Novel Review: The Seekers of Genesis: Empyreal Roots

41jcyh2jkl._sx322_bo1204203200_The Seekers of Genesis: Empyreal Roots is the debut work of author C. J. Walters. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

When immortal twins Villow and Dameaon Verchant reach their sixteenth year, they are required to choose Paths to fulfill their purpose. Villow is prepared to become a Guide Seeker, to shape a world and its citizens, far away from his twin. But Dameaon changes his mind at the last minute, switching from a Soldier Seeker to a Guide. To avert disaster, the twins are assigned as co-Guides, tasked with re-creating humanity.

With their fates unequivocally linked, Villow and Dameaon must prove that mankind is inherently good, or humankind will be destroyed and the twins will be banished—or annihilated. With disagreements and failures at every stage, their last chance lies in Ancient Greece. But through their own reckless actions, the twins bring forth the Trojan War, causing more problems than even the gods can solve.

The Review

Glanchings are immortals who choose their life’s path at sixteen. Villow Verchant looks forward to becoming a Guide in re-creating an Original Species that was lost in the War of the Fiends. But his carefully laid plans fall to pieces when his twin Dameaon, who has been training to be a Soldier, also declares he’ll become a Guide. The unexpected announcement results in them receiving a joint assignment to revive the human race on planet Earth. But will their sibling rivalry doom their efforts and humankind?

When I read the blurb for this novel, I couldn’t quite get a handle on the kind of story it was. As it turns out, the summary is all over the place because the novel itself is unfocused. On one hand, the world-building is overly complicated; on the other hand, character arcs don’t go anywhere. And inconsistencies of all kinds riddle the entire work.

The novel is divided into roughly two halves. The first half is the fantasy portion that establishes the Glanching world the brothers come from. It is a magic-wielding society obsessed with doing good. Yet although they claim to be vastly superior moral beings compared to humans, their behavior is very human. They lie, bully, gossip, and have petty rivalries. Although Dameaon is the supposed bad egg, supporting cast Portia and Colton are hardly upstanding characters either. And for a society set on the rules, the Glanchings bend them. A lot.

Anyway, Glanching citizens must choose one of five paths, and those who choose the Guide path are tasked with re-creating species that were destroyed in a long-ago epic war. Humankind was one of them, and the twin brothers are tasked with reestablishing humans on planet Earth and “guiding” them to become a good, upright species. However, if humans become evil, they get wiped out, and their Guides are punished with banishment.

The twins’ attempt at guiding humans is the focus of the second half of the book. They go to the ancient city of Troy to influence the inhabitants to become morally good and self-reliant. It isn’t clear if the planet is our Earth or a post-War of the Fiends remake. Either way, this is where the “mythology” aspect comes in. While I enjoy Trojan War retellings, Walters veers too far off cannon for my taste. The identities of the Greek gods stay more or less intact, but the human cast is a big mashup. Oedipus somehow ends up in the Trojan War; Menelaus never actually comes to fight for his wife; Paris is a runaway prince; and Helen is not born a Spartan princess but comes from some unnamed farm. These Trojans also drink wine in glasses in bars and play field hockey with Spartans prior to the Helen fiasco. These elements plus poorly scripted war scenes and very 21st-century attitudes about courtship make this version of Troy less than authentic.

The story is told in first person with the perspectives alternating between the brothers. I believe this was to make readers sympathetic towards both characters, but it didn’t work for me, especially in Dameaon’s case. His snark and arrogance got old fast. His love for animals supposedly makes up for those shortcomings, but that characteristic just makes it more baffling when his influence on humankind results in them (*gasp*) killing animals. And even though he was at fault, he expresses no remorse or regret.

Dameaon’s violent personality is also problematic. During a field hockey game, he gets mad at Achilles for playing rough and starts punching him so violently the other characters are afraid to intervene. Yet when Achilles sprains his ankle in a field hockey accident with Oedipus, Dameaon gets unreasonably indignant at Oedipus. What makes this particular scene even weirder is that both he and Achilles act like a sprained ankle is the worst thing ever when Achilles has supposedly gone through Spartan pain endurance training which involves getting flogged during childhood.

Basically, nothing is consistent about Dameaon except that he’s got no respect for rules and has no concern for anything but himself and animals.

Villow, fortunately, has a more consistent personality, but that doesn’t make him compelling. His obsession with the mean-spirited Portia is especially distasteful given his oft-repeated respect for morals and his touchy-feely relationship with his best friend Katarin. Those relationships and his devastation over his parents’ potential divorce make him come off as weak and immature.

Unfortunately, the two brothers are the main characters, and their infighting dominates the plot. Basically, the brothers are at odds no matter what situation, and circumstances always bend such that they can’t get away from each other. For instance, Villow is the golden child of his prestigious family, and there’s a big deal made over his training to take on the huge responsibilities of re-creating an Original Species. (In fact Villow’s supposed inherent talent for being a Guide is the basis for the twins’ sibling rivalry.) However, when Dameaon declares on a whim that he will be a Guide, not only do the authorities not have a problem, he has no problem with the job, despite his lack of training. Occasionally, he even does better than Villow. So as Dameaon breezes through their duties, I have to wonder what the big fuss over being a “Guide” is. When they re-create the fauna and flora of the earth, all it amounts to is taking templates from a magical laptop and adding features – similar to a videogame.

