spindizzy: Raven looked shocked and appalled. (You what?!)
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Hello my darlings! I know I said that last Eight Book Minimum was the penultimate one for 2017, but cooler heads prevailed and pointed out that MAYBE twenty-five reviews in one post was... A little too many... So this one has been split into two!

(This installment has the freaking Pandora Hearts reviews that stalled me out all the way at the start of the year! I can believe it took me this long to muddle through my feelings, but goodness me.)

  1. Pandora Hearts Volume Thirteen by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  2. Pandora Hearts Volume Fourteen by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  3. Pandora Hearts Volume Fifteen by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  4. Squirrel Girl Volume Two: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North and Erica Henderson [Jump]

  5. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles [Jump]

  6. Wanted: A Gentleman by KJ Charles [Jump]

  7. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty [Jump]

  8. Letters for Lucardo by Noora Heikkilä [Jump]

  9. Pandora Hearts Volume Sixteen by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  10. Pandora Hearts Volume Seventeen by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  11. Pandora Hearts Volume Eighteen by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  12. Pandora Hearts Volume Nineteen by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 13 Cover of Pandora Hearts 14 Cover of Pandora Hearts 15

1. Pandora Hearts Volume Thirteen by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
IN THIS VOLUME: we see how Leo and Elliot met! Break and Raven confront both a suspect in the Headhunter case and each other! Reim makes a friend! Everything is worse.

I think that the Leo and Elliot flashbacks here are interesting partially for the light it casts on their relationship, and partially because they're a good contrast to Oz and Gilbert. Apart from Elliot's brother offering to abuse his power to punish Leo, it's a somewhat equal relationship, that we see building to respect and friendship? We never get that with Oz and Gilbert! Their relationship has always been obsessive and uneven, so seeing a mostly functional relationship (and Oz's jealousy) that can be so directly compared to it is really cool! Plus, some of the stuff that happens with Elliot is great set-up for things in later volumes, especially in terms of which characters are reliable narrators.

(The scene with Vanessa though! The sibling relationships in this series are sometimes great!)

But the Reim Makes A Friend scenes are... Maybe not the most original or unpredictable, perhaps, but I am so fond of the way it's handled. Lily and her memories are explicitly used to humanise the Baskervilles and explain who they are, and it does really well at that! Especially because Pandora Hearts really goes in when it wants creepy children. (She tries to reassure Reim about his not being useless, even though they're enemies!) But the layout and the way that Reim distracting Lily is handled works really well. It's kind of classic composition, but it's classic for a reason. ... And the fact that Reim is one of Break's main concerns in this volume is heartbreaking, because this is a volume where Break has to deal with the fact that he values people and some of them value him, and oh no, my weakness! I am so here for Break being an atrocious friend and Raven trying to convince him to rely on him! Even before we get to Break's last scene in this volume!

(Also: I have not talked a lot about why the children of Fianna's House are there, or about the person suspected of being the Headhunter, but suffice it to say that I am yelling in every part. Especially because of that reliable narration thing.)

2. Pandora Hearts Volume Fourteen by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
In this volume: Break takes on two (2) Baskervilles on his own like the sensible human being he is, Vincent is the worst at taking people alive, Alice correctly calls Oz out on the manga GIVING HIM ALL OF HER POWERS, and Elliot finds out what the hell is going on.

To start with: I am mad about Ada's story arc. She deserves better than Vincent, and she deserves better than to be the potential inciting incident for his redemption(?) arc, and she deserves to have her bravery actually come to something other than Vincent's disgust. I would really truly love Ada (or Sharon! Or... Any of the female characters actually) to have her own arc not revolving around A Dude. Come on manga, you can do this.

The fight scene with Break is beautiful; the two page spread of the Chain, the use of negative colours, the moment in the middle that made me actually laugh out loud, Echo going against Vincent to help him, Break getting lectured in the middle of a fight... It delights me. Especially because it brings me declarations of loyalty and demonstrations of trust, and super dramatic layouts which is a thing that I love! ... I spent a lot of time crying weakly over this fight scene, okay, this is just who I am as a person. Especially because Jun Mochizuki is really good at picking the still moments in a fight that would make the most impact! I think it's great!

(Ahhhh the end of that fight! Also how in the name of sanity is Break parrying a sword the size of a man with a SWORD CANE, someone riddle me this.)

