Artist/Author: Jesper Ejsing
My rating: 5 of 5
Right from the moment I first opened the package containing Elsewhere, my first thoughts were “gorgeous” and “stunning.” The book itself is large and thick enough to have an impressive heft to it. And the cover is the breathtaking painting of a white dragon just lightly looking back at you with a faint smirk. And that’s honestly a good barometer for the rest of the volume. In this beautiful artbook, we are given over 400 pages of absolutely wonderful fantasy art. And right from the start, the author invites us to take the journey into his imagination alongside him–introducing the reader to his method and giving short explanations of the origins of and his feelings about certain works. What a journey, too! Here we see dragons (lots of impressive dragons), watch fierce battles, encounter a variety of strange beings in various habitats, and discover terrifying monsters.
Throughout, I’m impressed by . . . well, a lot of things actually. The sense of movement that Ejsing captures in his paintings, for one. He mentions in here that he tries to capture that moment where the outcome is undecided, where you don’t know who wins, and I feel that is done quite well. The sense of focus and balance is also impressive, feeding into that sense of motion and giving it order and meaning. And that is where these paintings really begin to truly come together and shine–because each one is telling a story, inviting us into a world only the artist can otherwise see. And the characters depicted in the paintings are full of personality and emotion, from their nuanced facial expressions to the movement of their limbs to the widely varied clothing that adorns them. The variety and sheer depth of imagination that is presented here is also impressive, and I have to admit that as a gamer, it will likely provide inspiration to me for years to come. Because so much of this work is tied to fantasy worlds that I know and love, like D&D and Pathfinder, worlds that Ejsing clearly has a passion for as well. My sole complaint about this book is that in a few rare instances, with the two-page spreads, there were some details lost in the centerfold, including important details like the faces of some individuals. But honestly, that is such a minor thing compared to how truly fabulous Elsewhere is as a whole, that it hardly bears mentioning. This is an artbook that I would definitely recommend, particularly to fans of fantasy art and to gamers. And hey, it would make a gorgeous coffee-table book for those of the geekier persuasion!
NOTE: I received a free review copy of Elsewhere from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this review.
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.
Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
My rating: 5 of 5
Julia’s house has just come to town–on the back of a giant turtle!–and settled by the sea. It’s lovely, only the house is too quiet. So what does Julia do? She puts out a sign, an open invitation for the lost, the unwanted, and the unusual to come live with her. And do they ever. Now there’s too much noise and chaos! Good thing Julia knows just what to do.
I have found Ben Hatke’s graphic novels to be utterly charming ever since I first discovered Zita the Spacegirl, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is just that as well–utterly charming. Julia herself drew me in right from the start. I mean, she has a house built on a turtle. She enjoys tea and toast in a delightful room filled with all sorts of interesting objects. And when it’s too quiet, her first instinct is to reach out to the lonely and the unwanted. What’s not to love? Plus, she has a sense of order that appeals to me. The way she models good problem-solving skills makes this a great read for kids as well. The general reading level of the story is quite picture-book appropriate, although I have to confess, I had to pull out the dictionary and look up one of the creatures–so it’s not all super-easy, little kid vocabulary either. The art is delightful, similar in style to that of Hatke’s graphic novels. The color palette is lovely–vibrant but still soft and mild–and the use of space and the amount of visual variety is also pleasant, going from full-page pictures to vast amounts of white space with a single picture and a couple of lines of text. There are even a few places where comic-style panels are used. All told, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is a treat to read that I would recommend for kids and adults alike.
Author: Roger Langridge
Colorist: Fred Stresing
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Nine-year-old Abigail is having a rough time adapting, what with moving to a new home, adjusting to a new school (in the middle of the school year!), and having her dad being so busy with trying to find a job. He can’t even keep their tradition of going to the zoo for her birthday this year! But things begin to look up when Abigail runs into Claude one day at the playground and promptly decides he’s going to be her new best friend. He’s in need of a friend himself, what with being a yeti, escaped from a government research lab and on the run. Good thing adults can’t see him (although kids can, which quickly makes Abigail popular with the other kids at school); only, the people from the government have special equipment that can find him, and they’re closing in fast.
Abigail and the Snowman is quite the unusual graphic novel. For one thing, although it is most definitely a graphic novel in the way it’s set up, I’m also inclined to compare it to a comic strip (because of the art style) and to a picture book (because of the intended demographic and the sort of story it tells). It’s really cute–definitely a feel-good, happy ending kind of story. I feel like it expresses the challenges of a single-parent family going through a difficult move very well–both from the kid’s perspective and from the parent’s–while still giving us a loving, functional family relationship. It also shows a good development of real friendship and loyalty, especially as both parties are brought to the point of making choices that are sacrificial for themselves for the safety and wellbeing of their friend. I would generally say that the intended audience is elementary grade (depending on their tolerance for a certain amount of violence/scariness; parental discretion advised as there are bad guys with guns involved in the story), although middle-graders would probably also enjoy the story. It’s heartwarming enough to be fun in a different way for grownups as well.
