Once upon a time a widowed man had three daughters who he each granted three wishes. The youngest daughter, Rose, wishes for the seed of a blue bean, the consequences of which take her on a fantastical adventure with Ah the Sigh. This illustrated short story by Persepolis author Marjane Satrapi is an all ages feel good tale about life and love.
This is a classic fairy tale at its best, complete with a whimsical storyline, a moral, and the rule of three. Full of colorful illustrations and simple language, The Sigh is if I can say so just this once: adorable.
A wealthy merchant has three daughters whom he loves more than anything in the world: Orchid, Violet, and Rose. He often goes away for long periods of time to travel around the world and asks each of his daughters what they would like upon his return. Orchid wants a dress made from peacock feathers to ensnare a prince. Violet, a sickly child wants a scarf to keep her warm. The youngest Rose asks for the seed of a blue bean since she is extremely interested in botany.
When their father returns he is dismayed that he could not find the seed of a blue bean for Rose. When she sighs “Ah!” in response, the mystical being Ah the Sigh arrives, granting Rose her wish of a blue bean seed. In thanks, her father promises Ah the Sigh anything he could wish for. As expected, a year later the Sigh returns, asking for Rose. Her father is obliged to keep his promise and Rose’s whirlwind adventure begins.
Like most fairy or folktales, The Sigh relies heavily on the rule of three: three daughters, three trials/tribulations, three wishes, and the main character, the third and youngest daughter Rose (again, three). The three trials she goes through with three different families harkens back to story telling techniques, which allowed oral narrators to remember the threads of a story. Despite the different circumstances she finds herself in, each of her three journeys ultimately has the same structure.
Satrapi’s child like illustrations add whimsy to this all ages tale, with pops of bright primary colors that highlight the fantasy elements. While there are some touches of violence prevalent in the narrative (as in a lot of classic folk tales) these are still drawn in a way that is digestible for children. There are severed heads, but no blood, people being dragged behind horses but no signs of pain.
Ultimately we are left at the end of the tale with the moral that life is tenuous and fragile. We should enjoy it to the fullest. Lewis Caroll has asked us “life, what is it but a dream?” Marjane Satrapi has answered, “life is but a sigh”.(less)
In this volume detailing the adventures of Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) agent, Hellboy, big red goes on the hunt for cursed houses, crazed Egyptian pharaohs, devious vampires, and probing aliens. This collection of one shots and mini-series tackles every paranormal beastie a demon could hope for.
This volume opens with a hilarious tale of Hellboy and five lost months spent drinking Tequila, wrestling, and hanging out with luchadores in Mexico. In this story he ends up fighting Mayan bat-god turned wrestler Camazotz (which roughly translates to death bat) who legend has it loves playing Tlachtli with human heads. Certainly a worthy adversary for everyone’s favorite investigator. Highlights include seeing Hellboy passed out in sombrero and poncho and struggling to see how much Spanish you remember from High School.
Mike Mignola keeps up the pace with “Double Feature of Evil”, the premise being that an undead audience is watching a double feature of Hellboy tales in a run down theatre. The first story is “Sullivan’s Reward”, where an alcoholic replaces his love of alcohol for a desire to kill. For once being a lush is preferable to being anything else, specifically a serial killer. In the second tale, entitled “The House of Sebek”, Hellboy encounters a crazed gift shop worker who is convinced he is Thesh, Pharoah of Egypt. The only problem is he kind of sucks at it.
“The Sleeping and the Dead” takes on one of my favorite paranormal monsters: vampires (or vahampires depending on your pronunciation). It’s amazing it took this long for Hellboy to encounter the fanged undead, but he finally does and it’s nothing short of spectacular, with a crazed plot by vampire kind to take over humanity and an ethereal child who may be the most terrifying creature Hellboy has ever encountered. Her propensity to sing nursery rhymes while simultaneously morphing into a corpse and clutching dead kittens is nothing short of terrifying.
Finally, the star in this collection (which really does have everything) completes this volume. In “Buster Oakley Gets His Wish”, Hellboy is called out to investigate cattle mutilations, which may be connected to the teenage witchcraft being committed around the cows at night. From ghost cows to paganism, aliens and anal probes, this tale is off the wall insanity, and everything I love about this series. Another plus is the amazing artwork from powerhouse Kevin Nowlan, who draws some creepy, extremely detailed cow-faces that will have you shivering.
