A five-star classic graphic novel – flawed super-heroes, complex characters, spikey social commOriginal review by John is posted at Layers of Thought.
A five-star classic graphic novel – flawed super-heroes, complex characters, spikey social commentary and an excellent plot make for a great read that questions our moralities.
About: Set in the cold war era after the end of the Vietnam War, the golden age of masked crime-fighting heroes has passed in the US, and the remnants of the “Watchmen” are either working for the government or retired. That is, all except Rorschach, a totally uncompromising crime-fighter who continues to operate outside of the law (the superheroes’ activities having now been deemed illegal). Since their heyday, several have met tragic ends and now the cynical public sentiment is very much against them – even though they helped the US win the Vietnam War and their most powerful member, Dr. Manhattan, has helped the US gain the upper hand strategically in the global stand-off with the Soviet Union.
When a final showdown with the Soviet Union seems to be imminent, one of the Watchmen, the Comedian, is brutally killed. Dr. Manhattan is then vilified in public and promptly disappears. Rorschach investigates and becomes convinced that someone is trying to murder or sideline all remaining superheroes. Is someone out for revenge? Is someone trying to tilt the balance of power back in favor of the Russians? The Night Owl comes out of retirement to help and the Silk Spectre (disenchanted partner of the missing Dr. Manhattan) also dons her crime-fighting costume, despite detesting Rorschach. They try to persuade the super-intelligent Ozymandias to help as well, but he casts doubts on their conspiracy theories and seems to be too wrapped up in running his business empire.
As nuclear Armageddon fast approaches, some of the Watchmen struggle to untangle what is going on and try to persuade the troubled and emotionally detached Dr. Manhattan to return to Earth to help. This in turn leads to some unpleasant discoveries for the Silk Spectre. Meanwhile a youth is reading a gruesome comic book about pirates, Tales of the Black Freighter, which seems to have some uncanny parallels with what is happening in the real world.
The ending is full of surprises and really challenges the reader to think about what is right, what is wrong, and what might just be acceptable in a world that is anything but black and white.
John’s thoughts: Well, I never thought that my first five-star rating would be for a graphic novel, but here I am and this is most definitely worthy of five stars. If you have notions about the graphic novel art form being adolescent and unintelligent, banish them and read this book.
The characters are remarkably complex and interesting, especially Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan. The plot twists and turns all over the place and I had no idea how it would all end up. The ending is remarkably thought-provoking. And it’s nice that Moore doesn’t try to lay out what he thinks – in essence the various characters have extreme and differing views on what is morally right and what isn’t, and the reader is left to decide what she/he thinks.
There is so much more to enjoy about the book. It’s a wonderfully dark story; it lays bare the shallowness and venality of the world we live in; nothing is black or white; thanks in large part to the activities of the Watchmen, Richard Nixon is enjoying his fifth term as US president (truly scary); the graphics are excellent; and despite much of the bleakness, it’s actually a fun read.
I’d unequivocally rate the book five stars. If you like dark superhero stories or any books that are deeply thought-provoking, this one is for you. If you’ve never ventured into the world of graphic novels, this is a great place to start.
P.S. When the movie version of Watchmen came out in 2009, many Watchmen purists panned it. I don’t agree. A movie could never pick up all of the subtleties and intricacies of a novel like this, but the Watchmen movie was hugely entertaining, fun and, as with the book, very thought-provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Whether you have read the book or not, I’d recommend giving the movie a go. ...more
There is a reason why some novels win multiple awards; this historical fantasy is one example of a book thOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
There is a reason why some novels win multiple awards; this historical fantasy is one example of a book that deserves all the accolades it has received. An incredible tome which is a grand meandering adventure into the historical, magical, and darkly hilarious. It is a perfect read for fall.
About: Set in the early 1800’s during the end of the Napoleonic wars in an England where magic and fairies exist; the story begins with Mr. Norrell as the self proclaimed “magician” of the age. He has delegated himself the task of re-establishing an order to English magic so that it can become as highly valued and respected as it once was. So in a twisted effort he eradicates every other magician/practitioner in the land.
