I think I’ve made it clear that I tend not to be a fan of what’s popular simply because it is popular.  Overexposure has a way of killing things before I’ve even tried them.  But there are those things which are popular for a damned good reason.  And, if I’m lucky, I hear about them in such a way that I’m intrigued.  If I’m even more fortunate, I don’t hear and see them everywhere before I ever get the chance to try for myself.

This is my library hold, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.  I’d heard about it some months back – even heard that it was being optioned for translation to film before the book had been released.  Some people were calling it a “black Harry Potter”.  I think that’s false advertising though.  This book has nothing to do with Harry Potter and to compare the two is to do Children of Blood and Bone an injustice. Not to mention that would be a super white way to view the book.

It’s a powerful story though, Children of Blood and Bone.  In a fantasy world based on Africa instead of Europe, we discover the kingdom of Orïsha.  Once it was a land of magic.  Not everyone had such power, but you could easily tell those who did by their white hair.  Then…something changed.  Magic was stripped from the land, and in that aftermath came the Raid, where King Saran slaughtered all the former maji.  He let the children live though, knowing they would never come into their power.

Zélie is one of those children.  Or was, being seventeen now.  She’s a diviner, the old name for the white-haired children whose magic has not yet come.  The kosidán, the Orïshans who are born without the potential for magic, now oppress, enslave, torment, and murder diviners.  They call Zélie and those like her “maggots”, and use majicite weapons against them.  Majicite is akin to Superman’s Kryptonite.

It’s not a kind life.  Zélie is always afraid, always missing her mother who was hung with a majicite chain.  She often lashes out to conceal her fear for her loved ones when they’re just trying to do their best for their family each and every day.

And then, one day, as she is trying to sell fish for enough money to pay the crushing taxes leveled on anyone helping diviners, everything changes.  A kosidán noble carrying a scroll runs into her, and Zélie helps her escape from a captain of the guard.  It seems magic is not quite as dead as the King would have his country believe…and Zélie has just been handed the chance to save it.

I’ll admit, there are definitely points in the book where I became aware of reading below my level, but that happens with most novels geared towards a particular age group, so I can overlook it.  Regardless, Adeyemi has woven a terrifying and powerful narrative that tells so much more than Zélie’s story.  It’s a story of of how her own African American people have been and are oppressed each and every day simply because of the color of their skin.  Part of me wants to say “yes, I understand, for some of these things have also happened to Jews”, which is true, but that’s not the right response.  After all, I am not black.  My religion is not obvious and therefore I can only be persecuted for it if I make it obvious.  Children of Blood and Bone is about a different kind of persecution.

It’s like the #BlackLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter.  Yes, all lives do matter.  But what those people are conveniently overlooking is how white lives are held above black each and every day.  And that isn’t right.  Or fair.  We need to value their lives as highly as our own…if not more so.

Reading a book, it doesn’t matter to me if the characters or white or black so long as I can understand them, enjoy reading about them, sympathize with them, and just be invested in their story.  A good book is good no matter who it’s about.  But because of this book, this author, and the state of the world outside, I cannot overlook the realities it represents.  I think Children of Blood and Bone is a very good book.  Not the best, but something that I’d like to own at some point.  And since there’s room for more in this world, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it.

I suspect there are people who feel more strongly about this book than I do.  People who will shout its greatness from rooftops…and that’s no bad thing.  If Children of Blood and Bone is compared to Harry Potter, it’s because it has the potential to draw a massive audience with a story that they haven’t seen before.  Any movie it creates has the potential to be another Black Panther, and that’s no bad thing either.

My only caution is that this book is for teenagers at its youngest.  There may not be swearing and there may not be sex scenes, but sexual relationships are definitely implied and various forms of torture are hinted at or even metnioned outright.  And, just as Jirel of Joiry allowed a kiss to carry the weight of rape, Adeyemi does not shy away from the impact such deeds can have on her characters.

Really, the scariest part of this book is the fact that we’re seeing these kinds of atrocities in this country right now.  Last weekend, I got a Facebook notification that one of my friends who lives in Philadelphia was safe.  She belongs to a different congregation.  But it could’ve been hers.  Hell, the Neo-Nazis wanted to march right through Skokie in the 1970s, precisely because of its high Jewish population at the time, which is part of what prompted Holocaust survivors to finally start speaking about their experiences.  I don’t want to be like Zélie, always afraid that someone might do something unspeakable to me just because I’m different.  But I am afraid.

And that’s what he wants.  Which is why we can’t let him, let them win.  Our elections are important, and our votes are our voices.  There is a creature who thinks anyone that isn’t white, Christian, or wealthy exists only for him and his friends to exploit.  They are wrong, and we need to prove it to them.

I didn’t mean to get on a soapbox here, but this book so clearly shows what will happen if we don’t stop it.  I remember the National Holocaust Museum brought it up, before the election if I remember correctly.  We’re well past the start.  The war began long ago and we need to fight in it before the front line comes to us.

Even More Comics

Jon is an asshat.

Seriously, he is.  I read Doomsday Clock #6-7 this morning since the new issue was for sale yesterday and Dr. Manhattan is just…I didn’t have strong feelings about him in Watchmen but he starts issue 7 by outright saying he killed Alan Scott, who would have been the original Golden Age Green Lantern.  Theoretically with his power over space and time this means that Jon has some sort of plan for playing G-d, but still, dick move.

We get several harsh revelations in issue 7 besides the above and get to see a lot of people punching each other because of it.  I suppose I’m a little disappointed in the series thus far because while it’s cool to see the Watchmen characters in the main DC universe, interacting with the main DC characters, it feels like the latter aren’t actually adding much to the story.  This is still primarily a story about Rorshach, Ozymandias, Dr. Manhattan, the Comedian, and the villain duo Marionette and the Mime.  Batman, the Joker, Lex Luthor, and more are just side characters existing to cash in on making this a big crossover event.  I wish there was more give and take, more equality here.

I really like the book Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War because it gives more equal weight to two series I enjoy.  The Lanterns are brought to the Trek (reboot) universe and Kirk and the Enterprise take it in as much stride as they can while trying to keep the universe safe.  The overwhelming power of the rings is balanced out by being in the Trek universe and the many classic Trek characters brought to bear.

I just don’t get the same feeling of balance from Doomsday Clock.  So yes it’s a neat concept and yes I’m still going to read the last five issues, but I wish the main universe characters didn’t feel so much like cameos in their own home.

