What Shadows Concealed

Anyone who’s read Rachel Neumeier’s essay at the end of Black Dog Short Stories I (or the preview chapter at the back of Black Dog) would see the “twist” that Pure Magic opens with.  Or you could infer it based on sweeping statements made throughout either of those volumes.  There’s often talk of black dog sons and Pure daughters, how Keziah and Amira are the much rarer female black dogs, etc.

Justin, the protagonist in Pure Magic, is a Pure son.  According to the genetics essay, this means he’s from a very different line of descent than Dimiloc and Saint Walburga.  (In this universe Saint Walburga is attributed with the creation of the Pure as she was trying to work a spell on an unborn black dog daughter.  She is apparently a real saint and somewhat interesting if you choose to look her up.  There are a lot of saints in Christianity and I know nothing of them.)  From what I retained (genetics is not a strong point of mine), the gene in Dimiloc that can result in a Pure child would only appear in daughters.  It is not the only such gene in existence and there is a possibility outside of Dimiloc for a Pure boy.

Justin is, in many ways, a better viewpoint character than Natividad.  He literally has no idea what the Pure are until he’s sitting in a priest’s refectory, about to enjoy some coconut cake, when a black dog crashes through the window.  Followed by Ethan Lanning.  And then Ezekiel Korte.  Who then proceed to bring Justin to Dimiloc.  Nothing like diving right in, eh?

If you were hoping that Pure Magic would elaborate on its title subject, you will be disappointed.  Even when Natividad teaches Justin how to do magic, there’s not a huge amount of theory explained.  Or rather, nothing really in addition to what you could have picked up from the first book based on what Natividad said and did.  What the second novel does do is use Justin’s viewpoint to explain how he perceives magic, which is very different from Natividad’s perception.  You see, Justin likes math.  A lot.  And so he views magic through that lens, to the point of seeing equations and functions.  It does also mean he can easily create perfect circles for his mandalas by mentally specifying the radius and trusting 2πr to do what needs doing.

As for the main plot outside of Justin’s trying to come to terms with the fact that his life has just become a whole lot weirder, Dimiloc is stretched pretty thin at the moment.  They’re still rebuilding after the war with the vampires and while they’ve got more members than at the end of the last book, it’s not nearly enough to regain control over the entire United States’ supernatural affairs.  Thaddeus and DeAnn are out in one location (probably Chicago but I don’t feel like looking it up), Alejandro and Ethan are in Boston, Etienne is in Denver with a sept of Dimiloc, and Ezekiel is sent where Grayson needs him most.

So when Justin has had enough of feeling like a kidnapped prisoner, Natividad decides she may be able to kill two birds with one stone…

I could easily come to dislike Natividad.  But that may be the point.  The Black Dog series is young adult, a fact made obvious simply by the average age of protagonists – roughly seventeen.  The actual adults are, for the most part, offscreen or dead.  Or enemies.  Sure there’s always Grayson Lanning, but for some reason he’s not usually where our heroes are.  The point is, Natividad acts like a typical young adult protagonist who is aboslutely certain she’s right and will save the day.  But here’s where we see Neumeier’s skill and understanding at work.  Natividad is not always right.  She doesn’t necessarily know better than the adults.  Some of the problems she finds herself dealing with are her fault in the first place because she thought she knew best.

And that is part of what makes these books so good from an adult perspective.  In too many young adult books the grownups are either shoved aside, dead, or stupid beyond belief.  Which of course means the kids are in charge of their own fates and get to decide what to do and when.  It can work.  Just look at Lord of the Flies.  But part of what makes that book work is that it’s over sixty years old and was markedly different from its competitors at that time.  Today…it’s been done.  It’s been done to death.  Repeatedly.  I’ve bemoaned the size and general quality of the young adult section in many posts for multiple reasons.  And one of those is that trends seem to accumulate quickly in young adult.  You can have that awful Stephanie Meyer quartet ripped off in every horror theme imaginable, you can have all kinds of magic schools, you can have all sorts of dystopias, etc.  Any young adult book that makes a significant amount of money is going to create a new subset of books trying to capitalize on its success by copying what it did with a few changes for copyright purposes.

But Rachel Neumeier, for all she is a young adult author, is not some copycat.  She’s put a lot more thought (and, I hope, effort) into her books and has produced some compelling reads that may be told through a teen’s perspective but don’t put the kids forward at the adults’ expense.  All people have value to Neumeier, regardless of age, race, gender, etc.

After Pure Magic, it was simple enough to go ahead and finish up Black Dog Short Stories II.  I’d already read the first two tales yesterday with the expanse of leftover lunch time and reached a point where I determined I really should stop in case I really found spoilers.  Which, yes, I would have.  So overall it was a good call and it left me with only two stories to read today – easy enough.

Like Black Dog Short Stories I, the second collection features for new tales bridging the gap between novels, plus another insight into the technical world of the series.  Well, I say they bridge the gap, but that’s not wholly true.  The first story here, like the last story in the other, is from years ago.

“Mothers and Daughters” is the formative backstory of Keziah and Amira, the Saudi female black dogs who were recruited into Dimiloc.  There’s still a gap between the end of this story and their arrival in Vermont, but that span of time is not as vital.  It’s mentioned repeatedly that Keziah is likely a Saudi princess, though she refuses to give any details about her family.  Having read this story, I can well imagine why.

Keziah and Amira grew up in an Arabic villa where women are lesser creatures confined to their own section of the house.  It’s not the first harem story I’ve read, but in many others there is a sense of benign neglect from the males in charge.  Here, given that this is a black dog House, it is not at all benign.  Add in the fact that female black dogs are uncommon and generally frowned upon from all angles and two black dog sisters become something of a problem.

It’s a tale of tragedy, heroism, and sisterly love.  In fact, this is probably the most adult story in the series thus far, given the conditions Keziah must endure.  All I can say at the end is that I’m grateful she and Amira were able to make their escape to America.

Going to “Unlikely Allies” which does take place after Pure Magic, this is an Ezekiel story.  He’s working from Denver at this time, out in the field investigating a series of murders.  And rapes.  And the spoiler I had noted for this story turned out to be fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, so it worked out fairly well as a standalone tale.  But the implications, especially right after Keziah’s…it’ll be interesting to see what Neumeier does with that.  Because I don’t doubt for a moment it’ll come up again.

