Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Beauty and the Beast: Act Three - Megan Kearney

Title: Beauty and the Beast: Act Three
Author: Megan Kearney
Publisher: The Quietly, 2019 (Paperback)
Length: 292 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel, Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Started: July 12, 2019
Finished: July 12, 209

From the back cover:

It hurts to love a wild thing...

Released from her contract, Beauty returns home but cannot escape the memory of The Beast's embrace. Meanwhile, as he prepares to make one final sacrifice, The Beast finds himself drawn to the truth at the heart of the labyrinth...

At what cost came Beauty's freedom? Can love save a life? In this final volume, both Beauty and The Beast must face the truths they've kept from themselves and learn that sometimes you have to fight for the one you love.

It's bittersweet when a series you love comes to an end. You're happy to get a resolution after years of reading and waiting for instalments, but at the same time you realize that there will be no more of this thing you truly enjoyed. I discovered this locally-created series one night while scouring the internet several years ago and fell oh so hard for it. I still remember the sleep-deprivation the day after staying up until the wee hours catching up on years worth of comics in one sitting (it was worth it!). For those who missed my prior reviews, here they are for Act One and Act Two. And below is the lovely series in its entirety, which has a devoted spot on my bedside table.

For those who haven't read Acts One and Two, this author's version of Beauty and the Beast is by far my favourite adaptation of the tale. Ever. And I've read practically all of them, so that's saying a lot. 

The author incorporates the original aspects of the story and expands upon them, so the story is as much uniquely hers as it is the classic tale. The artwork here is beautiful and so incredibly expressive, I especially love how the author draws Beast's expressions. The characterization really shines as well. The author flushes out all the characters so that you're emotionally invested in everyone (I personally had a soft spot for Beauty's sister Temperance). The plot is much richer here, with flashbacks from Beast and Beauty's pasts that play into the larger story. There's also a lot of detail for bookworms that's easily missed if you only read the dialogue and ignore the backgrounds. There's so much in terms of mythological imagery and symbolism, the language of flowers, as well as literary references, you could spend hours cross-referencing everything. The author truly did her homework here. 

Moving away from the work as a whole and focusing solely on Act Three, this is the emotional equivalent of being struck by a 2x4. Beauty and Beast are separated from each other, and both are miserable. Beauty has to figure out exactly what she wants and learn to communicate this to her family (and later Beast) without running away. Beast is confronted with his past actions and has to learn to embrace the person he once was and learn from those experiences rather than simply wish that part of him didn't exist. The themes present here really hit home, which is why I think adult readers would get more out of this than younger readers. Swan Mom (nickname for Beauty's mom) has a particularly poignant quote that I wish I had learned in my younger years, it would have saved me a lot of heartache, "No matter how much one might want to save someone from themselves, it can't be done. We can only love them and stand by as we wait for them to decide whether they save themselves or not. Otherwise, you will both be dragged down." 

As with the other volumes, and in fact the series as a whole, just go read this. It has beautiful, fluid artwork and superb storytelling that actually holds up to our modern criticisms of the original tale, wonderful characters, and a depth of detail that I haven't seen in many other graphic novels. All three volumes can be purchased here. You can read the entirety of the comic online here.

Thoughts on the cover:
Again, I love when covers have continuity from one instalment to the next. This last volume is in blue (with a plethora of blue accents in the illustration), which pairs well with the red of Act Two and the green of Act One.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Candle and the Flame - Nafiza Azad

Title: The Candle and the Flame
Author: Nafiza Azad
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2019 (Hardcover)
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: June 28, 2019
Finished: July 7, 2019

From the inside cover:

Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths thread their lives together. However, the city bears the scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen Djinn slaughtered its entire population - except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, Djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.

But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, trouble brews and Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Our in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the Djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.

Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of extraordinary magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; enticing food; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand religions, cultures, languages, and cadences.

This is honestly the first book that I've read in the past few months that has really captivated my attention. There's so many things I enjoyed here that I'm not sure where to start, but here goes...

Fatima lives in a world where supernatural creatures made of smoke and fire (but can also take human form) called djinn coexist with humans. There are several various types of djinn: the Shayateen and the Ghul pursue chaos and slaughter humans, the Ifrit seek order amidst the chaos and align with humans to help protect against the Shayateen. Fatima's biological and adopted family are killed by Shayateen attacks several years apart, leaving herself and her adopted sister Sunaina as the few surviving humans left in Noor. When the new maharajah takes power and people begin repopulating Noor from all over, Fatima begins to navigate the world of the Ifrit, and Fatima's world as she knows it begins to change in ways she never could've imagined.