But I did yell a lot about the motivations of the villains here, because bringing about a second tragedy of Sablier for such a ridiculous reason is just aggravating. Especially because the way everyone talks about the abyss is so at odds! With everything! I know it's unreliable narration and deliberate misdirection, but I genuinely didn't see something so straightforward coming along.

As for the scenes with Elliot... Suddenly all of the details and inconsistencies around him make sense and it broke my heart. Especially for realising how much of his suffering is connected to this. ._.


3. Pandora Hearts Volume Fifteen by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
This volume is probably my favourite volume of Pandora Hearts and it broke my heart and stole my wallet. (This one I will try to keep non-spoilery but I'm not sure I can?)

It is Elliot UNPICKING years of his life, forcing his mind down the right path of his memories, because even the fundamentals of his stories are wrong. There are such quiet, simple refutals of what he thought had happened, and it's really effective.

(Elliot asking if Leo's okay, oh my god.)

But also: the way the manga uses his memories of Oz having a similar dilemma! The message of the manga coming back to the fore (you know you messed up, which means that you've already started to grow and change!), and Elliot deliberately having to choose to do something he hates, to spare others!

... The next six pages are really effective for how quiet they are, and how much space it gives to one moment. It's the right amount of space! It's really affecting, to the point where I couldn't even capslock in my notes. It's really well done, and had to put the book down so I could feel it better when I read it. The rest of the volume is the aftermath, and it's harrowing! (Even though I want to grab Raven and SHAKE HIM because he has more reason to be upset by this than Oz AND YET.) I enjoy the revelations that follow, but... That was so well handled.

Cover of Squirrel Girl Volume 2 Cover of The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal Cover of Wanted: A Gentleman

4. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume Two: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North and Erica Henderson [Top]
... I just had to check what actually happened in this volume, because all knowledge about it has been replaced with the knowledge that in one page, Ryan North and Erica Henderson managed to explain the plot of Hydra!Cap and why it's bollocks ... I'm pretty sure before Hydra!Cap even existed!

I love Nancy and Doreen's friendship, and the way that they consistently manage to resolve her problems through talking to people. Even if in this case the problem is a bank robbery, or a Definitely Not Evil Superpowered Squirrel. I really enjoyed the cameos of Thor and Loki and Odinson, especially because Nancy's joy in meeting Loki warms my heart. It's delightful, and I really enjoyed it.

5. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal [Top]
Me: Susan, you are being unfair. You cannot assume that every single story about two men solving things in Victorian London is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Just this once, don't do that and see what happens!
Book: *has literal Mycroft Holmes show up*
Me: ... I GIVE UP.

This has a lot of the surface trappings of a Sherlock Holmes pastiche: it is a collection of short stories set in the Victorian era, and our point of view character is a writer who fictionalises and chronicles his friend who uses an unusual talent to solve crimes, but that's pretty much where it ends. The personalities don't map, and the unusual talent is... Actually contacting ghosts.

I really enjoyed the mysteries and the backstories here! Some of them have really striking imagery (the butterfly story in particular), and some of them have really interesting character work! I found it a little uneven as a whole though, and there were stories where I wasn't sure I was here for them? Particularly the repercussions to the protagonist for being willing to speak out where necessary. Although the trade off for that is that storytelling is actually woven into the fabric of the story in a way that I really appreciate, so... Maybe it cancels out.

There were a lot of references to other characters from stories of the time this is set, which could be either distracting or easter eggs if that's a thing you have any knowledge about; I'm not familiar with any of the titles mentioned, so it passed me by completely except for Mycroft bloody Holmes ten pages after I decided I was being unfair! That'll teach me.

But yes, it was fine! It wasn't my favourite when I first read it, although I do want to reread it as Spectred Isle is apparently set in the same universe and I have no memory of one of the events that connect it.

6. Wanted: A Gentleman by KJ Charles [Top]
I feel like "A young lady of my acquaintance has run off to marry someone unsuitable and must be stopped!" is a trope that I have seen before, but I like KJ Charles' spin on it. In this case, the people giving chase are a novelist who runs a lonely hearts paper, and a Black merchant who was a former slave of the runaway's family.

(He is still treated really oddly by the family that released him because he's a ~family friend~ that they treat as someone who has never any reason to say no to whatever they ask of him! ([twitter.com profile] elizabeth_fitz talks about it as "the intersection of racism and good intentions" which seems fairly accurate to me.)