Hellboy is an amazing comic for so many reasons. Hellboy himself is abrasive, funny, and never seems to run short of amazing adventures. In addition to this, anyone can pick up a volume or a one-shot and immediately fall in love with the world of the BPRD. There are no tricky mythologies, or characters being killed and resurrected on a regular basis, rather there is a strong collection of stories from the mind of Mike Mignola and illustrated by some amazingly talented artists. This trade is no exception.(less)
Shambling to a comic book shop near you, this BOOM! TPB collection has 28 zombie stories that will satisfy everyone from Night of the Living Dead zombie purists to new age quick paced zed lovers.
This omnibus has something for everyone, be it in terms of genre, setting, or time frame. There are stories that deal with life at the beginning of zombie outbreaks, during the infection, and the aftermath. There are heart-wrenching stories, tales full of morbidity, shorts with humor and ones with a lot of feel good melodrama. Some stories are set in modern times, others placed in the past, and one that even spans from the age of dinosaurs to earth's future habitation by space aliens.
The individual stories themselves are short and to the point, jam packed with every emotion one hopes to get out of a comic book in easy to consume bursts.
There are the stories that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, like “Luther”, which has its mentally handicapped title character searching the dead for lost faces, “Zounds” that stars zombies putting on Shakespearian plays to bring a little culture to the world, “Zoombies”, a story that focuses on animals and the role they play in rebuilding society, and “Ink Stains”, where a tattoo artist gives new life in flesh to lost loved ones.
Sticking to the horror movie vibe are the darker stories, which feature no words of hope or happy endings. Instead there are only twist endings. There is “Last Call in Devil’s Bend” where zombies aren’t the only monsters on the streets, “Headshot” in which a soldier is taught the true meaning of Darwin’s natural selection, “Nails”, about the cautionary tale of being a smoker during a zombie outbreak, and “Backbiter”, a story about the cattiness of the female species.
Thankfully, to even these depressing tales out are the ones laden with dark humor. Like “5 Out of 4” which entails how good oral hygiene brought upon the zombie apocalypse, “Devil Dogs” a tale that features a band who meets every Friday night to a sold out undead crowd, “The Great American Whistle-Stop Zombie Flim-Flam of Nineteen Twelve” starring a con artist and your classic damsel in distress, and “Finish Line” where zombies race for fun and profit.
As with any collection, however, there are three stand out stories which are hard to rid one’s mind of. The first is “Lights Out”, which details the struggles of a Super Man-esque hero and the ramifications of him being unable to save the world and the woman he loved from zombification. Painfully written by Eric Calderon and gorgeously illustrated by Ming Doyle, this short has an ending that will stick with you.
Next is “Zombie, Come Home” which is lacking in a lot of dialogue but features an extremely memorable story from Tom Peyer and the best artwork in the entire omnibus by Drew Rausch. It is at both times touching and painfully hilarious when a little boy loses his pet zombie, quickly evolving into the darkest version of Homeward Bound ever.
Finally, there is the short with the strangely amusing title, “I Sing the Body Putrescent”; or “Zommy Dearest” in which author Kevin Walsh teams up with artist Chee to produce an A+ horror story that appears to be partly inspired by the zombie control collars in the dark comedy Fido and partly inspired by Ray Bradbury’s classic short story The Veldt. Here, workaholic Dad and image obsessed Mom have no time to pay attention to their daughter, who gains a fond attachment to their remote controlled zombie nanny whom the girl affectionately names Zommy. And she will do anything to keep her.
Considering the hefty amount of pages and the successfulness of the 28 stories found within, this omnibus has a lot of bang for your buck, and comes highly recommended from one zombie fan to another.(less)
Nightmare World contains thirteen different tales, connected together by an overarching theme of morality. These stories are centered around the Morning Star (Lucifer) and Lilith, the mother of demons/Adam’s first wife and their agreement with Cthulhu to bring about Armageddon, forcing God to prematurely initiate the rapture. Yes, you did just read the plot correctly.
This final volume in the Nightmare World trilogy follows the same premise as the prior two Nightmare World collections: there are thirteen interconnected stories all written by Dirk Manning and illustrated by various artists. Imagine “The Twilight Zone”, “Tales from the Crypt”, or Creepshow in comic book form.