AO3 ID: 11052399
Status: Complete (oneshot)
My rating: 4 of 5
Rated T for mild violence, innuendo, language, alcohol, and general Gwaine-ness
When an obviously unnatural beast comes at their small party in the woods, Gwaine uses his astounding observational skills to determine that it’s going after Merlin in a very specific, prejudicial manner. His equally-impressive naming skills go into calling the creature “Geoff” to Arthur’s chagrin. Actually, Gwaine’s just a font of useful skills today, which is good, because Merlin’s in trouble.
So yeah, Gwaine and Smelly Geoff is one of those stories that’s kind of challenging to summarize, and I guess there’s technically not a ton of plot–magical beast attacks, Gwaine &co. deal with the consequences, Merlin is saved, oh, and Gwaine’s not as unobservant as most folks would like to think. Where this story really shines is not so much in its plot development, however, as in its character observations. The entire thing is told from Gwaine’s point of view, and it’s done so charmingly. His personality is just brimming over throughout the whole thing, tongue-in-cheek humor, ambient innuendo, brusque caring, mostly-hidden smarts, and all. And even though the actual plot is kind of serious, because of Gwaine’s humor, the whole story is actually pretty funny to read. Also, major kudos to the author for writing the whole thing in present tense without it sticking out painfully; I was, like, halfway through before I even noticed! This was definitely a fun story and a great character study–recommended.
Note: You can find You’re Sure of a Big Surprise at https://archiveofourown.org/works/11052399.
Author: Jasper Fforde
The Chronicles of Kazam, vol. 3
My rating: 5 of 5
As usual, Jennifer Strange has her work cut out for her. As though being the under-age leader of a successful guild of magic-workers (all older than herself) weren’t enough, now she’s got a flesh-eating monster that they accidentally set loose on the town to catch. And one of her best workers managed to get herself held for ransom in the neighboring kingdom–a kingdom known for being intentionally dangerous. Oh, and she’s got a bratty princess to babysit, AND the most powerful wizard of the past few centuries (he’s lived that long) is threatening war against Kazam unless she finds a mystic jewel that may or may not exist! Time to declare a quest, for sure. Why is life never simple?
Ever since I first discovered Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam, I have consistently been delighted beyond all possible expectations, and I must say that in The Eye of Zoltar he outdid himself. The combination of humor, quirk, and thrilling adventure is balanced perfectly, making this a quest tale with something for everyone. Added to that, you have all the fun and amusing details and satire that so characterize Fforde’s writing, and the Chronicles in particular. The characters as well make this a tale to remember, and even the ones who start out being annoying rather grow on you. (And then you’ve got the characters who start out annoying, grow ever more annoying, and eventually get their just desserts to universal cheers.) Because (spoilers) a large portion of this volume takes place out of country, a number of the characters from the previous volumes don’t show up much–I really missed Tiger’s constant presence, for instance. And I will warn that this volume is kind of dark–not that the previous volumes were all sunshine and rainbows, but you know. . . . In spite of that, I think The Eye of Zoltar is an excellent fantasy, and I would highly recommend it. And hey, it comes with a promise of a follow-up volume which is bound to be more cheerful, right?
Author: Jasper Fforde
The Chronicles of Kazam, vol. 2
My rating: 5 of 5
Her dragonslaying days over, Jennifer Strange has returned to her primary job: managing all the magic workers at Kazam in the absence of the owner, the Great Zambini. Her life is full of typical days of handling high-maintenance have-beens and their egos–and the mountains of paperwork that come with each feat of magic, however minor, that they perform. That is, until Kazam’s rival magic-working company, iMagic, issues a royally-backed challenge . . . one that they will stop at nothing to win.
I very much enjoyed The Song of the Quarkbeast. The plot is solid and character driven, with lots of flavor–a good mix of fantasy, suspense, and mystery with a nice splash of romance, humor, and funkiness. I love the world with all of its quirky parodies of our own. And the characters . . . Jennifer, of course, is wonderful–competent, mature, stubborn, and mildly sarcastic. Lady Mawgon, who you have to love to hate . . . but who oddly grows on you. I think Tiger’s my favorite, though, impertinent brat that he is. In any case, read The Last Dragonslayer first, then read The Song of the Quarkbeast. It will be well worth your time.