Book Bingo Review #1

Woo-hoo, I got a bingo. And I got it before the year was half over. So far this year, I’ve read some really good books. Some absolutely amazing books, and a few meh books. These five reviews are a good cross section of these different tiers, so I’m going to get right into the reviews.

For more information on my book bingo challenge, click here.

Has Elves

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Thor: Goddess of Thunder & Thor: Who Holds the Hammer

by Jason Aaron (Writer), Jorge Molina and Russell Dauterman (Illustrators)

Published 2015 (Marvel)

Score: 7/10

First of all, reading Jason Aaron’s 2014 Thor series (Goddess of Thunder and Who Holds the Hammer?) before the 2012 God of Thunder series and the Original Sin storyline isn’t ideal if you are really into Marvel and want the entire story in chronological order. But it is entirely doable. I haven’t read the earlier works; this series references the earlier comics (and provides some spoilers for the Original Sin storyline) but for the most part it remains it’s own series about a new hero taking up Thor’s mantel. And his hammer.

This “Lady Thor” series has been on my radar for a while. The fact that there was a comic where Thor was a woman was such big news at the time that my Mum, a Baby Boomer who knows nearly nothing about geek culture, considered dressing up as Thor for a costume party circa. 2015. She said hearing that Thor was a woman in a new comic gave her the idea. In the end she went with a different costume, but reported back that one (straight) couple and their adult son had all turned up as Thor. I can’t remember if the ‘Thor Family’ cosplay was intentional, but Mum probably dodged a bullet.

I guess the point I’m making is that the existence of a comic series where Thor is a woman isn’t entirely news. I don’t think anyone was surprised when it was revealed to be a thing in the upcoming movie Thor: Love and Thunder either. Still, I wasn’t really that interested in checking out the series. Not that I’m a big comic reader anyway, but this one really wasn’t on my list. At least not until I read A-Force Presents last year; a sampler that included the first issue of six different female fronted Marvel series. The first issue of Goddess of Thunder was included in this collection, and I got hooked. Like, I know what was announced when Thor: Love and Thunder was announced, but that first issue still was able to make me second guess myself and get lost in the mystery of who this new Thor is.

This title crosses off the ‘Has Elves’ challenge via having one of the main villains be Malekith the Accursed, ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim. It was interesting seeing Malekith as a villain and him actually being memorable. I watched Thor: Dark World when it came out, and can barely remember any of it. (Except the parts where people are filming Thor fighting. I loved seeing the ‘normal’ part of the MCU interacting with the superheroes). I googled Malekith while writing this review, and the pictures of Movie Malekith look completely unfamiliar to me. I’m looking at the screen all like ‘I have never seen this elf before’, even though I know I’ve seen that movie. Here though, I found him to be a really interesting villain. It was cool seeing him interact with other villains, ranging from frost giants to evil oil companies.

These two books were really interesting. I liked seeing Thor struggle with feeling unworthy, and I am interested in seeing the main series with this new Thor.

Star Wars Tie-In

Ashoka

By E.K. Johnston

Published 2016 (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

Score: 7/10

This is the second Star Wars book I’ve read, after Phasma, but being a fan of the Clone Wars show, I was much more interested in Ahsoka’s story than Phasma’s. This story takes place about a year after Order 66, with Ahsoka in hiding, believing herself to be the only survivor of the Jedi Purge. It was fascinating seeing both the Empire in it’s earliest stage and how Ahsoka deals with all that trauma.

That being said, maybe I’m not a big enough Star Wars fan for this one. My overall feelings on this book were ‘this is fun’, but there wasn’t anything extra special about it. There was nothing wrong with it, it was a perfectly good fun YA Star Wars adventure. I enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone interested in Ahsoka’s story or Star Wars in general. Good book, just not going anywhere near my favourirtes shelf.

The plot follows Ahsoka as she attempts to lay low and find a place where she can be safe from the Empire. She has no lightsabers, her mentors are presumed dead, and she has no-one to turn to. She ends up on Raada (Ray-aye-da), a tiny backwater farming moon in the outer rim. Not long after settling in, the Empire turns up, doing all sorts of evil Empire stuff.

It was interesting reading about an early Empire occupying a small planet. Seeing the brutality of the Empire up close hits harder than just blowing up a planet with a death star, even if it felt like some of the violence was toned down. Also, Ahsoka’s friend female Kaeden is very upfront about having a crush on Ahsoka, and ‘Jedi hang-ups’ plus the war seem to be the only barriers between them having a relationship. Much better queer representation than a lesbian kiss in the background of Rise of Skywalker.