I liked the resolution of this story, particularly because it plays on the character's strengths! Some of the reveals that made this possible felt a bit out of the blue, but it did work for the story being told. The journey that leads to that is... I don't remember it, to be honest, apart from talking about novels, which I enjoyed a lot.

Wanted: A Gentleman was fun and short, so if that's what you're in the mood for then absolutely go for it, it's just not the strongest of KJ Charles' stories.

Cover of Six Wakes Cover of Letters for Lucardo Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 16

7. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty [Top]
Six Wakes is a locked spaceship murder mystery involving people who can be reborn into cloned bodies! The entire crew of a colony ship wake up after they've been murdered in newly cloned bodies, to find that the last twenty years of their lives – and thus, whodunnit – have been erased from their memories. Cue frantically trying to work out which of them is the murderer!

Guys, the plotting here is so intricate, I love it. People with cloned bodies have mind-maps – essentially, a digitised back-up of their memories and personalities that gets put into a new body if anything happens to the old one, and is woken up as that person! And Six Wakes weaves in flashbacks to earlier in the character's lives, which means that throwaway things can get mentioned, and then suddenly become relevant two hundred years and twelve chapters later, which is great! And there are layers of morality and relationships and vulnerability here – clones are simultaneously less vulnerable to physical problems (because they can just move to a new body), but more vulnerable digitally (because their mindmaps and DNA maps can be hacked and changed!).

The prose is, in places, kinda clunky. Like, there are points where I had to read paragraphs over a few times to work out what on Earth was going on. But that's fine! My biggest problem with Six Wakes honestly was that It GOT me. About three chapters in, I went "Oh, okay, the murderer is blatantly X!" and then convinced myself that that was too obvious. ... ABOUT THAT. For all of the scheming and reveals and drama, the actual murderer is... Honestly a little anti-climactic. The person who links all these characters together barely even remembers the motivating incident! It's really strange!

(As an aside, I am intrigued how different Katrina is in the present (and in her life just gone) to how she is in the flashback, but if there are any stories about her and Rebecca as high-class assassins, I am absolutely here for that.)

But apart from the reveal: if you want an intricate locked-ship mystery about clones that manages to be funny and have layers of villainy, this is for you.

Thank you [twitter.com profile] ecnef for sending me a copy of this! I really appreciate it!

8. Letters for Lucardo by Noora Heikkilä [Top]
I am heartbroken, because I had a review for this, I swear I did, but I can't find it anywhere? I'm assuming that I wrote it all up and then accidentally pasted over it or deleted it or SOMETHING, but auuuugh. This review is going to be shorter than that, because nope. I can't face it.

Letters for Lucardo is a graphic novel about a scribe in his sixties, and the eternally youthful vampire who falls in love with him. It's a great reversal of the "Why do vampires only fall in love with ridiculously young people?" trope! Especially because Lucardo is explicitly into Ed (our protagonist) and the physical difference in their ages isn't a problem to be overcome? It's kinda cool.

My main issue with this is that Ed, has to contend with such nonsense from Lucardo's family. Like, no word of a lie, some of it set off my embarrassment squick so badly that I had to put the book down and put actual effort into coming back to it (I think of the dinner party and just... I'm out. I tap, I cannot do this.). If you don't have an embarrassment squick though, you should be fine!

(Plus, I'm really glad that I knew there's a second volume, or That Ending would have been really aggravating...)

9. Pandora Hearts Volume 16 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
In this volume: Oz, Raven and Alice get a day off, Break receives the dressing down he deserves, Alice is finally told what happened at Cheshire Cat's lair ten volumes later, and everything else is betrayal and lies!

My main takeaway from the first half of this volume is that I am amazed at the chutzpah it takes for a creator go "I know I said that this was one of the main characters' motivations and thus their plotline, but it's not come up for a while so I'm just going to have them decide it's not important anymore!" That is gutsy and I kinda respect it, especially because it does tie into her character development, but also literally it got rid of her plot arc over halfway through the series. I'm... Kinda baffled, but admiring!

Apart from that: augh, sibling relationships strike again, the scenes of Sheryl Rainsworth and Duke Barma are dramatic, and the first time I read it I almost dropped the book because I knew there were unreliable narrators, but I was genuinely not expecting that. Good job, manga, I am shocked!

Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 17 Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 18 Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 19

10. Pandora Hearts Volume 17 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
In this volume: flashback over a hundred years to meet Jack, Glen – and Lacie?