The balance issue also makes me think of Brightest Day, the event that followed Blackest Night.  I’ve already said how I didn’t particularly care for it, but I think it was a much better balance.  Blackest Night was a Green Lantern plotline that ended up affecting the entire DC universe, but was still primarily about the Lanterns.  Brightest Day, by contrast, was much more about Boston Brand’s return to life along with the others who had been brought back, plus some bizarre quirks and elemental stuff.  Green Lantern’s part in that was trying to find the emotional entities and he was largely unconnected to the main event.  Which is why the event worked better in some ways – because the focus was shifted away from the series that had premiered the idea and brought other characters to the spotlight.  I’m still not a fan, but that’s because I’m not interested in those characters or that particular story in the end.

Also I can’t escape the feeling that the world of Doomsday Clock will be undone in the end as someone convinces Dr. Manhattan to fix whatever changes he’s made to the timestream.  Which will make everything that happens in these twelve issues completely pointless and a waste of time and money.

Moving on to something a little more exciting than a potentially failed crossover, I read Go Go Power Rangers #12-13Shattered Grid #1, and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #31-32.  So, the finale of the Shattered Grid event and the first couple issues of Beyond the Grid.  And there’s really two different things going on here in the wake of the event.

For the original five in Go Go Power Rangers, it’s back to business as usual.  Matt still isn’t talking to any of them after the revelations he’s had and Rita seems to be playing a deeper game than usual, but otherwise life for our heroes has gone back to normal with no real trace of what happened – it’s barely even referenced.  So, a mostly filler nothing of an issue.

Going Beyond the Grid, however, we don’t return to the team of six we know and love.  Instead we’re on the Terra Venture – excuse me, the Promethea – in some other universe or something where the morphing grid doesn’t exist.  I’m not sure if that’s due to the events in the climax of Shattered Grid or some other explanation as of yet. The ship is literally relying on what energy they can tap from the morphers in order to function and they’ve been stranded for weeks with no way to get home.  And then…they find another Power Ranger, native to this place.  The only problem is, she seems to be after the small amount of power they have.  But is she a villain or another victim of some other, larger evil that our heroes don’t yet know about?

To be honest, I’d prefer more of the filler in Go Go Power Rangers than another big storyline like I seem to have found in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.  And no, the continuing backup comic adventures of Ninjor and Blue Senturion are not cutting it, partially because I don’t have any real investment in either character.  I saw someone who complained about the run of Green Lantern I’ve been collecting, saying it was suffering from event exhaustion.  Which, on reflection, is very true.  There’s just too many big storylines happening one after another and the audience needs time to breathe.  Part of me wants to play devil’s advocate and say “isn’t that how books are too?”  But…not usually.  Oh sure, the Chronicles of Elantra are like that, which is why I don’t usually read that series from start to finish each year anymore, and also why a lot of the books are blurring together in my memory now.  But most novels aren’t like that.  There’s a sense of time passing.  Seasons change, years pass even, and it doesn’t matter if the reader wastes no time between books, time has still passed for the characters and it helps the reader get some breathing room too.

I suppose the best part is how many characters I find personally interesting are on the Promethea.  Mike, the Magna Defender, Andros & Karone, Kim from Drakkon’s world, plus a few others I’m not as familiar with.  So at least it’s a good mix of people for me to be invested in.  I just wanted…some breathing room.  Or maybe I’m just in a lousy mood this morning, looking for negatives in every series.

The other two comics I picked up yesterday were The Dreaming #1-2, from the Sandman Universe.  This is, of course, the main location in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, the realm of Dream of the Endless.  And now…it’s having some problems.  Dream has disappeared again, possibly for good.  The wards and defenses of the realm are disintigrating.  Lucien, the librarian, is trying to do what he can to hold things together while Merv Pumpkinhead rants about how everything sucks.  And then there’s a strange new character named Dora who seems to be able to flit through the realms at will.

The story’s got potential, of course, although things seem to be moving slowly enough that I may not have patience to read this until it’s available in trade.  And then only if I remember about it by then and think it still sounds interesting.  I’m not that invested as things stand right now.  Really, I think the most intriguing part of the series is Merv’s mold.  I mean that quite literally – his head is getting moldy and I think it’s either a reflection of his continual complaints or Dream’s absence.  Or both.

As for the rest, I’m not super interested in Dora so I don’t care about her tragic backstory – which has been specifically stated at least twice now that it is a tragedy.  I am curious as to what Dream’s up to or thinking, but it could be quite a while before we find out about that.  The series isn’t marked as being a certain number of preplanned issues, so there’s no telling how long it will run or how long they’ll choose to stretch things out.

Maybe it’s the overcast skies outside, but I really am not in a mood to find positives in my comics today, it seems.  However, my friend came by to hang out for a while…and we went to my local comic shop.  Because, of course, sales.

I actually picked up a single floppy.  I wasn’t planning on it, since I already got everything new in my ongoing series yesterday, but it was just too tempting.  I could not resist finding out about What If? Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man.  The comic companies do this sort of thing periodically, asking what might have happened with a different set of events and a different character in the driver’s seat of a superhero series.

So, Flash Thompson.  He’s the blond-haired blue-eyed Big Man on Campus to Peter Parker’s nerdy geek self.  He’s a bully, although in the nineties animated series he does get better over time.  It’s hilarious how he’s a Spidey fan yet looks down on Peter Parker.  Anyway, this comic explores what could have happened if Flash was bitten by the radioactive spider.

The answer, says writer Gerry Conway, is that being a hero would feed into Flash’s ego in the same way that being captain of the football team does, though much more strongly.  Some of his choices would be the same as Peter’s with similar motivations, such as money.  Others would be different – Flash actively seeks to be recognized as a hero.  One interesting note is that even in this strange version of Spiderman, Peter is still at odds with J. Jonah Jameson.  I guess some things never change.

This one shot was by far the best single comic I read today, partially because it does have to stand alone.  We all know they’re never going to revisit this particular What If?, but I’m still glad they made it.  I’m even gladder that I gave into the urge and bought it because it was well worth the price.

Rushing Around

I am not always at my best when rushed.

Today was the…Halloween Comicfest?  Whatever it’s called.  Essentially it’s Free Comic Book Day part 2, the last Saturday in October.  More and different freebies, mostly with horror and Halloween themes.  I checked out the list ahead of time and wasn’t interested in any of them…but I can be lured out for a good sale.  There’s some graphic novels I’d like and I’d rather not pay full price.  If I can find them.