Based on the opening stories, I had high hopes that this collection would be the strongest in the series (as a whole, Nightmare World Volume 1 was convoluted and inaccessible to a general audience), but that quickly fizzled as the stories progressed and became more about extremely connected stories and less about slightly connected tales with their own individual stories to tell.
The compilation opens with the tale “Frozen”. It’s a solid opening, featuring a recognizable plot of a kidnapped woman who is about to be rescued by her true love. As Vanessa’s love Bachar fights his way to her and her captor, the question of what is spurring him on is discussed; whether he is fighting for the love he has for his girlfriend or his hatred for the Wizard who stole her. Anthony Peruzzo’s artwork is gorgeous, and his style puts one in mind of a high-concept wood cut.
The most “Twilight Zone”-esque is “Movin’ On”, and centers around a hitchhiker and a truck driver discussing how horror movies aren’t like they used to be, and also pointedly mentioning how the serial-killer the Satanic Slasher is on the loose in the area. It’s predictable, you know where the ending is going, but it’s reminiscent of an urban legend and that’s what makes the story.
In “Hungry Like the Wolf”, Stacie Ponder brings an original art style into play. The story is about a man who turns out to be a werewolf. There is no dialogue in the typical sense, and instead, Ponder draws pictures in the speech bubbles to represent words. For example, a sleeping character would have a picture of sawing wood in their speech bubble to represent snoring. In addition to this, her art is super simplistic and all the characters are drawn as stick figures. As a whole, it’s an adorable style, but it’s a one-trick-pony in terms of longevity. I.e. It would be frustrating to read a full length trade composed in this manner.
After “Add it Up”, a story about a vengeful Santa punishing those on his naughty list, things go downhill. The stories turn extremely biblical. Characters are concerned with the absence of god, demons are tricking humanity, joining humanity, there are repeated references to archangels and a battle, etc. The collection becomes too concerned with the theological aspects of morality, and the narrative which started off so promising gets bogged down in this biblical mythology. Rather than focusing on the fun, surprising stand alone stories, Manning plays out the Armageddon/rapture plot.
Thankfully, this volume ends on a high note, with one of the best stories in the Nightmare World collections, “Paranoid”. In this tale, crypto-zoological and mythical creatures meet up to throw a party in which they can be themselves away from human eyes. The party is populated with various creatures from Medusa, Cyclops, the Minotaur, and Cerberus to gnomes, leprechauns, werewolves, a gryphon, gargoyles, unicorns, and various sea monsters. Things get even crazier when two famous guests, the Yeti and the Loch Ness monster arrive late to the gathering. The story is original and the artwork is downright cutesy (again created by opening story artist Anthony Peruzzo). You will want to hug each and every one of these creatures. As a whole it was an extremely redeeming story after the mess of bland tales that preceed it.
Out of all thirteen stories, there are roughly seven decent stories and six throwaway tales about morality and demons. Statistically speaking, only 53.85% of the tales actually provide enjoyment, but those that do are top notch. If only the entire collection could have been as strong as the seven stories that hold it together.(less)
In a world where superheroes are revered as much as celebrities and come complete with their own agents, ad campaigns, and award shows, fan favorite Ultra AKA Pearl Penalosa is merely looking for love and acceptance.
After a night of drinking, superhero gal pals Pearl (Ultra), Olivia (Aphrodite), and Jennifer (Cowgirl) wind up seeing a fortune teller/meth addict who informs them that within seven days they will “find true love”, “suffer a loss”, and “receive what you have given”, respectively. What follows is an intriguing, touching, and humanizing look at three female superheroes as they seek their fortunes.
One of the things that separate this series from every other superhero comic out there is that Joshua Luna takes the time to humanize his characters. Yes, they are superheroes, but like the average human being they sit through boring meetings about quarterly reports, complete paperwork, throw up after drinking too much, and go on awkward dates. They may be made of steel or have extra tough skin, but they still feel pain and heartbreak like the rest of us.
To say that Ultra: Seven Days is a comic book collection for women would be irresponsible. To say that it is aimed at women is another matter entirely. The main storyline deals not with saving the world or fighting super villains, but rather with the relationships these women share and the backlash they suffer from the community for what they do and as with most celebrities, who they do. Ultimately, the series is centered around women and focuses on female problems, such as perceived sexuality and how it can harm women, but its light hearted humor and jokes on popular culture are something that can be appreciated by both sexes.
