Each month, we look back over the media we loved in the previous month, from books to film to video games and more.
The Root by Na'amen Gobert Tilahun — Really great debut novel, an urban portal fantasy set in San Francisco and a dark mirror universe, which tells the story of two young people coming into their powers. Tilahun has set up a fascinating mythology, with modern-day powered people descended from the gods in one universe and a complex court system of humans and demons in the other. I could wish that the ending tied the two worlds together a little better, but it seems clear that this will happen in the next volume, which is coming out in November. Super-diverse cast, too, with lots of queer characters and characters of color.
Spider-Man: Homecoming — I was as irritated as anyone when Marvel announced yet another Spider-Man reboot. While I'm still not sure we needed one, if we had to have it, this was the right way to do it. Instead of retelling the origin story yet again, we get a fun and hilarious coming-of-age story about Peter Parker feeling out the limits of his abilities and finding his place in the world, while having totally believable coming of age shenanigans with his friends and rivals. The supporting cast is excellent (and quite racially diverse), especially Peter's best friend Ned and singer Zendaya as the dry, snarky Michelle, and Michael Keaton's Vulture is one of the best MCU villains yet. More details (and spoilers) in a review in my own journal.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells — Simply delightful, if you can call a story about a planetary survey team facing a mysterious and terrifying attacker delightful. The delight comes largely from the point-of-view character, a security android who calls itself Murderbot. I love this character possibly more than any other new character I've met in years. This novella is the first in a series, and I cannot wait for more.
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin — Woah. Wow. Amazing. The Obelisk Gate is such a worthy follow up to The Fifth Season. It presents a whole new way of looking at the characters that Jemisin introduced in the first book. It fills in a lot of detailed world building (although I'll be honest, the later explanations of how the magic/science system works lost me a little). And it skillfully makes you care about so many characters who do terrible things without excusing them or vilifying them. I mean, my emotions were in tatters by the end but it was worth it.
She-Hulk, Vol.1: Deconstructed by Mariko Tamaki, Nico Leon and Matt Milla — Mariko Tamaki's take on Jennifer Walters is quite quiet and small scale for the most part. It focuses on Jennifer's recovery from the trauma of losing her cousin Bruce, and how she deals with trauma, pain and anger when all of those have the potential to make her Hulk out. I really liked this treatment because it would be so easy to go over the top with a Hulk character, and turn them into just a straight up 'Hulk, smash' caricature. Tamaki creates an interesting back story that allows the reader to examine what the Hulk line of characters symbolise, and makes Jennifer a developing character for readers who are into books for that personal side of stories. It does get a little 'this is Marvel, so we've got to have a big SFF battle' in the later issues at the expense of more character development but that just made me hungry for more issues.
PS. This comic also made me want to read Hell-Cat. Patsy and Jennifer are BFFs!
The Dream-Quest of Velitt Boe by Kij Johnson — Kij Johnson's feminist response to H. P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath was one of my favourite entries on this year's Hugo novella shortlist. When a female student runs away from Ulthar Women's College with an intoxicating male 'dreamer' it is up to Professor Velitt Boe retrieve her before dire consequences can be visited on the university. As a one time adventurous roamer, who fell in love with a dreamer herself, Velitt is uniquely equipped to set out on this epic quest through magically shifting lands.
I adored this novella because it was so open about making a space for women in epic fantasy, and the need for older women to appear in stories. There were so many lines dotted through this novella that reflected, and challenged, sexism. And Vellit's very existence is so quietly political that I warmed to her right away. Plus, who doesn't love stories featuring a supportive but quirky animal travelling companion?
The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian — This was one of my most hotly anticipated releases for the summer and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. Infamous rake Lord Courtenay and well-to-do Julian Medlock cross paths and get thrown together in a scheme by Julian's sister. There's also a secret, a secondary romance plot that was adorable, and a lot of a clever character verbally railroading rude people. It's so charming and fun, I read it twice.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood — This was a reread. The last time I read it it felt relevant in a very scary way, but rereading it now it's even more so, and more of the subtleties of sexism and oppression jumped out at me this time. It remains a great discussion book because of the way Atwood chose to communicate Offred's story. Ana and I tackled it for Fangirl Happy Hour.
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco — I kept wanting to write hundreds of words about why I loved this book, but I can't find a good order for them. It's epic fantasy, girl-discovers-she's-super-powerful, coming of age story that tackles relationships between mentors and friends, how to manage immense power, and also examines proto-queer communities (especially in regards to non-binary and trans folks) and how they flourish when the people who belong to them don't yet have the words to talk about themselves. I can't wait for the sequel.
They Don't Like Me by Nicola Foti — This video is one I went back and watched over and over last month. I love it.
The Soldier's Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian — I actually read both of Cat Sebastian's books this month, and they were both good, but the story about a private investigator who occasionally rights wrong by also committing crime is always going to get my vote. I liked Jack and Oliver, I liked that Jack's family was important to him and kept showing up (George is one of the leads in The Lawrence Brown Affair! I know that Sarah isn't going to get her own book, but I'd quite enjoy it if she did.), I like that Jack was a relatively principled asshole. I don't think it stuck the landing particularly well, but I enjoyed everything leading up to it enough that I don't mind.
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin — Oof, this one is heavy but it's good. It has community building! Multiple instances of communities! We find out what has happened to Essun's daughter, which shines an entirely different light on Essun! It has so many different methods of surviving abuse and abusers, and the ripple effects of that survival! It has some truly brutal choices to make and terrible things happening, and it's so good. In that "I screeched at this book out loud more than once because no," kind of way.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword -- Okay, before we get into this, you need to know exactly two things: I have a weakness for Guy Ritchie movies, and I know next to nothing about Arthuriana. Which means that I found this movie to be an absolute treat.
I've seen it *coughcoughmumble* times now and have been headcanoning wildly, which means that I periodically forget that the actual film is bananas and makes minimal sense; there are entire chunks where objectively I know the plot is bollocks and I do not care. It's got the Guy Ritchie fast cuts and mixing scenes together, the fights are great, the cast is... Actually more diverse than I was expecting, even though it's still predominantly white dudes, and the dialogue crackles. Like, the only downside for me was in the number of dead women in this film.
... To be honest, literally all I wanted and expected out of this movie was giant war elephants, so really it delivered everything I wanted and more.