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Lissibith

Inkspot Fancy

Comics and fantasy and sci-fi, oh my!

Currently reading

The House on the Borderland
William Hope Hodgson
Dust and Light: A Sanctuary Novel
Carol Berg
The Dead
Jen Hickman, Robert James Maddox
Deadlands: Dead Man's Hand
David Gallaher, Jeff Mariotte, Jimmy Palmiotti
Ghost Hunt 2
Shiho Inada, Fuyumi Ono
Devil Survivor 1
Satoru Matsuba

The ugliness of the spirit

Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino

I love an unreliable narrator. There’s something to be said for a straightforward narrative where the only unreliability is people being woefully unaware that the person they’re always arguing with is the person they’re secretly in love with, but sometimes I prefer something a little meatier. And this story of death, jealousy and hate – of other people and of oneself – is a twisting puzzle all the way through where you’re never sure who to believe. We get multiple, disagreeing accounts of the same events, testimonies which have been potentially tampered with and just people’s inability to see their own lives for what they are.

 

Our narrator is ostensibly describing the events leading up to the murders of her sister Yuriko and her high school … friend? .. Kazue, who were both working as prostitutes at the time of their murders. But what we learn most about is these three’s lives growing up.

 

Our nameless narrator hates and says she’s repulsed by or scared of her sister, who she says is so beautiful that she actually looks unreal, like a monster, and whose eyes are inhuman. Everyone is fascinated by her and men lust after her, and according to the narrator, hate her sister and their mom for not being as pretty and striking.

 

Reading the general narration is difficult. Not because of the writing – it’s actually both well-written and colloquial, very heavy on voice. But the narrator has a bitterness to her you don’t usually encounter. She describes things in the ugliest terms possible most times, and sometimes she’ll start out describing something in a kind or neutral way, but her thoughts dissolve into nastiness the moment the person does something she dislikes or perceives as a slight. It’s sort of fascinating, trying to work out what the truth is from what she says and sees. And at times we also delve into writings by other people – the two murdered women and the man accused of killing them. But the women’s journals are both filtered through our narrator, so it’s hard to believe they have been left untouched – especially Yuriko’s, where the narrator actually says she had to “rewrite” bits that were hard to read.

 

Meanwhile, the accused killer’s account is so self-serving and pity-seeking that it’s difficult to take at face value.

 

The tale is, like I said, about the two murders on the surface, but mainly it’s about these women, and about the way they view themselves in society. About the ways they try to take power over their lives and yet remain , in a way, trapped by a society in which they are only allowed a few specific roles. Be the good, subservient wife, regardless of your own internal life or desires; be the career woman, partly there for useful work and partly there for added office decoration for your male coworkers; or be the slut, carnal and disposable. And our characters all think they understand how the world works, but in the end, only maybe one does.

 

In the end, this is a book about tragic, haunting lives and the ruin that civilization and expectation can make of people. It was well worth the read and I think I’ll have to look up more by Natsuo Kirino.

Paranormal Chaos (The Shifter Chronicles) - Joshua Roots

Hey all. I'm... sort of back. Got hit with a chronic medical thing back in October and just now got back to the point where I can (very slowly) read books again. I know there were some reviews I wrote before that, but didn't post. No idea where they are, but I can for sure let you know that I LOVED both Dust and Light and Grotesque, and was surprised to see them un-reviewed.

 

Well, we'll see how often I can read and post, but I'll try to be back. And now on to the review!

 

_________________________________________

 

When you get to the final book of any series, there’s always a bit of a fear – is this ending going to live up to the expectations that I’ve built up based on the previous books in this series? You’ve invested a lot of time and emotion in the characters and you want something that at least gives some feeling of satisfaction and completeness, preferably while giving a sense of grander scale than previous installments.

 

And I feel confident in saying the third book in Joshua Roots’ Shifter series, “Paranormal Chaos,” managed to live up to nearly all my expectations, raise the scale to glorious heights and answer all the major questions while still leaving the future wide open for Marcus, Steve, Quinn and the rest.

