When I finished reading this volume earlier today, I was prepared to give it 5 stars. Then I took a shower, had some time to think about it, and reali...moreWhen I finished reading this volume earlier today, I was prepared to give it 5 stars. Then I took a shower, had some time to think about it, and realized as I dried my hair that I had to settle for 4 stars.
Why? Well, it had nothing to do with the first story. That tale, occupying the first half of this trade-paperback collection, chronicled the continuing lives of the ageless Pearl, her aging husband Hank, and the sociopathic Skinner Sweet during the Second World War, and from the dialogue to the pacing to the art, it was 100% great. These characters are interesting, engaging and relatable, so seeing how they handled life on the Pacific front was a pleasure.
The same could not be said for the second tale, however. While I appreciated the way they tied together two story-lines which had seemingly been abandoned earlier on in the series, there were enough problems with the story and the execution that I couldn't justify giving it my unreserved endorsement. The characters felt more like cardboard cut-outs, each with a single overarching motivation and no emotional nuance; they apparently shared some sort of romantic chemistry, but it wasn't established very well, and it never felt authentic; and Felicia in particular never seems to change or react at all. The revelation of the anti-vampire ray, the scientist's discoveries, and Pavel's "Cure" for vampirism were all really neat, but then it was followed up with one of the clumsiest, stupidest revelations I've ever seen...
**UN-CONCEALED SPOILERS TO FOLLOW**
During the climactic battle between the ancients and the Nazis (!!!!), one of the ancients says something to Felicia Book in an unknown language -- that language is represented by odd, squiggly markings which do not correspond to any known language. Fair enough. Makes sense, since these are ancient, immortal beings that have been slumbering since time immemorial. In the next issue however, Felicia is studying from some books and apparently discovers that what the ancient had said to her was "Chosen One." *sigh*
Setting aside the fact that that revelation is idiotic (particularly in a series which has previously expended great effort in establishing that vampires are a scientific, natural phenomenon and not supernatural in any way)...
Setting aside the fact that she's somehow supposed to already own books which would allow her to translate an unknown ancient ur-language and which was spoken only by giant, ancient vampires which NO-ONE BUT VAMPIRES EVEN KNEW EXISTED PRIOR TO PAVEL'S DISCOVERY OF THEM...
Setting all of that aside, the text bubble for the thing that the ancient says and the thing she says when searching for a translation do not match. AT ALL. And it clearly isn't setting up a "whoops, she got it wrong!" plot-point -- it looks like the person in charge of the ancient's language just forgot what they'd entered in during the previous issue.
So, yep. The first half was brilliant, the second half less so. Four stars. Still looking forward to vol. 4. (less)
Oddly, the second book in the series is set before the first, which becomes a tradition for Brust's "Vlad Taltos" novels. Every other book, starting w...moreOddly, the second book in the series is set before the first, which becomes a tradition for Brust's "Vlad Taltos" novels. Every other book, starting with the first, is set in the "present", while the rest are all set in the past... So the order should be: 4, 8, 2, 8, 13, 1, 3...
Also, Brust's writing is rather like Sanderson's in that there is very little description to it. You never really know what anyone or anything looks, feels, smells, tastes, etc. like; the action is bare bones, and even the dialogue tends to be extremely simple. The difference is that Brust can pull it off because his novels are usually 200 pages or less (I haven't read the other three he wrote), so you don't really FEEL how empty they are -- they're fun pulp set in a sci-fantasy world, and that's all they need to be.(less)
"Fairest" is a series designed to explore the lives of the various female Fables (largely princesses & queens so f...moreWell, i was not expecting THAT.
"Fairest" is a series designed to explore the lives of the various female Fables (largely princesses & queens so far) from Willingham's larger series, "Fables". It's the second such spin-off, improving (so far) on the rather tiresome antics of Jack of Fables (whose spin-off series concluded in 2011 with the title character's death and what I now suspect was a parody of all the big "world-changing" "event" comics DC & Marvel have been shoveling down the line for the last three decades).
