Tag Archives: steampunk

EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Angry Robot SF and Fantasy Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle is offering a selection of books from Angry Robot, featuring a variety of science fiction and fantasy titles. Personally, I’m not familiar with any of the stories of the authors, although I have at least seen The Lives of Tao (included in this bundle) around. Regardless of my familiarity, these titles appear to be different enough to be interesting, if only for the sake of variety and novelty, and thus may be worth checking out. Several of them appear to be paranormal or steampunk mysteries of one sort or another, which could be quite enjoyable.

If you’re interested, you can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/sf-fantasy-angry-robot-books?hmb_source=receipt_page&hmb_medium=product_tile&hmb_campaign=mosaic_section_1_layout_index_2_layout_type_threes_tile_index_2.

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Personal Demons

Authors: Tom & Nimue Brownpersonal-demons

Illustrator: Tom Brown

Hopeless, Maine, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Hopeless . . . both a place and a state of being on this cursed island off the coast of Maine. It is a place where the sun never shines, a place that invites demons–both metaphorical and actual. Salamandra is found alone (apart from the creepies) in a huge gothic house. Not a place to leave a child, so she is brought to an orphanage where she fits in not one bit. In her friendless state, she is approached by a smiling girl . . . whom no one else can see.

Personal Demons is not your typical graphic novel, that’s for sure. It’s more atmospheric rather than action oriented. And the atmosphere is done brilliantly. The whole setting is this eerie, dark gothic island inhabited not just by people but by all sorts of oddities that appear inspired by Hieronymus Bosch himself. The art is beautiful but atypical. (I believe this started as a webcomic, and there’s the freedom and individuality of style to this graphic novel that you would expect in a high-quality webcomic.) It’s done almost entirely in a dark monochromatic palette, barring a few flashes of brilliant color to emphasize the presence of magic (and yes, there’s definitely magic in this story). For the art, the concept, and the actualization of the concept I would have to give this book a 5 out of 5 rating. Where it fell flat for me, personally, was in the story itself. I didn’t fall in love with the characters, and the plot was not particularly original . . . thus the 3.5 instead of 5 stars. Still, Personal Demons is definitely an interesting graphic novel if only for the originality of the concept and the art–well worth giving it a try.

 

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Kieli: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness

Author: Yukako Kabeikieli

Illustrator: Shunsuke Taue

Kieli, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

The world Kieli inhabits is cold and dilapidated, a godless people ruled by a militant Church that knows nothing of grace or mercy, whatever they may say. Small wonder then, that Kieli prefers the company of ghosts over that of the living around her. Something begins to change, though, when she encounters a young man sitting alone in the train station, looking like the dead–especially when she finds he is able, like herself, to see the spirits of the dead. Unable to resist, or unable to lose the one person who shares her abilities, Kieli sneaks out of the Church-run boarding school where she lives and follows this unusual man who goes by the name Harvey. Together, the two proceed on Harvey’s purposed journey by train to deliver an old radio inhabited by a ghost to an abandoned mine, little guessing that someone else is also following. Because Harvey isn’t just an ordinary young man; he’s an ageless, deathless soldier created nearly a century before to end the War, one of the legendary Undying . . . and now the Church is ruthlessly hunting down their own creations.

I had heard good things about this light novel before, so I was excited to read Kieli. I have to be honest, it was mostly those expectations that kept me reading beyond the first half of the first chapter; there’s a lot about Kieli’s past, the War, and the emptiness of the Church that is really important background information but was hard to get into. But once I got past that to the part where Harvey enters the story and they’re traveling together, I really enjoyed the story. It would be a difficult story to really categorize: paranormal, science fiction, steampunk, dystopian, and several other things kind of meshed together. But it really works, feeling like its own unique genre rather than a mish-mash of multiple other genres. The majority of the story is a train journey, so you get the experience of the country they’re traveling through and the people they meet. And of course, the adventure of their being pursued and trying to evade capture. But most of all, the story is the development of the characters and the relationships between them: Kieli, Harvey, the Corporal who haunts the ghost radio. I’ve heard the book described (on the back cover, no less) as a romance, but I really don’t quite see it, although I can definitely see it developing into a romance in future volumes. For now, Kieli’s too young, and she and Harvey are really still just building a trust and friendship with each other. In any case, I truly enjoyed reading Kieli: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness, and I look forward to reading further in the series.

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Lost & Found

Authors: Shaun Tan & John Marsden

Illustrator: Shaun Tan

Somewhere, a girl struggles through her own dark reality, a world depressed and distorted until it’s nearly unrecognizable–will she recognize the gleam of hope that follows her through the day? Somewhere else, a boy finds a . . . well, a thing . . . on the beach. He and the thing have fun playing together until he realizes that it’s hopelessly lost–and he has to figure out what to do with it! Elsewhere again, a group of docile natives find themselves overrun by dominating rabbits, first a few, then an overwhelming flood that is an irrevocable tide.

I admire Shaun Tan’s work greatly–he has the combination of boldness, discernment, and art to be able to pull off things that would look and sound absurd if other people wrote/drew them. Lost & Found is a collection of three of his earlier short stories–“The Red Tree,” “The Lost Thing,” and “The Rabbits” (which was written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan)–all of which were originally published individually. I really like them in this collection though; with the way they’re illustrated, they seem to just flow into each other quite naturally. Thematically, they provide an interesting look into his earlier work in all of its odd, groundbreaking strangeness. I love that he uses such earthshatteringly unfamiliar material to bring into sharp focus things that are in many ways quite mundane. Do brace yourself when reading these stories–I think there’s a fairly strong initial negative reaction to “The Red Tree,” and “The Rabbits” is certainly thought-provoking and maybe a bit disturbing. But I truly think there’s a deeper positive buried under the negative which is honestly worth the time to reach. I would recommend Lost & Found to readers of all ages who are willing to look deeper and change their perspective.

