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Each month, we look back over the media we loved in the previous month, from books to film to video games and more.


Cover of Artificial Condition Poster for Reigns: Her Majesty

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells — Although not quite as surprising in its delightfulness as the first Murderbot book, I still loved this story a whole lot. Murderbot goes on more adventures and makes some great new friends -- I especially hope we see more of ART in later books. The mystery of Murderbot's past is also unfolding and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Reigns: Her Majesty by Nerial — This game was recommended during a WisCon panel, and I decided to just buy it without doing much research beforehand. I then proceeded to get so sucked in that I played it for most of the plane ride home. The story and gameplay are deceptively simple -- you are a new queen, trying to navigate the treacherous politics of ruling and get out alive, by making a series of (mostly) binary choices. The mechanic is similar to using Tindr or other mobile dating apps -- typically, to please the person you're talking to, swipe right; to turn them down or disagree, swipe left. If you make the wrong choices, you die… and then a new queen comes along to pick up where you left off. But the longer you play, the more you discover about what's really going on, and it gets more complex (including certain times with hidden third options). I haven't beaten it yet, but I'm starting to see the shape of how it might be possible, and each new discovery is delightful.


Cover of A Lily Among Thorns Cover of No.6 Volume 1 Cover of Wotakoi Omnibus 1

A Lily Among Thorns by Rose LernerA Lily Among Thorns is a Regency romance between an heiress turned sex worker turned inn-owner (and) and the dye-maker who once gave her the money she needed to get started; he comes to her for help finding stolen family heirlooms, and sticks around while her enemies (and her friends!) attempt to dismantle the life she's built.

I really enjoyed this one because, like Sweet Disorder by the same author, it manages to be a very political Regency romance that doesn't hesitate to take on the male lead's privilege and unpack it, even though he's a decent and likeable person. It's also fun because – as [twitter.com profile] booksmugglers pointed out – what might be considered the "traditional" gender roles of this sort of story are completely flipped on its head; Serena is the ruthless rogue with a troubled past, who is baffled and begrudgingly entranced by Nathaniel's kindness and steadfast nature, rather than the other way around. It's so nice to see! Especially because female rogues, my weakness.

I don't want to say too much about it here, because very much more and I'd be heading into spoiler territory, but it's a genuinely clever and entertaining story, that treated difficult subjects believably and with respect, and ended so well. I recommend it.

[Caution warning: discussion of suicide]

Mary and the Witch's FlowerMary and the Witch's Flower is an adaptation of The Little Broomstick made by Studio Ponoc, which includes former staff from Studio Ghibli, so even with the trailer I wasn't sure what to expect. Was it a school story about witches? Was it going to be about mad magical science gone wrong? Were the nature aesthetics going to carry over between companies, and is that a thing I should expect of a separate company anyway?

The answer to all of that is "Kinda!"

Mary is a well-intentioned disaster child who wants to be helpful to her Great-Aunt Charlotte, who she's living with while she waits for her parents to finish moving house. After a day of tiny accidental disasters, she runs into the woods after a cat and finds both a magic flower and a broomstick, which promptly whisks her away to the clouds and a magic academy! (Where, naturally, there is magical mad science happening, because of course there is.) The aesthetics are lovely, and it really captures the beauty of nature and magic, and the sheer weirdness of what's going on at the magical academy, and while there were bits of the film my embarrassment squick noped out of, for the most part it was a neat little story about learning from mistakes and doing better. It's not necessarily a surprising movie at any point – my favourite bit was honestly the bit at the beginning, and the reveal of who that character was made me bounce in my chair – but it was fun, with bits of teamwork and lovely characters. Mary felt believably childlike, the flying instructor was a delight, and I want a Great-Aunt Charlotte of my own.

... I'm not going to lie though, this really made me want to go back and play both Ni No Kuni and GrimGrimoire.

No. 6 Volumes 1-9 by Atsuko Anno and Hinoko Kino, translated by Jonathan Tarbox/Arashi Productions
— This manga was wild. Like, full-on "Of course this utopia is a dystopia, and the boy I rescued when I was twelve is now a hot nihilist who wants to bring down society, and also there are parasitic wasps that kill people?" levels of wild. And it's just like, casually queer? Which I did not know about in advance, which rarely happens! I cannot say with any confidence that this series is good, but I devoured it. It was melodramatic and had a protagonist who believed in others even in the face of horror and unrelenting misery, paired with an angry badass who just cannot with the protagonist's level of optimism and faith in humanity, which is all catnip to me. It's messy and doesn't always make sense (did I mention the parasitic wasps?!) and gets horrifying in the later volumes, but it still has relationships that appeal to me and takes the time to let them breathe. Ugh, my weaknesses.

No. 6 is based off a light novel series that I don't think has been translated into English yet, and this is obviously terrible because I've run out of manga and I need more.

[Caution warnings: sexual harassment, mass murder, body horror]

Wotakoi Omnibus Volume 1 by Fujita, translated by Jessica SheavesI live-tweeted this one, mostly accidentally, because it's fun. They're childhood friends who work at the same company! She collects (and draws) BL manga and games! He is a massive video game nerd! Together they... Work together, wrangle Comiket, and sort-of date?

Wotakoi cracked me up, because in some ways it reminds me of my own social group – if you have ever had to ask one of your best friends to edit your smut for you the night before a deadline, this manga sees you – and all of the different flavours of nerdery you can find. Some of the humour doesn't work for me (there's a few scatological jokes and a recurring theme about how flat-chested the protagonist is, which leaves me cold), but mostly it's warm-hearted and fun. ... And then it blindsided me with quiet, sincere moments of genuine affection!

But yes, it's fun and funny, and might work as a pick-me-up if you too binged Complex Age and need something happy about fannishness to soothe your fractured heart.


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