Tag Archives: school story

Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

The Numair Chronicles, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Arram Draper is one of the youngest students at the Imperial University of Carthak, sent there by his family to hone his Gift–before he accidentally burns up everything they own! It swiftly becomes clear that his Gift is special, powerful, enough so that he rises quickly through his classes to get special training with advanced teachers, along with his best friends Varice and Prince Ozorne. As if being friends with a prince didn’t come with enough complications on its own. Not to mention the problems Arram gets into once he gains the attention of various gods and other supernatural beings. It’s pretty clear that he will never really fit in, not that he really wants to, but as Arram experiences more of the troubles facing Carthak–the threats to the Imperial succession, the horrific place that slavery and gladiatorial entertainment play in the nation–he finds himself more convinced than ever that he can’t stay in this country, even if it means leaving the people who mean the most to him.

I love Tamora Pierce’s writing, always. And Numair has been a favorite character of mine in her books for quite a while now, so it’s pretty cool getting to go back and get his backstory. Having said that, in the past, I’ve always watched characters grow up into legends in her books, so it’s a bit weird to know the legend first and then go back to that character’s childhood. (He even has a different name as a kid, although we’re already introduced to that fact in some of Pierce’s other Tortall books.) It works though, and I feel like his character is consistent while allowing room for his growth into the adult Numair that we know and love. It’s neat to get a look closer look at Carthak, and at this time period in this world’s history, too, since most of the stories we get are set in Tortall and are a bit later chronologically. As far as the general storytelling, if you like Pierce’s writing, you’ll like this. It’s solid, engaging, character-driven fantasy writing with an easy, gradual pacing, lots of character development, and a unified plot. Lots of room for development in future volumes, too. At its core, Tempests and Slaughter is a school story, so a lot of it revolves around Arram’s classes, teachers, and friendships, as well as a bit throughout about the physical and emotional changes he goes through during this time and the complications of handling that without a real father figure around to talk about it with. So, warnings that there may be some content that’s a bit old for elementary/middle-grade kids . . . okay, considering the exposure Arram has to the gladiator’s ring in later parts, I’d make that a definitely. Recommended for high-school and up, but definitely recommended.

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The Freshman (Visual Novel)

Pixelberry Studios

Status: Complete (4 books)

My rating: 4 of 5

It’s the start of your freshman year at Hartfeld University, and the future is bright. You’ve got a suite full of fun, interesting people who seem to want to be friends . . . maybe even more than friends. Hey, maybe this will be the year you find love! Either way, there are great relationships to build. But not everything is perfect–you’ve got sorority drama, financial crises, a cranky mentor/boss who wants to use your personal drama for his own ends. In fact, things get pretty complicated pretty quickly.

The Freshman is a choose-your-own-adventure sort of visual novel available through Pixelberry’s Choices app. I have to say, I really enjoyed this game. It brings out both the drama and the excitement of college, the thrill of defining yourself, building friendships, and making choices that will determine your future. I feel like they did a good job of making the main character–the girl you play–both developed as a character and open to interpretation based on the choices you make. That’s a hard line to determine, but I think the way they did it works. I definitely enjoyed the other characters as well; you’ve got some strong personalities, but it makes for an enjoyable mix. Although yes, also waaaaay more drama then I ever had at college, thank you very much. The creators manage to keep it fun though, mixing in humor and sweet moments in the midst of the drama and angst. In addition to all the school activity and drama going on with your group of friends, this is also a romance story (some might say it’s primarily a romance story, although I think it’s possible to stay single throughout if you so choose) with three dating choices. Again, I felt like this was fairly well-balanced against the rest of the game. The art and music were well done, and the text/interface are easy to interact with. Honestly, my only complaints are the main complaints I have with the Choices app itself–primarily that certain choices cost diamonds, and it’s impossible to get enough diamonds to afford all the choices you want to make without spending actual money. But I found I was able to enjoy the game in spite of not having the diamonds to choose everything I wanted to, so it doesn’t negatively affect the story too much. I would recommend The Freshman to anyone who enjoys a slice-of-life sort of story and to those who like western (as opposed to Japanese) visual novels.

