The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill

The Tea Dragon Society
by Katie O’Neill
Published: October 31 2017 by Oni Press
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Pages: 72p
Source: review copy provided via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★★

From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own.

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Truly gorgeous, both in illustration and in text, which comes as no surprise if you have read any of the author’s other works (Princess Princess is wonderful!). For as short as this graphic novel is, the story is deep and full. Definitely deserving of a sequel or two… or three. This is a beautiful book I would love to have on my shelves, and certainly one that can stand up to rereading. My only wish is that it were just a few pages longer – the illustrations are just so captivating!

The addition of Extracts from the Tea Dragon Handbook is an excellent touch. Learning the quirks of different breeds of tea dragon as well as tips for their care made me nostalgic for the Dragonology Handbook and similar fiction books written as nonfiction guides that I adored when I was a kid. Coupled with clear rep for characters with different skin tones, disabilities, and sexualities, this just knocked it straight out of the park for me.

Soft, exquisite fantasy at its finest.

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The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie (Illustrator), Matt Wilson (Colorist), Clayton Cowles
Series: The Wicked + The Divine (Vol. 2)
: July 1st 2015 by Image Comics
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Pages: 168p
Source: library borrow
Rating: ★★★.5☆
The second volume of the award-winning urban fantasy series where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. Following the tragic and unjust death of Lucifer, it takes a revelation from Inanna to draw Laura back into the worlds of Gods and Superstardom to try and discover the truth behind a conspiracy to subvert divinity. Includes issues 6-11 of the series, plus supplementary material.

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For those unfamiliar with The Wicked + The Divine series, the basic plotline is this: Every 90 years, a pantheon of gods are reborn into the human world. In the modern day, they are treated as modern pop star celebrities. It features a diverse cast of characters, and follows the human Laura, a fan of the gods who encounters this century’s Lucifer early on.

I started The Wicked + The Divine series in late 2015. I never reviewed it, either here or on my original blog, and my Goodreads review of Volume 1 is simply this:

I do love me some deicide. And hot damn it was beautiful!

Volume Two is no exception to this at all. The Wicked + The Divine is beautifully crafted, with exquisite art and interesting character designs. This series has haunted me ever since I picked up page one. Too often do I read a book, rate it highly, and then forget about it entirely until it’s time to go through what I’ve read for the year for a Top 10 list and go “oh yeah, this book exists.” Not so with TW+TD. I have meant to grab Vol. 2 ever since I flipped the last page of Volume 1 – for whatever reason, I just kept missing it.

If second-volume-sag is a thing, I felt that Vol. 2 definitely was a victim. Maybe I just loved Luci a little too much. Volume 2 focuses on Laura’s desire to find out who framed Luci, and find out she definitely does. The plot was there, it was solid, I just found myself drifting off while reading and going ‘Is this it?’. I was invested in the plot but detached in a bizarre way. Perhaps my memory of Volume 1 and my self-hype meant that Volume 2 couldn’t live up to my expectations –

Until the ending. Holy shit, was that an ending. The writer certainly knows how to keep someone invested in the storyline. Regardless, my apathy toward much (if not all) of the volume leads me to a sad 3.5 star rating for the collection as a whole.

La’Ron Readus did an excellent review of Volume 2 not long before I got my hands on my copy. He enjoyed it far more than I did, and I wonder if that’s to the massive span of time between readings for me. His review goes a bit more into depth on the connections between the volumes, something I can’t do quite as well since it’s been so long since I began the series.

Right now I’m off to pick up Volumes 3 and 4.

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Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine – review

Bitch Planet Volume 1

Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine
by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Writer), Valentine De Landro (Artist), Robert Wilson IV (Artist)
Series: Bitch Planet (Vol. 1)
: October 7th 2015 by Image Comics
Genre: graphic novel, science fiction
Pages: 156p
Source: purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

Eisner Award-nominated writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel) and Valentine De Landro (X-Factor) team up to bring you the premiere volume of Bitch Planet, a deliciously vicious riff on women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation.

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

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Volume One of BITCH PLANET collects the first five issues and it was a treat! This was such an interesting read. Some points made definitely pour salt in fresh wounds. I had to finish this in a series of sitting because, especially in the climate we’re living in today, the tyrannical patriarchy aspect really chapped my ass.

