Charlie’s Review of London Falling by Paul Cornell

sb10063436a-002As I have stated over and over again I am a HUGE fan of the fantasy genre, so when I was asked to read London Falling I welcomed it with open arms. To top it off, it’s written by Paul Cornell, who I was fortunate enough to interview not only about London Falling, but just chat with in general. It was a huge honor. I’m a big fan of his work, so I jumped at the chance to read his new novel.

From the publisher: Police officers Quill, Costain, Sefton, and Ross know the worst of London—or they think they do. While investigating a mobster’s mysterious death, they come into contact with a strange artifact and accidentally develop the Sight. Suddenly they can see the true evil haunting London’s streets.

Armed with police instincts and procedures, the four officers take on the otherworldly creatures secretly prowling London. Football lore and the tragic history of a Tudor queen become entwined in their pursuit of an age-old witch with a penchant for child sacrifice. But when London’s monsters become aware of their meddling, the officers must decide what they are willing to sacrifice to clean up their city.

The centralized plot of the story revolves around the main characters, who are police officers investigating the death of a local mob boss. This leads to the formation of a secret squad to further explore the mysteries surrounding the criminal enterprise they begin to uncover. As the boss died under mysterious circumstances, the team starts tracking a lead that might also connect the crime to a series of child abductions and a long-standing curse on the local football team. Something supernatural has invaded their world and it will forever bond this group of police officers together. They can now see the true horrors that no one else can see, which leads them to discover new ways to tackle the unexplained besides just relying on their police instincts and procedures. With all that being said, you can find out the rest for yourself, as there is a plethora of storytelling for you to look forward to.

I’m a big fan of the BBC’s Doctor Who franchise, and one of the main factors that piqued my interest in London Falling was Paul Cornell, who is a writing contributor to that series. His new novel, the first in a proposed series, is a great mix of not only the fantasy genre, but the horror and crime genres as well. This gives it the opportunity to appeal to a wide variety of people. While I definitely enjoyed the book, its mix of these genres presented a dilemma for me at first. Personally I grow tired of the crime genre, which is duplicated over and over again in different ways. However, the fantasy elements here gave London Falling (and the crime genre) a fresh new take, which I loved. Having a historical backstory really was a great add-on for me as well, since I am fascinated by the English culture. London is the one place in the world I would want to live outside of the US. Additionally, I’m a sucker for mythology, so the inclusion of mythical elements in the work were an added bonus as well.

All and all, Cornell has constructed an excellent new series in the world of fantasy. It’s well written, detailed, original, complex, and has great character development.  He has definitely executed a plan for the series in my eyes. He makes readers want to know what is going to happen next. His knack for the unusual really makes the book shine. Hopefully this can generate a nice fan base because I think there is a lot of potential for a wonderful adult fantasy series, especially considering that this would adapt very well to the screen. We get a whole new look at the city of London, which even though it may be supernatural, is intriguingly believable. With good word of mouth, as well as the fact that it’s written by Paul Cornell, I feel that not only does London Falling have a fan base off the bat, it has great promise to become something even greater. While some may not agree, I really believe this novel has something for everyone. Like I said earlier, it’s part horror, crime, and fantasy all wrapped into one. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something new, and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Severed Streets.

4 out of 5 Stars

London Falling by Paul Cornell
Tor (2013)
Hardcover: 416 pages
ISBN: 9780765330277

Special thanks to Tor Books for my review copy!

Christine’s Review of A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

aNHoD Cover 300dpiA few months ago I opened up an email from Kim with the subject “Coming Soon: A Natural History Of Dragons by Marie Brennan”, asking if I wanted a copy to review. I replied “HEEEELLLLLLLSSSSS YEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!”, because I am a professional. I love fantasy. I love dragons. So yes, the second I read the synopsis of A Natural History of Dragons, I absolutely wanted to read it.