Enter Jonathan Strange, a younger and more socially adept individual, who becomes Norrell’s student, learning what the older magician deems important to his acolyte. Sadly Norrell also hordes and hides all the most important information. Still his student develops, as Jonathan Strange is everything Norrell is not - possessing a natural ability for creating spells and magic.
This natural conflict is mixed together with an “evil fairy” and well developed characters. Woven into the mix are interesting historical facts, fantastic fairy history and a make-believe history of English magic. The result is a multi-layered, complex, dryly funny and wonderfully meandering story.
Thoughts: As mentioned there are many well developed and intriguing characters in this huge book (900 or so pages or 32 hours of listening time). It has human sized fairies (not the fluffy kind) and a mix of curious and down to earth servants -including appropriate roles for men and women during this historical period. It has a writing style which has an old fashioned English feel; quite proper and appropriate for a pre-Victorian historical era.
This book was so much fun and I learned some actual history (which I am completely inept at), as a lot of the detail is actually grounded in fact. But the best part is the intriguing amount of imaginary fairy and magic history included, which is entertaining and wonderful. A perfect historical book for those who don’t like history.
Listened to in audio, the male narrator did an excellent job of moderating his voice for each of the characters, classes, and genders. I was even surprised that the footnotes worked well in the audio version - as there are many. Here are two short and fun examples of magical spells which the author included in one of the many footnotes, which I could imagine using at one time or another:
Chauntlucet: a mysterious and ancient spell which encourages the moon to sing. The song the moon knows is apparently very beautiful and can cure leprosy or sadness in anyone who hears it.
Stokesey’s Vitrification turns objects – and people – to glass.
I loved this wonderful book and give it 5 stars. Highly recommended if you enjoy historical fiction and/or fantasy; also for non fantasy readers who may be interested in reading something with magical elements. This was a fabulous and complex tale!...more
The original review with additional links and information is posted on Layers of Thought.
A realistic fantasy novel set in Vietnam during the ill fateThe original review with additional links and information is posted on Layers of Thought.
A realistic fantasy novel set in Vietnam during the ill fated war against communism. With a touch of the magical/paranormal it shows a realistic, difficult, and heartbreaking picture of Vietnam from the perspective of a female veteran of the war.
About: Kitty, the main character, is a twenty-something nurse from the Mid West who decides to go to Vietnam to help in the war efforts, since her life at home in the US is not working out as she had hoped. Within the relative safety of the American base she experiences Vietnam in a privileged bubble.
As she works in the hospital caring for the wounded and civilians, she ultimately ends up relating to the natives on a more intimate basis than the soldiers. This is due to the nature of her job and her heart, where US soldiers are moved in and out of the hospitals at a quick rate yet those who are local stay. This gives Kitty time to get attached to many of the Vietnamese injured.
This is where the speculative comes into play; on his death a local holy man and healer gifts Kitty with an object which will allow her to accelerate the healing process of the sick and injured. Of course it will be needed in some very harrowing and gut-wrenching situations as the story progresses.
Thoughts: Kitty tells her story in the first person, speaking as a nurse in the Army would, with a voice that is down to earth and casual. Through her voice we see that humanness is not granted to just an individual country or race, and we look beyond the horrific loss of human life to the cultural and ecological losses as well. Below is one quote where the author describes Vietnam and its incredible beauty. Here Kitty is taking a helicopter ride over the countryside:
.. We flew over fishnet-strung seas, lush green mountains fading to purple in the distance, golden rice paddies, and aquamarine waters. Gauzy mists puffed up beneath us, veiling the valleys. It was still extraordinarily beautiful. But even from the air the beauty was marred by the bomb craters pitting its surface, like Never-Never Land with smallpox scars. I was used to thinking of Vietnam as ugly, hot, smelly, dirty. It had never dawned on me that the Rice Bowl of the East, as they called it in social studies, would have to be lush, that a country that was once a resort area for the French would of course be lovely. What a crying shame to hold a war here.
From the quote above we see another casualty of war.
The Healer’s War is an incredible novel which shows the horrors and senselessness of war within the exotic beauty of Vietnam; its natives are very much like ourselves, and we realize that within the context of war atrocities inevitably occur on both sides. In my opinion Elizabeth Ann Scarborough definitely deserved to win the Nebula for this book in 1989. It is a realistic picture of the war with a bit of light fantasy, and is recommended for those who do not generally read fantasy and very highly recommended for those who do. It is rated as at 4.5 stars....more
A sweet and whimsical tale with images of strength, valor and courage. It’s a poetiOriginal review with additional links posted at Layers of Thought.