BITCH PLANET features a cast in skin tone, body type, and sexuality (this hasn’t really been touched on much yet but there do appear to be some queer characters). Every main character is a woman. Even better, it’s written by a woman, so this doesn’t have that uncomfortable aftertaste of “I can tell a man wrote this female character because her breasts are mentioned on nearly every page.”

The nudity is not gratuitous, it is secondary to what’s happening even though it’s necessary given their circumstances. Women shower naked. What they’re talking about in the shower, and what it leads to, are far more important that the outlines of average breasts. (This was another favorite part of mine – they look like normal women of all shapes and sizes, including their breasts that don’t sit just beneath their collarbones like skin-colored grapefruits.)

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I could name more than a couple of characters though I do recognize them when they show up. The same thing happens to me with TV shows, and I wind up referring to Eleanor Guthrie as “the blonde lady” for the whole first season of Black Sails before her name sticks in my head. When it sticks though, it does stick. BITCH PLANET has a large cast of characters and I am just used to fiction that reminds you of someone’s name every other paragraph. The characters are definitely intriguing, especially when it’s mentioned what they’re ‘in for’ before they’re really introduced. Sci-fi is normally hard for me to connect with (probably because it’s often weighed down beneath the male gaze) but I had no such issues with BITCH PLANET.

The art has a very typically comic book style. It’s not the most polished thing, but it definitely suits the aesthetic of the story. Let me tell you, this is one of the more aesthetically pleasing, humorous graphic novels I’ve yet put my eyeballs on. The story is hard to follow in some places, especially if you only read the first issue or two. Definitely pick up the volume for a more full story arc if you’re interested.

One of the final pages (possibly an endpaper? my copy is digital so I don’t know) reads:







What sci-fi trope are you least fond of?

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Yvain: The Knight of the Lion eARC review

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by M. T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
by M.T. Anderson and andrea offermann
Published: March 14th 2017 by Candlewick Press
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy, historical fiction
Pages: 144p
Source: eARC provided via NetGalley
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

In his first graphic novel, National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson turns to Arthurian lore, with captivating art by Andrea Offermann bringing the classic legend to life.

Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur’s court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful widow of the fallen lord, and her sly maid Lunette.

In a stunning visual interpretation of a 12th century epic poem by Chrétien de Troyes, readers are — at first glance — transported into a classic Arthurian romance complete with errant knights, plundering giants, and fire-breathing dragons. A closer look, however, reveals a world rich with unspoken emotion.

Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann sheds light upon the inner lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette. Renowned author M. T. Anderson embraces a new form with a sophisticated graphic novel that challenges Yvain’s role as hero, delves into the honesty and anguish of love, and asks just how fundamentally the true self can really change.

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Note: I received an advance copy for review. Some things may have changed in the final version.

I’ve only had one experience with M.T. Anderson’s work before – I read Feed in high school which was…. Well, it was more than half a decade ago. I loved it then but I haven’t touched it since. The fact that he was the author drew me to this more than a promise of some insight about Arthurian lore.The action scenes are dynamic but there were some panels which I felt were wasted opportunities to show more of a setting or have a more dramatic angle than ‘straight-on shot of a bloke sitting at a table with mouth open to show he’s talking’. Not all of the panels were like this, they were a minority, but what stood out most was that there would be so many of these such panels in a row.

A lot seems lost on me since my only knowledge of Arthurian legend is from other adaptations – you know, “strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government” and Quest for Camelot and all that. Without knowing anything “true” and “accurate” (I could go on with the scare quotes there) about Arthurian legend, my guess is that this is supposed to be a “faithful” adaptation for Serious Arthurian Scholars.

Again, this is just my guess, but it seems to use the Frozen excuse of “historical accuracy” to not draw anyone darker than NC15 in its fictional representation of things that never actually happened. BBC’s Merlin had a more diverse cast than this for crying out loud. The horses in this graphic novel have a more diverse range of coat colors than the characters do skin tones

On top of that, the instalove could put many YA books to shame. Convention of myths or not, it’s still bad. At least the entire point of Romeo and Juliet is that they’re being foolish.