In a world much like ours during the Victorian era, there is a girl, Isabella, who is fascinated by dragons. Because she is a girl, she is discouraged from pursuing scientific studies, but because she is awesome she doesn’t care and she eventually becomes Lady Trent, a preeminent dragon naturalist. The premise of the novel is you are reading Lady Trent’s memoir of how she progressed from a bookish girl who went against the conventions of her time to become the renowned expert on dragons.

Based on the title of the book and the synopsis I read, I assumed this was going to be a memoir of Lady Trent’s entire life and work with dragons, so I was a bit disappointed at the length of the book (about 330 pages) when it arrived in my mailbox. I was a third of the way through the book before I realized my assumption was wrong, and this was the first book in a series. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, and sometimes that can alter one’s view of a book. That said, I enjoyed this book. It was a fun read and an interesting take on the fantasy/dragon genre. Lady Trent’s voice as she narrates her early years is engaging and I loved the moment’s when she would basically say, “Look, I was young. I was an idiot. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I’m being honest and this is how I was back then.”

The book recounts Isabella’s childhood and her first adventure as a young woman to the foreign land of Vystrana in search of dragons, which is where most of the story happens. There are foreign customs to learn, mysteries to solve, bandits to escape from, possible curses to break, and above all, dragons to search for and study. Isabella’s time in Vystrana very much reminded me of an adventure story along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (don’t tell me I’m the only one who loved that TV series), only told through the perspective of an older and wiser Lady Trent.

I would have rather read a longer “memoir” of Isabella’s entire life, but I enjoyed the first tale of her discoveries and adventures, though I did think the ending was a bit rushed. Though it is fantasy novel, I think readers of historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy the story, as the fictional world and era Isabella lives in are very close to the Victorian and Edwardian era. I can see how some readers of fantasy might wish for more fantasy aspects aside from the dragons, but I thought it was a great blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Also sprinkled throughout the book were some lovely illustrations of dragons and scenes from Isabella’s world, which definitely enhanced the story.

3 out of 5 Stars

A Natural History of Dragon: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Tor Books (2013)
Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN: 9780765331960

Special thanks to Tor Books for my review copy!

Kim’s Review of Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

outlanderPride and Prejudice has been my favorite novel since I read it for the first time over a decade ago.  In that time period the ONLY book to produce a hero that could come close to Fitzwilliam Darcy was Persuasion.  Captain Frederick Wentworth and Darcy were, in my opinion, the epitome of what you wanted in a man.  They both were strong, confident men who were able to admit they were wrong and change for their lady loves.  Come on ladies, who wouldn’t want a man like them?  Fast forward to last month when I was on Twitter and saw an infographic that allowed readers to select their favorite male literary hero.  Maybe it’s just me being arrogant, but I thought Darcy had it in the bag.  I clicked on the link, and to my great surprise the name that popped as the winner was James Fraser.  I immediately did a Google search to figure out what book he was from.  Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, was the response I got, and thus began my journey to figure out how this Scottish Highlander could possibly beat out the love of my life, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Claire Randall is a combat nurse back from World War II in 1945.  Married before the war began, Claire is separated from her husband during the war and is finally reunited with him after hostilities are over.  Out on their second honeymoon in Scotland, Claire falls through a portal that transports her to the year 1743.  Once there she must find a way to become part of the past until she can return to the future.  Her journey is filled with a forced marriage, an attempted burning at the stake, claims of witchcraft and prostitution, and countless other atrocities.  The silver lining in this, however, is her forced marriage to a Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser.  He pledges to protect her, body and soul, and in many instances, does.  Will she ever be able to tell him where she really comes from?  Will they ever be able to figure out a way to get her back to the present?  With her growing feelings for Jamie, will she even want to go?

Let me start out by saying: JAMIE FRASER. OH MY GOD.  I totally “get” how women ranked him higher than Darcy!  He’s mysterious, funny, kind-hearted, at times arrogantly confident, strong, and devastating.  There are times you want to smack him for his cockiness, and other times you want to hug him for the brutality that he’s had to face.  In short, he is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read.

