Comic Review: Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman by Brian Azzarello

Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman by Brian Azzarello

This book is a series of mini-arcs giving a glimpse of a world where Bruce Wayne’s Batman doesn’t exist. It asks: “What kind of ripples would’ve been made in the world if Bruce had been the one to die in that alley and not his parents?” Initially, I read “Batman: Knight of Vengeance,” and that was it. That’s all I wanted to read, I said vehemently. However, I finally decided to dive into the rest of the story and see what Bruce’s death changed beyond his parents lives.

In “Batman: Knight of Vengeance,” Thomas Wayne has taken on the mantle of the bat, and he is far more brutal, unforgiving, and decisive than Bruce. While Thomas subscribes to hyper-vigilantism and toes the line of being crime boss, Martha’s response to Bruce’s death is far more extreme than Thomas’. This story was heartbreaking in so many ways. From the Waynes to Selina to Commissioner Gordon, it was so poignant and painful to read. I have to say that this is my favorite story in the book.
“Deadman and the Flying Graysons” answers the questions of what happens to Robin (Dick Grayson) if there is no Batman. Dick’s parents live and they continue to tour with the circus. However, Aquaman and Wonder Woman war violently with each other, and the circus travels through war-ravished Europe, eventually finding itself on the receiving end of Wonder Woman’s fury. This was an okay story. Loved the basis for it with Wonder Woman and Aquaman’s war, but it wasn’t fully realized, in my opinion.

“Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager” follows the dread pirate Deathstroke who plans to profit off the turmoil that Wonder Woman and Aquaman have created, but first, he has to rescue his daughter, Rose, from his rival. To do any of this, though, they have to sail to Aquaman’s angry seas. What could go wrong there? I liked this more than I thought I would to be honest. It made Deathstroke very likable.

These two cause so much trouble in this book.

The last story “Secret Seven”… was maybe a little beyond my frame of reference. All I know is that a team is being formed to deal with the chaos on earth. I don’t want to call it a terrible story because it wasn’t… I don’t think. I just don’t have much experience with the character(s). It was a little offbeat, which I definitely don’t mind, but because I don’t have any real point to fix these characters, too, it was just… I’m not really sure how to describe it to be honest. I had way too many questions after reading this one, and I blame this on my ignorance of the characters.

Some would argue that these stories have no real connection and deal so little with Batman, but I disagree. They show that Batman, Bruce’s Batman, is both a blessing and a curse to the villains and heroes of the DC universe. It shows how his existence/non-existence shapes that world in broad terms. For instance, many of the villains lead drastically different lives. Some of them are already dead by Thomas’ hand. Some of the heroes are hardly what you’d call heroes at all. I do think that there needed to be more meat to this. The idea of what the world would be like without Bruce Wayne is a very fascinating question that this series only half-answered. However, I still mostly enjoyed this book.

Final Verdict:
3.5 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

Apparently, I love “flintlock fantasy”. The phrase, which according to Wikipedia has been around since the 1990s to describe a sub-genre of fantasy “set in a Regency or Napoleonic-era period”, admittedly only entered my lexicon just this year. But all this time, I knew deep in my gut that there simply had to be a term out there for this incredible and distinctly unique brand of fantasy with the musket-era setting that I so adore; I just never knew the name for it until now.

There’s just something so attractive to me about fantasy inspired by this period, mostly because of the fascinating historical ideas and imagery that immediately come to mind, themes like revolution and war, battles waged with gunpowder weaponry, discovering new worlds and colonialism, etc. That’s what first drew me to Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names. Just the first sentence in the blurb was enough to make me add this to my must-read list, and the positive reviews it received only made me bump it up to the top.