Between each issue are ancillary materials (a la Watchmen) such as magazine interviews and ad campaigns that flesh out the protagonists (these include ads for products like Cool Cola, Llama Cigarettes, Alzoids, Levy’s Jeans, and Peppi Cola). Interestingly enough, it is these false advertisements in addition to the covers of each issue (mock magazine covers), which feature the most impressive artwork in the collection.
Advertisements and issue cover art not withstanding, the main problem in the series is the majority of the artwork. As with everything by Jonathan Luna, the characters’ faces are overshadowed by their teeth. The women constantly have open mouths full of lineless chompers, even if they’re not smiling. Just because a character is talking does not mean their mouth is required to be drawn open. Unless this is an alternate reality where everyone has large overbites, or are part woodland critter, it is entirely unnecessary.
That being said, Jonathan’s artwork is entirely recognizable and there is some usefulness in having a distinguishable artistic style. If anything, while not entirely well done, it is at least original and distinct.
With a hefty price to match the weight and size, this hardcover deluxe edition is only recommended for serious Ultra or Luna brother fans willing to pay more for a few supplementary materials (extras include the trade paperback covers and preliminary sketches). For everyone else, there is the much more affordable soft cover edition already in print.(less)
Diego has an incredibly dangerous job: leading Mexican immigrants across the border to Arizona. It soon becomes apparent when his friends start turning up in several pieces that something much more dangerous than Border Patrol is hunting people trying to enter the United States.
Feeding Ground is inspired by true stories that author Swifty Lang collected about the Devil’s Highway (formerly U.S. Route 666) and the death that follows Mexican immigrants seeking a better life for themselves and their families. The monsters in this story serve as a counterpoint to the human monsters, Border Patrol that affects this journey every day. When Diego and his family seek to escape Mexico after a disastrous fight, they must choose who to trust, the inhuman creatures who seek their blood, or the government men whose job is to squelch their freedom.
I was a tad concerned that the overabundance of Spanish language would turn me off, but it was pretty elementary, and would have been covered in a first year Spanish course in Middle School. Or just by spending time with your Spanish compadres for a while.
One of the strengths of this graphic novel is the extremely vivid color palette, which put me in mind of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) skulls. There are bright yellows, pinks, blues, oranges and so much neon. It really is strikingly beautiful, and cannot help but put you in mind of the Mexican holiday, in which loved ones build altars for the dead. Much as this collection is a remembrance of the hundreds of immigrants who die taking the treacherous trip to America every year, the color work from Michael Lapinski is yet another reminder of this.
There are a lot of horrific scenes in this collection, from bodies turned inside out to heads speared on cacti to scenes in which humans transform into horrible beasts. These transformations further explore the metaphor of humans as being the true monsters. Much as a great deal of zombie fiction makes the distinction that sometimes human beings are worse than their undead counterparts, so too does this graphic novel, but with werewolves. We learn that humans are literally the real monsters, and that even people who seem innocent have that a base nature way down deep.
There are a lot of dangers in the trek from Mexico to Arizona, from dehydration to exhaustion, but it is humanity that poses the real threat. If you’re looking for a side of morality with your horror and don’t mind a little border hopping, this is the graphic novel for you. Just remember, we are the real monsters. We are the things that go bump in the night.(less)
There is a vicious gang of outlaws ravishing the American landscape, and when Doug Freshley’s employers and friends Mr. and Mrs. McNally are killed by the Delanceys, he makes a pledge to keep their son Bat safe. What follows is a tale of friendship and humor, as Doug and Bat set out for vengeance and struggle to escape Death himself.
As a non-fan of the Western genre (with the exception of Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles), I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying The Grave Doug Freshley. It’s a pretty straightforward story: a rough and tough cowboy and his young boy sidekick are on a journey to avenge his mother and father, getting out of tough situations through a combination of wits and luck.
This collection brings together a lot of tropes from the Western genre. There is the duo of a cowboy and his young sidekick, in this case retired schoolteacher Doug Freshley and the Joey to his Shane, Bat McNally. Bat is funny, spunky, and irreverent, a nice change of pace compared to his quiet, reserved guardian. However, it is expected of our cowboys to be gruff and brooding, so no complaints here. No one wants a scruffy, happy-go-lucky cowboy who just wants to make friends and wear Stetsons.