At times Jamie and the other men of the period are barbaric, but when you look at the time period (the 1700’s) it’s historically accurate.  There is one scene in the book where Jamie whips Claire for disobeying him and putting his clansmen in extreme danger.  While I don’t agree with the beating, his explanation of why he did it (it’s expected by his clansman for retribution due to the danger they’ve been placed in) makes sense.  Even Claire understands and accepts it (and she’s a modern woman!)  Jamie is extremely remorseful over the entire incident and agrees to make a pact to Claire that he’d never do it again, regardless of the traditions he lives by.  This brought a question to my mind: are we able to accept abuses of women when placed into the context of the past?  If I read a book that took place in contemporary times there would be NO WAY IN HELL that I’d accept abuse as a viable plot point.  But when placed into a story where it’s truly indicative of the way people acted, I can accept it as “historically relevant.”  Do you agree?

Now, on to Gabaldon’s writing style.  At times the book got a little wordy, but by and large it created a world that you can’t help but  become mesmerized by.  Jamie’s revelations near the end of the book about what happened to him in prison are probably some of the darkest and most heart wrenching scenes I’ve ever read.  His vulnerability as he is telling Claire of his pain and shame is both awe-inspiring and deeply depressing.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt as deeply for a character as I did for Jamie in that scene.

A word of caution: there is a rape scene in the novel, and as I’ve stated in other book reviews in the past, I feel that this should be noted somewhere.  You never know what a reader has gone through in his/her own life and what a scene like that (explicit or not), could trigger for them.

In all, I think this work is incredibly multidimensional.  It fits in so many genre “boxes” that you can’t help but identify with it.  It is heartwarming, touching, and a beautiful piece.  I urge all of you to see for yourself how great of a work Gabaldon has created.  Maybe Jamie will rate as high on your list of male heroes as he now does on mine?

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my first completed review for the Book to Movie Challenge

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Random House Publishing (2004)
eBook: 818 pages
ISBN: 9780440335160

Adam’s Review of Albino by E.J. Dabel

Have you ever wanted to visit another world and live a different life than the one you had been living? What if in this new land, you were crowned Emperor and were meant to lead the people against an evil emperor who only wanted to destruct the world and cause harm to the people who live in it. All of these questions are explored in the novel Albino written by E.J Dabel.

In the beginning of Dabel’s story, we meet Albino.  Albino is a peculiar mouse. He is all white with red eyes. He lives with Farmer Springer, whom he is able to communicate with. One night during a particularly bad storm, Farmer Springer begins to reminisce with Albino about the night he found him almost 50 years ago. Also living with Albino and Farmer Springer is a boy from the street named Darl. Albino believes that only Farmer Springer can communicate with him, until Darl makes it known that he can understand Albino as well. The morning after the violent storm Darl takes Albino and throws him in the river, hoping to get rid of him forever. Albino awakens in a far-off land called Nothengarrd where he is introduced to Morgenbrisa, another mouse who happens to be a princess. Later, he is introduced to more friends including Lita (another princess), a raccoon, a wise crow, and a flying squirrel. Initially when Albino gets to Nothengarrd he is referred to as an abomination because he is half mouse, half rat. Later through some discovery it is revealed that Hoge Koning (the Emperor of Nothengarrd) has to defeat the Loucura (Emperor of the East) and his creations of Ma’ladees. Will Albino step up and become the emperor he is destined to be?

For a book that is supposed to be for younger readers, this book had a lot of heart. From the first few chapters, I thought the story was going to be about Albino and his life on a farm and then trying to get back to the farm, á la The Wizard of Oz. But as I read more, I realized it was more like The Chronicles of Narnia than Wizard of Oz. From the first page of the book, the character of Albino intrigued me because he seemed like a truly unique form of the lead character role. He was really well written and really was the heart of this story (hence naming the title after him). Albino went had major growths and transformations in the novel that you can chronicle through Dabel’s excellent writing in each chapter.  Many times we see main characters portrayed as weak at first, but then they’re suddenly leading armies in no time. Dabel made Albino progress at a realistic pace, adding extra struggles to the story which were really powerful.