Ultimately, I couldn’t relate to the twins or their Glanching world, and because of the setting and character inconsistencies, I didn’t care either.

In Summary

The Seekers of Genesis strives to be epic but comes up short. It starts slow and includes a bunch of terminology and details that don’t add to the plot. As for the historical/mythological aspects, a very contemporary sensibility permeates those elements, which rob them of authenticity. This novel is supposedly the first of a five-book series, but after 444 pages, I’ve had enough of Glanchings and the Verchant twins’ constant and pointless squabbling.

First published at The Fandom Post

Graphic Novel Review: The Flutist of Arnhem

51awvyegiol._sx361_bo1204203200_I never had much interest in war narratives until I came across Tanya the Evil. It’s a completely fictional isekai, but its war nerd creator did such a wonderful job dramatizing the varied aspects of military conflict that it completely hooked me. Since then, I’ve checked off titles such as Tom Hanks’ Greyhound and the Ken Burns documentary The War from my viewing list. On the graphic novel front, I recently reviewed The Flutist of Arnhem. Read on for the review!

Back Cover Blurb

In October 1943, all the Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents in Holland are captured by the Germans . . . except one. John Hewson, a.k.a. “Boekman,” is the most dangerous agent to the German occupiers, with vital information about the German army, Boekman escapes the clutches of the S.S. and stays hidden until the start of the largest airborne operation in World War II: Operation Market Garden. When the SOE learn that Boekman is still alive, and that his estranged son, Harry, is on the ground fighting in Market Garden, Harry is tasked with organizing a small commando unit to rescue Boekman and try to escape through the German siege. The Battle of Arnhem unfolds day by day as father and son search for each other amidst the chaos of war and the dogged pursuits of a cruel Gestapo agent.

The Review

John Hewson is a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent stranded in Holland. He’s trying to smuggle critical intelligence to the Allies, but the country is crawling with Nazis. However, when Operation Market Garden roars upon Holland, the military strike might just provide Hewson the opportunity he needs to escape.

The Flutist of Arnhem is a combination spy thriller and war story with a long-lost father/son element thrown in to tie the parts together. For the espionage part, we follow John Hewson, a lone SOE agent in possession of key information about German military units. He’s eluded German counterintelligence so far, but a determined Gestapo agent is closing in on him. For the war portion, we follow John’s son Harry, a fresh recruit who gets his first taste of combat when he parachutes into Holland during Operation Market Garden.

Like many World War II tales, The Flutist of Arnhem depicts a new soldier’s shock and horror as Harry confronts the chaotic carnage of the battlefield. Gil does an excellent job illustrating rural and urban settings; artillery fire and explosions; and light and shadow effects in nighttime scenes. Unfortunately, his character designs leave something to be desired. When in uniform, his characters all look the same, and it’s difficult to tell what happens to whom. In one scene, two officers had red berets and dark mustaches as their only distinguishing features, so I constantly got them mixed up. On top of that, faces are not very expressive. Harry in particular seems to wear the same slightly depressed look throughout the book.

Harry’s knowledge of the operation is limited to his assignment, so the story includes a couple of conversations between Montgomery and Eisenhower that explain their plan and objectives. Then once the operation is underway, the narrative occasionally inserts an omniscient overview of the battle as a whole.

Unfortunately, the manner in which Gil conveys information is nothing short of a dense data dump. I have a casual familiarity with World War II. Meaning I’d heard of Operation Market Garden and only knew it was a failed Allied initiative. I don’t have a background on military vehicles, weapons, Dutch geography, or German military titles. As a result, I often got lost in a sea of place names, terminology, and acronyms. The graphic novel includes three maps, but the units and places mentioned in the narrative are buried amid a bunch of other names and information. One map is a two-page spread, and unfortunately, some of the words got caught in the binding. One scene actually has Montgomery and Eisenhower strategizing over a map, but Gil fails to depict their interaction with the map in a way that would elucidate uninformed readers. For the Arnhem portion, I really could have used a map that clarified the movements of our characters, but the one provided only focuses on the positions of military units.

Gil has clearly done his research, and if you’re well-versed in Operation Market Garden, you’ll probably appreciate it. However, if you’re a newbie seeking to learn about the expedition, this is not the book to start with. There’s no glossary, and the only footnotes deal with foreign language translations. Oddly, German dialogue is presented as English text within brackets (although they preserve German military titles, which often put my brain into a twist), but Polish dialogue is presented in Polish with translations in boxed text within the panel.

In terms of the Hewson family drama, it’s obvious from the moment Harry picks up the flute and says, “My dad used to play a special melody for us,” that the two Hewsons will reunite through that melody. The main question is how, and that’s where Corporal Kolecki gets introduced.