The book is mostly told through the perspectives of two soldiers, assigned to a sleepy desert colonial fort out in the fringes of the Vordanai empire. However, a recent uprising and subsequent takeover of the city of Ashe-Katarion by a local sect called the Redeemers has resulted in the outpost not being so sleepy anymore. Now the king of Vordan has sent reinforcements, and Captain Marcus d’Ivoire finds himself welcoming a whole new garrison of inexperienced recruits to join his Old Colonial troops. Then there’s Winter Ihernglass, a low ranking soldier who unexpectedly earns a promotion and comes into command — except getting more attention is the last thing Winter wants, given the fact she is actually a woman who masqueraded as a man in order to enlist and flee her past.

With the Colonials on the march to take back the city, both Marcus’ and Winter’s lives are in the hands of the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a military genius whose demeanor and tactics are unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. But despite the confidence and aptitude Janus exudes, it soon becomes clear there is a lot more to the mysterious commander. Marcus begins to suspect that his colonel’s objectives — and ambitions — may extend beyond simply defeating the Redeemers, encroaching into the realm of magic and the supernatural.

My experience with this book pretty much played out like a fast-paced and passionate relationship. The Thousand Names practically came out of nowhere for me; I’d probably only heard about it around a month before its release, leaving me not much time to anticipate it. Nevertheless, I went into this with higher-than-high expectations, and ultimately I have to say even those were met and exceeded. I fell in love with this book really quickly, probably within the first few chapters, especially after the two main characters were established. This might make me sound silly, but I won’t deny after turning the last page I actually couldn’t help but feel slightly lost and a bit melancholy, finding myself caught in a sort of “oh crap, I’m finished, what the heck do I do with myself now?” kind of fugue. I was just that addicted to this book.

Obviously, I loved the setting and the world-building. The writing had a way of putting you right there with the colonial garrison, so it wasn’t hard to sympathize with the characters and the foreignness of their situation or the awkwardness of being strangers in a strange land. I was also fascinated with the idea of this ragtag colonial army that’s made up of one-part green recruits and one-part jaded-and-couldn’t-care-less old veterans, and all the rules of warfare go out the window. The Redeemer forces may vastly outnumber the Vordanai, but the fact that the former is made up of mostly militia and over-confident Auxiliary troops gave their clashes plenty of suspense, and the detailed battle scenes in the desert are worthy of any military fantasy.

But the highlight of this book had to be the characters. I absolutely adored Winter; she was probably my favorite character, but Marcus wasn’t far behind either. What’s great about these two characters is that they feel deep and real, and are immediately the kind of people you want to like and to see succeed. Beyond that, everyone in this book also has secrets and mysteries, and so you just want to keep reading to find out more.

This even applies to the supporting cast. Most of them are pretty well fleshed out too, and I think the fact that Colonel Janus is my second favorite character in this book despite him not being a point-of-view character is a testament to that. The author also focuses briefly here and there on Jaffa, a character inside the city of Ashe-Katarion, giving insights into what’s happening on the side of the Redeemers. I felt this was important, as it gives us a look at the opposition, or else it’s easy just to think of them as a faceless enemy army.

All told, this book was hard to put down. For its length, I finished it in really good time, and it was one of those rare gems where I knew it would go straight onto my shelf of favorites even before I had reached the quarter-way point. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year so far.

Final verdict:
5 of 5 stars

Comic Review: Dragon Age: Until We Sleep by David Gaider

Dragon Age Volume 3: Until We Sleep by David Gaider

In the final volume of the trilogy, Dragon Age‘s King Alistair Theirin continues the search for his father Maric, accompanied by the pirate queen Isabela and the storytelling dwarf merchant, Varric. They are aided by the Tevinter mage, Maevaris, as they track down the evil Titus who has captured Maric for the dragon’s blood that runs within the Theirin veins.

I love this story. I hate this story.

There are so many secrets revealed, ideas introduced and of course the presence of some of my beloved characters from Dragon Age:Origins and Dragon Age II. But even with the combined twelve issues, including Dragon Age: The Silent Grove and Dragon Age Volume 2: Those Who Speak, there was simply not enough room to fit everything in. In other words, despite the excellent artwork, I really wish this had been written as a novel instead.