I find on rereading that I'm not that interested in this volume. It's the explanation of how the Glens work and what is going on with Jack and all of the children of ill omen (Note the creepy old person yelling about dropping people into the abyss! I'm sure that has never come up before and never will again!) but also I... Am not that fussed about these characters! Except that holy wow, they are all messed up. Literally every problem in this series is because of the perfect storm of Lacie being capricious and not caring about whether she lived or died, Jack being worse than Vincent in terms of obsessions, and Levi being an awful human being on every single conceivable level?






Come back here and explain yourself.

11. Pandora Hearts Volume 18 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
In this volume, MORE truth about the Tragedy of Sablier, possibly the REAL truth this time!

There is so much going on in this volume, to the point that I have lost track of which Alice was which at points. The secret origins of the Black Rabbit are... Entirely in keeping with the level of batshit that Pandora Hearts has reached, but I'm still kinda squinting at it like "Wait, no, go back a bit, that's maybe too weird." I am emotionally destroyed by Alice choosing Oz and the world over Jack repeatedly, given how much she valued Jack earlier in the series? But it worked so consistently and well! Especially because the scenes of the Black Rabbit are really stylistic and I like that? And because Alice is so brave! And the manga remembered that she's actually smart!

(Miranda Barma bothers me, and I don't know if it's because she has the exact same character design as someone from Black Butler, or if she's maybe too obsessive even for Pandora Hearts. SOMEHOW. I'm not sure whether it's bothering me because I'm dealing with internalised misogyny or the creator is.)

But... Holy shit, everything that happens at Sablier. From Jack's motives to Oswald's response: what. I can understand the information they had and most of the chain of logic, but then I get to their conclusions and it's just like "... Well. WELL. You're both the villains, I understand everything!"

... The end of this volume is really well done, though. The reveals! The last panel! It's not as bad as volume fifteen for punching me in the heart, but wow that was a lot of feels in not a lot of time. Especially because they don't win at any point in this volume – Alice gets a phyrric victory, I guess, but wow. I forgot exactly how much I wasn't kidding when I said the tea party was the happiest this would be for a while.

[Caution warning: suicide]

12. Pandora Hearts Volume 19 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
In this volume: Oz rejects Alice so hard that she gets removed from the main timeline (no, really), we find out what Alice knows happens at the Tragedy of Sablier, and the main timeline is... Complicated.

I actually kinda like all of the different viewpoints that we're seeing the Tragedy of Sablier from, because they're all layering on top of each other so that we can actually see a fuller (and maybe truer? This time? Finally?) picture of what's happening. In this volume, we see what Alice thinks happened, so we get a better picture of how the Black Rabbit came to be and what the hell Jack was doing. I like that we get to see Alice choose to become the Black Rabbit for the sake of the world, her other self, and sparing the Black Rabbit more pain – especially because we've not see in her that role for... several volumes? (And Other Alice offering herself up to the knife because she didn't trust herself was a really dramatic panel that's set up throughout!) I have... A lot of feelings... About the Alices. Alice is so brave, and they go between kids with a kid's reactions and having to make awful choices really quickly! (The panel where she's spotlit, watching her flashback, is really good.) I just wish we'd had more of them?

(Jack constructing the lies he's going to tell as he see the consequences of his actions. I was furious, so I guess it worked as intended!)

... Not going to lie though, Oz's backstory and current drama has hit the stage where even I'm like "What? No. What?!" It's lightened by Echo trying to be a good friend and not know how, because Pandora Hearts knows how to cut misery with humour, but seriously, this just piled more ridiculous things on terrible things. I guess it makes sense in the topic.

Things I liked about this volume: the silent page that is just Oswald masking Leo – letting him not see the consequences of his actions, but also taking away his choice if he wanted to act. The significance of Oswald using Elliot's sword. Raven no, but also Break's faith in him, but also Raven I don't care how cool that scene looks: no! Glen apparently not knowing that the theme of this manga is that you can't change the past, which means the next story arc is going to be wild.

(*whispers* Oh no, we're back to absolutes, I die, help.)

Reading Goals

Reading goal: 180/150 (12 new this post) Prose: 97/50 (15 new this post)
New-to-me female authors: 50/50 (KJ Charles because I never counted her earlier in the year, Mur Lafferty, Noora Heikkilä)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 53/80 (7 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerasfuckbookclub: 63/180 (The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximel, Wanted: A Gentleman, and Letters for Lucardo)


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