Other tropes include themes of honor and the importance of words. The archetypal cowboy is all about repaying debts, and being honorable in action and deed, and Doug is all of these things. He promises Bat’s father he will protect him and he goes so far as to come back from the dead to hold to this promise. In a way, the words he spoke formed a contract, resulting in his undead status. All of this is tied in with a theme of revenge. The outlaw gang the Delancey family has wronged Bat and Doug, who believe the only way to fix this wrong is to seek vengeance. While it’s a pretty poor lesson to teach Bat, Doug truly believes it is the honorable thing to do.
The Grave Doug Freshley is in part a satire of the Western genre. Rather than portraying Freshley as a cowboy with incredible aim who never seems to get shot, much less die, he gets shot on a regular basis (he just has an added perk of being immortal). Unlike other folk heroes, he’s not impossible to beat; he’s just impossible to kill. This adds a folktale/mythological element to this tale, especially when Death himself shows up to reclaim the body that Doug and Shane’s pact cheated him of.
The Old West feel is accomplished through a combination of artwork and antiquated language. Besides the style of dress (i.e. Doug’s way more than 10 gallon hat) the color scheme is decidedly brown, giving the collection an aged sepia look. There is also an overabundance of onomatopoeias (CRACK, BLAM, CREAK, etc) that further cement this older tone. The dialogue itself is your typical Southern drawl, with shortened words and contractions in conjunction with a formal narrative style putting one in mind of a John Wayne movie.
This is your typical Wild West tale, complete with saloons, barmaids, gunfights, tumbleweeds and an American folktale all rolled up in one. Add in an undead cowboy and you have the formula for a Western that has all the trappings a modern world could want.(less)
Peeps or parasite positive individuals are a well kept secret of the ancient, modern, post-modern, and post-post modern world, in other words: vampires. The existence of these Peeps is kept a secret by members of the Night Watch, a hidden government organization that loves its bureaucracy. The book follows Cal as he tries to unearth the people he turned and find the girl who turned him while catching rats, cats, and slobbery ex-girlfriends in the progress.
I have read a lot of vampire novels, and I have to say that Scott Westerfeld’s vampires are new and interesting and fresh. As far as vampire conventions go they dislike sunlight, have a hunger lust, are blessed/cursed with prolonged life, and are inhumanely beautiful. In Westerfeld’s world, this is all explained by the disease the Peeps carry, which dilates their pupils (and explains the inhuman features and dislike of sunlight), gives them a desire for raw meat and lengthens their life while eventually killing them. It’s a catch-22 that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
The disease also makes the carriers super horny, which is explains the extreme sexuality of vampires. Whereas in other novels vampires are sexual as a fight against Victorian social mores or to represent the AIDS epidemic, in Peeps, vampirism is a real disease, not just a metaphor. And Cal is even hornier than a normal teenage boy to ensure new hosts. That’s pretty damn cruel, because Cal knows to act on his baser urges would turn the object of his affection into a monster. And no one wants their girlfriend to end up like that chick in Teeth.
The new vampire conventions come in the form of the anathema, which is something the Peeps once loved but now hate (we learn this is so they become withdrawn from society, a survival mechanism of the parasite). For example, if in life someone loved ponies and rainbows (gee, I wonder who I’m talking about), the thought or even appearance of ponies and rainbows would eventually become repulsive to them. In the novel, various anathemas are Elvis, Garth Brooks, and Jesus (which would explain why vampires were once rumored to not like crucifixes, because they were anathemas to Jesus lovers). Granted, lots of people who aren’t medieval peasants love Jesus, but the myth originated in this age. And any excuse to type medieval peasants is a good excuse for me.
One of the inventions of Scott’s New York that I love the most is the Night Watch. At first I was reminded of the Discworld’s City Watch, but came to think more of them as the Night Watch from A Song of Fire and Ice, only with more paperwork and a more ridiculous cast of characters like Dr. Rat, the Shrink, and the Records guy. All of this underground government is overseen by the Night Mayor, who I had to have Cassie-wa informs me sounds like NIGHTMARE. Get it? Night Mayor = NIGHTMARE. I felt so damn stupid when I heard the name out loud. We learn that he has been in office since 1687 and was granted with a life-long term. Somewhere, Roosevelt is turning around in his grave.