Gaider does such a fabulous job with character development in his novels but, while the characters here had some powerful moments, I felt that the page limitation of the comic book format didn’t allow the writing to go far enough with them. Moreover, the time that was spent with them seemed to cut into the plotting, causing the adventure to skim along like point form notes. I was disappointed with how abruptly certain elements, such as Yavana, the witch of the wilds, and the Qunari, were handled.

I wanted more, dammit!

Yet, I am reasonably content with what I learned from the series and appreciate that the conclusion brought closure to the mystery of Maric’s disappearance and his promise to Flemeth. It also gave some interesting insight into Isabela, the character some would write off as merely a sex-crazed thief, and answered a question about Varric and his beloved Bianca thanks to a trip into the glorious Fade.

And even though I’m claiming disappointment with the format, there was still enough here for my imagination to set to work on my headcanon. And damn Gaider and his bittersweet endings. I’ll just be quietly sobbing in the corner while I wait for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

3.5 of 5 stars

Character Appreciation Post: Nahadoth

Nahadoth by sorskc

Who is Nahadoth?

Nahadoth is the first born of the Three gods of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. He is chaos and darkness incarnate; a true weapon of mass destruction that would consume all if he could. But when we first meet him, he is only a fraction of himself, imprisoned within mortal flesh by day, bound to the whims of the ruling mortals.

“The Nightlord cannot be controlled, child. He can only be unleashed. And you asked him not to kill.”

But who is he?
“Face like the moon, pale and somehow wavering. I could get the gist of his features, but none of it stuck in my mind beyond an impression of astonishing beauty. His long, long hair wafted around him like black smoke, its tendrils curling and moving of their own volition.”

Nahadoth oozes sexuality and seduction as much as he does darkness, violence and chaos. He inspires these kind of thoughts and reaction GIFs, but, while I appreciated the tastefully done erotic moments, I loved more the tenderness, the pain, the loss, the loneliness, the heartache.

“…and when I lift my head to scream out my fury, a million stars turn black and die. No one can see them, but they are my tears.”

The rage and violence had their place too, but it was the moments spent as a father to Sieh,  and the moments of peace that Yeine coaxed out of him that had that much more meaning for me. The image I hold in my head is of him comforting her through her tears or letting her fall asleep on his shoulders.

Mogsy’s Book Haul

Okay, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to control my to-read list or limit my book acquisition by now. To be fair, it’s been an incredible summer for reading, lots of books popping up on my radar and catching my eye and such. Actually, I think I’ve been pretty good with sticking to my current batch of books in my summer reading list so far, even though I’ve stuck in a couple impromptu additions here and there.

But of course, in true bibliophilic style, I’m already planning my next batch of books.

Speaking of which, I made a pretty big change in my reading habits recently. For the longest time, I have been predominantly an ebook reader, but earlier this year saw a few ARCs coming in to me as hardcopies, so I’ve slowly made the shift to picking up physical books again. Admittedly, I do miss buying hardcovers and seeing them looking all pretty and lined up on the shelves, and what do you know, BookCloseouts is all too happy to oblige me, ain’t I lucky.

Eyes to See and Thieftaker are two books I have on my TBR, so I was pretty happy to find them both at bargain prices. And for a couple of bucks, I couldn’t resist The Rogue since I already have the first book of the Traitor Spy trilogy.

Emperor of Thorns was a complete surprise that the post left on my doorstep yesterday. The book won’t be out until next month, but I had put in my name when the author said the publisher was calling for US book bloggers interested in reviewing it, and I guess fortune and Jorg Ancrath has smiled upon me. I was still so shocked at what I saw when I opened the package that I almost dropped the damn book. Really looking forward to reading this next.

And finally, in celebrating my return to reading dead-tree books, The Thousand Names was a totally indulgent present to myself. AND IT’S FREAKIN’ AMAZING SO FAR. I’m already almost done the book with only about 100 pages to go and I’m already pretty confident in saying it’s going to be a 5 star read from me. Up there amongst my top reads of 2013.

eARCs currently reading or to review include:

I really really really need to ban myself from requesting any more books from NetGalley until I catch up a bit on my reading list. We’ll see how long until I crack.