Dabel wrote this story in a very interesting way, one which made it much more powerful and realistic. Whether it was having the animals use items that they found in the forest as clothing, or in the way in which he described the conflict in the work, Dabel was able to emphasize the important parts and create a story that I wanted to continue reading. The inclusion of pictures of the characters really helped me put faces to the characters and give them more personality. Maybe it’s because I somehow make movies out of everything I read, but I think Albino and the books that will follow it would make an excellent movie.

All and all, I enjoyed Albino more than anticipated. At first glance the story seemed a little far out there and I don’t really like mice or rats in real life, so I had to get the thought of subway rats out of my head.  However once I did that, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I think anyone from 9 to 109 will enjoy this book because of its classic story plot mixed with new school ideas. I am very interested to see how the rest of the series plays out!

4 out of 5 Stars

Albino by E.J. Dabel
Sea Lion Books (2012)
eBook: 217 pages
ASIN: B007ZFRGG4

Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for my review copy!

Charlie’s Review of Meridienne Drake: Secrets of the Truth (Meridienne Drake #1) by Jessica Dragon Cheramie

For those of you who have been following my reviews, you know that I am a HUGE fan of the fantasy genre.  When I was offered the chance to read Meridienne Drake by Jessica Dragon Cheramie, I welcomed it with open arms.  I’m going to tell you right off the bat that this is a good book with an interesting storyline that is only going to get better as the series goes on.  However, I feel as it is written more for fans of  Twilight rather than fantasy fans as a whole.  I am someone who can easily get immersed in anything so it didn’t deter me from reading, but I think that people of the female persuasion will enjoy this more than the male.  Summary from Goodreads:

When trying to find out who you are, you may just get more than you bargained.

Meridienne Drake thought she had it all figured out, but her parents had other plans for her. Thrown on a plane to Portland, Oregon to spend the summer with family she never knew existed, Meridienne realizes she didn’t know the people who raised her at all. More than that, strange things are beginning to happen to her.

Meridienne wants to be anything other than strange especially when her summer begins to take a turn for the better because of Will, the mysterious new boy. But the strange and unusual just keep occurring until she discovers an even bigger secret. Magic. Her fourteenth birthday reveals secrets and realities that Meridienne had only dreamed about, literally. Will Meridienne accept this secret life and face what comes with that? Or, is all this heat too much for her?

The story at its core is all about a teenage girl in search of herself and her mysterious family. Even though I am a 25-year-old male, I have plenty of experience with the female persuasion.  (I have a younger sister)  Cheramie gets it exactly right when it comes to her depiction of teenage girls. Our main protagonist, Meridienne (Meri for short), has everything you would expect for a girl in this particular time of her life.

Meri’s journey takes us to her grandfather and uncle’s during the summer, both of whom she never knew existed since her parents kept that part of their lives a secret from her. Little does she know that this is only the beginning of all the secrets, lies, and hidden truths that her family has kept from her over the past 13 years. How Meri handles all of these twists and turns in her life is going to hopefully shape her into the person she is meant to be.

With all that being said, Cheramie has constructed an exciting new series in the world of fantasy. It is well written, detailed, and has great character development.  It’s obvious that she has a great plan in place for the rest of the series. She makes readers want to know what is going to happen next. While I do think this is intended for an audience  younger than myself, I still found if enjoyable.  When have adults ever been deterred from reading a young adult novel I ask?  If you recall Harry Potter was found in the children’s section, while The Hunger Games was in the teen section. While Meridienne Drake is by no means the next Harry Potter (which we are still desperately in search of)  it’s my hope that this series can generate a nice little fan base.  I think there is potentially one out there, and with good word of mouth you never know (look at the Fifty Shades of Grey series).  All in all, I think we have something good here. The verdict is still out on whether or not I’ll  read the next part in the series, but that is only because I don’t feel I am the intended audience.  But if you fall into that category (I am talking to you girls) please check this out and spread the word.

