Author: Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
On the outskirts of a small town just off the shores of Cape Cod sits a small house known to the locals as Blackbird House. Lovingly built by a fisherman–for his wife to live in while he went to sea–in the early days before our country was an actual country, the house has seen numerous inhabitants over the years. Each family has had its own story, and each story has left its own unique mark on the land and the house, connecting the lives lived there across the ages, memory upon memory.
Blackbird House is a welcome, although unexpected, collection of tales centering on a small cabin near the shore. I guess I ought to expect this sort of work from Alice Hoffman, but she still has the gift to surprise me–which is actually really nice. Every tale in this collection was enjoyable in its own right, and seeing the connections between them made them even more interesting. Not that there are particular thematic connections or anything that direct; there are all sorts of stories and characters here, everything from sweet, unexpected romances to heartbreaking tragedies to tales of ungrateful modern youth. No, the connections are more subtle than that, motifs that carry throughout: the sweet peas and the pond behind the house, the white blackbird that haunts the house, red shoes (a sure sign of witches!), that sort of thing. I loved the slice of history that’s presented here, ranging chronologically from early settlement days all the way to very recent years. Yet spun throughout the history is a feel of fairy tales that gives a different weight and experience to these stories, making them timeless in a unique and beautiful way. Blackbird House is definitely an adult collection, but for adult readers–whether your preference is historical fiction, short stories, or even fairy tales–I think this book has something unique and special to offer that is well worth reading.
Mangaka: Meca Tanaka
Alternative Title: Sara no Ue no Kanojo
My rating: 3.5 of 5
On a mountain overlooking a remote village, a dragon god lives in human form, eking out an existence on the small birds his toad-spirit servants can bring to him. Every fifty years, the village sends a human sacrifice up the mountain for him to eat, allowing him the energy to take true dragon form and theoretically bringing prosperity to the village. But this time, the village’s offering is entirely unacceptable–not a plump, properly terrified citizen. No, they send a scrawny, blank-faced orphan girl who’s spent her entire nameless life knowing she would end her life as dragon food. Completely dissatisfied with this turn of events, the dragon refuses to eat her and even allows her to stay with him, naming her Tsubame (“swallow,” hmm?) and choosing to continue living off of the mountain birds. But the foolish villagers are, of course, unwilling to leave matters as they stand. . . .
Meca Tanaka’s manga are usually super cute and sweet shoujo stories. Girl on a Platter is a very interesting–and very short–one shot manga, and yes, in a way it is cute and sweet. But it’s also immensely more dark and disturbing than her usual. And, while many of her stories involve a fantasy element, this is the first that I’ve seen that’s completely removed from normal life, choosing rather to delve into more traditional Asian mythology. It’s interesting, for sure. I actually like the characters–they’re somewhat enigmatic and complex, but they don’t have outstandingly annoying traits and the mystery adds to the intrigue. They’re really pretty too; well, Tanaka-sensei’s art is always gorgeous. I think the biggest negative for this story is just that it’s so short. The ending is extremely open, to the point that it can be confusing, and in general there’s just not enough time to really develop the story. But for all of that, I think it was enjoyable. If you’re interested in a slightly darker shoujo fantasy, and especially if you’re also short on time to read, I think Girl on a Platter would be a good choice to try.
Note: As is sadly the case with many (most) one-shots, this manga does not have an official English translation. However, there are some quite decent fan translations available if you look.
It is said that the falling snowflakes are the tears of the snow maidens. But ask a snow maiden, and you might get a different story altogether. In fact, she might tell you stories similar to the ones a young traveler heard when he spoke to a pale, beautiful woman out in the snowy wilderness . . . you might even hear stories to make you weep yourself.
I love the way in which Shirahime-Syo is both very unique for CLAMP and is yet quintessentially theirs. This is a single volume of manga containing three short stories that almost resemble folk tales. This feeling is enhanced by the art style which is, again, both extremely CLAMP and yet different from their norm, evoking a more traditional Japanese painting style. It’s very beautiful, haunting almost. The style fits the stories perfectly. All three tales are of old Japan (or somewhere that looks similar), out in the wilds during the deep snows, and in each story, there is an initial impression of a man-versus-nature sort of story. Yet somehow in the midst of that, the stories get turned back upon man, showing that we are our own worst problem. The stories are poignant and beautiful, tragically lovely. I’m sure not everyone would enjoy them, but I truly think all readers would benefit from reading Shirahime-Syo at least once; it’s a moving experience.
Author: Ian Doescher
Inspired by the works of William Shakespeare & George Lucas
Mayhap you’ve heard the tale of a time long ago and far away. A time when brave rebels allied themselves against an evil empire. When a beautiful princess fell in love with a (maybe) reformed smuggler. A time when great leaders trained young warriors in the hope that things may turn out differently this time. It was a time when the Force was strong both for good and evil, when a moment’s choice could alter the course of fate forever. Verily, it was a time not unlike our own. . . .
As a fan of both classic Shakespeare and of the Star Wars movies, I have loved what Doescher is doing in combining the two from his first volume, Verily, a New Hope. I think William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back is an excellent follow up, continuing in the same vein as episode four as well as including several details to add to the writing even more. There were several points I found specifically intriguing about this volume. I love the way Doescher adds in details and expressions of internal feeling that wouldn’t have fit in an action movie but are perfect in this context–they add a lot to the reader’s appreciation of the action. His use of monologuing to describe some of the action scenes (as opposed to simply including stage directions to be acted out) is also an interesting choice; it adds character to the flow of the script, I think. His choice to use haiku for Yoda’s speech was also fascinating–unexpected, for sure, but it works, breaking the reader out of his expectations of Yoda’s speech patterns and focusing on the character and wisdom he seeks to imbue upon his young pupil. Finally, let’s face it, hearing Leia and Han love-fight in Shakespearean English is something not to be missed! My general opinion is that William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back is something that will be greatly enjoyed by those who share my love for both Shakespeare and Star Wars–and completely lost on everyone else, but that’s okay, right?