Book Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

I can’t get enough of Miriam Black. I just can’t. I thought the initial delight of discovering this twisted and refreshingly candid series would have worn off a bit by now, but it hasn’t. If anything, I think I’m finally starting to sense of who Miriam is and the direction in which these books are going. Or that might just be wishful thinking. Regardless, I’m still having a blast.

Some time has passed since we last left Miriam and Louis in Blackbirds (book one of the series, my review here). For the sake of their relationship, Miriam has attempted to settle down, living in a double-wide trailer and working as a check-out girl at a local grocery store. No more drifting around the country, and no more utilizing her morbid ability to see and how and when someone is going to die simply by making skin-on-skin contact with them. For Miriam, it means a new life filled with lots of tedium, grin-and-bear-it moments, and constantly wearing gloves.

But a girl can only take so much. Fed up, Miriam packs up and gets ready to hit the road when Louis tells her about Katey, a contact of his who is convinced she is dying and wants to pay Miriam to confirm her suspicions. Eager to be herself again, Miriam readily accepts the job, which is how she finds herself dropped off at a prestigious boarding school for troubled girls where Katey is employed as a teacher. Very soon, Miriam finds herself caught up in much more than she bargained for, when she encounters Lauren, a student at the school whom Miriam’s death visions tell her will die brutally at the hands of a crazed serial killer.

With Mockingbird, I think I feel a little more confident in describing the Miriam Black books as less of a traditional Urban Fantasy series, and more of a Thriller-Suspense with paranormal elements. Given the dark nature of Miriam’s power, I would throw in a bit of horror, too. There are some intensely graphic and frightening scenes in this book worthy of the goriest slasher flicks, and if you’re anything like me, at certain points while reading you’ll likely find yourself squirming in your seat in an uncomfortable-yet-not-too-entirely-unpleasant kind of way.

Though, that’s sort of what I’ve come to expect with Chuck Wendig. His writing and stories can make you desperately want to turn the page and be scared to do so at the same time. His characters and dialogue can induce me to laugh my ass off yet at once make me feel like a terrible person. And I love every minute of it. Why do people go and watch scary movies anyway? On a certain level, we do it for the express purpose of being terrified out of our wits. Similarly, that was why I was so eager to pick up this second installment of Miriam Black — I wanted what I got out of Blackbirds the first time around, to again be shocked, scandalized and enthralled by Wendig’s particular brand of dark humor and suspense. I was not disappointed.

Mockingbird also gave us a better look at who Miriam is as a person. I mentioned in my review of the first book that I know deep down beneath that snarky rough exterior she is good person with a good heart, and here I think we see that a little more in her determination to help the schoolgirls and her refusal to simply walk away from the situation. The origins of her mysterious power are still largely unexplained, but we do get a bit of that too. The best part, though, is this book provided a lot of insight into Miriam’s past, like her childhood and her relationship with her mother, which gave me a better idea of how she became the way she is.

Overall, a very suspenseful and chilling novel which I could barely put down. As a special treat, I bought the Whispersync Kindle/Audible bundle so I was able to listen to parts of this in audiobook format too. The narrator Emily Beresford is fantastic as Miriam Black, her talent coming through especially when she sings the “Mockingbird” song, the serial killer’s rendition of the folk song “Wicked Polly”. The song earwormed itself into my head for days, which I have to say made the book even more memorable and creepy.

Final verdict:
4.5 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

The Darwin Elevator byJason M. Hough

Expected Date of Publication: July 30, 2013

Wow, what a pleasant surprise this was. My thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing me with an e-ARC of The Darwin Elevator in exchange for an honest review. Loved this book! I don’t think I’ve had this much fun with a new sci-fi novel since James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes.