Part one, for me, was dull. I couldn’t follow a lot of what was happening because it seemed like a lot of things were meant to be implied but not really explained. It seemed to rely on me to know ahead of time what was going on and, as I’ve said, my knowledge begins and ends around Quest for Camelot. I don’t know how accurate any of this is to ‘true’ Arthurian legend. Lunette and Lady Laudine have some especially gorgeous pages, and their discussions are some of the better examples of making dull, necessary conversation pretty and dynamic. Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to many of the other panels that are just plain, close shots of whoever’s doing the talking and then a close shot of the next person who talks.

In part two, Yvain temporarily transforms into this topless hairless-but-beardy hunky Jesus type of character that hulks around in what is clearly the shreds of his old clothes but in most of the panels appears to be a less than modest grass skirt. I lost all ability to try and take this seriously at this point because I couldn’t stop thinking of Yvain as anything other than hench Jesus. The action scenes were very dynamic and quite cool – the leviathan (I think) was really beautiful. The landscapes in part two are particularly gorgeous and far more interesting than the boring close-ups of people chatting. This is also where he receives his title of Knight of the Lion

Part three was intended to have more of an impact than it made on me, I think. I didn’t find the big reveal or its surrounding dramatics any more heart-stopping than a bill two days overdue.

I was really hoping that I would enjoy this more, that it would be an inspiration to learn more about Arthurian legend. Instead I’m just disappointed. As far as adaptations go, this is a miss for me. I’d just as soon watch Merlin again, which at least inspired me to look up the characters since I actually cared about them. Frankly, this just further reinforces my thoughts that ‘faithful’ adaptations suffer from their insistence on ‘accuracy’.

Are you an Arthurian Legend buff or more casually knowledgeable?

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Backstagers Volume 1 – eARC review

The Backstagers #1 by James Tynion IV, Rian Sygh

The Backstagers #1
by James Tynion IV & Rian Sygh
Series: The Backstagers (#1)
: July 25th 2017 by Boom! Box
Genre: graphic novel, LGBTQIA+, young adult, contemporary
Pages: ? (issues still being published)
Source: e-copy provided via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★☆☆
All the world’s a stage . . . but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic literally!

When Jory transfers to an all-boys private high school, he s taken in by the only ones who don t treat him like a new kid, the lowly stage crew known as the Backstagers. Not only does he gain great, lifetime friends, Jory is also introduced to an entire magical world that lives beyond the curtain. With the unpredictable twists and turns of the underground world, the Backstagers venture into the unknown, determined to put together the best play their high school has ever seen.

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My review copy was a sample – only #1 of the series as it is ongoing, so this is not a review of the full volume collection. However, the review is intended for the volume one collection since that how it was provided on NetGalley. Confusing, I know.

The art style reminded me so much of Bee and Puppycat (which I love), but the story itself was more reminiscent of Lumberjanes in terms of structure. Lumberjanes, unfortunately, I did not like very much for much the same reasons I wasn’t super wowed by this single issue of Backstagers. It’s cute, and a great example of POC and LGBTQIA+ rep but doesn’t go super deep in the first issue. Backstagers at least dangles more of an interesting plot to me than Lumberjanes did – what exactly is going on in that school? That fact alone was enough to interest me. For me, one issue isn’t enough for me to care terribly much either way  – I prefer my comics in volumes so I can really get to know the characters and the world more.

As I had a very small experience with theater – pit band only, no real stage experience, and I couldn’t have cared less about stage productions then and now – I didn’t connect with it too much on that level and found it a little difficult to get into. That’s generally an issue with me and more contemporary settings: If I can’t relate with the main focus of the main character’s interest (in this case theater, but it’s usually rich girls being rich) it’s hard for me to care. It did at least have quite the fantastical element to it! The world definitely has some intriguing bits to it.

Were I able to read more, perhaps this review would be a little more glowing. If you are into theater, might be more your style than it was mine. A good friend of mine would love this. Backstagers is something I would pick up the next issue of if I were to come across it at the library, but not something I would personally seek out. If you’re like me and more into fantasy settings and want some queer and POC rep, try Rat Queens!

What graphic novels are you excited for this year?

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