I listened to this one as an audiobook, narrated by Ashley Eckstein. Like Phasma (and at this point, I’m going to assume all Star Wars audiobooks) there was a lot of effort put into this production. Music and sound effects from the movies and TV shows are used, and it sounds amazing. Whilst I may have found the story to simply be ‘pretty good’, the audiobook is a great Star Wars experience.

Translated From French

Snowpiecer: The Escape (original title; Transperceneige: L’Echappé)

by Jacques Lob (Writer), Jean-Marc Rochette (Illustrator)

Published 2014 (Titan Comics). Originally published 1982

Score: 5/10

Snowpiercer is a generation ship story.

I know that may be a controversial take for people, since this story is set on Earth and features zero spaceships, but I stand by it. The Snowpiercer is a generation ship by every definition of the term; it is a vehicle designed to keep a population of humans alive for generations, with everything the population will ever need contained within it while they travel through an inhospitable wasteland where humans cannot survive outside without a spacesuit of some type. It also tells a typical generation ship type story, where social and cultural elements are squeezed into a small closed area that allows pressure to build. Where resource distribution is the driving force behind plot and characterization, and where moral decisions are made with the threat of extinction looming over everyone’s heads. The only difference between Snowpiercer and every other generation ship story is that the Snowpiercer is a train rather than a spaceship.

Snowpiercer the movie was pretty cool. Seeing class warfare and revolution play out on a claustrophobic train is interesting. The Netflix adaptation starring Daveed Diggs I found really good. It tells a different story to the movie, and has more time to flesh out the characters, and adds complexity to the uprising and the social struggles. The TV show is in my opinion the best iteration of this story for showcasing the worldbuilding that makes this story so powerful.

In every version of Snowpiercer I have seen, the worldbuilding has been the star. The world is pretty much a train in a barren icy wasteland, doing the same loop every year. Seeing the necessities of life, and the ugly baggage of human society packed into narrow train carriages is super interesting and unsettling. The way the world has been designed also makes the story feel more grounded than your average post-apocalyptic generation ship story, since luxury trains are more familiar and realistic to us than spaceships.

This original Snowpiercer also shines with it’s worldbuilding. The artwork shows just how little space there is, and the story is a simple walk from one end of the train to the other, allowing us to see how food is made, and how laws are enforced (and ignored.) I liked the worldbuilding in the comic. It goes without saying that it has good worldbuilding, as the setting and tone are what has given this story the power it needed to be adapted into so many other mediums.

I hated pretty much everything else in the comic.

The trek to the front of the train is a slow march… until all of a sudden everything goes to shit for pretty out of the blue reasons and it’s a mad violent dash. We get to see some good old instalove, and it is the only meaningful relationship we have. Also, the artwork makes the wide cast of military dudes look pretty similar, so I found it hard to keep track of who was who. For a story that features an entire social order breaking down, it’s hard to keep track of who all the players in this social order are.

I won’t be continuing this book series. I will however keep watching the show. Season two is going well so far.

Has Unicorns

Across the Green Grass Fields

By Seanan McGuire

Published 2021 (Tor.com)

Score: 8.5/10

This is book six of the Wayward Children series, and being an even numbered entry it can be read as a standalone. Green Grass Fields introduces us to a completely new character, Regan, and a whole new world, the Hooflands. After being a bit underwhelmed with Come Tumbling Down, Green Grass Fields bought me back into this universe, filling me with wonder once again.

This series is about children who have gone through portal worlds and come back. As someone who loves worldbuilding, this premise is perfect for me. We visit a lot of amazing worlds, that do not need to be logically compatible with each other. In fact, the incompatibility between these worlds is part of the fun. Especially in a story like Beneath the Sugar Sky when characters who had gone to a variety of different worlds end up in a nonsensical candy land.

The Hooflands is a land for horse girls. It is full of centaurs and unicorns and kelpies and any hoofed mythological creature you can think of. I am not a horse person, but I still really loved the Hooflands. It helps that seeing the Hooflands through Regan’s horse-obsessed eyes is a lot of fun. I liked Regan a lot; she is dealing with a lot of normal young schoolgirl clique behaviour, and watching her find her place in the Hooflands is rather heartening. I connected with this young girl who was so hurt in our world by her inability to be ‘a normal girl’, and I enjoyed watching her find true friendship and self-acceptance.

