Monday, April 30, 2012

Manga Monday: Can a 40-year-old Daikichi raise a teen?

Ten years have passed, and Daikichi has a whole new set of problems in Bunny Drop Volume 5.

Note:  Bunny Drop Volume 5 is, of course, the sequel to Bunny Drop Volume 4.  The review of Bunny Drop Volume 1 is here, and the review of Bunny Drop Volume 4 is here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chasing airships across the Wild West

Airships, espionage and atrophied Civil War politics all come to a head in Cherie Priest's second Clockwork Century book Clementine.

Note:  While the Clockwork Century books are of the same universe, with some of the characters recurring, reading them in order isn't necessary.  There are probably a few spoilers ahead though, so be warned.  Otherwise, read on!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Manga Monday: Can a naive girl help a young man reclaim his title?

As the world forgets about the magical, those that bridge the two are left behind in The Earl and the Fairy Volume 1.

Miss Lydia Carlton is a fairy doctor.  Able to see fey folk when most humans cannot, she learnded to help the two live together peacefully from her late mother.  She treasures the time they spent together, and as soon as she was old enough, she put up her shingle and opened shop.

Unfortunately, Victorian Britain has no place for fairies anymore.  Ad science gains traction, fewer and fewer people believe in creatures they can't see, and business isn't what it was a generation ago.  More and more people are starting to wonder about the girl with the red hair and green eyes that talks to the air.

On a trip to London to visit her father, all this changes.  After some very frightening situations, she ends up in the employ of one Edgar J. C. Ashenbert.  He is the rightful heir to the legendary Blue Knight, but as a child he lost his title and the Merrow Sword that would prove his lineage.  He's willing to do whatever it takes to reclaim his rightful place, but he needs someone like Lydia to facilitate his dealings with the fey.

Lydia has one being in her corner.  There's a fairy called Neco who plays the role of protector to our too-trusting Lydia.  While normal humans see him simply as a cat, he can speak perfect English to Lydia and can write, too.  While he plays the cat in public, he demands to be treated as a proper gentleman by those who know his true nature.

There's quite a lot going on here, and it's easy to get lost.  Raven and Ermine, with the names of common animal familiars, are almost certainly more than they appear.  The ability that Lydia and  her mother have to see fey isn't explained.  But some shojo readers wouldn't be tolerant of the slow build that other audiences expect, so we're tossed into the thick of things.  Still, the premise is promising, and with light novels, a visual novel and an anime as part of the franchise, there's certainly promise here.

Highs:  The reaction of the mailman when Lydia starts scolding the fairies on his mailbag is priceless.

Lows:  It's hard to tell where the plot is going at first, but things get cleared up a bit eventually.

Verdict:  A guarded recommendation, at least to see where we go in Volume 2.

Further Reading:  The Story of Saiunkoku, Soulless

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A broken port turns into so much more

A hardware failure shows a deeper web of deception in Mary Robinette Kowal's 'For Want of a Nail.'

Of course Rava would be excited.  Appointed the wrangler for her generational ship's AI, and at such a young age, she's in charge of the ship's most valuable passenger.  Cordelia does more than just run communications and inventory and the like.  Contained in her memory banks is the entire history of the family.  Every birth, death, marriage and other event in the history of each passenger has been documented by Cordelia, through the VR glasses that every family wears.

So when Rava brings Cordelia's case to a party being held on the ship, and the case that Cordelia inhabits is dropped, a rather important port ends up being broken.  This port is what allows Cordelia to access her long-term storage, both for retrieval and storage of data.  She has about two weeks worth of storage onboard, before she would have to start deleting bits of herself.  So Rava, and her brother Ludoviko set off to find a new i/o port, or at least a new cable to hardwire her into ship's systems with.

In the process, though, Rava goes to her uncle Georgo for guidance.  Uncle Georgo was Cordelia's wrangler before Rava took over the job.  He's mostly been keeping in touch by commlink recently, and he seems very out-of-sorts now.  He demands to know where Cordelia is, and doesn't seem to remember that Rava took over his job months ago.  

Members of the family who are no longer productive members to the whole are recycled.  How as prominent a member of the community as Georgo could hide this for so long calls all sorts of people - and AIs - into question.  

While the main storyline revolves around Cordelia, Rava and Georgo, plenty of other ideas are hinted at as well.  Rava's brother Ludoviko is on the waiting list to be allowed to have a child, because in an enclosed environment such as this ship, resources for things such as child rearing would be limited.  This privilege would be reserved for the most worthy.  The idea that family members would be 'recycled' as soon as they are no longer productive is a plan that certainly wouldn't work in today's society either.  But both of these concessions would be necessary on a ship with limited resources and space such as this.

This, like many of Kowal's short stories is available from her website here.  It's quite a nice story, with more depth than might be expected from an AI housed in a Victorian writing desk.