Then there’s “Bank Job”, where Ethan Lanning and Thaddeus Williams are clearing out strays in the Midwest when Grayson calls and tells them to go to the Arch.  It seems that some black dogs are involved with a bank robbery, and Grayson’s ally Harrod asked for some backup.  In the world of Black Dog, the Special Forces were created once enough vampires were slain to defuse the miasma they’d coated the world in.  This unit is meant to deal with supernatural forces and during the war, Grayson and Harrod formed an alliance of convenience.  Neither is fully comfortable with the other, but they’ve found their uses over the years.

This story’s best purpose is to show that yes, Ethan’s an ass, but he does know it and he is trying to be better.  And while Thaddeus is pretty impressive for a born stray, there’s a lot he could stand to learn.  At least they’ve got each other’s backs.

Lastly is “A Family Visit” where Justin finally does see his grandmother again.  This story takes place about a year after Black Dog began and like any good landmark moment, it’s as much about potential future directions for the series as it is about helping Justin come to terms with his family and his past.  And this story leads right into Neumeier’s fact section, which is about witches.  Yes, in addition to werewolves and vampires, this world has witches.  You can even blame the witches for the existence of both werewolves and vampires.  But they’re not nice people and can be a threat.  So we’ll see how that plays into the rest of the series.

Unfortunately that’s all I have from the world of Black Dog at the moment.  There is another novel available, as well as a third collection of short stories, but I don’t have either of those at this time.  Not to mention that the short stories are probably only available digitally until she has a fourth collection to combine it with for physical print, based on the books I already have.  Point being, I’m looking forward to reading more in this world in the future.

A Slight Breather

Following up on yesterday’s book is today’s Black Dog Short Stories I.  Rachel Neumeier has told me that the intention is to have a collection of stories interspersed between the full length novels.  Important events that affect characters and the series as a whole, but don’t warrant a book in and of themselves.  Some of these stories take place before Black Dog, but obviously without the context provided by our introduction to the world, they cannot be fully appreciated until afterwards.

There are only four stories in the first collection.  Or anthology, since we all know how much I love those.  I should note that I will not be adding these to my short story database, not unless I come across any of them published outside of a Black Dog collection.  Unlike Sunfall, these do not constitute a whole and could be enjoyed individually by anyone who likes the series.  They’re essentially vignettes within the existing world.

I should mention that my book is actually Black Dog Short Stories I & II, because the individual sets are kindle only and I, as you know, much prefer hardcopy for everything.  I have read a bit into the second book, but that’s more because I had lunch time leftover.  I didn’t really want to, but I hadn’t brought the second novel with me.

Appropriately enough for the time of year, the first story is “Christmas Shopping”.  It occurs maybe a few weeks after the events of Black Dog and we see that Natividad has indeed settled in.  And, being a special slightly spoiled Pure girl, she’s trying to convince Grayson to let her get out of the house and go into town to do some holiday shopping.  It is, after all, her first Christmas in Vermont and she wants to have something of the media experience.  And to get nice things for her brothers, because it can be very difficult to judge something from images and text presented through a screen.  Grayson finally relents, but on the condition that Keziah, one of the female Saudi black dogs in Dimiloc, accompanies her.  Natividad is less than thrilled since she and Keziah are far from the best of friends, but the Master’s word is final.

And, Keziah being someone who likes to push the limits of authority, decides that the nearest town is still too much of a backwater for real shopping.  It’s a brief story meant to show the two main female characters improving their relationship through adversity.  A standard story trope, but it’s executed just fine.

“Library Work” is through the lens of Natividad’s twin Miguel.  It takes place a few months after “Christmas Shopping” and Miguel is bemoaning to himself the fact that Grayson still hasn’t hired new servants.  He’s the only human around and Étienne Lumondiere, a French black wolf who had accidentally fallen in with Vonhausel and subsequently joined Dimiloc upon his defeat, sees him as being little better than a servant himself.  Luckily, Miguel has an ally in the moon-bound Cass Pearson, coming back up to the house for yet another full moon, hoping she can control her shadow enough to live a normal life.

This is the sort of story that makes me wince because I just don’t understand why some people think others are that stupid.  Again, the story itself is fine, I just cringe at certain plot elements.  Like when I see a movie and one of the main plot points is someone lying.  I just…what’s wrong with being honest?  Or how about not telling an outright lie and just implying the lie without actually saying it?  I mean, the latter isn’t much better, but it’s somewhat better.  Technically.

The third story is very interesting by contrast.  Called “A Learning Experience”, it’s from the viewpoint of Thaddeus Williams, the black dog Alejandro helped Ezekiel recruit in the book.  He’s back in Chicago along with Grayson Lanning, hunting strays.  Half of the story is Thad remembering his backstory, discussing his childhood and how he met his Pure wife DeeAnn, and the other half is the actual hunt and pursuit.  It’s here that I think Neumeier went a little too hard on the locality.  I do know and appreciate that she’s from the area, but for a series that has thus far spent most of its time in Vermont, I think there was a bit too much detail about the Chicago suburbs.  Not that I didn’t get a little thrill of recognition, but mapping out a territory by naming the towns on its border is not really going to mean much to anyone unfamiliar with the area.

Lastly is “The Master of Dimiloc” and it’s probably the most important story in the book.  This is the tale of how Grayson Lanning became Dimiloc’s Master in the place of Thos Korte who was, by all accounts, a much shadier and less noble fellow.  I didn’t realize that would actually be the subject. Looking at the title, I thought it would be an exploration into Grayson’s character.  As I started reading, I thought it might be so we could compare and contrast Grayson to Thos – which isn’t wrong, but not the point.  The point is to answer a question a reader might have had based on events near the end of Black Dog.  It’s a story that informs the motives and reactions of several key characters, so Neumeier had to know what happened even if she never chose to share it with her readers.  I’m given to understand this is a common occurence with novels and series, that there’s so much additional information the author has to know, but doesn’t have a place in the book.

Speaking of additional information, there is a fifth piece here.  It’s not a short story, but rather an essay on genetics.  Or two essays – one about genetics and how they function, the second about the genetics of black dogs and the Pure.  Essentially, both are mutations and the Pure is a variant on the black dog mutation, so without black dogs there would cease to be Pure.  But Neumeier gets into some fairly interesting details to the point where I think I may recommend the series to a friend of mine who is fascinated by DNA and inheritence so that they can read it too.

Overall, I think it’s a sound plan to intersperse anthologies with novels and meshes well with my own reading habits.  You may have noticed that the denser the book (or books) I’ve read, the more likely I am to want something lighter to follow it, whether that be an easier book or just a bunch of shorter things.  With Black Dog Short Stories I get the shorter material but it’s still a part of the world I’m currently reading from and is meant to help carry me from one book to the next.  Obviously it’s not required to read the short stories and you’ll be fine sticking to the novels, but for those who want the full experience and as the author intended, this is the way to go.  I’m a fan, and it’s onto the next novel.