The Wayward Children series is big on representation, and Regan continues this trend. When Regan turns ten, she becomes concerned that she is not reaching the same milestones as some of her friends. She asks her parent’s about this lack of puberty, and discovers she is intersex. This is troubling news to her and leads to her finding the doorway to the Hooflands. Being Intersex is not Regan’s defining character trait, but it makes her being comfortable as herself very powerful, and it shows a unique aspect to the theme of the story, which is that there is no correct way to be a girl.

With this being book 6 in a series, most people who are interested in this one would have already had some experience with the Wayward Children and therefore have an idea what to expect. I suppose the only thing to really say to these people is that this book continues the series in a similar vein and with high quality. If you are new to the series, then yes you could start here; this story shares no characters or plot elements with the other books in the series. At least not yet. Might be a good book to try if you want an introduction to this world without committing to a 6+ ongoing novella series, this is a perfectly fine sample.

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Written This Year

Trans Wizard Harriet Porber and the Theatre of Love

By Chuck Tingle

Published March 2021

Score: 9/10

There are a lot of books coming out this year that I want to read. I already had a few new Tor.com novellas lined up, and was counting down until the release of A Desolation Called Peace, the sequel to Arkady Martin’s Hugo Award winning A Memory Called Empire.

Then Chuck Tingle dropped a new Harriet Porber book and I dropped everything to read it.

My review of the first book in this series; Trans Wizard Harriet Porber and the Bad Boy Parasaurolophus is the most popular post I have ever made. For that reason, I seriously considered giving this book review it’s own page, but that wouldn’t be fair since I just do not have as much to say about this book. Also, I padded that review out by just listing Chuck Tingle titles, and I don’t think I can get away with that joke twice.

Before I talk about Theatre of Love though, here is a link to my review of Bad Boy Parasaurolophus. Not because I want to give that post more views, but because I wrote a lot about who Chuck Tingle is and why the Harriet Porber books exist, and if you’ve never heard of this series before it is important information. If you don’t want to read the review for Bad Boy Parasaurolophus but still have questions I’ll provide a summery:

TL;DR: Fuck J.K. Rowling, Trans identities are valid.

Tingle has put a lot of care into writing a romance between two trans characters which did not attempt to portray trans trauma. He included trans themes without making the story rely on the transness of the main characters. He also donated a portion of the sales of both Harriet Porber books to Transgender charities for the first three months As of posting this review, Theatre of Love should still be donating a portion of the profits. That said, Tingle is also a cis man who is making money from a silly dinosaur porn book with the words ‘trans wizard’ in the title, so your mileage may vary here on how appropriate the representation is.

I unironically liked Bad Boy Parasaurolophus. It used it’s magic system to do a lot of really clever things with breaking the fourth wall to communicate themes. The titular bad boy parasaurolophus, Snabe, is aware that he is a character in a book. He uses this self awareness to criticize romance genre tropes and throw shade at Rowling. His friend Bumbleborn is also self aware, and the first thing he says to Harriet is that he is gay. He then explains that he wanted to explicitly state that in the book rather than claim it was in the subtext years later.

This fourth wall breaking continues in Theatre of Love. We even get a callback when Bumbleborn’s boyfriend Grindlebad shows up. In the second chapter, Snabe takes Harriet out to dinner for her birthday and informs her that they are in a sequel. He also points out that a normal romance sequel would involve him reverting to his bad boy ways and forgetting her birthday, causing Harriet to dump him and the conflict of the book to involve them getting back together. Snabe fears that since he didn’t forget her birthday and their relationship is going good, an external threat must be approaching to cause a conflict for the sequel.

This external threat comes in the form of the Great Magini, and the sinister entertainment mega corporation backing her; Just Kidding Recreation. I don’t need to spell out how that gets abbreviated. When Harriet decides to put on the magic show of her career, Magini and J.K. Recreation act friendly at first, but they turn on her once she refuses to do things their way. Fighting a powerful uber rich entity that acts as though it owns the rights to magic, and uses it’s voice and money to influence others and crush smaller opponents with lawsuits is one of the greatest challenges of Harriet’s life. She soon finds that she’ll need all the help she can get.

This is a really fun story that throws a lot of shade at Rowling, whilst also celebrating the power of community and fandom and speaking truth to power. It didn’t have the same charm as the first one, didn’t feel as clever, but on the other hand I noticed a lot less typos and other errors. Overall, I loved this book, and any negative comparisons to the first just show how much I love the first book. It still feels so weird that I enjoy these books so much.

So yay for my first bingo. Given how many reading challenge is going, the second one should not be far away.

Until then, Happy Reading,

~ Lauren

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