Multilingual, resourceful, and quick-witted, the Polish specialist gets recruited to help Harry and Harry’s commander retrieve John from behind enemy lines. For me, he was the most interesting character in the story. Unlike Harry, who’s stuck in a perpetual shellshocked daze, or John, who’s simply scampering from one hideout to the next, Kolecki seeks out opportunities and seizes them with effective results. And while Harry’s commander praises Harry as a hero at the close of the story, Kolecki deserves a lot more credit for getting their team out of more than one pinch.

By the way, aside from nameless faces in civilian crowds, the cast only includes two women. One serves only as a pretty young thing for Harry to pine over when he gets shipped out. The other only serves as a pretty young thing to bail John out when he gets into a life or death pinch. In other words, this narrative is definitely a male-centric one.

Extras include the melody that Harry was playing.

In Summary

If you’re a World War II nerd, the dramatized version of Operation Market Garden in The Flutist of Arnhem has a lot to offer. In addition to the broader scope of military engagement, it includes lots of interesting details on both Nazi and Allied sides. However, those unfamiliar with World War II will likely get confused by geographical references and military lingo. As for the espionage portion, it’s got good tension, but that aspect gets overshadowed by the war narrative. And as a family drama, it is predictable and falls flat.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Novel Review: Influence

Sara Shepard is a YA author best known for Pretty Little Liars. Recently she collaborated with 17-year-old actor Lilia Buckingham, and the result is the YA suspense novel Influence. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

After a video she makes goes viral, everyone knows Delilah Rollins. And now that she’s in LA, Delilah’s standing on the edge of something incredible. Everything is going to change. She has no idea how much.

Jasmine Walters-Diaz grew up in the spotlight. A child star turned media darling, the posts of her in her classic Lulu C. rainbow skirt practically break the Internet. But if the world knew who Jasmine really was, her perfect life? Canceled.

Fiona Jacobs is so funny–the kind of girl for whom a crowd parts–no wonder she’s always smiling! But on the inside? The girl’s a hot mess. And when someone comes out of the shadows with a secret from her past, it’s one that won’t just embarrass Fiona: it will ruin her.

Who wouldn’t want to be Scarlet Leigh? Just look at her Instagram. Scarlet isn’t just styled to perfection: she is perfection. Scarlet has a gorgeous, famous boyfriend named Jack and there’s a whole fanbase about their ship. To everyone watching online, their lives seem perfect . . . but are they really?

The sun is hot in California . . . and someone’s going to get burned.

The Review

Influence” is a reference to influencers, the top tier of the social media hierarchy that draws masses of followers. Given the title, I anticipated reading about YouTubers creating videos, brainstorming for fresh content, seeking profitable collaborations, that sort of thing. However, this is less about independent efforts to gain a fan base, and more about the dark side of those who’ve attained it all.

Delilah Rollins is a Minnesota teenager with a small YouTube following – until a video of her rescuing a puppy goes viral. Her sudden fame coincides with her family’s move to LA, and she finds herself rubbing shoulders with TV star Jasmine Walters-Diaz and gorgeous fashion YouTuber Fiona Jacobs. Unfortunately, she also catches the eye of hottie Jack Dono, boyfriend to sponsorship queen Scarlet Leigh, and instantly draws the ire of their gargantuan fan base.

Despite the text constantly referring to characters as influencers, they seem less like people carving out online personalities and more like stereotypical Hollywood celebrities. Jasmine, who has the most developed back story, is best described as an actor/entertainer who has been in television she was eleven. In contrast, Fiona supposedly gained a following because her YouTube videos are so hilarious, but even though people keep mentioning how funny she is, there are no scenes that show readers Fiona’s funny side. As for Scarlet, she’s a sponsorship queen, but it’s never clear what made her one. In fact, the one whose online brand we know most about is small fry Delilah’s DIY and pet videos.

So instead of portraying the characters as social media creatives, the story sets up Jasmine, Fiona, and Scarlet as gorgeous celebrities who put out a perfect public façade but hide secrets that could destroy everything they’ve got. This is hardly a new storyline, even with the social media aspect making things more invasive. And with Delilah thrown in, we also have the innocent Midwesterner trying to navigate the glitzy perils of LA, which is also not an original concept.

Following an old theme isn’t bad in of itself, but the execution in Influence left much to be desired. For example, the insta-friendship between Delilah and celebrities Fiona and Jasmine and Delilah’s simultaneous insta-romance with Jack Dono was a lot to swallow. The authors also forced in a high school feel to accommodate their online learning only teenagers. Despite their wealth and success, Fiona, Jasmine, and Scarlet along with the rest of LA’s young influencers all live in the same Vine Street condo, so it ends up as a kind of young celebrity dorm. And even though their busy careers keep them from attending regular school, they still get a prom (courtesy of Instagram), where they all get fabulously dressed up before social media bombs start dropping down.

There are also logistical issues with the details. The perspective rotates between the four girls, but while Delilah, Fiona, and Jasmine’s chapters are written in a close third person, Scarlet’s are presented as video transcripts. I didn’t have an issue with that per se, but there are parts where her phone supposedly livestreams without her knowledge, yet the video footage would’ve been impossible to get unless Scarlet was intending to get it.