 

In the interests of disclosure, I do know Mr. Roots from an online community, so you may take this review as you like. But I really, really enjoyed it. J

 

In this installment, Marcus has been tasked with a job he doesn’t really relish – going to talk to the minotaurs because they’ve decided they want to withdraw from a major treaty with the skilled and normal. Luckily, he just happens to have a best friend who’s a minotaur. But maybe that turns out not to be as good a thing as he hoped.

 

This book gives more information on this world’s minotaurs – a race not well fleshed out in most of the urban fantasy I’ve read, and so welcome for that alone – and on the interactions between the various races, as well as some of the history of the skilled. It also gives a glimpse of what outsiders think of the skilled – an interesting perspective since most of the focus of the first two books has been close-cropped on the world of the skilled.

 

There’s character development, exciting action, vast world-changing decisions… just a wonderful third book in a series that’s delivered a lot of enjoyment. A star of the book is really the glorious bromance between Steve and Marcus. Anyone who knows me knows the quickest way to my literary heart is by making the central relationship non-romantic but still powerful and emotional and deep. It’s accomplished perfectly here – when these two use the word brother, it feels like they truly mean it, and have truly earned it in the text.

 

Now, at the beginning, I did say this book lived up to “nearly all” my expectations. If you follow my reviews with any regularity, you may also know I tend to pick bad favorite characters – ones who never really end up in the spotlight. And it happens again here – both of my favorite characters are off-page for the vast majority of the book. One is barely in at all. Boo :( But there’s only so upset I can be, because I can’t see how that could have been changed without ruining the balance of the rest of the book. C’est la vie.

 

I don’t think this book would require the earlier books to be understood, but if you’re considering this, I really do recommend all three. It’s a great urban fantasy trilogy.

Ghost Hunt!

Ghost Hunt, Vol. 1 - Shiho Inada;Fuyumi Ono

High school student Mai is just enjoying a fun afternoon trading ghost stories with her friends when a transfer student interrupts, expressing interest in hearing the stories as well. Her friends are taken with this handsome stranger, but Mai tells herself she's less than impressed.

 

But as fate would have it, she ends up having to work as his assistant while his real assistant heals up from an accident Mai may or may not have had something to do with (inadvertently) and thus, she gets drawn into the weird world of ghost hunting at the old abandoned school building that apparently every Japanese school has on the grounds somewhere if anime is to be believed.

 

You see, this guy - she calls him Naru - is a ghost hunter in the vein of all those TV shows with dudebros locking themselves in old buildings and shouting at dust motes, except he's less dudebro and more sort-of scientist, with all sorts of electronic equipment. But he's not the only person the school called to take care of the problems at the abandoned school building. They're a motley crew, including a monk who doesn't act very monk-like, a surprisingly old miko, a surprisingly young priest and a TV phychic. And while they're together, they have some disagreements about what's causing the unusual phenomenon at the school building, or even if there IS anything supernatural.

 

I really enjoy how they set this first case up - we get to meet these people, see how they interact and, by dint of Mai's novice nature to all of this, we get things explained without too much of a break in the story flow. And I actually love what's happening at the old schoolhouse as well.

 

But then, I just love this series. It's no Uzumaki, but it's definitely better at the actual creepiness than most of a series like Nightmare Inspector or something. I haven't reread this in a while, so this is super exciting :)

A historical mystery

Secret Rooms - Catherine Bailey

Nonfiction generally isn't my thing. I read it occasionally when interest warrants, but mostly, I stick to my sci-fi and fantasy. But when this book crossed my path first, years ago, I had to put it on a TBR pile to consider for later. And last month, when I realized my library had it, it was finally time to give it a try.

 

This is the story of the Duke of Rutland, who died in an entirely preventable way, cloistered in a few, damp rooms in the back of the servants quarters of his home instead of in the well-appointed rooms set aside for his use as one of the elite of the nation. The author of this book set out to write a war book but ended up discovering a mystery left behind in those rooms, and her focus quite rightly moved.

 

The fact that the research initially started for a war book may be part of the reason I didn't like this book more. It's almost two different books sort of shoved together - the first a tight, nicely paced exploration of her slow unearthing of the mystery behind the Duke's last deadly days and the project that consumed him, and the second, an extensively documented war story with endless letters and repetition.

