Magic and mayhem

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I recently finished A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, the first two books in V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy. The story follows a powerful magician named Kell, one of the last remaining Antari. He is one of only two people with the ability to travel between parallel worlds, making him the perfect liaison between the three Londons. Grey London has very little magic – so little that some of its inhabitants question its existence, while others dismiss it as mere legend. Red London is Kell’s home world, peaceful and brimming with power, ruled by the Maresh family. White London, while strewn with magic, is much more chaotic; its people are willing to kill for power, especially since controlling powerful magic means controlling the throne.

And then there’s Black London, which nobody talks about – partly because they don’t want to, partly because nobody really knows what’s left of it. Even the most powerful magicians wouldn’t risk a trip there. Not willingly, anyway.

I always believed that fantasy and adventure go hand in hand, and this series is a good example of how these two elements can come together to create a thrilling story. I find that tales of exploration and discovery are much more enjoyable with a touch of magic. Throw in a bunch of interesting (not to mention shady) characters and you have a real page-turner. And did I mention there are pirates? Yup, this series has all the right ingredients for an adventure that spans four worlds.

The first book is about 400 pages long while the second novel is just over 500 pages. But, really, as hefty as they seem, you can easily zip through both novels once you get into the story. You’ll always want to read what the characters do next, and each chapter is sure to whet your appetite for the succeeding ones.

For more about the author, check out her blog at https://veschwab.wordpress.com/.

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A tale among stars

As a kid I never really found sci-fi appealing. I was raised on fairytales so fantasy was my natural first choice as far as genres go. When I was about eight years old I discovered I liked horror as well and to this day, those two genres are what I constantly look for regardless of medium. What they have in common is that there are elements of the fantastic in them – supernatural beings, magic, and everything that humans can’t create or become.

Sci-fi (or at least the common notion of it) is about technology, steel, everything artificial and fabricated. Even when it deals with distant worlds, it is nothing unreachable. No matter how out-of-this-world the stories are, they are still grounded on science. And science is what humans do so I never saw it as anything special. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I got to read this comic book series called Saga that I became more interested in the genre.

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Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga is about as sci-fi as you can get. It is a true space adventure spanning an entire galaxy. It has all manner of life forms from people with horns and wings to biomechanical robots with TVs for heads to large cats that can tell when you’re lying. It is a reality where space bounty hunting is a lucrative career path and spaceships are a common form of transportation; so common that they literally grow on trees. There’s even an entire planet that deals in interplanetary sex trade and a giant flaming gorilla (because why not?).

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So what makes Saga any different from other sci-fi stories? Well, BKV wrote it, that’s what. Like Vaughan’s other works, his character development for Saga is top-notch. First he lets you fall in love with protagonists Alana and Marko, who got into a forbidden relationship in spite of being from rival races that are locked in an endless war with each other. Despite their biological differences, they actually end up having a baby and get chased throughout the galaxy for it (hence the space adventure).

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Then, Vaughan introduces you to their would-be captors: a bounty hunter named The Will and his trusty sidekick Lying Cat. You’ll end up liking them, too, just because they’re a cool pair. There will be parts where you want the protagonists to get away, but at the same time you also end up worrying about what happens to the bounty hunters. It feels like the good guys are good guys and the “bad” guys don’t seem so bad so part of you roots for them, too. And that’s one of the things I enjoy about this story – even the bad guys are likeable.

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Oh, and then there’s Prince Robot IV. He’s a bit of a douche but he does make the story that much more interesting. I guess you can say he’s the main bad guy of the story.

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Beyond all the weird elements of sci-fi, Saga is packed with humor, action, serious and heart-felt moments, great characters and so much more. This series made me realize that genres aren’t always what make stories enjoyable, and that the best stories are the ones that are able to transcend those delineations anyway. It’s no surprise that Saga is what many believe to be the best comic book on the shelves today. And if you know comic book fans, you know that that compliment isn’t something that gets thrown around lightly. This series really does live up to its hype.