Then there are the rats. Much like rats during the plague- the plague also comes up a lot which as a prior medieval studies minor I LOVE- “don’t suffer from the infection” but are merely carriers. In the novel they have a devotion to Peeps, becoming their brood. I thought of them as remoras to sharks, but maybe that’s just because Shark Week ended not that long ago. Like the rats, Cal is also a carrier, which is pretty damn lucky because only 1 in 100 who are infected become carriers rather than turning into Peeps.
The best scene by far was in Lace’s apartment, when she reveals the hidden message written on the walls of her apartment in blood. “so pRetty i hAd to Eat hiM”. Not only was I shocked by the fact that being a Peep ruins your vocabulary and makes you write like a tween, but it had my inner horror movie nerd jumping up and down in delight. That whole scene was perfectly creepy. Just how I like it.
My only problem was with the ending. It felt extremely rushed and everything was resolved too quickly for my tastes. I read the novel on my Kindle, and I was told there was another 10% left, however that 10% was merely a sneak-peak into The Last Days. When I saw that epilogue heading I was shocked. How could that be the ending? How could everyone have merely accepted that turn of events?
This story opens in the style of Cinderella, with Thursday Thistle being forced to do chores and simultaneously being tormented by her evil step-sisters, Charity and Joy. As expected, one is extremely round and short and the other is thin and tall. Although neither of them cut off portions of their feet to fit in glass slippers. Damn Grimm Brother, you’re so grim.
As with Cinderella, Thursday has bad luck with women. Her mother died during a “Hava Nagila” mishap and her step-mother ran off to follow a Pink Floyd cover band and take psychotropic drugs. She fills this gap by drawing (although she only draws robot mermaids) and obsessively watching Disney’s Snow White. Oh, and did I mention she collects crickets and lets them crawl on her while she masturbates? No? I must have missed that part.
Her journey begins when a two headed mouse, one head named Maya, the other Amnesia leads Thursday into a magical world a la the White Rabbit. The majority of this tale takes place in this world, called Lethe, the birthplace of fairy tales and where Thursday learns the true meaning of self (as everyone does in fairy tales- if only that happened in real life). Lethe is also a river in the Underworld (the Greek version of the afterlife) and drinking from it results in forgetfulness, much as traveling through Lethe enables Thursday to forget the world she left behind. It’s also necessary if you’re trying to brew the Forgetfulness Potion in Pottermore.
From here things get even weirder, and we begin to meet the seven princesses of Lethe, who all seem obsessed with the fact that Princess Monday is missing. Some are inspired by existing princesses in fairy tales, others seem to be complete fabrications. All of them have alliterative first names that give a clue as to their paranormal abilities/nature, which is why I’ve chosen to exclude those (they give away too much!). Like they do in Twilight.
1. Princess Sunday = Trapped in a very deep sleep, may or may not be inspired by the Sleeping Beauty (or “The Lost Temple of Rivina”). 2. Princess Monday = Missing, rumored to have been kidnapped by the Cannibal Queen, who steals faces and eats babies to stay young. Elizabeth Báthory much? 3. Princess Tuesday = Lives in a gingerbread house and wears a chocolate dress, anal retentive, bipolar, has a feral servant/horn dog named Babe. 4. Princess Wednesday = Based on Snow White, being kept in bondage by the Seven Diminutives as a sex slave, if she bites you it results in a contraction of nympho fever, likes breaking out into song. 5. Princess Thursday = Extremely low self-esteem, in an abusive relationship with Prince Charming. 6. Princess Friday = Doesn’t understand homonyms, is unaffected by gravity, has a harem of ladies at her beck and call. 7. Princess Saturday = Clinically depressed emo girl with a tendency to go a little wacky.
In addition to these princesses, we meet the 7 dwarves, who prefer to be called diminutives, a donkey who poops lamb fetuses to create a new-age breadcrumb trail, sexy zombies, mime monkeys, and a clockwork tortoise and hare. If anything, Fahren’s mind is not short on ideas or imagination. Or craziness, which I personally take as a compliment.