One last thought for tonight; I do want to thank Rachel Neumeier for sending me this combined collection along with the next two novels.  It makes me feel validated as a blogger and more importantly, I’m loving the books.

Local Love

Black Dog is a book about love.

I know, it seems like a weird statement to make when your book is about werewolves and magic and the undead, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  I suppose some people might overlook this fact because there’s very little romance.  Well, to be completely fair, there’s no romance at all in Black Dog, just the suggestion of things to come in future books and the memory of loves gone by.  But romantic and erotic love aren’t the only types out there.  I should know.  I love a lot of people – my family and my friends – but I myself an aromantic.  I don’t seek out or feel the need for a romantic relationship with anyone.  That doesn’t make my use of the word “love” as it relates to myself and a person I care about any less true or valid.

The core of Black Dog centers around Alejandro, Natividad, and Miguel.  They are, respectively, a black dog (demonic shapeshifter), Pure (magic wielder who can help black dogs tame themselves), and human.  They’re also siblings who love each other dearly and each will do whatever it takes to keep the other two safe.  Following the deaths of their parents, they have traveled from Mexico to the frozen forests of northeastern Vermont chasing the faint hope of safety from what hunts them.  There, in the Northeast Kingdom lies Dimiloc, a powerful house of black dogs that may be able to protect them.

In Dimiloc we see another form of love, built on a foundation of loyalty.  The black wolves of Dimiloc, as they are known, are loyal to each other and to their house.  Not merely to the group as a whole but to the idea of Dimiloc as this bastion against the forces of darkness, including the darkness of their own possessing shadows.  The black dogs are, because of this influence, quick to anger and violence, slow to reason and logic.  It takes a great deal of effort and years of experience for the human part to overrule the shadow effectively, and so black dogs tend to be solitary creatures, able to acknowledge superiority and inferiority, but finding it difficult to trust.  Yet those of Dimiloc are friends when they are not family, able to work together despite internal difficulties and even arguments.

Part of Dimiloc’s strength is that of Grayson Lanning, Master of the House.  He’s a powerful presence who very rarely lets his shadow overcome his sense.  He controls Dimiloc, but not so tightly that he won’t see it grow and change.  He’s perceptive and undrestands when he needs to intervene and when it’s best to let events play out on their own.  No one could have been more surprised when Edward Toland’s three children showed up on his doorstep unannounced, but he takes it in stride, seeking to make the best of an unexpected situation.  Particularly when the level of threat stalking the orphans makes itself known.

The other part of Dimiloc’s strength is Grayson’s right hand, Ezekiel Korte.  Though he’s only about twenty, Ezekiel is Dimiloc’s executioner with a reputation known even in other countries.  He’s likely to be a romantic lead in future books, having made it known early on that he’s quite interested in courting Natividad when she comes of age.  When one of the most powerful wolves around makes a casual statement like that, the others tend to back away from the object of interest.

Natividad, on the other hand, knew that in order to gain Dimiloc’s protection she’d likely have to offer herself in that fashion.  Pure women are valuable not just for the Calming magic they can lay on black dogs but also because their black dog sons will likely have better control of their shadows.  Not to mention the powerful arcane defenses they can erect on behalf of their House and surrounding countryside.  She’s not thrilled to turn sixteen in four months and have open season declared on her, but recognizes the importance of the personal sacrifice.  Besides, Ezekiel doesn’t seem so bad once she gets past the initial shock of fear that his reputation engenders.

Natividad is one of the two viewpoint characters in the book, the other being her older brother Alejandro.  Both undrestand how to act around the group of black wolves – ‘Jandro instinctively thanks to his shadow and Natividad from having grown up around her brother and father – but they come at it from different angles.  Alejandro is constantly fighting against his shadow’s urges as well as a host of more normal problems.  He views his younger siblings as his responsibility, his parents were brutally murdered, and he’s just traveled across half a continent into a winter he’s never seen before.  Natividad experiences much of the same, but without the constant compulsion for carnage.  Instead, she is a magic-user and essentially a beacon of hope.  Sure, she’s a bit spoiled.  None of the black dogs she’s ever met truly wanted to hurt her and she can get away with far more than any of them, even more than her brother Miguel.  But she honestly wants the best for everyone she meets, particularly those she can find a reason to like.

Sure there’s a crazy black dog who’s been pursuing the three since Mexico.  And sure, he’s got a horde of black dogs and moon-bound shifters – humans who were bitten but will never be as big and powerful as a true black dog.  But at the end of the day, this is the story of Alejandro, Natividad, and Miguel trying to find or make a new home for themselves after the horrors they experienced losing their original one.  They do this out of love for their siblings, because what they went through could have broken any of them individually.  But because they have each other, they can find the strength within themselves to persevere and move on with their lives.

So, yes.  Black Dog is about love.  And that’s why I love it.

Let’s Go to the City

At any convention dealer’s room you’re liable to find several tables with a very hopeful person on the other side and a few books between you.  Self-published authors of all sorts, with interests from fantasy to science fiction and everything in between.  I doubt any of them make a huge number of sales over the course of the weekend, but I hope they all make enough to justify the table expense.  And, of course, I very rarely buy their books.

I feel somewhat bad about that.  But if I’m going to buy a book – something brand new that I can’t exactly get a discount on without feeling like I’m taking it out of someone’s grocery fund – I want to be certain it’s something I’m going to like.  People say “life’s too short to read bad books” (a saying I am coming to utilize more and more) but I would also point out that I don’t want to spend money on bad books.  Or at least, not much of it.  I feel no guilt about dropping a dollar or two on something terrible at a library sale.  But at about four dollars I become much more discerning.  Anything over ten and I really need to think about it.

But I love conventions.  Sure I play a lot of board games and spend some of my time at panels and concerts, but just as often you’ll see me stopped in some random location having a conversation with someone.  That person (or people) might be an old con-friend, or they might just as easily be someone whose name I don’t even know.  It doesn’t stop us from having a great talk about anything and everything.

If I have time to spare, I’ll even talk to those poor starving artists and authors in the dealer’s room (okay, hopefully they’re not starving but it is not easy to make a living as an artist of any kind).  And this is a key factor in the business.  The longer you talk to someone, the more you wear away their defenses and resistance and get them to buy your product.  In this case, your book.