I went out to the farthest shop and wasn’t able to spot any of the trades I wanted, but I did manage to find several individual issues I wanted/needed/found intriguing.  But the cashier failed to realize I was in costume.  I guess it wasn’t obvious, but I wore blue jeans, a green top, brown gloves, brown boots, and carried my plush Tsunomon under my arm.  So he gave me a free comic (as long as it wasn’t a super expensive one) and I, being rushed, grabbed the nearest thing with a big “1” on it that I had previous positive experience with.  I mean, a first issue is generally a good place to start, and if it’s something I recognize there’s a good chance I can track what’s going on.

That free comic was Voltron: Legendary Defender, associated with the animated series currently on Netflix.  I did watch the first season, but I just didn’t find it compelling enough.  Frankly, I think I’m just too old for the kind of show they made.  It was okay the last time it showed up on Fox Kids and I was still young enough to let a lot of those issues slide, but that was more than a decade ago.  I still like the overall concept, but I am far more interested in story than in teenage shenanigans wasting time all over space.  This particular comic book is sort of a first issue…but not really.  It’s Volume 3 Number 1.  That could mean it’s associated with the third season, it could mean the third story arc…I honestly don’t care though.  The point is that the story here is somewhere down the timeline from what I last watched.  I don’t have any idea what’s going on in the larger scale – I can’t even be certain if the Galra are the same enemies from season one. (it’s been a while since I watched it and you can tell it didn’t make much of an impression).

But for all I complained about my issues with the series as it stands, that is exactly what made this comic perfectly serviceable.  I could keep track of what was going on just fine, the episodic story was fairly self-contained, and while I don’t need to worry much about what happened before and where they’re going next, I still enjoyed the read.  I’m not going to keep the comic because it’s a random issue in a larger series that I have no intention of collecting, but there are so many worse ones I could have grabbed.  The art was fine, the characterization seemed to match what I remember, and the heroes saved the planet of the week.  What more can you ask of a random issue of Voltron?

Since I’m reading comics today, I figured it made sense to follow up the robot lions combining into a bigger, humanoid robot with…humanoid robots.  The last time I went to my local comic shop, the freebies thrown in were coverless copies of Transformers comics.  And no, I didn’t go to that store today.  I have a friend visiting tomorrow – we’ll go then.

So the first thing I had to do was read through the “Story So Far” pages that are on top of each issue to try and figure out which comes first.  I made a guess based on the scanty information I had on those two first pages and…got it right!  Even more impressive, the first one is actually Transformers: Unicron #1.  Which means this is the first time I’ve managed to actually get a first issue as one of these coverless freebies.  The only problem is that this “first issue” is clearly a direct continuation of an earlier storyline – maybe the one I spotted in Transformers: Generations?  Pretty sure Rom: Spaceknight was in that one too and he’s still around here.  Hell, the first issue even has a backup story of Rom convincing the other Spaceknights to aid their Cybertronian allies against Unicron.

So the story starts on the Cybertronian colony of Caminus, where the Autobots and Decepticons are trying to make a stand while the Camiens evacuate to Cybertron itself.  Optimus Prime, Arcee, and Bumblebee enter the planet-killing machine in the hopes of finding a way to defeat it while Unicron’s Maximal army begins to overrun the planet.  (It really, really hurts to suddenly see Maximals as the bad guys.  I love me some Beast Wars.)  This goes poorly, as you might guess, especially because this is just the first issue.  Also, there’s a lot of religious history stuff about the Primes and whatnot that is potentially very interesting but is kind of buried beneath a lot of action and so many robots that I have trouble identifying in the crush.

The other issue is Transformers: Unicron #3.  Because of course I can’t get two consecutive books.  At least it’s only one issue I skipped over, though enough seems to have happened in interpersonal relationships that I was fairly lost there.  But Unicron is now arriving at Cybertron and unleashing its armies.  The Maximals and I think also a fleet of Decepticons that had been running away or something?  Having skipped an issue did not help my comprehension here.  Really, at this point I was only tracking based on what I know of the franchise and the basic characters.  Optimus Prime, the big hero who seems to have stepped into a mythological role that he doesn’t actually believe in but we all know it’ll be Truth by the end of the series.  Starscream, the immortal self-centered general.  Bumblebee, Optimus’ sidekick and general comic relief.  Arcee, the girl.  Unicron, the planet Transformer who wants to destroy (eat?) everything and everyone.  And even though I haven’t seen him in either of these issues, I just know that somewhere out there has to be Megatron.  Because I don’t think there is such thing as a Transformers story without Megatron.

Visually, I don’t think these books are ever going to do much for me.  It’s so late in the timeline of these comics that there’s just too many characters I don’t know or care about and have trouble identifying on sight.  And there’s a lot going on.  Even in the face of ultimate disaster there’s a lot of political machinations playing out and I can read them for being the fruits of long-running plotlines, but as I don’t know anything about them, I just don’t care.  It’s nice that one of these is the first issue of the Transformers: Unicron run, but because it’s nowhere near the first issue of the series, I am fairly lost on specifics for this version of the universe.  Or however the Transformers timeline works, whether or not it relates to any of the TV series, etc.  I just don’t know and I really can’t find it in me to care that much.

For what the two issues are…they’re fine.  I didn’t dislike reading them and I genuinely enjoyed the Rom backup story.  There’s another backup story about humans from…M.A.S.K.?  I’m going to assume these are adults of kids who presumably made friends with the Autobots like in the old TV series I never actually saw.  I really give no shits about them but it wasn’t a bad short in theme or content.  So, I have no interest in spending money on this series, or on Voltron, but I don’t consider my time wasted by reading these comics.  Hell, since I’m going to the local comic shop tomorrow, I’m not going to recycle the coverless comics just yet on the off chance I get another freebie from the same series.  Weirder things have happened.

I suppose I’ll also take the time to mention that I did stop at more than one place today.  I actually started at the library, retrieving my hold.  I’ll probably get to that sometime in the next week.  And after the comic shop I went out to the used bookstore in the suburb that tries very very hard to be quaint.  So much so that I had forgotten today would be their trick or treating event, where they have everything set up in their picturesque downtown…where the used bookstore is of course.  I got my surprisingly good parking spot and sadly found nothing I wanted to take home.  But I did spot a Red Dwarf book (not sure if it’s a novelization or an original story) that my friend did not have.  So, I had to get that for them.

I also stopped by at Half Price and…got somewhat lucky.  No, I didn’t get any graphic novels – they didn’t have any of the ones I want or even a good selection in general – but I did spot some things I was just telling myself yesterday to look out for.  I love it when things fall into place like that.  And, even better, a preorder arrived today.  So I do have plenty to read.  We’ll see how much of it I get through before the convention next month.

