from “Manuscript H” which are told in third-person from Ramses’ and Nefret’s perspective. The generation gap is clearly evident, and the contrasting perspectives are easily distinguishable and provide additional helpful information about what’s happening at any given time. Also interesting about this particular volume is the duality of the plot: one thread focusing on Ramses’ mission into the Turkish lines as a spy of sorts, sandwiched between two other sections focusing on the Emersons’ archaeological work and attempts to find the new tomb. It’s a bit unusual for these stories, but it works quite well. All in all, I think The Golden One is an excellent archaeological mystery for anyone even remotely interested in that genre, as well as for anyone just wanting an exciting and engaging story. Also of note, as this is the fourteenth volume of the series, it definitely includes numerous spoilers for previous volumes, but if you don’t care about that, there’s certainly enough background in the book itself to read it independently without needing to read the others first.