I told him that I’m not big into pure horror.  Luckily, this book reads more as fantasy than horror.  I told him I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories.  Well, I’m still not a fan and have a suspicion that the layers of conspiracies he’s got planned may just break my brain as badly as time travel.  I told him I’d already bought a bunch of books this con.  And, yeah, I should’ve been good and not bought another, but what can you do?

In the end, I bought The Seventh Age: Dawn because Rick Heinz explained to me why he would never be a full time writer.  He’s an electrician who works in Chicago, and this involves layers and levels of infrastructure that most people never even suspect. Like the miles of tunnels underneath O’Hare International Airport that could function as bomb shelters.  Or the creepy stuff that’s below the already-somewhat-creepy Lower Wacker Drive.  And he takes his experiences in these places most people know nothing about and integrates them into his work.

It’s nothing new, of course, people writing what they know.  It’s like, I know that Mercedes Lackey is a licensed bird rehabilitator – it says so in her bio.  I also know that she loves horses and music, which is not in her bio but shows up in almost every book.  I know Tanya Huff is fascinated by mines and caves.  But either I’m jaded by having read so much from both of those women or I just haven’t been exposed to something quite as fascinating as the secret places within a city.  And Chicago is quite an interesting place as far as those things go.  There’s sculptures on top of buildings that can’t be seen without roof access or a helicopter.  There’s remarkably opulent decor hidden inside bland facades.  There’s whatever you want to call the interior design of the Cheesecake Factory in the Hancock Building.

Maybe I’ve just got some hometown pride.  I don’t generally seek out books about Chicago – witness that I’ve never read Devil in the White City – but I always enjoy shoutouts to it.  I remember that a character in The Great Gatsby is from Lake Forest, Illinois.  I loved the bit in Black Dog where they have to deal with Chicago traffic.  And I can always tell if the author actually knows the area or not.  (Looking at you and your massive screwup, Mean Girls.)

But enough of why I gave in and bought the book.  Let’s talk content.  The Seventh Age: Dawn opens with our hero Mike Auburn standing twenty-one stories up in an incomplete skyscraper, taunting death.  He’s a cynic with a heart of gold who has a bizarre fascination with death.  When he’s risking life and limb, he gets a glimpse of ghosts, his loved ones who’ve tragically died over the years.  And I don’t think even he could tell you why he does it.  Part of it might be survivor’s guilt, another part the adrenaline high, and maybe another part is hoping this time he’ll finally die by accident.

He’s nobody important, a construction worker who goes to his regular therapy sessions, smokes, drinks, and doesn’t bother driving around the city.  So when he finds himself being drawn into the first layer of a conspiracy, recruited by someone who reminds me no small amount of the old Mob, he’s not exactly thrilled.  Mike may be unwaveringly loyal to his friends (what friends he has), but you’ll move heaven and earth before you get him to budge in a direction he doesn’t want to go.

So what’s this conspiracy?  Or at least, the basis of the world?  Well, magic is real.  So’s heaven, hell, and purgatory.  And “people with magic” pretty much equates to “people with political, economical, and/or religious power” because they’ve been running things for millenia.  Sure, sometimes plans go awry, such as in Nazi Germany.  But for the most part, they’ve been pulling the strings.

The “Seventh Age” of the title refers to an expanse of time following a particular date that’s coming up fairly quickly in the book and on the calendar: December 21st.  There’s some ritual that needs to be performed and people are hoping to bring Lazarus back to life for a third time and not all of this is clear to me.  Essentially, we’re entering the Seventh Age whether we like it or not, and various power factions are hoping to steer the new era into their particular direction.

Into this grandiose mess is thrust Mike and his new friends.  Mike understands about as much as we do, maybe less.  And yet he is one of the characters with the most agency.  Which of course means that as the protagonist he’s going to do what feels right and keeps most of his friends alive.

On the other side of the coin is one Gabriel D’Angelo.  He’s hoping to become a particularly powerful warlock’s apprentice.  His main role throughout the book is that of an asshat.  I do mean that, as he receives instructions at one point to piss people off.  He’s got more preparation than Mike (really, anyone has more training and knowledge than Mike) but is still a new player in the game.  It’s clear he’s meant to be Mike’s counterweight throughout the series.

Yes, this is the first book of a series.  How long is unclear at this point.  It’s possible that Heinz himself is uncertain how many books there will be in the Seventh Age, although if we’re offering guesses, I’ll point out how “popular” trilogies are right now. Seven would also be a logical number given the series name.

Do I like the book?  It’s a hard question because while I’ve enjoyed reading it, this isn’t something that will ever be up on my top tier.  Both Mike and Gabriel piss me off at various points throughout (Gabriel much more), and there’s several aspects of Mike just seeming to be “the Special”.  Plus the aforementioned layers upon layers of conspiracy that have my poor head swimming.

On another note, I know the figure on the cover is Mike, but I’m sorry, unless I squint really hard at the figure’s haircut, that’s a girl.  Just looks like a punk chick.

Back on the question of if I like the book.  I’d say that I would probably pick up the second because I’m invested enough to want to know what happens next.  I can’t say for certain I’d preorder it, though it being a self-published/crowdfunded thing, the possibility exists.  I guess that makes me lukewarm to positive on the book.  There’s definitely things I like about it, even though there are aspects I don’t care for.  I don’t think I’ve wasted my money or my time.

By One Word

When Rise of the Guardians came to theaters, three books by William Joyce were available.  I briefly discussed some ways that the Sandman’s book may have been influenced, it being released a year after the movie.  And I had put book five on my amazon wishlist right around that time in 2013.  Book five which was published this week, some five years later.

The movie’s protagonist is Jack Frost, the reluctant would-be Guardian, and chronicles his journey towards self-realization and acceptance.  He is by far the most popular character in the movie.  So you can imagine how wide my eyes grew when the cover art and title of the upcoming fifth book finally settled on Jack Frost: The End Becomes the Beginning.  Finally I would get to see how my favorite animated character voiced by Chris Pine fit into the textual world of William Joyce.

First and foremost, Jack Frost is not a new character introduced here in the final book of the series.  In fact, we’ve seen him in every single book, going back to the first chapter of the first volume.  He was Pitch’s first opponent in this story and must be his last as well.  Because Jack Frost was, last we saw him, known as Nightlight.

Jack Frost is the only book that gives readers actual historical dates as it takes place in 1933, the Christmas season following the stock market crash.  The Guardians understand the words “stock”, “market”, and “crash”, but only Sandman is able to elucidate what it means and the rest of the lot simply have no comprehension.  Able to understand and help any child, they’re not so big on the “modern world”.