Unfinished business

I wrote a book report on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe back in high school. I can’t say I remember much about the story, but what I do remember how much I liked reading it. I think it was the first book I finished willingly and without difficulty – or in other words, it was the first book I enjoyed. I never got around to reading the entire series, however. And since I started getting into novels, I’ve always had this on my want list.

I finally found a nice hardcover box set of The Chronicles of Narnia yesterday and my sister got it for me as an early birthday present. So yeah, I’m one happy bibliophile.

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Here’s the box set in all its glory. Narnia is quite common around here but the other box sets I’ve seen were all paperbacks. I also found a hardcover compilation with all seven volumes in it but it was too bulky. I like that this set has individual hardcovers for all seven books.

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The art on the dust jackets are by Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner. The books also contain the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing those.

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And here they are without the dust jackets. I really like the overall design and color of each book. The black spines with silver lettering add a nice touch, too.

C.S. Lewis’ work was one of the reasons I got into novels and getting reacquainted with his writing is something I’ll surely enjoy. I can’t wait to tear through this series.

Crime of the sensory

So this is what arrived for me this weekend. I saw the film adaptation of this book back when I was in college and found out later that it was based on a novel by Patrick Süskind– I’ve been wanting to read it since.

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan born with an extraordinary sense of smell. He is able to sniff out objects from great distances and distinguish different substances by their scent. Eager to put his talent to use, he seeks out a famous perfumer and ends up working at his shop. There, Grenouille learns the art of perfumery and starts experimenting to find out which objects would produce the most pleasant smell. Things take a wicked turn when he discovers that women give off the most desirable scents, prompting him to go on a killing spree to distill the essence of his victims.

At least that’s what I remember from the movie. I had so much fun with the film adaptation and I can’t wait to enjoy the story in its original form. If novels are indeed always better than their movie counterparts, then I must be in for a treat.

You may check out the film’s official trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZUkIwuc6so

 

Weekend find

I found this book in the graphic novels section and suspected it to be an illustrated novel (meaning it’s still mostly text but it has some pages with illustrations on them). It turns out I was right, but I’m happy the misclassification drew my attention to it. I’m always on the lookout for good fantasy stories and this one shows a lot of promise – I really can’t wait to read it.

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The Trilogy of Two – the first novel from Lebanese-born author Juman Malouf.

“Identical twins Charlotte and Sonja are musical prodigies with extraordinary powers. Born on All Hallows’ Eve, the girls could play music before they could walk. They were found one night by Tatty, the Tattooed Lady of the circus, in a pail on her doorstep with only a note and a heart-shaped locket. They’ve been with Tatty ever since, roaming the Outskirts in the circus caravans, moving from place to place.

But lately, curious things have started to happen when they play their instruments. During one of their performances, the girls accidentally levitate their entire audience, drawing too much unwanted attention. Soon, ominous Enforcers come after them, and Charlotte and Sonja must embark on a perilous journey through enchanted lands in hopes of unlocking the secrets of their mysterious past.”

A magickal Halloween

A few weeks ago I wrote about some new releases from Image Comics; this one made it just in time for Halloween. Black Magick is a dark fantasy series about Rowan Black, a detective for Portsmouth PD who’s also secretly a witch. In this first issue, Detective Black finds herself in the middle of a hostage taking orchestrated by a perpetrator who seems to know all about her dual identity.

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Black Magick #1 by writer Greg Rucka and artist Nicola Scott. Cover A by Scott, magazine cover by Rick Burchett, cover B by Jill Thompson.

I really like it when Image releases magazine-sized issues. It’s always a treat to read comics in large formats – even more so with Scott’s art.

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The illustrations are mostly done in grayscale, which sets the tone very effectively. The use of color in some panels makes the scenes more intense and just really eye-catching.

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Story-wise, the first issue sets up the mythos well, revealing just enough about the protagonist without giving too much away. You get a good sense of the type of world in which the narrative exists, and the writer teased just enough to make you feel that something big is coming. And, again, the art is simply magnificent. Anybody who’s a fan of magic should definitely follow this series. This might be the best we’ve seen from Rucka and Scott, and I can’t wait for issue #2.