Fahren has a very interesting writing style, which I found to be original and refreshing. It would be impossible for me to explain just what I mean, so I’m leaving you with one of my favorite quotes from this work. At this point in the narrative, we are getting our first glimpse of the Cannibal Queen, who is most certainly inspired by Snow White’s step-mother (does that poor lady even have a real name!?!) “‘Am I not the most comely in the land?’ She tosses the husk on the mummified pile of other infants, as though she were casting off her rhetorical question like her past meals.” It might be a heavy narrative style, but I like its balls.
Now it’s not a perfect story, there are a lot of points where I get pulled from the tale by elements that seem thrown in for mere shock value, or when Fahren is describing a noise and he just writes onomatopoeias for an entire paragraph, or when the dialogue is so forced and painful. But this is his first novel, and a self-published one at that. Despite these challenges, he still manages to weave a light, enjoyable tale. I was going to say yarn, but I’m not that old yet.(less)
Let me start off with the good: the premise. The idea itself is good. Really good. So good in fact that I wish this mother/daughter writing team would hire a ghost writer to do this plot justice. In the novel, if it would be fair to other novels to call it that, fledglings are marked with an outline of a crescent moon in sapphire blue on their forehead, symbolizing their acceptance into the House of Night. This comes along with the words, “Night has chosen thee; thy death will be thy birth. Nights calls to thee; Hearken to Her sweet voice. Your destiny awaits you at the House of Night!” which is spoken by the tracker who marks the newbie vamp. A little melodramatic, but whatever. When one has reached a mature vampyre state this mark becomes filled in. I’m totally going to go live among vampyres, where tattoos are culturally accepted.
We even get an explanation of vampyrism, in this case we learn that it occurs around puberty as a result of altered DNA. As if puberty isn’t hard enough on its own already. As mentioned above, not everyone survives this change, and sometimes a fledgling will die when their body rejects what is occurring to them. It’s survival of the fittest, but during puberty. Again, talk about making puberty even more ridiculous, because in this world it might kill you.
The thing I love most about these vampyres is that they live in a matriarchal society, run by a high priestess, in this case Zoey’s mentor Neferet. The vamps are characterized by their dislike of sunlight, penchant for drinking blood, extreme power at night (which is why all classes are held at night- I would have loved to start classes at 6:00 PM), and their worship of Nyx (the goddess of night). This same goddess gifts vampyres with special traits and affinities (such as the ability to see into the future, talk to cats, or be able to call up specific elements). Unfortunately for Neferet her goddess gift is an affinity for cats, turning her into a destined cat lady.
Finally, we are given insight into vampyres in the real world. Since vampyres are beautiful they pretty much populate the arts, from music to acting to dancing. We are even told that Shakespeare was one of the most famous vampyres so we can assume that vampyrism has been going on for quite a while. This would make one think that they would be socially accepted by humanity. Not so, because in this universe there is a group called the People of Faith, a church group formed against vampyres. If anyone were to form a group in defiance of another it would be religious nuts.
Premise aside, there is a lot that I found fault with in this novel. Zoey as a narrator is incredibly frustrating. She’s whiny, self involved, and full of anger. She’s a female teenager. Most of us have been or dealt with angry female teenagers. I for one don’t care to read from the point of view of one. This is a direction contradiction from my last post, where I enjoyed the thirteen year old female narrator, but she was written a heck of a lot better. Not to mention that Zoey is a giant Mary Sue, a powerful vampyre, the only one to have control of all five elements in the entirety of vampyre history. After the end of the first novel, she already has a mature vampyre mark on her forehead, and ones cascading down her back. The hottest boy in school, Erik is in love with her, and she is in charge of the school’s elite club, the Dark Daughters. But of course she doesn’t have tons of friends, that would make her too perfect! Oh noes!
The Dark Daughters (also referred to as the Hags from Hell) is another part of this story I have a problem with. The leader Aphrodite who is described as a clone of Sarah Jessica Parker (who looks like a foot by the way) is your typical evil nemesis. She’s mean, stuck-up, everyone fears her, and she hides visions in which she witnesses people dying because she desires the destruction of the human race. She’s the leader of the most evil sorority one could imagine, complete with sacrificial blood drinking and use of marijuana incense. ::facepalm:: She’s an anti-Sue, complete with ridiculous name. Which did I mention she chose for herself? There a lot of horrible names in this book as a result of the fledgling re-naming. Like Thor. Yup, after that Thor.