3 out of 5 Stars

Meridienne Drake by Jessica Dragon Cheramie
Dragon’s Dream Publishing (2011)
Paperback: 366 pages
ISBN: 9780983634706

Special thanks to Jessica Dragon Cheramie for sending me my review copy!

Blood Sword (Lost Princess Series: Book 1) by L. J. Maisen

From the publisher:
His Oath…
My loyalty and sword to Rhaetia are true.
I lend my wit and might in fealty to you.
Neither through words, nor actions and deeds, will I dishonor thee.

His Quest…
One by one, the heirs to the Rhaetian throne have fallen, and now the future of the kingdom rests on the champion of the realm—the Blood Sword—finding the missing daughter of the king—the Lost Princess.

Blood Sword (Lost Princess Series Book 1)…
On the island nation of Xa’aia, the Blood Sword is enslaved as a gladiator and forced to fight to entertain the masses. However, to continue the search for the Lost Princess, he will do anything to gain his freedom.

Seeing a chance for escape, Zelayra, whore to Prince Calyl of Xa’aia, purchases the barbarian gladiator—so unlike the usual J’Haran prisoners and her Xa’aian captors in looks. But there is no time to ponder her similarity to the stranger and no time to explore the distant memories and unusual feelings his presence inspires, for she’s not the only one who’s been scheming in the island kingdom.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a huge fantasy/sci-fi fan. So, reading Blood Sword by L.J. Maisen was a no brainer for me, and I must say, it has promise. As you have already read above, it tells the story of a fierce princess heroine and a sword fighting hero. One thing that I loved about this short story was that it gives you two very strong characters to help immerse you in the story.  The fact that one is a female and the other male is something that is not very common in fantasy stories, which will make this appealing to a wide range of readers.

Blood Sword was a quick read, and I am still trying to figure out how I feel about that. It’s good because it allows you to read it rather quickly and enjoy the story  At the same time when I started reading, the length had me worried that there wouldn’t be much substance to it, which in my mind is the most important part of a fantasy story. The world that an author creates is one of the biggest aspects and key ingredients in making it successful. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, just to name a few, are perfect examples of this. They bring you to a place that you never imagined and do so in such distinct detail. While this isn’t in the same league as either of those, I must say I was still satisfied. There was just enough detail for everything to come together and leave you wanting more.

With all that being said, my opinion on the book as a whole was easily swayed from when I first began reading. As a matter of fact, I think L.J. Maisen may be on to something. Rather than bombarding readers with too much detail, which is sometimes a lot to handle, she has introduced us to a world that unfolds slowly and yet still leaves us satisfied. I love the fact that this is a new short story series. I know fantasy isn’t the easiest of genres to create, and it often lacks new material, so this new work is definitely welcome. While I am not ready to call the Lost Princess series the next big thing in the fantasy world, I am intrigued at the small form factor of this series, as it provides us with something unique and different in a world that can at times lack originality. Ultimately, the verdict is still out, as to how well I’ll like the series.  I’ll definitely be reading the second story before I give it my final judgment.

3 out of 5 Stars

Blood Sword by L.J. Maisen
Twenty or Less Press (2012)
eBook: 70 pages
ISBN: 2940033136636

Special thanks to Twenty or Less Press for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of The Shattered Vine (Vineart War #3) by Laura Anne Gilman

After a long and intriguing journey, Laura Anne Gilman finally brings the Vineart saga to a close in her third novel in the series, The Shattered Vine.  After the climactic end to the second book in the series, Weight of Stone, which involved Jerzy narrowly saving the lives of his friends from a magical sea serpent, I could not wait to get started on what I hoped was just as exciting of a finish to this Vineart war.  Just as I predicted, Gilman did not disappoint, and this trilogy will go down as one of my favorite fantasy series that I’ve read in a long time.