 

Slimming that latter part a bit would have made for a much more interesting and better-paced story. Things got over-explained, we got letter after letter that didn't always add much. While it's nice to see this stuff in their own words, maybe include the most important and summarize others, maybe with a footnote pointing you to the full letter in the back of the book? It REALLY made things drag.

 

But that doesn't change the fact that overall, this was a fascinating and sometimes disturbing tale of a family that was irrevocably broken from some of its youngest days and from which, the youngest son pretty much never had a chance at regular happiness.

 

I don't want to say too much because I don't want to spoil what's going on here, but seriously... these people.

 

If you're interested in this real-life mystery, it's a solid book, and I think there was a lot more to this book than the last such one I read, "Empty Mansions." It wasn't a waste of time to read, I'll say that - and at times, it was downright compelling.

Yo. This book is funny.

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection - Kate Beaton

I wish I had the words to describe what Kate Beaton's humor is like. It's sort of absurd, highly unexpected and laced with an undertone of trying to teach you things (I know, right?) But trying to actually encapsulate why it's so hilarious to someone who hasn't read it before is an impossible task. You pretty much have to grab one of your favorite strips and hold it out to them and be like "This. This is why it's awesome."

 

And since it's so hard to describe the humor, it's pretty much impossible for me to explain why this is a hard 5-star book for me, other than that I find the humor to be actually laugh out loud funny and delve into things I didn't think of. From her jaded, cigarette-smoking Wonder Woman to historical figures hoping the people they hate will kill one another to the Strong Female Characters, explaining the strips doesn't sound like it should be funny.

 

But OMG. So funny.

 

All of Hark! A Vagrant is online I believe, so if you're not sure if it's for you, you might want to head over to her site and read a few strips. You'll know very quickly if her humor works for you, and if it does, I cannot recommend her books enough.

 

Unfortunately, there's not a lot to review. it's a gag a day style series, without an overarching plot, so I can't talk about characters or plot or anything. I CAN say if you have visual difficulties or if English isn't a fluent reading language for you, her hand-lettering MAY make reading the dialogue difficult. Just something to be warned about.

 

But basically - I love this book. I think everyone should at least give Kate Beaton a try if they like comedy, or history, or the arts, and especially all three at once.

Dark and fascinating

Awakening (The Dark Rituals Book 1) - Catrina Burgess

I was very kindly given a copy of this book from Full Fathom Five through NetGalley in return for an honest review - Many thanks!

Sometimes, you get used to a genre and it's conventions. It's comfortable. You pick the book up and you know you can count on certain things. And the sometimes you pick up a book in that genre, expecting those typical conventions, and you get something wholly and wonderfully surprising.

And that's what I got here.

Colina is a healer, but after something terrible happens, she decides healing magic won't cut it. She needs something stronger. She needs it to protect herself. She needs it for revenge. At times, she's not sure which of those is the truth. But when the terror that drove her to such a drastic decision gets other people roped into the trouble, she makes new friends, gets new powers and tests the limits of her own strength and courage.

First of all, I really liked that this story centered on someone who'd been a healer, and featured healing magic heavily. I was always surprised at how few magic-filled worlds had healing magic. I know some people would say it just makes things too easy... but that's what magic does. It never made much sense when healing magic didn't exist unless there was a reason within the system.

This book surprised me in a lot of great ways. I really liked Colina at the beginning, and while I found myself liking her progressively less and less as she underwent trials to gain dark powers, I didn't find her less *interesting,* just less likeable - and I think that was the point, done in small, wonderful ways. The ending completely took me by surprise, the progression of relationships within it were natural and lovely and the magic made me interested to learn more.

Also, I like that unlike a lot of urban fantasy, this is almost a ghost story. The magics, the plot, the characters - there's a heavy focus on ghosts and spirits, on loss and pain and the inability to accept terrible things. The inability to accept people doing terrible things, to you and to people you love. A clash of rational and emotional played out over a story of revenge and salvation. People's reactions were largely realistic even when those reactions tore at my heart.

It's not a perfect story. There's a bit of a pacing issue that, while never even close to a deal-breaker, made some parts drag. Also, if you're the sort of person who needs stories to have roundly happy endings, you're going to want to stay away from this. This isn't a story for neat little bows, it's a story that's  bit rough and dark but no less fascinating for that. I also found it highly enjoyable, and I think I'll be continuing with the series. I'm not always a fan of dark stories, but when it works, it works. :)

Finally! I did it!