I honestly wasn't sure what to expect, fearing that it would turn out to be exploitative (like "Jack of Fables") or excessively snarky (again, like "Jack of Fables"), but the first storyline turned out to be pretty dang solid. The bulk of the volume is taken up with the story of Ali-Baba and his imp Jonah, who together free Briar Rose and Lumi the Snow Queen from the former's enchanted sleep -- Rose & Lumi were last seen being carted away by Goblins in the pages of "Fables" and I was curious as to what would happen to them, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them popping up in their very own mini-series. Briar Rose is something of an enigma, as most of the times she's appeared in "Fables" it was as an agent or a weapon, but we get a whole heaping helping of Rose here and apparently she's something of a bitter loud-mouth -- though really, with the life she's had, who can blame her? But the real gem was the reappearance of Lumi, my favorite of Fables various female characters. I love winter and I love snow, and "The Snow Queen" was one of my favorite fairy-tales when I was a boy, so it makes perfect sense that Lumi would stand out to me. And for the first 2/3 of this story, she's the real stand-out: Ali-Baba is a typical rogue, but an extremely competent and realistic one; Briar Rose is, as i've mentioned, bitter and loud-mouthed; and Jonah is self-consciously obnoxious; but Lumi...ahhhhh, Lumi.
Lumi is powerful, confident, and witty. And over the course of this story we discover that her apparent devotion to the Empire was not all that it seemed, that she's been entirely absent from her kingdom since signing on to serve the Empire, and that she's more than a little unsure of what to do with herself now that the world has changed. We also learn that her shift from merry snow-maiden to cruel tyrant was not simply the result of Jack's betrayal and abandonment. Great character development and insight! Unfortunately, Willingham then saddles her with Ali-Baba as a love interest, something which makes sense in context (she's always had a thing for bad-boys) but which disappoints me as a fan of her character.
The final portion of the book is taken up with a one-shot palate-cleanser story set in the 1940s. "Lamia" is a noir tale involving Beast tracking down a rogue Fable in Los Angeles and it's dang good. I always enjoy these flashbacks to the lives of the Fables before the start of the series, and this one begins with Beast himself musing on the ways in which mundane literature and storytelling have forced him to take on different archetypal roles since his flight to the mundane world, from knight errant to master detective to P.I. And what a closing note! What a finale! If only the rest of the volume could have been as unerringly great as this little story.
Overall, i'm pretty pleased with this volume. The first story felt a bit thin, but did what it set out to do, and the second story was a extremely strong. I didn't enjoy the art in either story (the first was clumsily realistic and the second was excessively cartoonish) but the writing was crisp and quick and it works as a good set-up for "Fariest", establishing the tone and the themes of the series. I look forward to the next volume.(less)
Good gravy. We are still witnessing Rin's memories of Shi On's life, but WOW - this volume took a MUCH darker turn than i could ever possibly have exp...moreGood gravy. We are still witnessing Rin's memories of Shi On's life, but WOW - this volume took a MUCH darker turn than i could ever possibly have expected. That's right - in a previous volume we saw a war orphan slaughter his way through a squad of adult soldiers, but THIS one was darker still. Bold, Miss Hiwatari. Bold.(less)
A heartbreaking entry in the series, trading action for reflection. We learn more about Shion's life and how he became the man Rin remembers being. I...moreA heartbreaking entry in the series, trading action for reflection. We learn more about Shion's life and how he became the man Rin remembers being. I actually think this was handled better in the anime, but it's still fantastic in comic-form. Ohhhhhhh, Lazlo & Kyaa! Why?!?(less)
Things get deep, things get weird. This volume is a bit slower than the first two, but just as intense -- my only real complaint is the fact that, whe...moreThings get deep, things get weird. This volume is a bit slower than the first two, but just as intense -- my only real complaint is the fact that, whereas the first two volumes were 100% narrative, this volume is at least 1/3 excerpts from Smith's sketchbook. And I don't mean "bonus" material; I mean that these sketches take the place of an entire chapter of the story. It's not that these sketches weren't cool, especially the original "cartoony" character designs and Smith's discussion of how he slowly shifted towards the more realistic, more hard-boiled character models. It's simply that these aren't what I paid for.(less)
I haven't written many reviews of these last few volumes, and the reason for that is simple: these are the interstitial chapters, the portions of the...moreI haven't written many reviews of these last few volumes, and the reason for that is simple: these are the interstitial chapters, the portions of the story where the characters are waffling back and forth in their motivations and trying to figure out how to proceed now that they know who and what they are. It's a slow-burn, and if I didn't know what was coming (thanks to the anime) I might not be as eager to finish these volumes as I am.
However, while there may not be much in the way of action or plot development, things do pick up in this volume. Rin/Shion cancels his engagement to Alice, Alice begins to consider the possibility that she IS Mokuren, and we are given insight into the lives and motivations of Shusuran and, most importantly, Shukaido. The fleshing out of Shusuran was much needed, but the expansion of Shukaido as a character makes this volume a must-have. Why did he sign up for the mission to Earth's moon? Why does he dislike Shion? When did his infatuation with Mokuren begin? Why might he have committed the cruel act that set this whole story in motion? All of these elements are touched upon and it helps move the story along even as nothing much is happening in the present.(less)
Tiresome. Tedious. Repetitive. Populated with interchangeable, unlikable cardboard cut-out characters. The dialogue is endlessly crammed with discussi...moreTiresome. Tedious. Repetitive. Populated with interchangeable, unlikable cardboard cut-out characters. The dialogue is endlessly crammed with discussions of fashion and parties and clothes and status-seeking. The action sequences either occur off-stage or crawl by at a snail's pace, and despite its name there's next to no sword-fighting in the actual narrative.