We begin the novel proper by rejoining Jerzy, Mahult, Ao, and Kanïm as they arrive home to the Berengia after fighting a terrible battle against the far-reaching magic of an evil vine mage of a far away land that is not included in the Lands Vin.  This man, along with Ximen, the leader of the people in this barren land, aim to enact revenge against those in the Lands Vin for what they feel was a banishment of their people by those in power seven generations ago.  The power of the vine-mage is immense, as he uses mass sacrifices in order to gain the power necessary to decant spells that cross huge distances and wreak havoc on all those in the Lands Vin.  The Lands are in disarray, as the Washers and Collegium decide to persuade Vinearts to join forces with land lords, although it is in direct opposition to Sin Washer’s command.  The outlook looks bleak, but there is one person who can stand in the path of this menace.  Jerzy.  His powers have been steadily increasing since his inception as a Vineart with the death of Master Malech.  Although his quiet magic has been increasing to such a point that he is not sure as to whether it will consume him or not, he feels the elements of all the grapes he has encountered on his long journey, mixing and building on one another to make a magic that knows no boundaries.  Will Jerzy be able to find the strength (and magic) within him to take on Ximen and the vine mage?  Will his friends be able to help him or will they be struck down in the battle?

I must admit, I think I like Gilman’s writing style even more than the actual plot in this work.  Yes, it is the climactic end to a great series, but the way in which Gilman frames Jerzy’s dramatic battle to get where he is now is just an amazing piece of work.  She is quite the epic writer, and the amazing way in which she pulls all of the far-flung plot pieces together for one last hurrah is quite amazing.  The way in which she develops her characters is fantastic, with a lot more focus on the plot’s effects on the characters instead of simply moving the plot along.  This character-centric focus makes all of her books in this series different from your typical sci-fi fare, and is a really refreshing and enjoyable approach.  I enjoyed seeing the fruits of Jerzy’s labors in becoming a powerful Vineart, and I liked how Ao, Mahult, and Kanïm all complemented him in different ways, giving him the strength to fight Ximen and the vine mage.  The only complaint I had with the novel was its abrupt ending, but this may be a set up for future works or additional insights into the world of the Lands Vin in the future (I’ve found out that Gilman launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to write a novella that takes place a few hundred years before this series and references Bradhai, the famous Vineart that banished the seas of serpents!  Check it out here.)  Again, a wonderful work by Gilman that definitely made me happy that I was able to travel with Jerzy and company through this amazing story.

4 out of 5 stars

The Shattered Vine by Laura Anne Gilman
Gallery Books (2011)
Hardcover 352 pages
ISBN: 9781439101483

Special thanks to Simon and Schuster for my review copy!

Charlie’s Review of This Haunted World #2 by Mark Powers, Rahmat Handoko, and Chris Lie

From the publisher: In This Haunted World readers see a world awash in conflict and suffering.  Some believe the Biblical End Times have arrived; others believe a civilization too often driven by greed has simply begun the inevitable process of devouring itself.  Amid the fear and chaos walks a shadow.  He is in the war-torn hills of Afghanistan, in the tragedy wracked hills of Hiroshima.  He is called by many names in many places – and where he walks, he brings death.  Two men – one whose ivory tower has been shattered by scandal, the other sprawled on life’s rock bottom – unknowingly hold mankind’s only hope for survival.  For a war unlike any other is about to be declared – one in which 10,000 years worth of sins and pain come back to haunt us…

The second issue of This Haunted World picks up sort of where we left off in issue one.  (My review of issue one is here)  Its main focus is on Daniel and his wealthy “friend” Tom, who obviously have some issues with each other.  In reading a flashback sequence, we learn that they were both part of a study group during their school days which researched “the other side”.  Unfortunately, as happens too often in life, they went their separate ways and grew apart.  They are now embarking on a new journey together which will hopefully bring them back to together.