However, if you don’t care so much about details and are simply out to see wealthy, beautiful, and broken people destroy others and themselves, Influence packs in destructive behavior, lies, scandal, grudges, and rivalries aplenty.

Because Sara Shepard is one of the creators, the book wouldn’t be complete without a murder, thus someone gets knocked off midway through the book. Whereas the first half of the story focuses on the tension between the characters’ private lives and their perfect public selves, the second half is a murder mystery, with Delilah as the head sleuth. However, her main suspects are way too cooperative with the Minnesota kid. And confessions and information come out without much prompting. The solving of the mystery culminates with two shockers, but if you actually go back and try to line up events, the sequence doesn’t make sense. Especially in light of Scarlet’s hidden health condition. And speaking of health conditions, I found it odd that Delilah, whom the narrative pointedly describes as really responsible about her diabetes, would conveniently let herself go blind drunk at a critical part of the story yet suffer no ill aftereffects.

In Summary

LA’s biggest teen influencers are beautiful, glamorous – and desperate to hide their imperfections from the public eye. This theme isn’t a new one, and the social media creatives aspect isn’t as strong as the title would lead you to believe. For those that like jealous rivalries and vindictive attacks (online and physical), Influence has it in spades. But while the plot is loaded with shockers, it’s also riddled with tons of logic issues.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. 12

9781975314569-1The theme of love transcending appearances is a popular one in fairy tales, and Yen Press’ Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts fits that genre. The fantasy manga tells of the relationship between a girl and her beastly fiance, and you can read on for the review of Volume 12. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

With the battle won and Fenrir defeated, the return to normalcy should be just around the corner…but not all wounds are visible. Although Leonhart and his beloved, Sariphi, have overcome many trials together, fear for his queen’s safety and doubts about their future are wearing away at the king’s heart.

The Review

The first half of this volume is essentially a wrap-up of the battle against Fenrir. Leo has recovered, and normalcy has returned to Ozmargo. And with Sari safely back, we get a warm and fuzzy moment when Leo replaces Sari’s broken ring. However, Tomofuji-sensei quickly replaces the romance with humor when Sari and Lante encounter a platypus folk who’s come to the capitol for Leo’s victory procession. It’s mostly comic silliness between Sari, Lante, and the platypus, but Sari does get the opportunity to endear herself yet another beastfolk.

Then a new arc begins. The main thrust of this one is Leo’s decision to eliminate the human sacrifices to Ozmargo, but it begins with a conversation in which he confides what he knows (although it’s mostly what he doesn’t know) about his mother. It’s a subject long overdue. Even if Sari was hesitant to question Leo about it, it struck me as bizarre that she never pondered Leo’s human heritage given the hostility she faced in Ozmargo. Anyway, that conversation is had (finally) right before Leo declares he wants to end the institution of sacrifice.

Sari winds up as his representative for the task. Her role as emissary makes a lot of sense given that she’s human and a sacrifice who’s been left unharmed. Other aspects of the story don’t nearly make as much sense. The humans are obligated to bring sacrifices, meaning Ozmargo holds power over them. So if the beastfolk chose to, they could simply turn a sacrifice back to the humans with a message that future sacrifices are unnecessary. However, the beastfolk get hung up on formal negotiations and why negotiations with humans is an impossible task.

It gets more convoluted. Despite specifically designating holy beast Bennu as a Sari’s escort for this mission, Sari doesn’t use him to prove she’s an Ozmargo envoy, and she gets thrown into a human prison as result. On top of that, although humans and beastkind have no trouble speaking to one another, beastkind writing is incomprehensible to humans. Moreover, its study is strictly forbidden to humans. All of which cast doubt over the legitimacy of the letter Sari is carrying from Leo to the human king.

But as quickly as challenges arise, they disappear. Things get resolved so conveniently, I have to wonder why Tomofuji-sensei bothered with them in the first place. However, the story manages to end with an extremely intriguing encounter for a closing hook.

Extras include author’s notes and the bonus manga, “The Inverted Sacrificial Princess.”

In Summary

After a comic interlude with a platypus folk who has traveled from afar to see Leo’s victory procession, a new arc begins. Sari once more returns to the human realm – this time as Leo’s representative. The barriers to ending the institution of sacrifices to Ozmargo are unnaturally numerous and complicated. Yet despite its issues, the plot manages to hold my attention by finally addressing the mystery of Leo’s human heritage.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Graphic Novel Review: The Tankies

I never had much interest in war narratives until I came across Tanya the Evil. It’s a completely fictional isekai, but its war nerd creator did such a wonderful job dramatizing the varied aspects of military conflict that it completely hooked me. Since then, I’ve checked off titles such as Tom Hanks’ Greyhound and the Ken Burns documentary The War from my viewing list. On the graphic novel front, I recently reviewed The Tankies. Read on for the review!