In the time since the last major battle, our heroes have grown and settled into the roles they’ve made for themselves as mythical and folkloric figures.  North as Santa Claus, Bunnymund as the Easter Bunny, Tooth as the Tooth Fairy, Sanderson as the Sandman, Katherine as Mother Goose, and Ombric as Father Time.  And Jack Frost, who appeared after a century or more in 1890.  He’s not the same as he was, of course, with some different abilities, a more mature outlook, and a lot more verbal.  (I have a sibling in grad school who would probably find that fascinating if she had time for free-reading.)  But he’s still their friend and fellow Guardian, even if he’s not always around.

And at this point all the reader wants to know is what happened?  How is it that Pitch’s plot, hinted at the end of Sandman’s book, was foiled and the Nightmare King imprisioned beneath Santoff Claussen?  How did Nightlight turn into Jack Frost?  How did Ombric become Father Time?

All those answers and more are contained within the pages here.  In fact, most of the story is told in flashbacks, whether through Katherine’s journal or Jack’s recounting. It even touches on similar points and aspects to the movie, but think of them more as nods to the other medium, rather than the same plot points.  Like I said above, the books are definitively a different incarnation from the movie, so you cannot and should not expect the same story.

This is the longest book in the series, a good hundred pages more than the next-most lengthy.  But Joyce has retained the lessons learned in Bunnymund’s meandering mess and there’s no extraneous scenes here either.  There’s just a lot more to tell and no reason to make life difficult by breaking it up into two smaller books.  Literary history has multiple examples of how such a thing can be detrimental, or at least require creative restructuring.  That’s why the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings moved the fight with Shelob from the end of The Two Towers to the beginning of The Return of the King; to make the overall structure of each movie more appealing, cinematic, and logical to the version of the story they were telling.  Or, in other words, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Even kids books today are longer than they used to be, so you can get away with something the size of Jack Frost for its intended audience.

You can tell I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Obviously it was promised five years ago, but I think the final product clearly shows that someone determined not to release the book until it was actually worthy of its title and series.  True, many of the illustrations have been seen before.  But for me, at least, they were always a nice bonus.  In no child’s mind would the pictures be integral to the plot; there’s simply never been enough of them in any of the books.  The reason why someone would read a full five book series is because they’re invested in the story, and that’s where Jack Frost delivers.

In fact, there is only one real complaint I have for this book.  One single word I take umbrage with.  “Retard.”  It’s used in the old sense here, to delay or halt progress, to even progress backwards.  But given the connotations of the word today and the backlash against those connotations, I would never, ever use such a term in a children’s book.  It doesn’t matter how you intend it nor even that many children are intelligent to understand what is meant by it in this context, the fact of the matter is that 2018 is not the year for it.  We can overlook that same word with the same meaning in literature from a century ago, just like children can read old books and understand that “gay” means “happy”.  But there is no excuse for that choice in the modern day.  The nearest thesaurus is a mouseclick away and anyone can find a better word or phrase to use than something that is most commonly hurtful and offensive.

It’s a shame that a book that was otherwise a thrill to read after a five year wait, should be marred by something so easily fixed.  But, I guess that’s life and human nature.

Sweet Dreams

The fourth of William Joyce’s chapter books is The Sandman and the War of Dreams, introducing our fourth guardian prior to Jack Frost.  It is worth noting that this was the first book published after the release of Rise of the Guardians and as such does show influences.  Sanderson Mansnoozie the Star Captain (yes that is the Sandman’s real name in this world) is described to deeply resemble his character in the movie and, in the climax, we see abilities not only from him but also Pitch that were demonstrated in the film.

But let’s back up.  At the end of Tooth’s book, Katherine, our would-be Mother Goose, is kidnapped by Pitch.  The rest of the Guardians are determined to fetch her back but there are two major problems.  The first is that they have no idea where the boogeyman is hiding this time.  The second, and more significant problem, is Pitch’s daughter who is much better known as Mother Nature.  She is not necessarily an enemy, but that doesn’t make her an ally either.  Powerful and capricious, she is an obstacle to be overcome…if only they can find out more about her.

Enter the Sandman, slumbering peacefully on a floating island made entirely of Dreamsand.  The Man in the Moon sends him a dream message that instantly awakens the Star Captain and sends him to Santoff Claussen to aid.  And here we can see Sandy communicate despite being mute.  This isn’t the images and expressions of the movie, rather he can only speak in thoughts (such as to a certain errant moonbeam) or in dreams.  So he puts the entire magical village to sleep and spends no less than nine full chapters explaining his and Mother Nature’s backstories.

I should mention that backstories such as these, tales of the Golden Age, are always presented on black pages with white text in these books, to easily differentiate them from the modern plot.  It allows for some different illustrations to be used and is a visual cue.  Overall, it’s a very simple device, but effectively used, even if it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as I’ve seen in other books.

As stated, Mother Nature is Pitch’s daughter, Emily Jane.  As such she hasn’t taken kindly to Pitch’s threat of turning Katherine into a Fearling princess.  She may have issues with her father, but she will not stand to see him take someone else as his daughter.  Which is somewhat hypocritical, given how she spends some very formative years.

It’s no surprise that a large chunk of this book is given over to Sandman, his backstory, and how he fits into the Guardians as a whole.  After all, it’s his name in the title and his image on the cover.  But we see Katherine’s continuing journey into adulthood as well as Nightlight’s reluctant wanderings towards that path change into deliberate strides.  The two are clearly meant to be seen as a pairing, though this being a children’s book, there’s not much more than subtext as this time.

Katherine and Nightlight are the central thread of the series, linking all the other Guardians together.  Which makes me somewhat nervous for them, as likable characters, considering that they’re not in the movie.  Of course, this is most probably a case of the move not being canon with the book.  Still, Mother Goose was not a name mentioned once in the movie and I have to wonder if there’s a reason for that.  Other than, you know, a small cast makes it easier to form an emotional attachment to all of the main characters.

Sometimes I am torn between coldhearted analysis and just trying to have my emotional attachment to the fictional people.  It makes things awkward.

Regardless, the next book will make it clear how the books stand as compared to the movie.  And I am almost afire with curiosity about it.

More Children’s Books

The second book by William Joyce (in this series, which is the only one I read from him) is E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core.  After the indecisive conclusion of the battle in book one, which ended with Pitch’s retreat, our heroes of Ombric, Katherine, and North are working hard to find a way to dethrone the Nightmare King for good.  The Man in the Moon told them of five relics that can be used and the Lunar Lamas presented the group with Tsar Lunar’s father’s sword, the first of the lot.