The book takes place in mid-23rd century Darwin, Australia. The city is home to the last bastion of humanity, thanks to an alien plague that’s wiped out most of the planet, turning its victims into mindless, savage “subhumans” or “SUBS”. The unknown aliens were also responsible for the presence of a giant space elevator that keeps Darwin enveloped in an invisible plague-suppressing Aura. So too, one other effect of the great Darwin Elevator is a clear division of classes, with the privileged “Orbitals” living high up on one end of it, and the less fortunate masses living down below.

Skyler is the head of one of the many scavenger teams that operate out of Darwin, but he and his specially handpicked crew have the distinct advantage of being immune to the plague, allowing them to travel beyond the Aura without the aid of vac-suits or fear of infection. Their immunity, however, does not protect them against the violence of the infected, so it is disconcerting to all when the elevator begins to experience power instabilities, and even worse — cases of SUBS are being reported within the Aura, which everyone had thought was too secure to ever fail. Amidst conspiracies and the rising class tensions, Skyler is unwittingly pulled into a conflict whose result could determine the fate of humanity.

With all the talk of aliens, I first thought I should be settling in for a rollicking space opera, but as it turns out, the story is mostly all earthbound (for now, at least). Despite that, the book still has all the good stuff, just without the space. It’s intense. It’s dramatic. It’s sweeping. And most important of all, it’s fun. Throw in plenty of action and adventure and also some of that post-apocalyptic goodness, and you have this book. The descriptions of the abandoned, desolate and crumbling landscapes outside the Aura put me in mind of games like the Fallout series, just without the radioactivity. You really get the feeling like a subhuman can jump out and attack at any second. It’s fantastic.

Another thing that made me like this book so much was the pacing of the story, the way it teased me into these “not-quite-there” action-suspense sequences at the beginning (that almost got me all frustrated!) before coming down seriously hard with the gun-fighting and battle scenes for real. Basically, things really heat up around the midway point, and they don’t slow down from there. 

For a sci-fi novel, this book was also very easy to follow. Even with all the advanced science fiction elements and alien technology, it wasn’t hard for me to grasp the concepts and picture the descriptions in my head. I’m always a fan of books that can do this without bogging the story down with all the techno-lingo. Thanks to very natural and sometimes humorous dialogue, the characters are also very likeable, and even the disgusting perverted pig of an antagonist is someone you’ll love to hate.

All in all, just a really impressive debut. I really wish I’d gotten to this sooner. Can’t wait to find out what happens in the next book, Jason M. Hough is going straight onto my list of new science fiction authors to watch.

Note: Just found out that The Darwin Elevator started life out as a NaNoWriMo project! Even more cool!

Final verdict:
4 of 5 stars

Kickstarter Goodies: Arena Mode

Keeping my eye out for interesting fiction projects on Kickstarter is something I like to do a lot, and early this year I backed a few promising novels. Seems like July is a great month for all the rewards and other stretch goals to be coming in, because I have another goodies post to share today.

This time, it’s Arena Mode, a science fiction novel by Blake Northcott featuring superheroes as well as original artwork by Marvel and DC artists! Needless to say, the project was a great success.

I’d received the ebook already, but the actual signed and numbered trade paperback showed up on my doorstep this weekend. Shiny! I am 741/750!

In the package were also the 4″ x 6″ cards featuring the original art of the superhuman characters fighting in The Arena. They are gorgeous. So looking forward to reading this book!

Book Review: The Monsters in Your Neighborhood by Jesse Petersen

The Monsters in Your Neighborhood byJesse Petersen

Expected Date of Publication: July 29, 2013

If you ever find yourself with some time on a lazy afternoon, in the mood for a book that’s light, funny and just a little silly, I highly recommend the Monstrosity series by Jesse Petersen. They’re super quick reads and are like pure fluffy cotton candy for the brain. Anyway, I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This one is actually a follow-up to Club Monstrosity (see my review here), in which we were first introduced to the motley crew of monsters who meets twice a week in a church basement for their Monstofelldosis Anonymous support group. After the events of that first book, however, the topics of their meetings have understandably shifted from more touchy-feely subjects to war planning and preparations for their fight against the descendent of fiction’s most famous monster hunter and his family, the Van Helsings.