The Secret History of Fantasy - Peter S. Beagle, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Yann Martel, Robert Holdstock, Kij Johnson, Maureen F. McHugh, Octavia E. Butler, Jeffrey Ford, David G. Hartwell, Steven Millhauser, Terry Bisson, Francesca Lia Block, Susanna Clarke, Michael Swanwick, Jonathan Lethem, T.C. Bo

The Secret History of Fantasy is a 19-story collection of what I'm given to understand is unusual or different fantasy, along with a couple nonfiction essays about the genre as a whole (and of course, the forward by Peter Beagle). Taken as a whole, it was a varied and sometimes fascinating read, though as in any short story collection, there were a few that just flat didn't work for me.

 

To start things off - I finally found a Gaiman story that I liked! It's like a miracle! His "Snow, Glass, Apples" is, as one might surmise from the title, a new take on the old story of Snow White, with a lovely, creepy and disturbing inversion on the story. Reading it left me unsettled in a really good way, but I imagine that for some people it might be a little too unsettling. Not for Gaiman fans though - this is stylistically pretty much in his bailiwick.

 

Another of my favorites was (surprise surprise) Octavia Butler's "The Book of Martha" in which a woman is given the opportunity of a lifetime - of all lifetimes - by god. I think this story had the most complete, most real character to me. Martha acted how I could see myself acting, presented with this impossible situation.

 

A lot of the stories I enjoyed a lot but they didn't hit the level of these two - Ancestor Money by Maureen F. MgHugh was a lovely character piece; Lady of Skulls (Patricia McKillip) and John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner (Susanna Clarke) both had that sort of fairy-tale feel I love; 26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss by Kij Johnson was a delight to read prose-wise and actually made the "it's magic" explanation work; Gregory Maguire's Scarecrow was another fun inversion; and Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock had a wonderfully ponderous mythology that reminded me, oddly, of The Perilous Gard (one of my favorite books).

 

Also, two of the stories in this I love but I'd read before, in the Stephen King and Peter Beagle stories. Both are really great, showcasing some of what makes each of these writers among my favorites ever.

 

Beyond this, I don't want to talk too much about individual stories, because while all of them were enjoyable, none of the rest really grabbed me. Some it was the writing style, and some just the story itself. In two cases, I'm not actually sure what the "fantasy" angle was meant to be at all.

 

But this was a really good, really strong collection and if you like your fantasy a bit unusual there will be something in here for you.

 

 

Baltimore Comic Con

I hit Baltimore Comic Con last weekend and wrote up my recap this morning. There's cosplay pics and, maybe more importantly, this pic of my book haul :D One new book is missing, but I'm still pretty pleased.

 

Book haul

 

Also, I got a great print from Eric Talbot and several more from ModHero which I love!

Guilty!

Miles Edgeworth: Ace Attorney Investigations 1 - Kenji Kuroda

I could make this the shortest review in the history of me writing book reviews. If you liked the Phoenix Wright serial manga (not the books of short comics), you'll like this. If you like Miles and Gumshoe from the games, you'll like this. If you just want mystery manga, it's still entertaining, but the wacky characters and situations might be a little trying for you.

 

So, on to a longer way of saying it. :)

 

This really does feel a LOT like the Phoenix Wright series, and like that one I believe this is five books long. It has the same feel as the game, the mix of the serious and the absurd that, for me at least, helped make the Ace Attorney games fascinating.

 

It's not a perfect copy of the Phoenix Wright manga, to be sure. For one thing, Edgeworth attracts the ladies and is assisted by a (somewhat incompetent) detective, rather than attracting the weirdos and being assisted by underage girls.

 

Also, it's something of the difference between Jessica Fletcher and Sherlock Holmes. Wright always feels like he's working things out as he goes along, and through dedication and persistence and luck, eventually puts the pieces together. But with Edgeworth, he always feels like he has a pretty good idea of what's going on even when he doesn't have all the facts yet. I think it's a matter of composure. It's an attitude that carried through his Investigations game and continues here.