I have no idea how this became considered a "new classic" nor even how it managed to become identified as "fantasy." It's more like an alternate-history novel, set in a world devoid of the supernatural and which is a sort of melange of Renaissance France, Italy and perhaps Enlightenment Vienna. Guy Gavriel Kay does something similar, but in his novels the differences are substantial enough, and the supernatural apparent enough, to justify being identified as part of the "fantasy" genre. In Kushner's setting, the culture, the religion, the languages, etc. all seem like little more than vague and amateurish attempts at re-creating actual historical features.
The only "fantasy" elements about it are A) the way in which all the men sound and behave like women, and B) the fact that every man in this fictional world is less than a meaningful glance away from a homosexual romp (and naturally, none of the women seem similarly inclined to lesbianism). Ultimately, this read exactly like the sort of Harry Potter slash-fics my female friends used to write, in which Dumbledore and Snape and Harry and Draco and James and Sirius couldn't keep their hands off one another, yet somehow the female characters never seemed to engage in anything other than frustrated flirtations with their disinterested male counterparts. It feels like the rankest sort of stereotypical hyper-female wish-fulfillment, and the fact that the author is a woman at once does not surprise me and confounds me utterly.
So no, i was not a fan. And i suspect its "classic" status has more to do with the fact that it was one of the first "fantasy" novels to deal with homosexuality (cartoonish and adolescent though its approach might be) in an open, encouraging and frank manner, than any sort of value the book itself might contain. Indeed, THAT is the only sort of "swordplay" this book truly contains.
PS: I deeply regret buying both this book and its sequel. I have learned a valuable lesson about believing a book's hype.(less)
I was initially pleased to find that this novel was an improvement on Shades of Milk and Honey. The writing was crisper, the pacing was brisker, and t...moreI was initially pleased to find that this novel was an improvement on Shades of Milk and Honey. The writing was crisper, the pacing was brisker, and the romantic leads seemed far more sympathetic. Then I started paying attention to the protagonist, and... Yeesh.
Jane is selfish, spiteful, petty and vain. She manifests a single-minded self-centeredness that verges on sociopathy, and seems to view even her "dear" husband as little more than a possession or an obstacle.
To make matters worse, the author seems to unwittingly use her to anachronistically project 21st-century Western anti-pregnancy attitudes onto the time period in which this book is supposed to be set. I say "unwittingly" because I've heard her discuss this novel on the "Writing Excuses" podcast and she never once hinted at the fact that she'd be projecting the thoroughly modern attitude of pregnancy-as-oppressive-disease back into the Napoleonic era.
I imagine we're supposed to feel bad for Jane when she finally miscarries, but the author spends less time on that supposedly-harrowing experience than she does describing the dinner party they attend afterwards. What is more, the fact that Jane always (ALWAYS) resented the pregnancy, and, upon discovering the miscarriage, silently exulted in the fact that she could work again... Yeah, not really feeling much pity. I'm sure some of that has to do with the fact that so many of my friends have had repeated miscarriages when they desperately WANTED children, but at least I can recognize my bias. The author seems entirely unaware of how solipsistic and repellent her character appears at that point.
There's even a rather frightening scene in which Jane's husband tries to convince her that the guilt she feels over being relieved at the miscarriage is an indication that she isn't REALLY a bad person and must not REALLY have wanted it to happen. Why might that be so frightening? After all, it sounds like a reasonable explanation, something many a woman who has suffered a miscarriage would need to hear. Well, readers, it's frightening because the author explains within that scene that Jane ONLY feels guilty because she knows she's supposed to. I reviewed that scene over and over, certain I had misread or misunderstood it, but the author explicitly states that Jane doesn't feel bad about the miscarriage, or even about rejoicing in the miscarriage -- rather, Jane feels bad for not feeling bad at all. Vincent is, in fact, enabling her and engaging in a tragic moment of wishful thinking to soothe his own mind.
Add to that the fact that the protagonist finds a way (one of a long line of ways in the story) to make her brutally-abused, former P.O.W. husband feel guilty for her feelings which she had previously refused to voice and repeatedly projected onto him... Again, I'm not feeling much sympathy for her.