Besides the continuous character development of Daniel we are also introduced to a new character, Samantha.  She just so happens to be part of the same group as Daniel and Tom.  Things don’t look too bright for her however, as on a normal day at work (she works in a bookstore) disaster hits, which the group initially thinks is a tornado hitting their area.  I however think it is something more supernatural if you get my drift!  She is later hunted down by a CIA agent, who says her presence is being requested by the nation’s capital.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Tom are on their way to Hiroshima to investigate the destruction that took place in the first issue of This Haunted World.  Daniel’s past, particularly his parent’s passing, is why I believe he is so invested in this.  There is continuous destruction going on when they get there, and they aren’t looked too kindly upon by the local military.  Although Daniel and Tom don’t seem to be welcomed, they insist on searching for what they came for.  The action definitely increases as they come under attack from ghosts and creatures from the sky.  Will they escape with their lives?

There are a few other minor things that went down in this issue, but for the most part that is the gist of the main plot/sub plots.  Something big is obviously being set up in this series, as it seems like it is one big massive story that is being slowly revealed.  Unlike the first issue, which I felt was crammed, this issue progressed really slow.  It was way too broad as well as jumbled at the same time.  A lot of what I really enjoyed about the first issue seemed to be missing the second time around.  Additionally, I also felt the illustrations, while drawn well, didn’t catch my eye as much as they did before.  I still hope that in the upcoming issues they try to incorporate sexual themes into the story, but I am not sure if that is on the horizon.  Maybe with the introduction of Samantha we will get something, but who knows?  Like I have said earlier, sex always makes a story better, especially in the horror genre.

All in all, this issue didn’t really give me enough information to be curious about what is going to happen next.  The premise no longer gives me that hook feeling that I once had.  I feel like this graphic novel is struggling with its identity.  Hopefully they find the proper pace in the upcoming issues that allow the reader to get emotionally invested in the characters and story.

2 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for sending me my review copy!

Todd’s Review of Weight of Stone (Vineart War #2) by Laura Anne Gilman

Once again we are thrust into the Lands Vin in the second installment of Larua Anne Gilman’s Vineart War series, Weight of Stone (see my review of the first novel, Flesh and Firehere).  The likeable Jerzy, protagonist and Vineart apprentice of the House of Malech, is back again to fight the distant forces of evil that threaten the very livelihood that keep the Lands Vin together: the magic of the Vinearts and their spellwines.  Excited to continue this fantastic story of sci-fi/fantasy, I dove in to Weight of Stone with high expectations.

We first encounter Jerzy as a fugitive from justice, as he is accused of being apostate (breaking the command of Sin Washer by using Vineart magic improperly).  The penalty of such an offense is death, but he had been daringly rescued by his friends Ao and Mahault before he could be tried and executed.  Now on the open sea and on the run from the Washers, who hope to capture him and bring him up against charges of being apostate, Jerzy is thrown into completely unfamiliar surroundings with only Ao and Mahault to turn to.  Fortunately for them, they are discovered (inadvertently with the help of Jerzy’s quiet magic) by Kainam, former heir to Atakus, the great trading port of the Lands Vin.  He too has felt the evil that seems to be lurking and growing stronger by the moment, and chose to leave and discover its origin rather than hide as those on his island home have done.  Now that their group is four strong, Jerzy finds new courage and eventually comes back to the Berengia, and to Master Malech.  Unfortunately, not all is well, and we are introduced to the source of “the Taint” in this novel.  A cast-off people with a leader known as Ximen and a Vine-Mage (yes, they are not all destroyed!) hash out a living in a far away land known as the Abandoned Land.  While most of the inhabitants of this community are ignorant of the plans, both Ximen and the Vine-Mage have plans that threaten the very safety of the entire Lands Vin.  Can Jerzy and Master Malech stop them?  Will his new-found friends be able to assist him in his ultimate goal?