 

This volume includes two stories. First, a woman is found murdered in a bathroom, and the suspects were all at a tea tasting party or a masquerade party. Then, the lead singer of a band is killed on the night of their last performance as a group and all of the bandmates are the suspects.

 

(Also, can I just say how hilarious imagining Edgeworth and Gumshoe hanging out at a rock concert is? Especially with Edgeworth standing there like he's too cool for any of it and Gumshoe being all like IDGAF).

 

So yeah, to reiterate - if you liked the Phoenix Wright manga, you'll probably like this. If you liked the games and especially Edgeworth, you'll probably like this. And if you like detective manga, just be warned it's a bit wacky. :)

Mooooore Turtles!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 3: Shadows of the Past (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Graphic Novels) - Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz

Splinter is gone, and the Turtles are off to get him back - with help from both old and new human allies, and this series continues to amuse me. :)

 

Also, I am doing my best to keep from making an "enter the dragon" joke in this review, but my will power may not last.

 

Familiar groups continue to converge, and I'm continually surprised it doesn't feel more forced. This time, we get Angel and the Purple Dragons, who aren't that happy about the Turtles being on their turf but aren't any more cool with the Foot Clan running around, so it's a tossup as to whether they'll let the Turtles do their thing, or attempt to teach them a lesson about gang violence.

 

I actually kind of like these Purple Dragons. In a lot of things, they're played sort of the way Rocksteady and Bebop were in the 80s cartoon series, but here they're presented a bit more like the gang in the original live action movie. They don't come off as cartoonish, like parodies of a gang, they seem like a group that would be legitimately in the city and legitimately dangerous to the people IN the city. Woo!

 

Anyway, the bulk of the plot is them trying to get to Splinter, and the baddies making their own plans for him. Ths Splinter is wonderfully calm and efficient and scaaaaary when he wants to be! There's a particular confrontation late in the volume with him that I particularly liked (no spoilers, but man I WANT to be all spoilery!)

 

I also like that this version of both Raphael and Casey Jones aren't as overtly violent and out of control, but it's all still *there.* Leo shuts them down hard when they start getting too out of control, and I kind of love it.

 

Overall, another great volume. I'm liking pretty much everything this series is doing, and am excited for more!

In flames

Firelight - Kristen Callihan

Firelight, the first book in the Darkest London series, is a supernatural romantic adventure of a different sort. When Miranda’s ruined father announces that she is to wed the much-gossiped-about and terrible Lord Archer (well, he says it’s her choice – but he also says he’ll throw her out of the house either way) she’s none too pleased by the concept, but decides to make the most of it. Of course, what she doesn’t realize is that the two of them may be the only ones in the whole world who could complete one another.

 

This is a paranormal historical romance with a dash of fantasy thrown in, but it’s a bit different from your general werewolves and vampires sort of paranormal romance. (Well, weres in general, I suppose, since they’re not *always* wolves.) And while you probably won’t be terribly surprised when the mystery of who done it is uncovered, let’s be fair – you’re not here for a mystery story. You’re here for the tentative, sometimes destructive, sometimes sweet way the two leads come together, learn one another, and find a balance with one another right?

 

Well, on that count, I think this book really works. The main characters are both really likeable people who have genuine reasons to angst over their life choices and circumstances. While Archer does sometimes go on a bit, you understand why, and it never falls into the sort of melodrama that just drives me away from this sort of book. And Miranda, while she occasionally freaks out too, does so for far briefer times and even more understandable reasons. The two of them verbally spar in an entertaining, whip-quick way and Miranda’s forthrightness means that there’s a lot less of the big misunderstanding than you might get from other books of this type. If something is bothering her, she either doesn’t or cannot hide it. It’s never quite clear which it is. :)

 

You see, Miranda has a secret ability – one she’s used almost exclusively to destructive ends in the past, although she did not always mean to. She fears losing control of that ability and hurting people, especially innocents. On the other hand, Archer suffers from a disfigurement he will not explain to the world, and wears a literal mask to hide it even from his new wife. But as she’s trying to figure out what happened to him and why he hides so, someone else is angry at Archer’s return to England at all, and sets about trying to make him regret his decisions.