The premise of this book is not ground-breakingly unique, but all its components work together to make it fresh and appealing. There's been a slew of Middle Eastern and Indian inspired YA fantasy lit in recent years, which is so welcome and needed in the market today, and this book can be counted in that group. Fatima's city of Noor is the optimistic poster child for cultural diversity. People of all languages, cultures, and religions all mesh together and coexist, to the point where Fatima herself participates in the cultures and religions not only of her native Islam, but also Hinduism, Sikhism, Shinto, and Buddhism. The diversity in the book is glorious, and I especially appreciate the author including a glossary at the back for the many, many times my ignorant brain needed to look up all the Arabic, Hindu, and Urdu vocabulary.

The female empowerment in this novel is amazing. Fatima begins the novel spunky and sure of herself, and emerges at the end just kicking ass and taking names (both literally and metaphorically, I can't extrapolate on the phrase due to spoilers). Sunaina holds her own in her own way, but not in the same trail-blazing way as her sister. Aruna and Bhavya also have satisfactory moments of female empowerment, but more on Bhavya a bit later.

Other little tidbits that I enjoyed: the fact that the novel opens with a heart-wrenching example of a mother's sacrifice for a child, that the plot takes its time to develop but, at least in my opinion, never feels boring, that the love between Zulfikar and Fatima is genuine and realistic despite the "insta-love" setup in the plot, and that you can see how much love and care went into this story.

The only negative aspect of this novel, at least in my opinion, is that some of the character development at the end of the story seems to come about rather abruptly. It's hard to believe that the maharajah, who we know to act when needed and can stand up to those who threaten his rule, would all of a sudden do the opposite. Its equally puzzling how Bhavya went from being a sheltered, meek princess fawning over Zulfikar one minute to literally ruling the country the next. I'm not saying the changes in the characters at the end would be completely impossible, but the lack of build-up to those changes just leaves the reader feeling disoriented by it all.

Just go read this, especially if you are intrigued by or drawn to more exotic fare than standard dragons and wizards in your fantasy, you won't be disappointed.

Thoughts on the cover:
Stunning. The illustration of Fatima's fire and the gorgeous colours just made me want to stare at this.

The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel - Margaret Atwood, Renee Nault

Title: The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel
Author: Margaret Atwood, art and adaptation by Renee Nault
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart (Penguin Random House Canada), 2019 (Hardcover)
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Adult; Graphic Novel, Classic
Started: June 27, 2019
Finished: June 27, 2019

From the back cover:

Offred is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships. She serves in the household of the Commander and his wife, and under the new social order she has only one purpose: once a month, she must lie on her back and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if they are fertile. But Offred remembers the years before Gilead, when she was an independent woman who had a job, a family, and a name of her own. Now, her memories and her will to survive are acts of rebellion.

Provocative, startling, prophetic, The Handmaid's Tale has long been a global phenomenon. With this stunning graphic novel adaptation of Margaret Atwood's modern classic, beautifully realized by artist Renee Nault, the terrifying world of Gilead has been brought to vivd life like never before.

I have a confession to make. Although I am both Canadian and an English teacher, I am not fond of Margaret Atwood's writing. I love the stories she comes up with, just not the way in which she conveys them (similar to how I feel about Tolkien). So although I have read The Handmaid's Tale and  love it for the story itself, the experience was like pulling teeth. So when I discovered a graphic novel adaptation was being released, I wanted to see if this could potentially make the written form of the story more palatable, and at least in my case, it did.

The art style of the graphic novel is very aesthetically pleasing, especially the bright, bold colours. I love how the artist depicted the dress styles of Gilead being very billowy, very much like how little girls are dressed, they hide the body rather than accentuate it, which makes sense given the strict rules governing modesty in Gilead.

This is a great choice for anyone who is a fan of the original novel and would like to experience a new adaptation, or for anyone who wants to experience the story but can't quite manage Atwood's prose.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very simple but quite effective, the only thing aside from the title font that draws your attention is the tiny embossed Offred in the signature red dress.