Gilman really knows how to pull me in to a novel.  After slowly building suspense throughout the first half of the work (with a couple of action sequences thrown in for good measure), she really lets it go on the second half.  Once Jerzy was back at the Berengia and working with Master Malech again, the conflict with the Taint really started to heat up.  She does such a great job fleshing out these characters, especially Jerzy, so that you can’t help but become really attached to them.  Her character development is phenomenal, and I’ve always thought that this is a key part of storytelling.  Good development means more interest in the characters, which leads to more interest in the plot line, which makes the entire book more enjoyable.  As such, I couldn’t help but be shocked and dismayed at the loss of a major character later on in the novel (of course I won’t tell you who it is, you’ll just have to find out for yourself!).  This added an emotional depth to the work that I didn’t see coming at all.  It made Jerzy’s purpose that more important, and his goal that much more urgent.  After this book we truly know what we’re up against, and it will be an all out battle in the third book to bring the evil forces of the Vine-Mage and Ximen to a close.  I truly cannot wait to dive into the third installment, The Shattered Vine, and I can only hope that Gilman makes it just as exciting and captivating as this work has been.

5 out of 5 Stars

Weight of Stone by Laura Anne Gilman
Pocket Books (2011)
Paperback 480 pages
ISBN: 9781451611670

Special thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending me my review copy!

Adam’s Review of Carnal: Pride of the Lions by John Connell

What if we lived in a world where animals ruled the world and the human race became all but obsolete?  What if rather than humans evolving into superior beings, animals such as lions and hyenas fought for control of the world’s power?  All of these what if’s are discussed and explored in John Connell’s graphic novel Carnal: Pride of the Lions.

Taking place in Africa after humans have become all but wiped out, Connell’s work begins with an introduction stating that due to man’s arrogance and some sorcery, animals developed human traits and eventually evolved into human-like beings who ruled the planet.  Lions, buffaloes, and hyenas became the most powerful, with such species as leopards being killed off in a constant battle of survival of the fittest.  After a war between the lions and the hyenas, in which the lions were victorious, the hyenas were banished to living underground.  The real story thus begins with Long Eyes, the oldest lion in his tribe.  He is waiting for his son Oron to arrive back after a mission to spy on the hyenas and hunt for food.  Unfortunately Oron doesn’t return and instead another lion named Short Day comes back, telling Long Eyes that he and Oron were captured by the hyenas.  Short Day was able to escape however, leaving Oron still in captivity.  With the help of the other lion prides, Long Eyes sets out to rescue his son.  Will Long Eyes be able to rescue his son or will the hyenas be able to gain control that they feel is rightfully theirs?

This was definitely the most unique graphic novel I’ve ever read.  I am so used to reading them in a comic book format (with multiple strips) that seeing the format of paragraphs with pictures at the end of the page was refreshing.  I think having the book written in the graphic novel format helped me, because the pictures helped enhance the wealth of text provided.  The illustrations made reading the text more interesting allowing the reader to be able to imagine what it would be like to live in a world like this.  Having Long Eyes’ sad blue eyes staring at me made me sympathize with this old lion, and seeing the evil in the hyena’s eyes made the story jump off the page.  The illustrations were breathtaking and seemed like watercolor paintings thrown into the book.  More times than I’d like to admit I didn’t want to leave a particular page because the illustrations drew me in.

Connell was able to create a world that was very real and alive, despite the fact that it was fictitious.  The idea of giving animals human abilities and making them the stronger species was intriguing, and even a little scary.  The reason I say scary is because in the introduction the author writes that mankind’s arrogance was our downfall, and I can definitely see that being true.  I’m not saying lions will someday rule the world, but it is an interesting concept to think about.  Will there ever be a day where we are taken over by something or someone we underestimate?

All and all I would definitely recommend Connell’s work.  I think the unique premise will draw you in, and the context and the drawings will keep you wanting to come back for more.  As a funny aside, for some reason while reading this I kept picturing an R rated version of the Lion King, without the cheesy ending and the music.  I hope you enjoy it!

4 out of 5 Stars

Carnal by John Connell
Sea Lion Books (2012)
Hardcover 120 pages
ISBN: 9780983613169
Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for sending over my review copy!