My attention is shot for the night, but I do intend to get through some more comics tomorrow and then actually start a book again.  It’s been a long day.

Swords and Sorceries

Last November I bought a couple anthology bricks at a convention.  No Year’s Best – I already know those are a wee bit too dense for me – but oversized paperbacks a good five hundred pages long.  I read the first one, Swords Against Darkness edited by Paula Guran, months ago.  Today I finished The Sword and Sorcery Anthology, edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman.

The two books cannot escape being compared to each other.  They’re both the same kind of collection: sword & sorcery tales over the years.  However where Guran sought to educate her readers as to how the genre has evolved over the decades, Hartwell and Weisman are just showcasing stories they like.  There’s no introductions to each story and the one from David Drake is scanty in comparison to Guran’s treatise.  What really makes the comparison is the fact that there are four stories in both books.  There’s only nineteen tales in today’s book, which means a full fifth of its contents are in common with Swords Against Darkness.  Worst of all, not a single one of those stories was of enough interest to me that I reread it in the past few days.

The one story I chose to reread here was “Black God’s Kiss” by C.L. Moore, a Jirel of Joiry tale.  Which is about rape, even though there’s no actual rape in it.  All the man takes from her is a kiss…but aside from potential pregnancy…Moore treats this with all the weight and loathing and disgust of rape.  Which I have no problems with; it just hits me every time I read this story as to how intense her feelings are.  There are a couple other elements I find problematic after more than eighty years, but the power and revulsion are still present.

As for the repeated stories, they include “The Tower of the Elephant” by Robert E. Howard, “Undertow” by Karl Edward Wagner, “Epistle from Lebanoi” by Michael Shea, and “The Adventuress” by Joanna Russ.  That last one was driving me crazy the other day.  I knew I had read it before – everything was familiar.  But searching my database, I did not find a single story with that title.  It turns out that “Bluestocking”, the title used in Swords Against Darkness is a later variant.  Why?  I haven’t the faintest idea.  But I find it obnoxious because this is the first time I’ve run into an identical story with a completely different name.  At least the other times I’ve seen variation it’s been very close, to the point where I asked myself if I was just misremembering the name.  This?  I have no words.

There’s a George R.R. Martin story here, “Path of the Dragon”.  It is, unfortunately, yet another Game of Thrones short story.  It’s better than some of the ones I’ve encountered, but again, I am no closer to considering the series than I have ever been.  I’m just not interested.

The bulk of the stories in this book were passable and not worth mentioning individually.  Which is par for the course in most anthologies.  However, it does mean that notable stories stood out fairly strongly.

Glen Cook’s contribution, “Soldier of an Empire Unacquainted with Defeat” is the standout story in this volume.  I was thoroughly invested with the protagonist and engrossed as the story unfolded.  At almost seventy pages, it’s the single longest story in the book and I loved every moment of it.  Since Cook and his wife usually have a table in the dealer’s room of the local conventions, I’m making a mental note to go there next month and ask if there are other stories following Tain’s adventures.  I am keen to read more, and hoepfully they’ll have some for sale.

“Gimmile’s Songs” by Charles R. Saunders was another good story.  I get a more African vibe from this setting, which is a nice change from European and Scandinavian, especially in this type of anthology.    I think I like it mostly because it wasn’t the exact same tropes as most of the book.

“The Stages of the God” by Ramsey Campbell (originally published under Montgomery Comfort) was a more intellectual story and while it wasn’t my favorite by a long shot, I did find it interesting and worth noting.

Rachel Pollack’s “The Red Guild” is probably the second-best story here.  I admit, I didn’t see the final twist of the tale coming, and it was a fascinating concept.  If there is a novel about this world, I would certainly give it a read.

Other stories I remember enjoying but don’t have much to say about include “Become a Warrior” by Jane Yolen, “The Sea-Troll’s Daughter” by Caitlín R. Kiernan, “The Coral Heart” by Jeffrey Ford, and “The Year of the Three Monarchs” by Michael Swanwick.

Overall, this book is not great, but I am keeping it for the few stories that more than justified everything else.  At least there’s more exciting books on the horizon – another library hold is in (I still have to pick it up) and a box is arriving tomorrow.  The question is…what do I read in the morning?

Black is White

How do you convince someone to part with their hard-earned money by putting it into your pocket?  Books try to have flashy or intriguing covers and just enough of a synopsis or excerpt (or both) to catch a potential reader’s interest.  They may have reviews stuck on the front or back as well from sources the readers hopefully trust.  A lot of this carries over to comic books, but they have one thing over full-length novels.

Comics are a lot shorter and therefore a lot cheaper to produce.

This means that it’s no problem for a comic company to simply give away copies of issue one, allowing readers to read a lot more than any mere synopsis or one page excerpt before making their decision.  It can pay major dividends.

You may remember that last month I got an unexpected free copy of Batman: White Knight #1, read it, and was thoroughly impressed.  So much so that I went online and told my local library that they should probably get a copy on the shelves – not that I felt they could keep it there very long.  After an agonizing wait for the library to acquire and process the graphic novel, I finally got the email yesterday saying my hold was in.  Fun fact: I was not the only hold anymore.  Someone else had noticed the book on order and put their own request in, for after I return it of course.

Anyway, I just finished the book and oh my goodness gracious goshus.  What an intense ride!  You may recall how I was captivated by the end of the third page where, after a man drives the batmobile up to Arkham, tells the guards he knows the way, and comes to a cell…we see the Joker dressed as an ordinary man telling Batman he needs the Dark Knight’s help.  It’s a compelling premise and most of the story is devoted to explaining just how we got to this point.  After all, it’s a complete reversal, isn’t it?  Batman chained up in Arkham and the Joker wandering free?

There are so many twists and turns, bumps and dips all throughout the graphic novel.  It’s not an incredibly long read in comparison to novels, but there’s so much packed into its pages that it makes me want to squeal.

This is the first graphic novel published under DC’s new Black Label, and it’s a strong start to the line.  The story and art aren’t afraid to get into darker content, although I wouldn’t say there’s any gore.  And if the violence is gratuitous, it’s not there to gross anyone out but to show how things have gone far too far.  In fact…but no, that should go under a spoiler warning.

I also want to thank Sean Murphy for his humorous bits here, allowing me to actually laugh out loud at a couple points.  I’m not just talking about calling the Penguin “Happy Feet”, but a few other moments besides, like the reference to a game based on a classic episode of Batman: The Animated Series.  The humor is a good reminder that this story is not here just to be darkness and defeat for Batman.  Plus humor lightens the tension a bit.