Back Cover Blurb

From the bloody battle for Normandy to the Nazi heartland, from war’s end to the killing fields of Korea, the men of the British Army’s Royal Tank Regiment fight battle after battle against terrible odds. Whether outnumbered or outgunned, the Tankies soldier on–as their motto would have it, “From Mud, Through Blood, to the Green Fields Beyond.”

After D-Day the largely untried Allied armies meet their seasoned German counterparts on the killing grounds of Bocage country. As Panzers and SS units turn the French hedgerows into a slaughterhouse, a lone British tank crew struggles to rejoin their squadron. Their only hope lies in their commander, Corporal Stiles–but does even this wily old trooper stand a chance against the infamous Tiger?

The Review

I recently reviewed another of Garth Ennis’ works, The Night Witches. If you like that work’s military aspect and storytelling style, The Tankies will probably appeal to you. Both books are a collection of three shorter stories that follow a military protagonist. Like The Night Witches, the first two parts of The Tankies take place during World War II, and the third skips ahead to the time of the Korean War. The events just take place on a different front within a different military unit. Whereas The Night Witches follows a female pilot fighting Nazis in the East, The Tankies follows Stiles, a British tank commander fighting towards Germany from the West.

The first part, The Tankies, is set during the Battle of Normandy and centers around a lone tank under the command of veteran Corporal Stiles. While the primary arc is Stiles’ struggle to keep his very green crew out of harm’s way while they seek to rejoin their tank squadron, the story bounces all over the battlefield. From a Red Cross station to the Allied infantrymen waiting for Stiles’ tank squadron to their German opponents, it switches to so many different viewpoints that the storytelling gets a bit disjointed. However, the one thing the narrative pretty much screams is that the German forces, especially their superior tank units, are an insanely tough nut to crack.

The second part, The Firefly and His Majesty, takes place a few months later. Stiles has a different crew and a new more powerful tank, the Firefly. Unlike the first story’s broad view of the battlefield, this one focuses on a game of cat and mouse between Stiles and the commander of a German King Tiger tank. And in order that we have full understanding of what’s happening on both sides, the enemy’s dialogue is translated rather than being left in German like it was in The Tankies.

The final installment, The Green Fields Beyond, has the now Sergeant Stiles in Korea with the kind of tank he’s always dreamed of. However, the Chinese army backing the North Koreans aren’t countering the Allies with tanks. Rather, their objective is to overwhelm with sheer human numbers.

While there’s tons of action (much of which is based on actual events), this book was an insanely slow read for a graphic novel. Part of it has to do with the fact that Ennis relies almost entirely on dialogue to convey information. The Tankies gets a single page of introductory text, and each chapter of The Green Fields Beyond is preceded by a page of information to orient the reader. Other than that, there’s no narration. It’s up to the characters to literally tell us everything that’s happening, which makes for unnaturally info dumpy conversations.

To make things worse, our main character speaks in dialect. Majority of his words are spelled phonetically to emphasize how different he sounds from the rest of the troops. For instance, when he says gunner, it’s spelled “gooner.” As a result, I was forced to sound out most of his dialogue to translate what he was saying, and because he’s the main character, I was stuck with that chore for the entire read. On top of that, we have Stiles’ Geordie slang, general British slang, military terminology, and tank jargon, none of which is defined in the book. As an American with minimal knowledge of war lingo, I was obliged to consult the Internet time and again to figure out what people were talking about.

If you’re able to comprehend this barrage of lingo and dialect, what you get is a masculine war narrative. Masculine because there are no female characters. The key relationships are between Stiles and his newbie subordinates and between Stiles and his enemies. The only woman depicted is a German civilian Stiles asks for information, and she doesn’t even get any lines. And it’s a war narrative because the focus is the conflict between opposing military forces and individual soldier’s decisions in the midst of the resulting chaos and devastation.

Stiles has no identity aside from that as a Tankie. He mentions that he worked at his father’s pub prior to World War II, and that’s all we get of his personal life. Which is fine, because his life on the battlefield is plenty interesting without having to delve into civilian matters. In my opinion, Ennis would’ve done his character a favor if he’d eliminated or downplayed Stiles’ dialect. Combined with Stiles’ stubbly pate and tendency to squint, it makes him come across as cartoonish, a kind of British Army Popeye, and Stiles’ gritty personality is compelling enough on its own without those elements.

In terms of storytelling, the first part is difficult to follow. There are no cues for scene breaks, and all the Normandy settings are so similar that it’s not obvious when a new scene begins. Plus there’s a ton of minor characters, so I was constantly having to reorient myself with everyone’s different situation. The second part is easier to follow because the perspective simply shifts between Stiles and the enemy he’s stalking, and the third is almost entirely from Stiles’ point of view.

Ennis makes the effort to show some diversity within the British ranks. Most of Stiles’ young subordinates are from around London, but his crew in The Firefly and His Majesty includes an Irish driver and a black trooper from Saint Lucia. Oddly, these characters are never singled out for the differentness of their accents the way Stiles is.

Ennis also does not represent the German opposition as a singularly minded fanatical group. While the SS commanders are decisively portrayed as evil, the German cast also includes hapless civilians caught in the crossfire and a conscientious objector to the continued conflict.