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Giant Days, vol. 3 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar/Lettering: Jim Campbell

My rating: 4.5 of 5

School politics and a mysterious individual who won’t show his (her?) face manipulating the players behind the scenes. Relationship drama on multiple fronts. Camping trips! Old friends stopping in to visit. The wonky world Susan’s brain enters after too many days with nearly no sleep. Find all that and more in the third volume of Giant Days!

As with the first two volumes, volume 3 of Giant Days delivers quite the charming, quirky slice-of-life drama as it looks into the daily lives of Susan, Daisy, Esther and their friends Ed and McGraw. It consistently follows the first two volumes in the delightfully odd look at college life, the relatable and fabulous characters, and the wonderful art that so characterize the series as a whole. I enjoyed especially that the first chapter is an Ed-centric one, giving us a closer look into his life, as well as McGraw’s. Also, although it was totally random, I loved the “Night World” visuals when Susan, and later Esther, get to that point where reality warps due to lack of sleep–the trippiness of the art there is really fantastic. And, while much of the story in this volume is pretty episodic, with the characters kind of scattered at points, the last chapter where the three girls go on a camping trip together loops us back to the beginning, to that wonderful connection and relationship that these three have. This volume managed to be relatable, full of feels, and also laugh-inducingly funny, sometimes within the same page. Recommended. (Warnings for a major cliffie at the end, though!)

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Giant Days, vol. 2 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The holidays are here! Which means it’s time for the ball–vintage dresses and relationship faux pas abound. Then the university is closed, and everyone is supposed to be at home resting and celebrating with family. But Esther and Daisy received an emergency text from Susan, and they have made their way to Northampton to rescue her, from what, they know not. And when the girls get back to university after the holidays, what awaits but the dreaded exams . . . it would probably help if Esther had actually bothered to attend class for most of the previous semester. Meanwhile, Susan is keeping secrets from her friends, and Daisy has developed a weird Texan alter-ego. Naturally, zaniness ensues.

The second volume of Giant Days follows faithfully in the steps of the first volume, dealing a strong combination of relatable, cute slice-of-life story with some pretty hilarious comedic randomness. I would say that I liked this volume slightly less than the first volume, but that’s a matter of levels of brilliance rather than of good versus not good. The characters are strong, developing their personalities even more and branching out to show us more of each of the girls on their own, while still giving us a good chunk of page-time with them together. (Personally, I would have preferred more time with them together, since that’s when they really shine, but it’s neat to see them developed individually as well.) We also get more involvement and character growth for both McGraw and Ed, both of whom I’m growing to love almost as much as I do Susan, Esther, and Daisy–which is quite an accomplishment. Seriously, at the risk of sounding repetitive, the level of character development for all five of these characters is just stunning. It makes me very happy to read it. So does the art, which is just perfect for the story–bright and expressive and kind of casual. Highly recommended.

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Giant Days, vol. 1 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrator: Lissa Treiman/Colorist: Whitney Cogar

My rating: 5 of 5

Susan, Daisy, and Esther became fast friends when they began their university studies together. Yes, they all have their individual quirks–you could even say that they’re very different from each other. But perhaps it’s those very differences that make them good for each other, that help them through the complications of studies, relationships, illness, and drama that plague them along the way. Certainly, those quirks keep things interesting, as long as they can survive living in Esther’s drama zone, dealing with Susan’s mysterious past, and helping Daisy handle the big, scary world despite her (shocking) innocence.

I think I’m in love! Giant Days is everything I ask for in a graphic novel. The art is charming–a contemporary style similar to, say, Nimona or Seconds or even Kibuishi’s work, but with its own unique flair–and the coloring is just perfect–vibrant but not overdone. And the tone of the story is spot on, giving us a current, relatable slice of life story that touches on deep issues but never goes so far that we lose sight of the lighter side of things. And there’s plenty of the lighter side to be found here; this graphic novel is brimming with humor in abundance. There’s just enough quirkiness to the characters and the situations they find themselves in to appeal to the nerdier audiences, but the story is such a solid, timely slice-of-life story that I think a lot of YA/NA readers will find themselves charmed by this work as well. The characters are strong and interesting, and their depiction is vivid and captivating. I’m excited to see what Giant Days will bring in future volumes.

