Monday, May 30, 2016

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 404 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 17, 2016
Finished: May 30 2016

From the inside cover:

When magic has gone from the world, and a vicious king rules from his throne of glass, an assassin comes to the castle. She does not come to kill, but to win her freedom. If she can defeat twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition to find the greatest assassin in the land, she will become the King's Champion and be released from prison.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her.

And a princess from a foreign land will become the one thing Celaena never thought she'd have again: a friend.

But something evil dwells in the castle - and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying, horribly, one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival - and a desperate quest to root out the source of the evil before it destroys her world.

This has been recommended to me so many times (including by other teacher coworkers) so I finally got around to reading this. It isn't as impressive as I anticipated, and I think I'm more of a fan of the author's newest work, A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Celaena Sardothien, known as Adarlan's Assassin, is serving a prison sentence in the mines of Endovier when the Crown Prince comes to visit her with news that she has the choice to compete in a series of tests to determine the King's Champion, his own personal assassin, and that if she serves a number of years in this role, she will obtain her freedom. Celaena accepts and travels with the prince, Damian, and the Captain of the Guard, Chaol, to Rifthold, where Damian's father rules Adarlan.

Once the twenty-four contestants have all gathered in Rifthold, the competition begins; however, competitors soon turn up dead, mutilated in the most horrible ways. Celaena realizes that something sinister is at work, and since she is a competitor and also a target, she decides to investigate.

The premise is interesting, and Celaena is a pretty kick-ass heroine, but there were a couple of things that irked me. Celaena is described as being this amazing assassin, but I felt she was too flightly: obsessed with her appearance and lets her guard down easily. Plus, I felt the romance between Celaena and Damian was a little too into insta-love territory, it wasn't really believable, at least in my opinion. Granted, I do like the fact that Celaena is a massive bookworm and spends all her time in the castle's library, so that redeemed her quite a bit, and I do really like Chaol's character.

I like the author's new series better, but this one is still worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
I loathe this cover, it makes Celaena look like a beauty queen rather than an assassin. Granted, this is an old cover, and the new cover looks more appropriate (see below).

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Last Dragon - Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay

Title: The Last Dragon
Author: Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay
Publisher: Dark Horse, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 142 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Started: May 16, 2016
Finished: May 16, 2016

From the back cover:

Two hundred years ago, humans vanquished the dragons of the islands of May. Now, the last of the dragons rises to wreak havoc anew - with only a healer's daughter and a kite-flying would-be hero standing in its way.

Master storyteller Jane Yolen (Owl Moon, Sword of the Rightful King) and celebrated fantasy artist Rebecca Guay (Swamp Thing, Magic: The Gathering) weave a textured and lyrical tale of adventure, homelands, and heroism the hard way.

Again I'm on a graphic novel kick, plus it's hard to find decent one-shots in this area, so I decided to give this a go.

The story is quite concise and gets right to the point: dragons were once extinct from the islands, but one dragon egg slumbering deep in the ground hatches and the last dragon grows and begins to feed in the neighbouring area, which arouses suspicion from the townspeople. When they finally realize what has been abducting animals and people, the townspeople try to come up with a way to destroy the dragon. They find an impostor hero named Lancot on a neighbouring island and bring him over. When Tansy, the healer's daughter, realizes he isn't really a hero worthy of being their dragon slayer, they formulate a plan to kill the dragon using some ingenuity and healer's knowledge.

The art style is truly gorgeous, which almost makes up for the rushed pace of the story and lack of character development. I get that this is barely 150 pages so some things aren't going to be as developed, but it would be interesting to see this fleshed out so as to make the characters really shine, for example I liked Rosemary, Sage, and Tansy for the little while we did get to see them.

Rushed plot and the character development is lacking due to the length of the work, but the art is breathtakingly gorgeous so it almost balances out.