Unfortunately, Ennis does not extend this same consideration toward Asians in The Green Fields Beyond. As in The Night Witches, no Korean characters are included in the Korean War arc, despite the fact that the setting is Korea. The British and American characters make disparaging remarks about their Korean allies and mention the sorry predicament of Korean refugees, but Koreans never actually appear on page. The Asians that do appear are the ill-equipped but enormous Chinese forces. Unlike the Germans, there’s no attempt to humanize the Chinese with their perspectives or even dialogue. The resulting impression is that the Allies are fighting off something akin to monsters or insects rather than people.

Extras include Afterword and a collection of sketches.

In Summary

The Tankies is a three-part war narrative centered around a gritty British tank commander. If you have no prior knowledge about World War II, this is not the best place to start. Otherwise, Corporal Stiles’ struggle to contend against a much more experienced and better-equipped enemy makes for good battlefield drama–as long as you’re willing to put up with his difficult to comprehend dialect.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Wolf and Parchment Vol. 1

Holo and Lawrence of the  Spice and Wolf manga series have reached their happy ending, but for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Spice and Wolf world, there’s a spinoff: Wolf and Parchment. Read on for the review of Volume 1. (For reviews of other related works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

When Col leaves the cozy mountain village of Nyohhira aspiring to become a full-fledged member of the clergy, a certain impetuous wolf can’t help stowing away aboard his ship to follow him for a chance to have a grand adventure of her own!

The Review

Spice and Wolf was a long-running series where the protagonists, the traveling merchant Lawrence and the wisewolf Holo, ultimately achieve a happy ending. However, loyal fans often want more, and to feed this craving, Hasekura-sensei has created the sequel Wolf and Parchment. Like the original, it’s a travel tale, but the focus has shifted to Holo and Lawrence’s tween daughter Myuri and the former waif Tote Col, who’s now a diligent twenty-five-year-old.

The Wolf and Parchment manga provides bits of background so that those unfamiliar with the Spice and Wolf world get the gist of how beings like Holo and Myuri are viewed and the nature of Col’s relationship to Holo’s family. However, Wolf and Parchment would be best enjoyed after having read Spice and Wolf.

In terms of this new journey, Col, whom Lawrence and Holo met as a wandering student, has continued in his aspirations to study religious scripture. However, the Church has become embroiled in a fierce dispute with the Kingdom of Winfiel over taxes. When the Pope retaliates by suspending all religious services, Col decides to go support the efforts of Winfiel noble Heir Hyland to root out the Church’s corrupt practices. But shortly after sailing away from Lawrence and Holo’s bathhouse inn where he’s lived the last fifteen years, he discovers a stowaway – Myuri.

Unlike Col, Myuri doesn’t have a lofty mission. Rather, she can’t bear to be apart from Col, for whom she bears a puppy dog love. Thus the tone of these travelers’ interactions are very different from Holo and Lawrence’s. Still, they have this in common; Myuri, like her mother, doesn’t hesitate to point out the faults of her chosen male, and Col, very much like Lawrence, bears Myuri’s sass with a long-suffering air.

The original series focused on trade but often incorporated elements of politics and religion. Similarly with the sequel, religious reformation is Col’s pursuit, but he’s already taking political influences into account as he aligns himself with Hyland. And in addition to the economic impacts of the Church tax, Col and Myuri witness the problems caused in Atiph because the Church there has tied up the town’s copper coinage.

While this power struggle is intriguing and I’m interested to see how the crisis over small change will play out, a key element of the story strikes me as baffling: Col’s dedication to the faith. Having interacted with members of clergy at the bathhouse inn, he’s well aware of the hypocrisy among their ranks. Moreover, Holo and Myuri, whom he loves deeply, are beings who’d be condemned as demonic by the Church. It would be one thing if he had a deep connection with the God of the Church, but Col describes that God as one “that had yet to look [his] way.” As such, it’s odd he would devote himself to living out the teachings of such a religion with idealistic zeal rather than calling out the institution’s bald-faced corruption and striving to eliminate it entirely.

However, Hasekura-sensei seems intent on making Col an over-serious stickler to the rules so that Myuri can poke holes into his conviction. And if you’re willing to overlook the baselessness of Col’s faith, you can probably enjoy that exchange.

One more thing. Myuri can’t be more than thirteen, and she’s portrayed with an innocent personality. However, Hidori-sensei at times draws her in provocative positions, which I find distasteful. While Holo at times flaunted her body before Lawrence, it was understood that she was a centuries-old wisewolf who knew exactly what she was doing. Casting a Lolita air over Myuri is unnecessary and taints the feel of the actual [chaste] relationship between Myuri and Col.

Extras include the first six pages in color and commentary from the series’ creators.