Batman: White Knight is a powerful story, the likes of which most people wouldn’t think to tell.  I am glad Sean Murphy has chosen to share it with the world and I can thoroughly appreciate it on several levels.  There’s something classic and timeless to Batman that I enjoy (far more than say, Superman) and this graphic novel plays on those constants, riveting my attention.  I may have to give in and get my own copy of this book, but I don’t regret asking the library to buy it or waiting until the hold came in to read it.  I think White Knight will become as much a classic as The Killing Joke as far as Batman stories go, and that’s nothing to look down on.

Let’s get real for a moment.  Batman: White Knight is essentially the Lego Batman movie played straight.  It’s the same take on the Joker; as the ultimate Batman fanboy just wanting the Dark Knight to acknowledge the connection they’ve had for decades.  But if he can’t get that as the Joker, then by all the gods he’ll get it as his original identity of Jack Napier!

I also appreciate the two Harley Quinns.  I’ve never been a fan of the overly sexualized Harley popularized by Suicide Squad, or any other more recent interpretation.  But the early plot twist of the sexy Harley not being Harleen Quinzel?  That was a lovely touch I appreciated.  Plus it helps bear into the fact that superheroes of all types always seem to create their worst villains as she later becomes the Neo Joker and a terrifying opponent to behold.

I began to suspect the truth of the plot by the time it was revealed, but it’s still an engrossing read.  To think that while it may have been the Joker’s genius helping to improve Gotham, the plan to get him on that track was all Harley’s.  As she reminded him early on, she was a psychiatrist and does know her stuff.  And, with her as the grand mastermind, it does explain how she conveniently showed up when Jack went to see Harley II.

I’m not sure about the Victor Fries element here.  It does allow Sean Murphy to tie up several loose ends and limit the number of characters, but he also seems out of place, even throughout the finale.  Maybe if I knew additional background specifics about this timeline it would sit better with me, but I don’t know if this world extends beyond this one miniseries.

One thing I do love is the title.  The book is called White Knight after the stereotypical Medieval hero.  The white knight, like how the sheriffs in Westerns would wear white hats.  But take it another level deeper…Batman has been called the Dark Knight for years.  It’s suitable because he wears dark colors and operates at night, but also because his rough brand of justice is not always kind or even easy.  In contrast here, Jack Napier becomes the city’s hero in Batman’s place…but he’s also known for being pale-skinned as the Joker.  I do love the multiple connotations carried in two simple words.

Of course…Jack Napier may not be the real White Knight.  After all, the logo and spine of the book are decorated with Harely’s three diamond insignia, and it was her brainstorm that set all of this in motion.  And her logic?  That this whole conflict had gone way too far and she was going to bring it back down by helping Batman and Gotham appreciate Jack Napier on his own merit, not just fearing him as the Joker.  The woman still loves him, for better or for worse.

Last but not least, I love seeing all the batmobiles together.  I may not have recognized all of them right off the bat (ha), but it was still super cool.  There’s a shot early on of Batgirl watching the news in the Batcave and we get a beautiful wide look at the place, complete with the arc of cars.  This is echoed later when Batman brings the whole lot over to the GCPD and the GTO for the last big fight of the story.  There were a ton of great visuals in this book, from Zoinko’s Joke Shop (Zonko’s, anyone?) to Jack Napier casting Joker’s shadow, and so many more.  Even the cover of the entire book (seems to be from issue 2 originally) is a gorgeously detailed set piece silently summarizing everything you need to know about the basic premise for Joker in this story.

Seriously, I had a great time with this book.  So much so that I’ve read it twice today, just to savor it that much longer.

That’s a Cliffhanger for You

I really have to wonder how much information Kazue Kato gave to the producers of the Blue Exorcist anime.  Oh sure, the one season veered off on its own to wrap everything up within twenty-five episodes, but there’s not as many inconsistencies as I might have thought, all things considered.  Very, very interesting.  I’m reminded about the amount of care and consulting that Warner Brothers put in with JK Rowling for the Harry Potter films, but we’re not talking about England today.

Instead we’re talking about Japan as I reread Blue Exorcist 16-19 and followed that up with the new volume 20.  Aside from some lingering bits at the start of volume 16, it was mostly complete stories, not including the current drama that is not yet resolved and I won’t know more for half a year.  But let’s back up a bit.

Rin and Yukio Okamura are twin orphans, both in training as or to become exorcists at True Cross Academy.  They are the sons of Satan, the most powerful demon of all, although Yukio appears to be completely human.  Rin on the other hand…well, he’s got fangs, pointy ears, and a tail that he doesn’t always bother to hide.  Not to mention that when he draws his sword he also gets horns made of blue flames.  Just for added effect.

This set of books sees the revealed backstory of Shura Kirikagure, one of the boys’ instructors and a recurring character from early on.  She’s from Aomori Prefecture and has a contract with a hydra that, among other things, gives her the demonic sword she wields.  After that adventure concludes, there’s some downtime, a Christmas/birthday party, and a wedding.  Meanwhile, Suguro (one of the twin’s friends and classmates) has apprenticed himself to Lewin Light, one of the most infamous and powerful exorcists in the order.  Light was sent to investigate certain aspects of the Japan branch of the Knights of the True Cross…and Suguro is dragged afterwards through some increasingly twisted secrets.

The building tension seems to come to a head with the climax of volume twenty which I didn’t see coming.  I had thought…well, let’s just say it’s not a solution I would choose, personally.  But what has happened does not preclude my predictions…they may still come true anyway.

It’s a time for secrets to come to life in the series, though we’re likely nowhere near the end yet.  I suspect that the next volume will conclude this story arc and after a fluffy everyday chapter or two, we’ll go into the exorcist certification exam.  But I am not going to make any guesses as to the overall final length of the series.  There’s too much still shrouded in mystery and too many ranks of power between our protagonists and their final enemy.  I doubt this is going to end up over a hundred volumes like certain other series, but I’m sure it’s going to be longer than ClaymoreFullmetal AlchemistRurouni Kenshin, or others.

But I’m going to have to wait months to find out what happens next.  Damnit.

Being Different

I mentioned yesterday that The Bird and the Nightingale didn’t read as a first book to me, save as the first of a trilogy.  If I hadn’t known it was Katherine Arden’s first novel, I wouldn’t have guessed it.  The Girl in the Tower, however, seems to “make up” for that lack.  That is to say I find a great many more tropes here in the second book than I did in the first.