Thoughts on the cover:
Not the best indicator of the artist's overall style, but if you do like the cover, the inside art is much better.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories - Moto Hagio

Title: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
Author: Moto Hagio
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: May 13, 2016
Finished: May 13, 2016

From the back cover:

Forty years ago, the legendary manga artist Moto Hagio reinvented the shoji (girls' comics) genre with an ongoing series of whip smart, psychologically complex, and tenderly poetic stories. Here now, in English for the very first time, as the debut release in Fantagraphics Books' ambitious manga line of graphic novels, are ten of the very best of these tales.

The work in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories spans Hagio's entire career, from 1970's "Bianca" to 2007's "The Willow Tree," and includes the mind-bending, full-colour title story; the famously heartbreaking "Iguana Girl"; and the haunting "The Child Who Comes Home" - as well as "Autumn Journey," "Girl on Porch with Puppy," the eerie conjoined-twins shocker "Hanshin: Half-God," "Angel Mimic," and one of the saddest of all romance stories, "Marie, Ten Years Later."

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is supplemented with a feature-length interview with Hagio, where she discusses her art, her career, and her life with the same combination of wit, candour, and warmth that radiates from every panel of her comics.

I'm a manga enthusiast, and I'm especially interested in the titles that were big game changers to the genre historically, many of which belong to this particular artist. I have a copy of "The Heart of Thomas" on my shelf (one of her best-known longer works) and have read a few of her shorter pieces before, which I was happy to see here. Her art style is gorgeous, and her stories are exactly as described in the summary: more mature, complex, and not afraid to tackle serious subject matter.

I have my favourites obviously: Angel Mimic and Iguana Girl deal with subject matter you don't often see in comics period, Girl on Porch with Puppy is a bit of a mind-screw, and A Drunken Dream is just stunning, partly because this story is included in full colour.

If you're interested in shojo manga and want to see pieces from one of the artists that revolutionized the genre, this is a must-read.

Thoughts on the cover:
Freaking gorgeous. The combination of the yellow, white, and gold is stunning; plus the title has that embossed gold leaf that shimmers and creates a nice effect.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Siren - Kiera Cass

Title: The Siren
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 1, 2016
Finished: May 9, 2016

From the inside cover:

Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can't resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again.

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude...until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. And though she can't talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny...and Kahlen doesn't want to.

Falling in love with a human breaks all of the Ocean's rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen's feelings, she'll be forced to leave Akinli for good. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart.

This is the same author who wrote the Selection series, which I adore. This is the first book she ever wrote, but wasn't traditionally published until now (obviously because The Selection series was so popular). Thankfully for me that I read the Selection books first, because this one was not as impressive as those.

Kahlen and her family are the victims of a shipwreck in the early twentieth century, inferring from details that the book opens begins during the Depression era. When Kahlen begs to be saved, the Ocean listens and makes her a Siren like those that caused the shipwreck that killed her family. Kahlen and her sisters (fellow Sirens) are beautiful girls (the Ocean doesn't take wives or mothers as Sirens) with voices that lead people to their deaths by drowning, just like the myths. They must orchestrate shipwrecks that give many lives to the Ocean every year or so, which wrack Kahlen with guilt, causing her to make scrapbooks about her many victims. She looks forward to the end of her one hundred year "sentence" when she can return to being human, but the memories of her life as a Siren will fade. When she meets Akinli, a boy at the college in Miami where Kahlen and her sisters are staying, she finally understands why some of her sisters pursue relationships with humans during their service. But when Kahlen actually falls in love with Akinli, she knows she has to forget him or else be destined to see him age while she remains unchanged.

This book had much of the appeal the Selection books had, but wasn't as impressive overall. I liked Kahlen as a character, as well as her sisters (especially Padma), but Akinli fell a little flat. The romance angle felt rushed (hellooooo insta-love), but if you're willing to overlook that then perhaps you'll enjoy this more than I did.

If you're a fan of the author's Selection series, you might be a bit disappointed with The Siren, but still worth the read in my opinion.

Thoughts on the cover:
Quite pretty and fitting.