The old gang is back — minus the few we lost in the first book, of course, but there are a couple new additions to the cast as well. Speaking of which, why, yes that is indeed Cthulhu you see on the right side of the cover. I admit my inner Lovecraftian horror fan danced a little jig in glee at the appearance of Patrick, even if the thought of an Old One cavorting with the likes of Natalie, Alec, Kai et al. is more than a bit surreal.

This was a cute story, very funny, and quite similar in nature to the first book, except with more casual swearing than I think I remember. If you’re in the mood for a “popcorn book” or something to lift your spirits or give yourself a break from the stress, this does the trick. It’s told in a very good-humored, teasing way, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Thrusting the issue of social media into the lives of these characters, some of whom are hundreds if not thousands of years old, is also a nice touch. Dracula with an iPhone still cracks me up, though I think the image of Igor watching Sex and the City might give him a run for his money. Like I’ve said before in past reviews, it always fascinates me to see authors tackle re-tellings or satirical takes on fairy tales and classic literature, and putting a light spin on movie monsters ranks up there on my list of interesting ideas.

Final verdict:
4 of 5 stars

Comic Review: Star Wars: In the Shadow of Yavin by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda

Star Wars, Volume 1: In the Shadow of Yavin by Brian Wood

With thanks to NetGalley and Darkhorse Comics for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this graphic novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Star Wars universe has become so vast that if you want to look up something on Wookieepedia, you should set aside at least an hour of your time to allow for the multitude of side-clicking you’re inevitably going to end up doing within each entry. Expanded Universe (EU) stories extend into the distant past and the distant future and everything in between, but it seems that the legacy is returning to its roots with a series of new stories focusing on Han, Leia and Luke, directly following A New Hope. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Razor’s Edge, and in the mean time, enjoyed this new comic series.

The most impressive aspect of this story is that it dives right into the fact that both Luke and Leia just watched their lives and the people they loved catastrophically destroyed. Things like that tend to weigh on you, particularly Leia, who was forced to watch the destruction of her entire planet shortly after hours of rigorous torture at the hands of Darth Vader.

This focuses heavily on the fact that Leia has not been allowed, nor allowed herself the time to deal because the situation is still dire. The destruction of the Death Star has only increased pressure on the Rebel Alliance and her role as a leader means she is constantly working and constantly needing to prove herself. The pressure rises even more when Mon Mothma tasks her with forming and leading a black ops team of pilots. Their purpose: find a new location for the Rebel base and root out the traitor in their midst. Leia herself gets to fly the sleek new X-Wings, revealing yet another of her skills.

Luke doesn’t feature as prominently as expected, though he and Wedge are part of the team. Luke is played up a bit more as the cocky kid we saw in A New Hope, rather than the more subdued and stoic Luke that starts to develop in The Empire Strikes Back. His attitude reminds us that he is barely twenty years old, so his actions are somewhat understandable. But that means that Leia is the same age, revealing the stark contrast of maturity and responsibility between them. I would have liked to see far more that conflict, but instead, we get the more simplistic love triangle plot device that plays out weakly for all involved.

Meanwhile, the fallout from Yavin has affected others as well. Namely, Darth Vader, whom the Emperor is pretty mad at for letting a wee X-Wing blow up an entire space station. Vader has been demoted to supervising the construction of the second Death Star and spends a lot of time mulling over the name “Skywalker” and what he sensed from the pilot that destroyed the Death Star.

And last, but certainly not least, is Han Solo. Joining up with the Rebels has tagged him and Chewie, their career as neutral smuggler and leaving them no other options but to continue working with the Alliance. Mon Mothma has entrusted him with a significant amount of credits to broker a deal with a contact. Is Han worthy of that trust? Hmmm….

Overall, I liked the elements of the characters and story that are introduced. There is a lot of potential for interesting intrigue and character development, with some reasonably good gun and dogfights tossed in for good measure.

3.5 of 5 stars