And oh gods does none of that make sense if you haven’t read the book.  Okay, you’ve got your good guys, Ombric, Katherine, and North.  You’ve got your evil Pitch, the Nightmare King.  There’s the Man in the Moon, also known as the Tsar Lunar.  It was his parents who were the last rulers of the celestial Golden Age.  And then there’s…the Lunar Lamas.  They’re moon monks and like so much else in these books, they’re not originally from Earth.  They just came here thirty thousand years ago.

Much of these books are rooted in fairy tale logic.  Whatever they tell us is true to the story and we can’t make assumptions as to what is and isn’t possible.  All we can do is smile, nod, and go along for the ride.  So North can invent a robot (here called a djinni) that obeys its masters, is impossibly strong, and can transform into multiple shapes, including that of a flying machine.  Insects and moonbeams can talk.  And Katherine can become Mother Goose as she helps rescue a Giant Snow Goose egg just before it hatches, and the gosling latches onto the girl as her mother.

No one’s calling Katherine Mother Goose yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.  She’s always been a bit apart from the other children of Santoff Claussen by being an orphan that Ombric adopted in all but name, and now at the end of book two we see her choosing to remain separate and apart from the other kids’ games.  We’ve also seen her grow and mature in both books.  I don’t know offhand how her age compares to the others, but she’s clearly taking on more of an adult role at this point.

So let’s talk about our main character for this book, Bunnymund.  He is a Pooka, a giant rabbit person, and even older than Ombric (who is the last survivor of Atlantis).  He’s also the last of his kind, for Pitch had tried to exterminate the Pookas in his war.  Oh, and he’s got the second of the Man in the Moon’s relics.

Bunnymund has two main interests: eggs and chocolate.  There’s a terrible dad joke Joyce makes about his home, Easter Island, being egg-centric.  But it’s quite true.  There’s also a discussion of how the Earth used to be egg-shaped but was reshaped into a sphere so that it would not end up hard-boiled in the sun.  And Bunnymund says he used the excess material to make the Himalayan mountains and Australia.  Why is this relevant?  Well, Rise of the Guardians, the movie somewhat based on these books, came out the same year as this book and the Easter Bunny there is played by Australian actor Hugh Jackman.  I don’t know how much one had to do with the other…but it’s certainly possible.

As much as I adore the movie, there’s two key reasons why I haven’t reread these books before.  First and foremost, they are so far below my reading level that I wouldn’t ordinarily bother if I wasn’t genuinely interested in the story.  Secondly, they’re kind of boring for all they’re short.  I could see the books easily being translated into an animated series for children.  There’s a good deal that happens in each book, but much of it is not relevant to the main plot and bogs the story down.  Kind of like kids shows with a lot of filler episodes that flesh out the season to a required number of episodes, even though the overarching plot only fills a fraction of the whole and so needs to be carefully spaced out.  At that point, with many shows, I’d wonder if it wouldn’t be better to have no main plot and only episodic ones with no real timeline.

Well, I wouldn’t be reading these books if they were like that, but I think you get my point.  That even with only two hundred fifty pages, several of which are devoted wholly or in part to illustrations, my time is often being wasted.  And that’s a shame, but since I do read so few children’s chapter books at this point, it’s hard to say how normal that is.  I know no kid is going to be as critical as I am, so there’s that at least.

Book three is Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies as we continue to assemble the cast known in the movie.  It’s interesting that North is distinctly a Cossak, a fact which was carried over into the movie, while Toothiana is Indian, something left out.  Her father was the slave of a maharaja and her mother was a…they’re called the Sisters of Flight and they are birdwomen.  So Tooth is half human.  And the book explains quite succinctly where all the little Baby Tooths came from.  Not the baby teeth that she and her mini-selves collect to preserve the memories of childhood, but the mini-selves themselves.  I’m just making less sense now.

Pitch hasn’t been seen anywhere outside of Katherine’s nightmares for some months now, and the Guardians are feeling (over)confident.  So they go to the Lamadary to talk to the Man in the Moon about it.  While there, Katherine loses her very last baby tooth, leading to the Lunar Lamas exulting in the fact that the Her Most Royal Majesty Toothiana finally has a reason to visit them.  We then get Tooth’s backstory – the most elaborate of all the Guardians thus far – followed by Pitch’s latest plot.

It’s not as long as Bunnymund’s book, but maybe that’s because Joyce cut down on the extraneous scenes for this one.  Certainly I felt a lot less bored reading it, which argues for more editing.  Or maybe I just find Tooth to be a more interesting charater than the children of Santoff Claussen (who have less of a part in this book) or E. Aster Bunnymund (whose conversation tends to revolve around eggs and chocolate and arguing with North).  Either way, I can definitively say that book two is my least favorite of the series at the moment and book three is a good step up.

I did go out today, it being Black Friday, but there was very little on my shopping list. I stopped at one comic shop to pick up something silly sounding as well as storage supplies.  I’ve gotten to the point where I do want to put some comics away if only to free up the space they’ve been using.  So I bagged and boarded and boxed all comics that aren’t part of ongoing series.  That is to say, I left Doomsday ClockMighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and Go Go Power Rangers out of the box.  I also neglected to bag & board those series because I don’t want to have the hassle when I go to reread them, however many issues back I choose to go.

The box is not one of the largest I could have gotten, nor is it a fancy one, being completely white.  I’m thinking I might decorate it with the numerous stickers I have acquired over the years and never stuck to anything.  It fits perfectly on the shelf with my Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat collections, freeing up a bookend.  There’s a good amount of space left inside the box too.  Not so much that the comics inside fell over, even before I put the extra boards in with them, but it should be a good long time before I need to consider a second or larger box.

The only unplanned purchase was at Half Price Books, and it wasn’t even for me.  A friend of mine has been collecting Babylon 5 books, and they had 1-9 and something else on shelf today.  But my friend only needed number 7, so that’s what I got.  I literally found nothing else worth buying, even with 20% off.  Which is probably not a bad thing in the end.  And that’s typical for a used bookstore – the stock rotates over time and some visits you find a lot and some you find nothing.  And it’s not like I really need more books; I have plenty to read.

It’s just fun to go out and look.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like the Holidays…

I know I’ve said that I’m in a mood for longer books, but sometimes you just want to read that shiny new book now.  Regardless of how long the books in that series are.  And today’s book, the first in the series, is appropriate to the turning of the holidays. Sure, I probably should’ve put it off just one more day (I am definitely a “no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving” person), but then what would I have read today?

