- Aquicorn Cove by Katie O'Neill [Jump]
- The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope [Jump]
- Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear [Jump]
- Behind the Scenes Volumes 1-5 by Bisco Hatori [Jump]
1. Aquicorn Cove by Katie O'Neill [Top]
I thought Aquicorn Cove was really cute all-ages comic – I love Kate O'Neill's art, and her lineless colours make me happy. It deals with serious topics though – coping with the death of a loved one and trying to protect the environment, through the medium of a little girl trying to rescue an injured magical sea-horse after a destructive storm. I feel like it didn't quite have the space it needed for all the issues it wanted to cover – what we did get was very good, like the depiction of Lana and her father's grief after her mother's death and the way that sometimes when everyone is trying so hard to cope, there isn't space for people (kids) to ask for the help they need. I can't tell if I feel like the way it talks about the destruction of the reef and what the humans can do to protect it felt too simplistic, or just right for a comic aimed at children, so your mileage may vary on that? But the core of it is the relationships between Lana, Lana's mother (who dies before the story begins, but is still an important character!), Lana's aunt, and the mermaid that helps them. It's full of love and support, even if it feels light, and I appreciated that a lot.
[Caution warnings: dead mothers, destructive storms.] [This review is based off an ARC from Netgalley.]
2. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope [Top]
Q: Susan, did you read a classic novel entirely because KJ Charles is doing a queer retelling from the villain's point of view?
A: ASK ME NO QUESTIONS AND I WILL TELL YOU NO LIES.
The premise of The Prisoner of Zenda is that Rudolf, a young Englishman who might be very distantly related to the royal family of Ruritania, decides to visit the country in question to witness the coronation of its new king. The new king that he happens to resemble to the point that when it looks like the new king is going to miss his own coronation – and potentially give his brother the in that he needs to take over the country – Rudolf can be called upon as a body double. Cue schemes, kidnapping, and sword fights, as Rudolf attempts to recover the king of Ruritania and restore him to his throne.
I'm not gonna lie, my expectations were super low when I came into this one, because, well, classic literature. And to a certain extent, that was justified! The female characters are ciphers rather than characters, the entirety of the "And now I impersonate the king" story arc seethed against my embarrassment squick, and there were entire sections of the story where I was just like "Wait, no, please explain to me why anyone thought that this was a good idea." (You're potentially at war and the king is in peril... So you're going to lounge around and have young men play music to you? SURE DUDE.) But after Antoinette de Mauban and Rupert of Hentzau showed up and the sword fights started, I actually got into it? It was full of action and schemes and charming men committing acts of derring-do. Princess Flavia and Antoinette de Mauban deserved better, naturally, but it wasn't bad! Definitely better than what I was expecting from classic literature!
3. Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear [Top]
I reviewed Stone Mad for the Lesbrary – it's a lot of fun, and has Karen and Priya trying to reckon with Spiritualists, tommy-knockers, and their first major relationship conflict!
4-9. Behind the Scenes Volumes 1-5 by Bisco Hatori [Top]
Behind the Scenes is about university student Ranmaru Kurisu, a talented and anxiety-ridden crafter, who gets adopted by the Art Squad – the group that makes props for every film club on campus! Cue cool sounding films, complicated backstories, and a lot of improvising!
I talked about the first volume a while ago, and I was really happy to see more volumes appear at my local library. The Art Squad are a great group of characters, and the ways that they all have different specialisations and work so hard to support each other brings me a lot of joy – I love competent characters, and Behind the Scenes is full of them.
Some of the stuff affecting the female characters strikes me wrong, though. There's a couple of storylines that absolutely read to me as stalking (a student recruits the Art Squad to force her ex to finally leave her alone, and another where a female member of the Art Squad is explicitly being followed by someone taking photographs of her – I can keep going) that don't end in a satisfying manner at all – there aren't strong enough negative consequences for me, to the point that I'm not sure there are any, which drove me spare. DON'T REWARD CHARACTERS WHO CAN'T ACCEPT NO. It just – rings off to me. All of the female characters are as complex and skilled as the male characters! There's a character whose arc is about trying to balance her desire for social acceptance (in the form of a boyfriend?) with her overwhelming love of zombies and horror make-up! The traditionally femme female character has a complicated home life and is learning how to cope with other people's expectations! There's a younger character who has crippling social anxiety that manifests as ruthless perfectionism and loneliness! I don't understand how this series keeps creating interesting girls with plausible problems, and then going horribly wrong.
That to one side, though, it's very exciting to me that Behind the Scenes not only has explanations of how to do some crafts, but also goes in on being a creative! There are characters who want to try things beyond their comfort zone and skill level, and that's absolutely fine! There are entire arcs about learning how to identify what you're trying to do with your art and follow through (in one case, through the medium of a haunted house, which was pretty cool), and putting effort and study into what you want to do, and that trying and failing is still okay! I am an anxious creative, okay, I find things like this immensely validating. Speaking of, though: I think probably my favourite part of Behind the Scenes is Ranmaru. He is anxious and tongue-tied and constantly comparing himself to others, but he's trying! And good at what he does! Again, very validating, although the fact that the series describes him as "pessimistic" seems a bit unfair, when I'd absolutely use his scenes to explain my own Generalised Anxiety Disorder. (I don't know if that's a translation issue or how he was described in the original Japanese.)
Plus: I'm very invested in the way that Behind the Scenes incorporates the stories the students are creating into their own character arcs. I know, I know, it has to, but I like it! The sheer variety of stories, and the way that each person takes or reveals different things, really works for me.
Behind the Scenes was fun and silly, and despite my problems with some of it, I liked the way it depicted anxiety and creating. I'm really hoping my library gets the rest of it!
Band Sinister by KJ Charles — Guess who got an ARC of the next KJ Charles! Apparently this is a more Heyer-esque Regency than her usual, which is going to be fun for me, A Person Who Has Never Read A Georgette Heyer Book. I love the protagonist's sister so far, she seems EXCELLENT.
Reading goal: 74/180 (8 new this post) Prose: 40/90 (2 new this post) Short Fiction: 25/40 Nonfiction: 1/12
#getouttamydamnhouse: 24/50 (4 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 24/50 (2 new this post; Aquicorn Cove, Stone Mad)