Having established the world and setting, Vasilisa now wishes to explore beyond her father’s lands.  She is young and headstrong and the more people try to discourage her, the more she fights back.  I fully understand and support her desire for freedom, but she pushes it to the point if impracticality and recklessness.  Oh and there’s sort of a love triangle in this book because of course there is.  To the point where, if you really wanted, you could class this in one of my least favorite subcategories of all time, paranormal romance.  Seriously, I hate that that is a thing.

So, The Girl in the Tower uses a lot of new elements in comparison to the first book and thus many of them are eminently predictable, which is unfortunate.  The Russian mythology is far weaker in the second book too.  Partly I think it’s because Moscow is in the process of moving away from the old customs and partly because there are so very many new elements and moving parts that something had to give.  And a lot of the new pieces I just question…why?  Why was this necessary?  Did it really serve a purpose?

Don’t get me wrong, there were some well played story elements introduced early on for a good payoff in the end.  And I had to wonder what other Russian folk tales would make appearances in the Winternight trilogy.  (Hint: we haven’t seen Baba Yaga yet, though she’s been mentioned once or twice.  In the mouths of men, not chyerti.)  Although the context provided here really helps me better understand the Russian metahuman names in the Secret World Chronicles.  But that’s beside the point.

Katherine Arden’s story is strongest when it’s focused on the world she’s created from the Russian tales.  Even the character moments are quite good…so long as she’s not trying to cater to a particular young adult female audience.  Seriously, those are the weakest elements in the entire book and the least satisfying because I have seen them so many coutnless times…and I’ve seen them done much better.  If I’m groaning about your tropes as I’m reading, it’s not a good sign.

As a sequel, The Girl in the Tower is nowhere near as good as the first book.  It plainly shows all the difficulties an inexperienced author with a professional publishing team can have.  There are no typos or grammatical errors…but there should have been at least one more draft in the manuscript to try and make the modern tropes more seamlessly integrated into the world.  If they absolutely had to be left in.

I heard once that it’s readers of speculative fiction – science fiction, fantasy, and all their subgenres – who are most likely to crave novelty in their reading.  That we want to see new ideas executed in new ways as opposed to the same tired things.  It’s not like mysteries that only ever have a handful of characters, or westerns that are just the same story over again, and I’m not even going to touch the subject of romances with a stick.  So when I, as a reader of speculative fiction, find a book whose interesting concepts are buried alive under the weight of tropes and “what’s popular”, I am deeply disappointed and walk away unsatisfied.  I didn’t pick up your book because it was exactly like everything else, I bought it because it looked like a story I hadn’t read before in almost all ways.  If you’re going to turn it into every other popular young adult book…I can just find one of those that I already like and read that instead.  I have no problem spending all my time rereading books I love.

I’m concerned for the upcoming finale to the trilogy, The Winter of the Witch.  My local library doesn’t have it on order…but they do have the first two volumes, so I suspect I may be able to check it out in the coming year.  I’m just so disappointed with The Girl in the Tower that I am thinking quite strongly about checking the book out before spending real money on it.  And that’s never a good sign when I’ve already invested in the first two books.

I guess you could say that the Winternight trilogy is about Vasilisa being torn between the world of men and the world of the spirit and not fully fitting into either.  So it’s on par with the next book I read, Superman Isn’t Jewish (But I am…Kinda).  It’s the story of a boy from a mixed marriage growing up and trying to define himself in relation to the world.  By Jimmy Bemon with art by Emilie Boudet, it’s basically the author’s autobiography.

When Jimmy’s parents divorce, the last thing his father does before leaving is try to make his son see how awesome it is to be Jewish, finally falling on telling the boy that Superman is Jewish…or at least his creators are.  Which makes young Jimmy very proud and excited…up until the point he’s old enough to be at the school urinals and notices something different about himself in comparison to the other boys.  It seems that, between not wanting to be different in any way from his classmates (this was the eighties and bullying took many forms) and his belief that such a thing would make him unattractive to women, Jimmy found himself isolated for years.

It’s a simple enough story of a boy growing up and learning about himself, redefining his view of himself in society as he lives and grows.  But it’s well told.  And if the art style is very cartoony, it gets the point across and you know what you’re looking at in each panel.  Yes, there is discussion about and illustrations of penises.  But it’s alluded as much as possible due to embarrassment (of the characters, not the readers) and the illustrations are very simplistic – nothing inappropriate at all, though I can see some people protesting the book just for the simple fact that the drawings exist at all.

It’s the sort of book that I would give to kids about eleven or twelve who are from such a mixed family as Jimmy’s.  Hell, my cousin’s kids are about the right age for it, as the eldest is in high school and her husband’s Catholic.  Though she’s not much of a Jew all things considered and I don’t think her kids really consider themselves Jewish at all.  Plus I’m not sure if any of them would actually read the book.  And since they’re old enough that we don’t really do family birthday parties it would be awkward to give it to one of the kids…I’m really making this more difficult on myself.

Superman Isn’t Jewish is not going to resonate as much with me simply because that is my religion, and no question about it.  I attended Sunday school from kindergarten onward, I had five years of Hebrew school through the temple, I had a Bat Mitzvah, I spent four summers at Jew Camp – one of which was in New York, I was deeply involved in youth group to the point of holding board positions and going to a national convention, I was Confirmed (this is a thing in the Reform movement), I took two more years of Hebrew in college, was somewhat involved in Hillel, and went on Birthright Israel several years back.  There is no doubt whatsoever that I am Jewish, which means I’m not really the target audience for this graphic novel.

So while I do know and understand what it’s like to be different, I don’t fully appreciate what it’s like to be pulled in two different directions like Jimmy.  To alternately welcome and deny a part of myself.  In that case, I think even the comic shop owner who sold me the book, telling me he’d ordered the copy for the shop because he’s from such a mixed marriage, relates more than I do.  But, that’s no bad thing.

Judaism as a group, in the United States, has been concerned about losing members for decades.  Even though the story here takes place in France, I’m sure the phenomenon is not unique to this country.  The modern era encourages us to be more secular, to leave religion behind, and offers us so many other things to fill our time with that some old thing like religion is just not a priority anymore.  So mixed marriages have become very common and like as not the kids aren’t really raised as anything at all, though they’re likely to celebrate Christmas simply because the world is arranged to make that very easy and very standard.  And by “celebrating” it I mean that they exchange presents and put up a tree, no religious meaning whatsoever.