This is the first book of the Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce and Laura Geringer, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King.  I initially picked up the series because of my undying love for the movie Rise of the Guardians.  It’s a look at the fictional characters who embody holidays and aspects of childhood as they protect the worlds’ kids from those who would bring them pain and despair.  The movie focuses on Jack Frost, personification of winter, as he finds himself smack in the middle of the centuries-old conflict between the Guardians (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy) and Pitch Black, the Boogeyman.

In the books (that the movie was based on) things are somewhat spread out.  We’re covering the beginnings of the conflict seen in the movie and each character gets a volume dedicated to them.  This one was, of course, focused on North, the man who will eventually become Santa Claus.  Here, he’s a bandit who is given the opportunity to become so much more.  We’re also introduced to the world itself, which has more than enough room for magic as well as machines.

It’s a kids book in every sense of the word.  There’s beautiful illustrations all throughout, courtesy William Joyce, and you can see many aesthetics that would later be found in the movie.  There’s backstory concerning the Man in the Moon as well as Pitch and the beginning of the war, there’s the magical village of Santoff Claussen and its resident wizard Ombric, and there’s the girl Katherine who is one of the main characters in the story, yet is never seen in the movies.

Nichols St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King is very much an origin story and an opener for a series.  Our heroes may have won a battle, as listed in the title, but the conflict is far from resolved and there’s much more to do.  A quest is begun, searching for five different relics that will hopefully allow them to defeat Pitch entirely, but only one is found here in this book.  Of course, the book itself is not particularly long and, as I said, is meant for children.

Still, I’ve not regretted taking the time to reread it.  Though I may have Rise of the Guardians effectively memorized, I’ve only read the books once each and so my memory is rather fuzzy on more parts than I would have thought.  And if I’m going to be reading the newest book in the series, I’d like to know what’s been going on in its continuity, since books and movies are generally not considered to be in canon with each other in most cases.

So, not a bad Thanksgiving’s reading.  And yes, I’ll probably be investigating several bookstores over the weekend.  I doubt I’ll find many books I’m specifically looking for whenever I’m out, but I’m not opposed to spending less money than usual on things I find that I’d simply like to own and read.  Half the fun is the hunt itself and if I would be spending money on the book normally, why not save a bit and still have fun?

Or maybe that’s just me trying to justify my book-buying habits.  Well, I look at it as a different sort of funds distribution.  Instead of smoking, drinking alcohol, or even drinking coffee, I buy books.  Am I spending more or less than people who do consume such things?  I have no idea, but it seems a reasonable sort of justification to me.

Into the Green

I was definitely in a mood for something longer, but I still want to read new things.  So I compromised and pulled Firebrand by Kristen Britain.  It is the latest novel in her Green Rider series, and while I may have skipped the previous five installments, I don’t regret forgoing Mirror Sight, probably my least favorite of the series.  But I do have the new novella to read, so I will be getting to that next.

Now, you may recall that I’ve been disappointed in the two short stories I’ve found from Kristen Britain because neither was from the world of Green Rider.  Well, on rereading Firebrand, I found that assumption was not entirely correct.  There was a story in the 30th Anniversary DAW Fantasy collection called “Linked, on the Lake of Souls” and it was a fairly standard sword and sorcery tale of two opposite people who have to learn to get along.  Nothing special.  However, it turns out that this exact story is summarized in Firebrand!  “Linked, on the Lake of Souls” predates the novel by about fifteen years, but while Karigan is recovering from injuries she asks Estral for a story and, well, that’s the story that’s told.  Not in full, but enough that someone familiar with both works can tell.  And that’s just awesome.

I really do appreciate that the short story wasn’t retold in full – it has nothing to do with Firebrand‘s plot – and therefore wasn’t a case of an author lifting their own work.  (Cough cough Lackey.)  Still, it’s a nice touch.

So let’s talk about Firebrand itself.  The king and his councilors are trying to figure out what to do about the scanty information Karigan has brought back from the future.  Of course, part of the problem there is that the transition itself has wiped much of her experiences from her mind.  But, between what she does recall and information that has been discovered in the depths of the castle, it is decided to make an overture to the p’ehdrose – centaurlike creatures with moose instead of horses – in the face of the conflict with Mornhavon the Black.  They had long been thought extinct, but considering that they fought along with the Sacor Clans against the Arcosian forces a thousand years ago, combined with the fact that Karigan had seen stuffed p’ehdrose in the future, has swayed critics to believe it’s worth opening diplomatic channels.

On the other hand there is Estral Andovian, Karigan’s best friend from school in Selium.  She is the daughter of Lord Aaron Fiori, the Golden Guardian.  And her father is missing.  He was last seen in the direction Karigan intends to travel, so Estral tacks herself onto the group in an effort to locate him.  Their guide is Enver, an Eletian who is half human.  His main task is not necessarily to help or hinder them, but to observe Karigan, who is so much more than she seems.

And, to make matters worse, it sounds like there’s likely one or more encampments of Second Empire in that same region.  Add in an ice elemental and a gryphon named Mister Whiskers…and it’s the same sort of crazy, lovable ride that we’ve seen for Karigan in every book.  Some loose ends dating back to Green Rider are finally tied up, but there’s plenty more mysteries to go, not to mention at some point we hope to see a final confrontation with Mornhavon.

It’s interesting that this is a true series in the sense that each book stands alone but in a specific order.  They don’t melt into each other like Michelle Sagara West’s Chronicles of Elantra, and I can recall the specifics of what each individual book is about.  I am just amazed when I go to figure out what number Firebrand is in the series and come back with six because it doesn’t seem that long, even though it is.  I don’t currently have the kind of mental exhaustion that Safehold was producing, but I did skip the reread for all the other novels, not just my least favorite.  On the other hand, Kristen Britain is not as fascinated with the methods of guerilla and naval warfare as David Weber and her battles serve to move the plot along, instead of the plot serving to carry us from one battle to the next.

I hear the next Safehold set is starting in January.  I am both excited and nervous about that, but that’s not really a topic for this post.

It was good to finally reread Firebrand, as I’ve only read it the one time previously.  A lot has happened here, and I’m sure a good portion of the next novel will be characters dealing with events that happened in their absence.

I continued on with The Dream Gatherer, Kristen Britain’s new collection of Green Rider related short fiction, along with illustrations from the author herself.  Let’s just say that there’s a lovely image of Salvistar, the steed of the death god Westrion, on the inside covers, and that I hadn’t realized Britain created her own map.

There are three stories in all.  The first is the oldest idea, “Wishwind”.  In the Green Rider universe this is an old piece of lore.  Britain exposits that this particular story kernel predates the original Green Rider by several years, but was later revisited to make it a part of the universe.  It’s the story of a soldier, a Green Rider, who is shipwrecked and finds himself in the care of a being who may or may not be a goddess.  She is known only as Marin the Gardnerer and helps Danalong remember that all of life is not war.