 

We have an interesting supporting cast here – the tut-tutting maid, the old friends of Archer’s who may or may not be glad to see him back, the Scottish Ranulfs who blame Archer for an injury done to one of their own years earlier, Archer’s old flame, Miranda’s old partner in crime and, of course, the sisters who are central to the later books in the series… all are fascinating in their own right, even with the limited screen time some of them get. And while I did say there’s no vampires and weres in this romance, the book drops some anvil-sized hints that they’re among our cast, setting up, again, for later books.

 

So, having read the second book in this series and now the first, I can say without reservation that I enjoy them, I’ll probably be reading on, and if romantic adventures combined with period mystery and action is something you think you’ll enjoy, give this one a look!

Dangerous games

Case Closed, Vol. 43 - Gosho Aoyama

Going to sporting events in the Detective Conan universe is dangerous.

In this book, after a thoroughly absurd deduction competition that shows just how much Heiji doesn’t deserve Kazuha, the five of them -- Heiji and Kazuha, Conan and Ran, and Mouri  -- join one of Heiji’s dad’s coworkers and friends at a baseball game. But as they’re watching the game, a cell phone gets dropped at their feet – a phone with a puzzle to solve. It’s the first of three, and if they can solve all three, they can stop a man from killing himself and taking the whole stadium with him.

If you followed the series, you might remember this isn’t the first time people have been threatened at a game. But then, by this point, you may find the details of every case seem a little familiar. There’s only so many ways and places to kill people and only so many uses for fishing line.

This is an incomplete story, finishing in the next volume, and usually I would choose that deduction contest as a favorite book for this volume, but unfortunately, that case is one of those that shares a certain necessary feature – it’s a mystery that someone like me, born and raised in the USA, just doesn’t understand enough culturally to even hazard a guess. Part of the fun to me is picking out the clues and trying to puzzle out the solution, even if I can’t actually put it all together correctly. But in cases like this (here you specifically need to know what characters might be on the opposite sides of children’s spelling blocks based on the faces you can see in a photograph) there’s just no way, which takes a little something away from the experience.

Still, good, fun volume.

History lesson

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 2: Enemies Old, Enemies New - Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, Mateus Santolouco

With Raph back, the Turtles are a whole family once again - and we learn a bit about the past of the man known as Hamato Yoshi, before he became a rat known as Splinter.

 

It seems that every version of the Turtles plays a little with the backstory and this one is no different. And as always, without spoiling too much, there are parts of this I like and parts I don't. All I can say is, I'm with you, Donatello.

 

But in addition to that, we're also getting some familiar faces diverging. Krang. Baxter Stockman (and of course the Mousers). April O'Neil and Casey Jones meet up in a way that, surprisingly, has absolutely nothing to do with the Turtles (I'll give bonus points there).

 

The series is still very much in setup mode, but this is a really entertaining volume. It's not as silly and jokey as most of the cartoon versions, so if you're coming in with that mentality, you're going to find yourself in strange waters. It is a lot of fun, and it never really strays all the way to grim territory, but there are definitely some outright dark moments.

 

I really love the Turtles when they're all together and behaving like brothers. So, I really enjoyed a bunch of this. The fight scenes here are also tense and dynamic, which I love. So, overall I'm still really digging the IDW take on this mythos and am going to go dig into volume 3 here shortly. :)

Petulance.... rising...

Seriously considering writing a blog post about how much I hate when people say "finishing the book is the hardest part" (in reference to writing). It's really starting to get under my skin lately.

Developments!

Case Closed, Vol. 42 - Gosho Aoyama

Detective Conan is a manga that largely doesn't go anywhere.

 

I don't generally mind this. It's similar to its peers in other media in that way - sort of a gag-a-day but for mysteries. I get why it bugs some people, but I've never been bothered about it because I enjoy the mysteries. Still, sometimes it abruptly remembers it does actually have an overarching plot and makes some overtures toward moving said plot along.

 

And my favorite such development to date is the one in this book.

 

In this volume, we learn the allegiances of some characters who've been suspicious for a while, we learn more about some of the baddies and we even have a fundamental shift in not only how our heroes relate to the big baddie, but in how we view some of those baddies.

 

This is done with a dual narrative - one story following Mouri and Shinichi on a ship full of monsters - well, people who are dressed as movie monsters - and one following Ai , who's fallen sick, as danger converges on her. There's a tense standoff, discussions of the past and motivations, and one of the most brave things I can remember a character doing in a manga I've read in a while.