As a whole, the characters are poorly written and the dialogue is shoddy and unrealistic. When Zoey first arrives at the school she even witnesses one student trying to seduce another by giving him what I have been calling a vampire BJ. I do not want to read about a teenager giving another teenage a blow job. In a school hallway no less. Especially when I try to figure out why P.C. Cast AND HER DAUGHTER Kristin decided to write this into the plot. You’re a mother and daughter, at what point did you decide to throw a BJ in there!?! Over tea!?!(less)
Sometimes just reading a book isn’t enough. Sometimes I need a book that is about books. So it was with excitement that I sat down to read about author turned bookstore owner Andrew/Ace. From the very first page I had what I can only call a bibliogasm (a literary orgasm). This is because Eric Smith’s Textual Healing opens with a discussion about the smell of books. There is nothing like the smell of a well loved book, an antique book, a Harry Potter book (ask Stephanie- they have their own special smell). It was with this wonderful scent in my mind that I dove into Textual Healing. I also had a dog in my lap, but that’s not really relevant.
Narrator Ace was by far my favourite character. He’s funny, self-deprecating, and his inner thoughts are a joy to read. At one point he stumbles across his ex Daniela and her new boyfriend, Mr. Corporate America Richard (AKA Dick) and his inner monologue made me laugh out loud- and not in the way you type lol in a text message. In this hilarious moment, Ace rants inside his head, “Dick (I bet he hates being called that by his Wall Street buddies, him in his suit, his expensive Armani tie and Kenneth Cole shoes, listening to his iPod, nay, his Microsoft Zune, filled with horrible music, a non stop mix of Wham! and INXS)”. These hypothetical situations are the funniest parts of Ace, and he even goes so far as to imagine Daniela and Dick having sex in front of everyone in Starbucks, alternately coming to a mutual decision that she and Ace should get back together, and devolving into Dick finally confessing, “I am attracted to small children”.
The strangest character and therefore the most fun is Brave Orchid, who owns the flower shop across from Ace’s bookstore. She dresses like a ninja, has a penchant for kicking invisible enemies, and speaks in the 5-7-5 format of haikus. She even holds an extended grudge against a customer who happened to come across her dressed like a pirate on Halloween (because the internet has taught us that pirates and ninjas are mortal enemies- perhaps more so than Jedi and Klingons). No, her character doesn’t make much sense, but it’s this hyper ridiculous reality that makes Textual Healing so much fun.
The scenes which I found to be the most enjoyable, besides the ones set in Ace’s bookstore are at the writers’ support group Textual Healing, which is run like an AA meeting but with less alcohol dependency. Or so I assume. Led by romance writer and extremely hot lesbian Stephanie, Textual Healings purpose is “helping writers, write again”. The group is home to Jeffrey Foster (sounds like Geoffrey Chaucer) whose second novel was a flop and was broken by the criticism, Andrea who is cursed with a horrible jacket photo, and John Landers, an ex indie rock star who can’t seem to get his kids books off the ground. We later learn that for some reason no one wants to publish his illustrated moral tales entitled Snowy Gets an Abortion and Fluffy’s First Hate Crime, which feature adorable bunnies holding coat hangers and being racist.
What’s really fun about this novel is how contemporary and peppered with popular culture references it is. I smiled through mentions of Joel Schumacher and his decision to put nipples on the Batman suit, the name dropping of Henry Rollins and Interpol, Route 22, “Thundercats”, Kill Bill, Converse, and Yager. There was even a reference to WinAmp. WINAMP! (I’m pretty sure my WinAmp skin was Sango from “InuYasha” because I’m a nerd like that.)
There are also as expected literary references, from making fun of books with movie covers as being blasphemous (I too won’t buy movie cover books and once spent a summer trying to find Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned without Aaliyah on the front) to jokes about book store patrons. While in one of many B&Ns throughout the novel, Ace thinks, “I’ve come to realize that no matter the cafe, there’s always a kid in the corner reading Vonnegut”.
I felt a connection to the characters when they talked about David Sedaris, Chuck Palahniuk, Nick Hornby, H.G. Wells, and Ray Bradbury. These references worked two-fold: they put joy in my heart each time I recognized a beloved author, and it fully fleshed out the characters that Smith created. To me, they are real.(less)