The second story is, of course “Linked, on the Lake of Souls”, the story that I can now confirm was created for the DAW anthology.  However, when writing the scene I detailed above for Firebrand, Britain chose to rely on this existing tale instead of imaging some new story idea, if only to save herself some braincells.  Considering that the novel was eight hundred pages long, I don’t blame her.  Again, at least she didn’t put the entire story as is in the book.

The third, final, and title tale is “The Dream Gatherer” and it’s the one we see pictured on the cover.  And, by the way, take a look at this cover.  There’s a massive, elaborate manor with a ship in the middle.  It is, as any reader of the series will recognize, Seven Chimneys, the home of the eccentric Berry sisters.  The story itself takes place after the events of Firebrand as Estral is accompanying her father’s body back to Selium.  While in the dpeths of the Green Cloak forest, she becomes separated from her escort and ends up at Seven Chimneys.  Unlike the other lost souls who’ve found this strange place in the series, Estral knows exactly where she is, thanks to Karigan’s story.  What she quickly discovers is that Karigan almost certainly understated her experiences, much to Estral’s delight.

“The Dream Gatherer” may exist on one level to answer longtime readers’ questions about what happened to the Berry sisters and their home after a pirate ship exploded out of a bottle in the middle of the library, but that’s not all it accomplishes.  There is character development, some advances to Estral’s personal hero’s journey, and introduces other elements of Britain’s world that will almost certainly become factors in the future.  In truth, there are some new characters here that I would bet we’ll see in the next novel or two.  Depending on how rapidly or slowly she chooses to advance that plot thread.

The Dream Gatherer as a book (minus introductions and afterwards) is presented as excerpts from Estral’s own book, Karigan G’ladheon and the Green Riders: A History.  Not so dissimilar to some of the Harry Potter books, most notably A History of Quidditch and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the library book and textbook from Hogwarts.  There’s also commentary from Estral herself about the stories she is presenting to her readers, just to spice things up further.

It’s an enjoyable expansion on the world of the Green Rider books, as well as some fascinating insights not only from the author but also her friend Julie E. Czerneda.  The latter is also a familiar name to me, though I’ve not read any of her books to date.  However, she has shown up in two different anthologies I’ve read thus far.  I could’ve sworn it was more, but I guess not.  Regardless, I do love a bit of trivia and that’s in here too.  Plus the illustrations.  Some of them are remarkable but most are on the level of “hey, I could draw that!”  Stuff that’s not stick figures, but isn’t photorealistic either.  Most of us fall into that category, really, so it’s rather encouraging to find this kind of quality in a published book.

The Dream Gatherer may not be as innately satisfying to finish as a novel like Firebrand, but it’s still an enjoyable read set in a world I have loved.  I may not have been reading it twenty years ago when Green Rider was first published, but it’s still been about fifteen for me, as I found it when book two, First Rider’s Call was still in hardcover.  It’s crazy to think that this is one of the series that I’ve been reading half my life, because it has so few books when compared to so many others, and they are released far more infrequently than most.  And anything that’s been a part of my life so long is something I have to reflect on and wonder how much it’s affected me.  Kristen Britain’s influence is far more subtle than most, but that doesn’t negate it in the least.

I should also mention that I have so much respect for the author who doesn’t ask “where does the story go from here” but instead “what can I do to my characters next?”  It’s the way I often think myself.

Now I really don’t know what I’ll read next.  I got no less than four books in the mail yesterday, so there’s plenty yet in my Pile.  I think I’m still in favor of longer books, although that might be put off in favor of new arrivals.  We shall see.

Dead or Alive Men

Today I read through the rest of Deadman Wonderland that I checked out from the library, volumes 5-9.  There’s still 10-13 left, but both 10 and 12 were missing.  The website says that they’re due…November 13.  As in almost a week ago.  Not entirely certain what’s going on there, but eventually my opportunity will come.

These volumes finished up with bits that I’d seen in the anime, but the anime is a very different beast from the manga even so.  Things just continue ramping up until it’s essentially all-out war in Deadman Wonderland.  At the end of volume 9 we even find ourselves with some breathing room…before things probably get even worse than they were.  That is to say that a lot of justice has been served…but the villains are still out there, able and willing to cause trouble.

And I’m still interested enough to finish the series.  I was hoping that would be the case, but you never know.  I’ve failed to finish a lot more books in the past few years than in any previous portion of my life.  People keep telling me that life’s too short to waste on bad books.  I generally respond that I read fast enough that it doesn’t matter…but it does.  I don’t want my free time to feel like work.  I want to read books because they interest me and I want to know what happens next.  I don’t want to suffer through my books.

There’s a lot of books in my To Read Pile right now.  Over forty at last count, and I’ve only added to it since then.  Admittedly, some books cannot be read at this point because I’m missing one or more that precede them.  But even so, there’s still a respectable number left.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of shorter material.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think I’m just about ready for something longer.  A novel at least, although I’m not certain if I want to jump into a series.  That’s some serious pondering that I’ll have to give adequate thinking time to.  True, there’s a lot going on this weekend, but it’s also measurably less than last weekend.

So I suppose one key question is…how heavy a book am I looking to carry around tomorrow?  And another is whether I want to read something off the Pile right away, or read up to it.  I’ve got a lot of options.

You know, maybe I should put those two volumes of Deadman Wonderland on hold.  They have the same due date which implies to me that they’re checked out by the same person.  In all likelihood, the other two volumes will remain on shelf and I can likely grab them at the same time as a hold.  Theoretically.  Sometimes the library system doesn’t work quite how I would like it to, but I feel this is worth a shot.

I suppose I should go back and mention the design in Deadman Wonderland.  Separating the chapters are black pages with white “DEADMAN WONDERLAND” text.  Every separator is a different layout design and they’re all rather nice, clean models. Obviously I’m something of a nerd when it comes to design, but I can’t not mention it.  I also like the use of colored pages at the beginning of each volume.  I’ve seen more of this lately, mainly in Blue Exorcist, but there the pages are devoted to a more detailed version of the front cover image and the table of contents.  Here the pages are part of the story and give us a chance to see some of the characters in full cover aside from the actual cover art.  None of today’s volumes have as many or as beautiful color pages as the first, where they’re actually mostly black and white save for the red blood, but it’s still a nice touch.

Once I finally finish reading the series, I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Deadman Wonderland and probably include a spoiler section.  But for today, nothing’s concluded.