I understand that I, as a 21st century male, am not the intended audience for this, even though I love the novels of Jane Austen and grew up an ardent feminist. I can't believe that this was what Mary Robinette Kowal intended, but it's what she produced nonetheless. I had expected the end of the book to redeem it for me, but instead I was left horrified. I will not be reading another volume in this series.(less)
I read this all in one night, just before bed and immediately after reading the preceding volume, so i don't remember the specific details too well. T...moreI read this all in one night, just before bed and immediately after reading the preceding volume, so i don't remember the specific details too well. That said, this volume continues building the relationships and the narrative, turning "Please Save My Earth" from a simple supernatural romance into a grand tragedy, a beautiful meditation on identity, age and madness.(less)
This is where the story really starts getting good, just like in the anime. The identities of the reborn Shion & Shukaido are finally revealed, wh...moreThis is where the story really starts getting good, just like in the anime. The identities of the reborn Shion & Shukaido are finally revealed, while Alice begins to doubt (reject, really) her identity as the reborn Mokuren; Rin's actions are finally explained, as are his erratic behavior and startling powers, and the true nature of what befell the alien scientists is revealed. Surprises galore as children and teenagers struggle to deal with adult problems from lives they're only now discovering they once lived.
It's worth noting as well that many questions left completely unanswered (and bafflingly so!) in the anime are answered here. It's almost as though the writers for the anime were so concerned with squeezing as many important scenes into the series as possible that they left out much of the substance... Rin's obsession with the Tokyo Tower is explained, the reasons behind Rin & Haruhiko's appearances are explained, and Shukaido's motivation is finally revealed!(less)
As I suspected, the series is becoming more and more serious as the artist/author gets a better handle on the characters and what she wants to do with...moreAs I suspected, the series is becoming more and more serious as the artist/author gets a better handle on the characters and what she wants to do with them. She admits in notes throughout the book that she was ("is") just making it up as she went ("goes") along, which shows in certain scenes -- incongruous slapstick, breaking of the fourth wall, etc.
Oddly enough, Alice was apparently the most popular character in Japan. I felt nothing for her in the anime, and in the manga I simply can't stand her. So far, the most interesting story elements are Issei's struggle with the fact that he's a straight woman reincarnated as a straight man and the mystery of who exactly Rin used to be...(less)
I first became aware of "Please Save My Earth" when the beautiful and subtle 6 episode mini-series ran on a local PBS station in the late 1990s. The s...moreI first became aware of "Please Save My Earth" when the beautiful and subtle 6 episode mini-series ran on a local PBS station in the late 1990s. The series relied on softness, on understatement and implication, which served to enhance the brief moments of action and revelation. It also dealt with themes one rarely expects to encounter, even in Japanese television. The only problem I ever had with the anime was that it ended so abruptly, seemingly mid-story, with a strange and incomprehensible series of images set to a recited poem -- this seemed intended to resolve the rest of the story, but it really only made me scratch my head in bewilderment and made everyone I showed it to say "Bazzuh?!?" It wasn't until a year or so later that I learned the show was an adaptation of a 1980s manga series, and that this incomprehensible finale was actually a montage of images from the manga original rendered in the style of the anime.
Now, after years, I have finally got my hands on translated copies of the manga! They're a bit battered, purchased used on eBay, but they're mine! Mine! Mine! And as it turns out, the manga is very different -- especially in terms of tone and characterization. This volume seems to have been the basis for the first episode (though I may have to re-watch the series to confirm that), yet all the polish of the anime is absent here. The pacing is off, the protagonists are annoying and poorly-defined, and the artist's style is very much a product of mid-1980s Japan. There are brief moments, brief scenes, which carry the feelings and artistry so perfectly captured by the anime, but based on the artist's notes in this volume she was deliberately trying to stretch and challenge herself by doing something unlike anything she had previously done -- and it shows. The manga shifts abruptly from what we might today call "emo" scenes to scenes of sheer goofiness to quality scenes which seem to carry sparks or seeds of the anime I love so much. The art is sometimes reminiscent of "Dragonball Z" or "Doraemon", sometimes reminiscent of "Neon Genesis: Evangelion" or "Mononoke Hime".
I'll keep reading, both because I hold out hope that the artist decided what she wanted this series to be before too many issues had elapsed, and because I want to know what finally becomes of the characters and what the strange images from the anime finale's montage are referencing. Overall, I'd probably just give this 2 stars; the extra star I'm giving it now is purely based on my knowledge of what is to come and the importance of this "set-up" volume for the rest of the narrative. (less)