I think those poor kids are the real losers in the equation.  It’s one thing to be raised a particular way and to make your choice to give it up.  It’s different to not even be given the chance to learn until you’re older and able to make your own decisions in life.  Sure, you can say that people will make a more informed decision there…but it’s got to be hard.  That Hebrew class I took in college was not geared for people who weren’t Jewish.  The professor gave us a week to learn the alef-bet in both block and cursive – easy enough for those of us who’d memorized it long ago, not so much to those who may have never learned a language using non-Romanized letters.  There was a guy in my class who dropped because of that, and he was genuinely interested in learning.  He just couldn’t make up the gap between those of us who’d already learned the basics and those who were new.

So, Superman Isn’t Jewish is a good book.  It sets out to tell a simple, relatable story about growing up and it succeeds.  I can see some things that would cause stupid people to ban it, but frankly, prejudiced idiots exist everywhere.  And I’ll continue thinking if there’s a good way to get a copy to my cousin’s kids.

A Cold Night

Last year, on one of the coldest days of the year, my friends brought me to a new used/new bookstore where I picked up The Bear and the Nightingale, book one of the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden.  It’s not nearly as cold today as it was then, but it’s not warm out either and at various points in the day I’m having trouble adjusting to the temperature.  Anyway, the book had come out the previous winter in 2016, meaning I was able to pick up the paperback.  The second volume, The Girl in the Tower was available in hardcover that day, so I knew there was more to read if I enjoyed the book.

I bought The Girl in the Tower last weekend, but it’s been so many months I couldn’t possibly jump straight into it.  So today I finished rereading The Bear and the Nightingale.

As you would expect for the first book in any trilogy, The Bear and the Nightingale establishes everything from our main character, Vasilisa Petronova, to her world, her family, her history, and the lore.  We watch from before Vasya’s birth up through the point when she leaves her father’s house for the wider world, and by that point we do have a decent understanding of said world and her part in it.

She is the youngest daughter of Pyotr Vladimirovich and his first wife Marina Ivanova, the daughter that Marina gave her life to have.  Marina herself was the daughter of a prince, and her mother a mysterious maiden who walked into the Prince’s court and saw the man utterly enraptured by her presence.  Rumors of uncanniness and odd powers have always trailed the bloodline, though it is only on Vasilisa, the youngest of Marina’s five children, that they land squarely.

Through the lens of Vasya, we also meet several of the chyerti – spirits of the house and forest in Russian folklore.  Traditionally, offerings are made to these spirits to appease them and ask their protection.  And then there’s the spirit of Frost, of Death. His is a name that people do not care to speak for fear it will draw his attention, so they have an alternate name for him, and not so closely related as the familial nicknames they use for each other.  (For the record, I still fail to understand how, if nicknames for Vasilisa are Vasya and Vaschoka, how Sasha is the same for Aleksander.)

One of the conflicts in this story is that of old versus new, and it’s a common trope I’ve seen in many fantasy novels…especially where the new is represented by Christianity and its refusal to tolerate any other possible religion.  It makes no space for the chyerti, so they must be evil demons.  I see this most often in Arthurian tales, for, depending on how you date that story, it would be around the time Christianity was spreading through the region, having been brought by the Romans.

But again, this is a Russian story.  Even in the very name of the set, the Winternight trilogy.  Because in Russia, not just in its stories, the winter itself is an enemy that must be fought every single year.  Arden makes reference multiple times of how little food there is to see the people through to spring and how they do everything they can to survive.  This is part of why the chyerti receive offerings: winter is such an implacable enemy that mere humans need every ally they can get against it.

But none of that is actually in the story.  The story is of young Vasya growing up and coming into her birthright as her mother’s daughter.  It’s about the world trying to mold her and fit her into a position she is not suited for, simply because she is young and female.  And it’s about fear, and how fear can destroy a person and a community far faster than anything else.

If I didn’t know that The Bear and the Nightingale is Katherine Arden’s first book, I probably wouldn’t have guessed it from reading this novel alone.  It doesn’t thrust any of those glaring “first book” issues in my face, though I’m sure some are present. It just means that they didn’t make any real impression on me or break my immersion, and thus are on a level with any other errors I might find in any book I read.  It’s difficult to find anything you can consider perfect, so anything that I don’t specifically take note of as I’m reading is negligible.

So, it was a good book.  And, of course, I’ve got some others added to the Pile as of yesterday.  The library book sale is this weekend and I managed to find a few this time around.  Plus, the comic shop called me earlier this week to tell me the issue I had to order was in, and I found something else besides.  And then, to top it all off, my new step stool arrived.  I was having trouble reaching mass market paperbacks I’d placed on the topmost shelf, so now that’s fixed.  To celebrate, I rearranged four different areas to put all of my general anthologies on the same shelf, all together.  Suprisingly, that’s only about half of all my anthologies.  I hadn’t realized that I have about sixty anthologies mixed in with my collection by author or series, since there’s only about sixty in the new anthology section.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I also wonder if I should change the height of the second shelf from the bottom, as the bottom shelf is just a tad shy of the clearance necessary to doublestack my paperbacks.  I’ve arranged things to have graphic novels down there at the moment, so I’m not sure if I should change that, but we’ll see.  A lot of the books I’m buying new are hardcover or oversized paperback…but most of my used purchases are still mass markets.  I guess it depends on what I acquire most of in the coming months.  After all, it’s autumn now and this time of year is when a lot of my books are released.  I should probably look into a preorder on amazon soon.  But not tonight.

Ending Chains

Since I had been so very fortunate out in Forsyth, I opted to finish up the set with Chicks ‘n Chained Males.  You may recall that the original Chicks in Chainmail bore a note in a bright pink box on the back of the book, citing that the title was wholly the fault of the editor and the publisher, being a Sensitive New Age Guy, had nothing to do with it.  Well, Chicks ‘n Chained Males bears a similar disclaimer, this time in a blue box.  Here the Editor wishes it to be known that it was the Publisher who titled this particular volume.

He may have a twisted sense of humor.  Or a fetish.  I’m not asking.

Still, we have here another eighteen stories of women being awesome.  Some returning authors, some I’d known anywhere, and of course some who are wholly new to me.  Harry Turtledove, Elizabeth Moon, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Rosemary Edghill, Josepha Sherman, Jan Stirling, Jody Lynn Nye, and Esther M. Friesner (of course she’s a contributing editor) all show up.  There’s also some names I now recognize thanks to reading these two one after the other, like Steven Piziks, Marina Frants, Susan Shwartz, Laura Frankos, and K.D. Wentworth.  Also I really should remember Susan Shwartz better given how much I love “The Tenth Worthy”, her contribution to Immortal Unicorn.  Her story here is “Straight Arrow” and it’s fine.