In Summary

Fifteen years after Tote Col met a traveling merchant and wisewolf on the road, he sets out on a new journey, this time accompanied by the couple’s daughter Myuri. While religious reformation is Col’s goal, the plot includes interplay between money, politics, and religion as in the original Spice and Wolf series. But instead of Holo’s centuries-old wisdom, we have Myuri’s youthful exuberance, and although the basis of Col’s convictions is somewhat baffling, his serious demeanor provides a good balance to the wolf girl’s impulsiveness.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #13

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 13 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

When the Republican Army, led by Lieutenant Colonel Vianto, attacks the imperial supply base of Arene, the Empire’s top brass orders the 203rd to carry out an operation that Tanya herself proposed back in war college—the “Devil’s Protocol.” But what exactly are the fearsome contents of this ominously named plan?

The Review

Volume 13 opens with a brief chapter that wraps up the “shovel raid” arc. Although there’s not much action, it’s full of character development, especially for Lieutenant Grantz. I appreciate how the pages show him digesting the previous night’s events and the veterans’ appraisal of their newbies. These elements, which were glossed over in the novel and totally absent in the anime, do a terrific job of further endearing our characters before we move on to the next arc: Ordeal of Fire.

Lieutenant Colonel Vianto has been aiming to bring down the Empire by stirring up Republican sympathizers in the Imperial hub of Arene, and this arc begins by explaining why the situation is so problematic for the Imperial Army with a flashback to a War College discussion. The exchange lays out the particular dilemma caused by urban warfare and also lends voice to prevailing moral attitudes.

Vianto is relying on International Law to keep the Empire’s hands tied. In other words, he intentionally chose Arene that its civilian population might serve as his shield. However, using a twist of logic, Tanya finds a means to make urban warfare legal, at least in theory. Like her other proposals, Tanya never intends to carry it out herself. She actually hopes her out-of-the-box idea will land her a position as a staff officer. But when the timeline switches back to the present, the joke is once again on her when General Staff gives her orders to execute her own twisted plan.

The setting then shifts to Arene and the commencement of fire. After that, it’s an intense back-and-forth between Imperial and Republican forces. Although Tanya’s mages are elites, Vianto’s aren’t pushovers. Not to mention, they’ve taken measures within Arene to stack things in their favor. The action in some wide-view illustrations is difficult to figure out; with characters the size of ants and everything drawn in black and white, it’s difficult to tell at first glance what’s happening. That aside, Tojo-sensei does an excellent job keeping the clash interesting and allowing individual personalities to shine through. Commander Neumann is especially hilarious as his company’s particular engagement devolves into a contest of which side can throw the most trash at the other.

Extras include world map, battle log thus far, character introductions, country profiles, and detailed glossary of terms between chapters. Unfortunately, the font on the character introductions and country profiles is so small (4 point? 3 point?) that reading it feels like an eye exam.

In Summary

A little bit of everything in this volume. Lieutenant Grantz contemplates his first taste of war; Tanya and her classmates debate the ethics of urban warfare in a War College flashback; then it’s back to the heat of battle as the 203rd takes on Republican mages. Character interactions are delightful, and although some battle illustrations are difficult to follow, Tojo-sensei does an excellent job of keeping it exciting.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 9

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 9. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Gray wolf Legoshi confirms the identity of alpaca Tem’s murderer after a Drama Club member is maimed during rehearsal. In the wake of the incident, the Cherryton Academy administration resolves to segregate classrooms and disband interspecies clubs. The edict causes an uproar, and the absence of red deer Louis’s leadership is keenly felt. However, Bengal tiger Bill and Angora goat Els, as well as gray wolf Juno, gain insight into themselves and their relationships. Plus, a flashback to Legoshi’s tragic childhood and family.

The Review

Itagaki-sensei packs a ton into this volume, starting with a real jaw-dropper of an illustration on the third page of the opening chapter. I won’t give details, but it’s the most shocking thing to happen to the Drama Club since Tem’s murder. In certain respects, it’s worse because the entire club witnesses it. Then before you’ve even had a chance to catch your breath, another bomb drops: Legoshi confronts Tem’s murderer.

Not surprisingly, Legoshi’s boldness lands him in a pinch, but interestingly, it’s pretty boy herbivore Pima that gets him out of it.

Having these two events one after the other leaves you reeling, but the new incident also serves to frame the circumstances of the night Tem was killed. Just as what happens to Kibi is an accident, Tem’s murder wasn’t premeditated. Far from it. Seeing the tragedy unfold from the killer’s viewpoint, while it doesn’t excuse his actions, does evoke sympathy for him.

You’d think this would be sufficient drama for a single volume, but it goes further with Legoshi running afoul of the Shishigumi and their new boss Louis. Itagaki-sensei somehow packs this chance reunion with both tension and hilarity (thanks to Legoshi’s tail). The subsequent dinner between Legoshi and the Shishigumi maintains that engaging interplay of comedy and tension as Louis’s prior and current worlds collide.

The volume closes with Cherryton Academy making an announcement: the separation of herbivore and carnivore students. Given all that’s happened, their decision seems a belated one. Surprisingly, though, it triggers an uproar among the students. But not everyone is against the proposal, and Juno especially can’t comprehend why her classmates want to maintain the status quo.