Highs:  Every character acts as one would expect, from the jealous older sibling to the old man losing his faculties.

Lows:  Some of the lack of redundancies within Cordelia, as well as in the ship as a whole, are frustrating.

Verdict:  A masterfully crafted work in a small package.

Further Reading:  Shades of Milk and Honey, The Risen Empire

Monday, April 16, 2012

Manga Monday: Natsume finally starts to warm to some humans

Natsume frees more spirits - and deals with more humans too - in Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 2.

Note: Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 2 is, of course, the sequel to Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 1. The review of Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 1 is here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Even Lord Alderscroft was a young man once.

Any good series starts somewhere in the middle.  It's impossible to go into everyone's backstory right from the beginning.  So while enough information is given to understand what's going on, there will always be a few questions as to how the characters got started.  Mercedes Lackey goes back to before the beginning and shows us how Lord Alderscroft became the leader of the Magician's Circle in The Wizard of London.

While this is the 5th book in the Elemental Masters series, it is certainly accessible to first time readers of the series.  While there are no real spoilers that I could tell, or anything beyond basic 'fantasy world magic' to know, there may be some that I missed, so be warned.  Otherwise, read on

Monday, April 9, 2012

Manga Monday: The beauty of Mongolia reaches beyond Asia

Mr. Smith embarks on his own - and gets himself into all sorts of trouble - in A Bride's Story Volume 3.

Note:  A Bride's Story Volume 3 is, of course, the sequel to A Bride's Story Volume 1.  The review of A Bride's Story Volume 1 is here, and the review of A Bride's Story Volume 2 is here.  Otherwise, read on! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A young man's childhood stories come alive in a most peculiar way

Everyone grows up hearing little fantasy tales that we eventually learn aren't true.  Whether it's Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny or house hobs and brownies, the world gets a little bit less magical as we age.  But what if these stories come back, with a vengeance, in your teens?

This is Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, and for Jacob, these stories hold more magic, and more horror, than his five-year-old self could ever have believed.

Jacob was raised on his grandfather's stories of the children's home he grew up in.  Abe told Jacob fantastical stories of the monsters he escaped by arriving at the home, the wonderful woman who raised them, and the amazing feats that his fellow children could perform.  The ability to create fire, to levitate, to lift boulders, invisibility.  He even hand black and white photos that supported his stories.

But as all children do, Jacob eventually grew up.  "Logic" began to displace "fantasy," and Jacob stopped believing his grandfather's stories.  Abe had a hard life, he reasoned.  Born in Poland, he was sent to the children's home to escape the Nazi's, and lost his entire family back in Europe.  Of course the children's home would seem like a magical place to him.  The monsters he told of had any number of possible real-life counterparts.  Perhaps, after losing so much, it was simply easier to tell these stories instead.

When Jacob finds his grandfather dying in the forest behind his house, after what seemed like an especially bad bout of dementia-induced disorientation, Jacob's world is turned upside-down.  Officially the death was blamed on wild dogs, Abe's death was a violent attack.  In his dying moments, Abe was able to give Jacob a few cryptic clues to his past.  Paired with a glimpse of what actually attacked Abe, a series of events is set in motion that only a youngster listening to his grandfather's stories might believe.

Chasing these monsters leads Jacob across the pond to Britain and the bombed-out remains of the home that Abe grew up in.  And while exploring the remains of the U-Boat attack, Jacob runs into a very peculiar group of children, indeed.

This book is in turns a ghost story, a time-travelling adventure and a coming-of-age story.  Jacob very quickly grows from a poor-little-rich-kid working at this family's pharmacy chain to a young man fighting to defend a band of children against monsters literally straight out of his nightmares.  He learns that some things are worth fighting for, and is betrayed in the most under-handed of ways.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is another piece of young adult fiction that is worth reading for people of all ages.  The photos within are all found material from photo collectors who loving scavenge piles for the most peculiar and strange images of a bygone era.  For the art alone, this would be a book to check out, but paired with a lovely story this is one that would be a shame to miss.

Highs:  The contrast between war-torn Europe and the idyllic country home makes for beautiful, haunting imagery.

Lows:  There are several side characters with talents and personalities what desperately need more exploration.

Verdict:  Yet another excellent addition to the young adult genre.

Further Reading:  The Midnight PalaceDingo

Monday, April 2, 2012

Manga Monday: Oh no, is Chi trapped?

Chi finds out if she has what it takes to be an outdoor cat, and also learns hwo special it is to have a home to return to in Chi's Sweet Home Volume 8.

Note: Chi's Sweet Home Volume 8 is, of course, the sequel to Chi's Sweet Home Volume 7. The review of Chi's Sweet Home Volume 1 is here, and the review of Chi's Sweet Home Volume 7 is here. Otherwise, read on!