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Based on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

The town is abuzz with talk of the war. Which naturally leads to talk of the wizards the king is dragging in to help with the war efforts. Which then leads, of course, to talk of the Wizard Howl–notable for holding out on the king, for living in a moving castle that roves the wastes, and for only coming into town to seduce beautiful young women. Not that young Sophie cares for such gossip; she’s always been a homely, responsible girl, and Howl’s not the least interested in that sort of woman. That’s what they say, anyhow. When Sophie runs afoul of a rather nasty witch and finds herself burdened with a curse that makes her appear (and feel) like an old woman, she leaves her home and wanders into the wastes where she happens to run right into Howl’s castle! Given a courage she never had when she looked young, Sophie elbows her way in and firmly settles herself as the new cleaning lady (and yes, they desperately need one!). What she finds while there is a prissy, womanizing, rather hopeless young wizard, to be sure, but there’s more to Howl that gossip would suggest, and Sophie’s bound to find it out.

I absolutely love Howl’s Moving Castle! Of course, it’s a fusion of two things I absolutely love already: Diana Wynne Jones and Studio Ghibli. The story is one of those amazing cases where the book and the movie–while having some characters, ideas, and events in common–are essentially unique and can be regarded as completely separate stories. They’re different enough that I can enjoy both without constantly comparing the two (and so, I will review the book another time). Ghibli’s Howl is incredible: a blend of the absurdly humorous, the epically fantastic, and the sweetly romantic that creates something greater than the sum of the parts. The scenery is gorgeous in the extreme, especially the mountain landscapes. The machines are fascinating (slightly steampunk, but not quite)–from the classic Miyazaki flying machines to the train running through town to the cobbled-together castle walking on four legs. A strong anti-war message permeates the story (but not overpoweringly)–again classic Miyazaki/Ghibli, it seems. The soundtrack is also amazing, absolutely beautiful (Joe Hisaishi, what else need be said?). Perhaps most outstanding in this movie are the characters: Sophie, who always underestimates herself. Calcifer, the stubborn fire-demon who’s actually quite cute (and very good for comic relief). Cute little Markl, Howl’s apprentice. And of course, Howl himself–indecipherable, devastatingly beautiful, selfish, secretive, overly dramatic, too concerned about his looks, yet somehow so much better a person than he seems like he could be. (May I just say, I love the green ooze tantrum?!) All in all, Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my absolute favorite movies, one I come back to regularly and never find disappointing. You should check it out!

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The Boundless

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Will Everett has the privilege to be present when the last spike is driven to connect the railway crossing the entire continent. Only a few years later, he finds himself aboard The Boundless, the largest train ever imagined. What’s more, his father’s fortune has turned greatly, transforming him from a lowly laborer to chief engineer. Shortly after they board the train, Mr. Everett reveals that he foresees Will using his drawing talents masterfully in the railway industry, creating a stable, comfortable future for himself. But what of Will’s own dream to go to art school? And for that matter, what of the deeper dreams and buried memories of the girl he met the day the last spike was driven? Little could they know that their decisions will be highly influenced by their journey aboard The Boundless, particularly when danger looms and its near impossibly to know who to trust.

Kenneth Oppel is a huge favorite in my family, and to myself–particularly his Airborn trilogy. I really enjoyed The Boundless, especially since it reminds me a great deal in both feel and setting of those particular stories. There is a somewhat steampunk feel to the setting, and I love it! The story flows well, with a nice blend of predictability and surprise–it’s very character driven, which is great. I absolutely love the characters, especially Maren. (I think Oppel has a knack for strong, independent, capable, and wonderful female characters.) The blend of fantasy, science, and slight-of-hand seems to work really well in this setting, adding a fresh flavor. On a grammatical note, the entirety of the story is written in present tense–which normally throws my reading all out of whack, but actually works in this case. Finally, I love the way he puts so much into the first chapter; truly, I think seeds for all the major plot elements are planted there. Check out all of Oppel’s books, and particularly The Boundless!

 

 

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FArTHER

Author/Illustrator: Grahame Baker-Smith

A boy and his father live on a rocky island where brilliant red poppies blossom and seagulls constantly pull the eyes to the sky. At least, they pull the father’s eyes. The boy watches as his father pursues his dream–or should we say obsession–of flying, spending hours building one beautiful but failing contraption after another. Sometimes, it seems his father has forgotten the boy is even around, his mind is so caught up in the clouds. But other times, they have so much fun together; truly they love each other very much. Still, it seems the sky always pulls his father back. . . . And although his father never actually realizes his dream, the boy himself eventually is caught by the same passion. Perhaps he will be the one to actually reach the sky.

FArTHER (yes, the capitalization is intentional; think about it) is a beautiful, unusual picture book–one that spans age boundaries effortlessly. The art is breathtaking, full of color, detail, texture, and character–I would describe it almost as a neo-Baroque sort of style (it reminds me vaguely of CLAMP’s Clover). And the story itself is poignant, bittersweet, and lovely. You can feel both the wonder of the shared dream and the vague dissatisfaction and sorrow of being left out both welling up from the depths of the boy’s being, even though he doesn’t say anything particularly clearly. The prose is light, with the ethereal lack of definition that allows good children’s books to deal with truly deep matters yet still be appropriate for children. As such, I really think FArTHER is a captivating picture book/short story for all ages.

 

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