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Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (2015- Cartoon)

Zagtoon with Method Animation, Toei Animation, SAMG Animation, AB Droits Audiovisuels, SK Broadband, & De Agostini Editore

Status: Ongoing (2 Seasons, 34 episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

In present-day Paris, Marinette deals with the same things most students do–friends, schoolwork, crushing on the cutest boy in the school. Not that Adrien seems to even notice her particularly, although it would help if she could actually talk to him without tripping all over herself and looking like an idiot. But that’s not all she deals with, because you see, Marinette has a secret alter-ego–the superhero Ladybug, sworn protector of Paris along with her partner Cat Noir.

Miraculous Ladybug was a fun, unexpected find for me, something I’ve heard other people mention but didn’t have high expectations for myself. It’s a French kids’ CGI adventure show, and it’s pretty random for something like that to even cross the radar in the States anyhow. Not surprising, though, considering that this show is actually quite good. It pulls from a lot of different sources, giving it a unique flavor–kind of a mix of mahou shojou and your more traditional superhero stories, but also a cute slice-of-life story. The CG can feel a bit stilted at times, but overall the animation is excellent if not my ideal style; it still has some cute anime influences, which is fun. This story is solidly a kids’ show. It’s clean–astonishingly so, in fact. It has the repetition, the set episode pattern, to make it ideal for a younger audience (although that very thing may get kind of annoying for older viewers). By the end of each episode, everything is cleaned up and put back right, and the city views Ladybug and Cat Noir as proper heroes. Moreover, the show teaches important life lessons like responsibility, honesty, and courage. All of which make this an excellent show for children, but there is actually something there for older viewers, too. Because behind the masks and the cheesy villains and all, you’ve got some awesome characters who show growth over time. You’ve got diversity. You’ve got an adorable slow-burn romance. You’ve got real, developed friendships and Marinette has an awesome, supportive family. So there’s more than meets the eye in this cute kids’ show. I’m looking forward to seeing where Miraculous Ladybug goes in the future (I’ve only seen season 1 so far), although I’m dying for some development and a reveal between Adrien and Marinette. We’ll see if/when that ever comes.

Created by Thomas Astruc/Written by Thomas Astruc & Sébastien Thibaudeau/Directed by Thomas Astruc, Christelle Abgrall, Wilifried Pain, & Jun Violet/Music by Jeremy Zag, Noam Kaniel, & Alain Garcia/Voiced (in English) by Cristina Vee, Bryce Papenbrook, Keith Silverstein, Mela Lee, Max Mittelman, & Carrie Keranen

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Page

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kel has survived her first probationary year as the first female page in the Tortallan court. Now she only has three more years to make it through as an officially recognized page before she can become a squire–and those three years promise to be grueling, full of hard physical work, intense study, and opposition of her choice to remain coming from all sides it sometimes seems. Not to mention a young maid who’s come under Kel’s protection and a collection of first-years demanding her time and assistance. But Kel is nothing if not stubborn and determined.  And the truth is that she does have friends to support her, from those among the other pages to her growing collection of animal friends to her secret benefactor who keeps on sending her far-too-expensive but always practical gifts. Somehow or another, Kel is determined to stick with it and make it through these three years.

As always, in Page, Tamora Pierce delivers an incredible story full of great characters–including a strong, relatable female lead–moving plot challenges, fantastic animal characters, and a simple, flowing, enjoyable writing style. I basically just love her writing, period. Page is kind of different from some stories in that it doesn’t so much have a huge, overarching plot path–other than the passage of time over the three remaining years of Kel’s page training. Which isn’t to say there isn’t plot; there is, quite a lot in fact. It’s just set up with a more episodic feel, and also in places with the passage of time simply flowing away without much note. I know that doesn’t sound so exciting, but I actually quite enjoyed the way in which it’s written. It explores how much Kel grows up in the course of those years, discovering her own womanhood, exploring how her gender plays a part in who she is and how she lives, her changing feelings over time, her growing as a person and a leader, her developing friendships, and the growth in her character. Page is a different sort of story, but highly recommended still, perhaps even because of that very reason. Plus, you know, Tamora Pierce, always recommended, period.

 

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