Extras include the story thus far, the cast of characters, character design notes, bonus comics, and storyboards.

In Summary

There’s never a dull moment in Volume 9! From a new unnerving incident at Cherryton to the sad details behind Tem’s death to Legoshi meeting Louis as the head of the Shishigumi, it hits you with one thing after another. Overall, it’s an exhilarating read with cool developments that have me in eagerly anticipating the next volume.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Just Published: Impromptu Performance!

I tend to set my stories in times long-ago or in places far away. (Or both!) As such, my latest story “Impromptu Performance,” which is featured in the April 2021 issue of Cricket Magazine is a departure from my usual MO.

Click here for a link to the magazine!

My short stories are usually tailored to specific Calls for Submissions, and for this one, the submissions theme was “Yikes!” I don’t know what that word conjures for you, but having volunteered backstage in numerous live productions, I immediately envisioned a stage disaster. And that was the spark that brought about “Impromptu Performance.”

So instead of ancient Greece or 1950s China, the story is set in a modern-day Silicon Valley inspired suburb. And to  suit a middle grade audience, the performance in question is a middle school play.

Compared to my other short stories, this one got written lightning fast. Mainly because it didn’t demand the level of fact- and cultural-checks required by my long ago and far away settings. Not that it was completely spared that, though. However, as it turns out, a member of my critique group Alex Doherty just happens to be married to Stacie Doherty, the managing director of the Portola Valley Theater Conservatory. As such, getting my theater terms vetted out was super easy.

Anyway, it was a fun piece to write, and hope you enjoy reading it!

Manga Review: Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance Manga Vol. 1

Sweet shojo romances are a perennial favorite of mine, and I’m a sucker for historicals. As such Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance, instantly piqued my interest. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

In Meiji-era Japan, sixteen-year-old Maria wishes she can change her appearance. If only her eyes and hair were different, maybe she wouldn’t be met with such fear, and maybe her own mother wouldn’t be so ashamed of her. But when Maria encounters a handsome yet mischievous boy named Rintarou, her understanding of beauty-and herself-begins to change. To him, Maria’s not just pretty; she’s straight out of a fairy tale! A historical romance unfolds on the streets of Yokohama…

The Review

The title Golden Japanesque is a reference to the mixed heritage of Maria, the main character. A resident of the trading port of Yokohama, she was born to a Japanese woman but bears the blonde hair and blue eyes of the Western father she’s never met. The story, an Ugly Duckling/Cinderella mashup, is simplistic, but getting a full grasp of Maria’s struggles requires an understanding of the particular challenges faced by a mixed-race person in Meiji Era Japan.

Japan is an island nation, which means it’s not all that easy for its residents to mingle with other races. On top of that, the Japanese government instituted a policy of self-isolation for decades. That changed when Commodore Perry forced the Japanese to open their ports in the mid-1850s, which allowed Western technology and culture to make inroads into Japan during the subsequent Meiji era. But Western ways weren’t universally accepted in Japan, and acceptance of Western things didn’t necessarily equate to acceptance of Western people.

Thus, Maria’s blonde hair and blue eyes are deemed so different as to be abnormal and considered by some to be bad luck. Maria’s mother has two strikes against her because she is poor and she is unmarried. Having a child with such obviously foreign features is a heavy third strike, thus she forces Maria to dye her hair black and constantly keep her head down.

There is also a more subtle detail of the story that I would’ve completely misinterpreted if not for the translation notes. In Chapter 1, Maria’s unable to read the nameplate of the house of her mother’s new employer. Later, she is unable to read the text of the book she’s asked to deliver. Because of those scenes, I assumed she was illiterate, which made a subsequent scene of Maria in a library really confusing. However, as the translation notes explain, Maria couldn’t read the nameplate and textbook not because she is illiterate, but because the kanji and writing style of those particular items are that obscure (which is something that happens with the Japanese language).

Anyway, if you’re okay with dealing with cultural and historical aspects like these, you can watch a rather straightforward romance unfold between this poor golden-haired Cinderella and her mischievous Prince Charming.

And he is a mischief-maker. Rintarou is the son of the rich family that employs Maria’s mother. Although he’s fifteen years old, he pulls a grade-school-type prank on Maria – twice. However, he also has an appreciation for Western things, thanks to his father’s business interactions with foreigners. So when he discovers Maria’s true hair color, he’s not repulsed. Rather he’s captivated.

By the end of Volume 1, the “Splendid Yokohama Romance” hasn’t gotten very far. But for Maria, who’s been bullied by boys all her life because of her coloring, having Rintarou call her pretty is earth-shattering. And even though the main couple has barely gotten started, Miyasaka-sensei’s already laid the groundwork for challenges aplenty to the relationship.

Extras include translation notes and Volume 2 preview.

In Summary

A poor, mixed-race girl catches the attention of a rich man’s son in Meiji Era Yokohama. This is a historical series so it will require you to be cognizant of the social mindset of the time as you read. However, if you’re good with that, you can watch the romance unfold between a somewhat gloomy Cinderella and an at-times immature Prince Charming.

First published at the Fandom Post.