A sweet and whimsical tale with images of strength, valor and courage. It’s a poetic and fantastical hero's journey especially for girls (and some boys too!)
About: September is twelve and like many children of that age she is bored and confused about life; feeling stifled by her chores - especially washing the household’s flowery china teacups. It does not help that Dad is off fighting for the country and mom is working in the war efforts; tough times for a young girl, creating the natural desire to escape the perceived drudgery which is normal for all youngsters of that age.
In her imaginings of something beyond her regular world she is visited by a Green Wind in a smoking jacket and whisked off to Fairyland. There she looses her heart and a shoe while meeting a variety of diverse fairies and fantastical creatures, while learning a thing or two about herself, the true meaning of friendship, and what is truly important in life.
Thoughts: With whimsical and imaginative prose akin to poetry (Catherynne Valente has an unusual grasp of language and is actually a poet), the book has meanderings with deeper archetypal and metaphorical threads creating a story that has wording that is often like a poem.
Contrastingly the story has “real life” issues placed strategically in it, where the main character faces tough situations which are not glazed over or skirted. There are sections which touched me deeply, creating a giggle or a heart-tug from September’s experiences.
Perhaps seen as an introduction to fairy lore for the uninitiated, or a revisit for the more advanced reader, the book contains many different fantastical creatures. Since I have never heard of a Dyad, Spriggans, Pukas, Marids, and perhaps a Golem, it was a lesson for me. There is an intriguing theory around the evolution of fairies – from frogs; which I liked so much. (Macmillan has a downloadable document; a bestiary for the book which is lovely and amusing.)
Will tweens and teens like it? I think most will. However, as one of the “uninitiated” adults (I have not read a lot about fairies), I found the text esoteric in areas - which may have changed since it I read the book in an arc format. So I would recommend it for precocious youngsters beyond their reading level (due to its vocabulary – check out widdershins!), older tweens and teens, children well versed in fairytales and their language, or to teachers and parents to read out loud to students or children. I would have loved having this read out loud to me as a youngster.
As a story for most age levels, it is a tale about fairies with old fashioned yet relevant ideals which may help solidify and reestablish it - strong girls/children become strong women/adults; perseverance does make a difference; and one’s home is the best place to be (mostly). I loved this whimsical and special book and rated it 4 stars. ...more
A steam punk novella which won a 2009 Nebula award. It has a bit of a satirical twist, where the women ofOriginal review posted on Layers of Thought.
A steam punk novella which won a 2009 Nebula award. It has a bit of a satirical twist, where the women of this “special organization” help with the fight against evil in their special and socially unaccepted way.
About: “The women of Nell Gwynne’s” is set in an alternative England where steam has a decidedly different technological aspect than the standard historical Victorian era model; this is definitely steam punk. The unique aspect of the story is the women. As high class call girls, each of these special women has been selected by the madam for their strength, feistiness and other special talents - all which help them in their fight against the darker aspects of their time. As you might imagine, their main way of ascertaining secret information is especially intriguing, and revolves around the high-standing men who possess it being in the awkward and vulnerable position of having “their pants around their ankles”.
Thoughts: I completely enjoyed this short novel and was immersed in it. A key to Kage Baker’s talents is that the novella is a page turner that took me on a trip into an alternative Victorian era - it included some fictional technological inventions which combined to create a story that anyone interested in steam punk should read. It was dryly funny too. I understand from my digging around for information on the author and the back story that she had a cutting wit and sense of humor; and it shows. I giggled a lot.
Although done tastefully it’s important to mention that since the story is about “ladies of the night” there are some interesting sexual involvements, so I consider parts of this story to be light erotica. Readers bothered by this kind of read should give the story a miss. But it is highly recommended for all steam punk fans and anyone interested in a fun read. It’s a 4.5 stars and darn near a 5 in my opinion. I will be reading a lot more by this author, which is heartbreaking since her books are numbered, considering her death prior to winning the Nebula for this book....more