 

Ultimately, this doesn't END anything, not really. But it recontextualizes enough about the story that it makes this one of my favorite volumes in this entire manga to date.

Oh, weird west, I love you.

Deadlands: Ghostwalkers - Jonathan Maberry

This book was very kindly provided by Tor through Net Galley in return for an honest review.

_________

Let's get this out of the way first -- I love Deadlands.

 

For those who aren't familiar with it, Deadlands is a tabletop RPG combining the Old West setting with the mad science of pulp novels and the creepy horror notes of Lovecraftian and zombie tales. In addition to its own system, has also been converted to a number of more common tabletops over the years. I personally have the original book and the sourcebooks for both GURPS and Savage Worlds. They're generally the only source books I will take down and thumb through just for fun. Deadlands was one of my favorite games to play, one of the first ones I ever GMed and retains a spot in my heart as my favorite tabletop setting ever.

 

So when I heard Tor was putting out a series of books based on the setting, I'm pretty sure I couldn't have been more excited. So, if that matters to you, keep it in mind - I'm a fan, who thinks this is a spectacular setting for storytelling.

 

So, how about "Ghostwalkers" - is it good?

 

Yes. Yes, it's good. If you know Deadlands, it has most of what you want it to have. If you don't know Deadlands but think the idea of Cthulu showing up in a spaghetti Western would make for a heavenly bit of reading, you'll probably like it as well. It's an entertaining adventure with a cast of colorful characters, a bestiary of incredible creatures and a hero on a rough and rocky journey toward redemption.

 

Our main character is Grey Torrance, a man on the run from his past who can't quite stop himself from doing the right thing. When he comes upon a posse chasing after a Native American, the odds of six against one strike him as a bit off, so he involves himself. In doing so, he meets Looks Away, a Sioux scientist searching for a colleague, and gets set on a path toward a bigger destiny than he ever wanted.

 

As is almost required, Grey is a gunslinger - the sort old Roland of Gilead would probably say remembers the face of his father, even if he won't admit it. He finds himself tied up in the danger to a town called Paradise Falls, in the Great Maze of California, and from the moment that starts, the book is a pretty relentless runaway train, action piling into action until it reaches the wild final conflict where guns and philosophies cross.

 

If there's a definable weakness to this book, it's the beginning. The scenes are all interesting, xploring these new characters and the world around them, but there's something a little bit... I don't want to say episodic, not really. Disjointed maybe? The narrative smooths out quite a bit once they reach California and from that point the brakes are off. Also, this isn't a book you're going to read for the language, but it does sometimes manage to get quite evocative, bringing the oddities of this Old West to life. Still, there are some issues with the writing that you might notice - phrases that get returned to again and again, and a focus on certain types of description. If you're sensitive to that sort of thing, be warned.

 

Grey and Looks Away are both interesting characters, friends and at odds with one another in the same paragraph. Their interactions were my favorite part of this whole story. I'd honestly enjoy reading the continuing adventures of Grey and Looks Away. :) You will find they're not the most complicated and deeply developed characters in the world, but they're not really meant to be for the type of story this is trying to be.

 

The rest of the world is likewise filled with the sort of wonderful, colorful and broad characters you expect from a weird and violent western. There's corrupt lawmen, sharp-shooting rancherwomen, greedy rail barons, priests and honest cowboys and evil men trying to drive good folks off their homesteads.

 

And for those who want to know how it stacks up as a Deadlands story, they have you covered there too. There's weird and deadly mad-science devices, undead and Harrowed and Manitou, creatures that have no business in the modern-for-this-book United States, ghosts, the Great Maze and, of course, ghost ore to drive it all. The book explains it all for the benefit of people who aren't familiar with these terms and concepts, but I never found that the explanations took away from the book for me. I could have done with a huckster or some shamanistic magic, but there's two more books and I can be patient. :)

 

So if you want an adventure and love an old west setting with a twist, I really recommend this. It captures the mix of grit and romanticism of the old west, adds in a relentless villain who hangs like a shadow over the whole thing, and keeps the action piling ahead like a stampede. It's pretty much exactly what I wanted from this book.