As before there are a few sequels to earlier stories in this anthology series, but there’s just as many authors contributing something wholly different.  And yes, I think there’s a man in chains at some point in every single story…although not always for the most obvious reason.

I do want to give a shoutout to Kevin Andrew Murphy, whose “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” ends with a line that just…made my day:  “They bankrupted the most beautiful princess in the world, leaving her a happy man in the end.”  Sure, I’ve taken it completely out of context, but I don’t think it’s really a spoiler of any kind and it’s an excellent sentence independent of the story.

“In for a Pound” by Lawrence Watt-Evans is a fun romp that touches on some of my thoughts lately as I daily toss election flyers from my mailbox to my recycling bin.  Of course, this story isn’t really about politics.

Marina Frants’ “Death Becomes Him” is a sequel to her story from Did You Say CHICKS!? “A Bone to Pick”.  I was happy to revisit one of the Baba Yaga stories…but even happier when I read the end of the story.  A lot of the tales in this book follow a simple formula, so I am pleased to find those who defy convention.

I think Laura Frankos may enjoy musicals as much as I do.  Certainly she put enough of that love into “Leg Irons, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe” which, contrary to what the title might suggest, does not involve a trip to Narnia.  It’s fun anyway and really makes me want to put on a classic musical.

Then there’s Jody Lynn Nye.  She…went there.  Yes, there’ve been stories about chicks.  And stories about chainmail.  And stories about chicks wearing chainmail.  But only Jody Lynn Nye had the guts to write about chain mail in “Don’t Break the Chain!”  And now I know what a Medieval Tupperware party looks like.

I’m not sure if this anthology is stronger or weaker than the others, but I know it definitely suffered a bit for having been read right after the last.  These are best mixed in with my normal reading so that I have a chance to truly appreciate the comedy within.  Still, I’m happy to finally own and have read all three books and that’s a fact.


When I left for work yesterday, it was with the knowledge that there wasn’t nearly enough of Misspelled left to last me the whole day.  Not by a long shot.  And since I didn’t want to finish an anthology, start a novel, and then attempt to go back and write a blog post about the first, I opted to take a second book of comparable proportions.  This is yet another prize from my six hours of driving, one of those books I was absolutely thrilled to find: Did You Say CHICKS!?

Yes, I found the second of Esther M. Friesner’s anthologies of womanpower and I couldn’t be happier about it.  It doesn’t have that memorable editor’s note on the back cover…instead a note about how the original Chicks in Chainmail reached number 3 on the bestsellers list.  And how you should totally buy this second book.

Opening it up, I found the dedication.  It’s a longer one, with a flowery rambling paragraph about how this book is dedicated to the muse who inspired it.  Then follows a poem, about a page and a half long, to Lucy Lawless.  That’s right, this book is dedicated to the woman who brought Xena: Warrior Princess to life.  I have no words for this fact.

Then the Introduction comes and Friesner explains how they actually had Baen run a contest to name this second book and the poor publisher was flooded with thousands of entries.  I don’t know that I find Did You Say CHICKS!? as instantly memorable and entertaining as Chicks in Chainmail, but that’s a personal opinion.  After all, I wasn’t judging the contest.

There are nineteen stories in all, and they run the gamut.  As per my usual, there’s a number of recognizable names, as well as several people who contributed to the first volume – why there’s even some sequel stories as you might expect.  There’s still a number of authors I’ve never read or heard of before and the situations range from serious to absurd.  I’m not going to touch on everyone or everything because nineteen is just too much, but let’s dive in.

In addition to the editor Esther M. Friesner, recognizable names also include Elizabeth Moon, Jody Lynn Nye, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Doranna Durgin, Laura Anne Gilman, Barbara Hambly, Jan Stirling, S.M. Stirling, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Harry Turtledove, and Margaret Ball.  It’s funny how Doranna Durgin’s story here, “A Bitch in Time” is an earlier entry in comparison to her story from yesterday: “Bitch Bewitched”.  Good timing on my part, I guess.

I do appreciate that Barbara Hambly contributed a Sun Wolf and Starhawk story (minus our one-eyed would-be mage) as I’ve been meaning to look into reading her further adventures stories for years.  Unfortunately, they’re exclusively available online and I still don’t care for e-readers, so I keep hoping that she’ll publish some physical collections at some point.

Of all the stories here, Harry Turtledove’s “La Différence” seems the least related to the subject of “chicks in chainmail”, but it’s still a good story.  Just a bit out of place and not just for being science fiction in this realm of fantasy.

My personal favorite story here is almost certainly “A Quiet Knight’s Reading” by Steven Piziks.  Most interstingly, his bio says this is a prequel to another story of his in Sword & Sorceress IX…so I guess I have a reason to keep an eye out for that specific volume.  For the curious, I do have the first two books in that series, I am aware that there’s twenty-one of those, and I’ve not generally been interested in assembling the set.  My mind’s not set in stone about that of course, but I’ve had very little motivation to buy these books previously.

Weirdly enough, there’s two Baba Yaga stories in here.  Russian folklore is not hugely prevalent in my reading habits, but it’s been cropping up more and more of late – and not just for my rereading Spinning Silver.  The Winternight trilogy also draws on Russian traditions and my familiarity with the tropes goes all the way back to Mercedes Lackey (of course) with The Firebird and Fortress of Frost and Fire.  Today’s stories are “Slue-Foot Sue and the Witch in the Woods” by Laura Frankos and “A Bone to Pick” by Marina Frants and Keith R.A. DeCandido.  Neither is a straight-up typical Baba Yaga story, which makes both interesting.

There’s also “Like No Business I Know” wherein the protagonist is an actress whose main role is essentially Xena.  That reminded me of several other stories set in Hollywood and themed with the industry…one of which took place in Hell…  Still, Mark Bourne knows how to play to his audience.

Then there’s Margaret Ball’s “Tales from the Slushpile”, which is one of those sequels to a story from Chicks in Chainmail.  And it, joy of joys, takes place at a convention.  Just a single panel, but still.  I appreciate that.

But the most unexpectedly funny and wonderful story of them has to be “Yes, We Did Say Chicks!” by Adam-Troy Castro.  It’s the final story in the volume, the absolute shortest, and still hilarious.

Overall, I had a great time reading Did You Say CHICKS!? and am thrilled to add it to my collection.  It could be a hard act to follow…but I’ve got something in mind already.