- Oh My God! Volumes 1 and 2 by Natsuho Shino [Jump]
- When First I Met My King by Harper Fox [Jump]
- Passing Strange by Ellen Klages [Jump]
- The Scorpion by Gerri Hill [Jump]
- And Then There Were N-One by Sarah Pinsker [Jump]
- The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil, A Rún Volumes 1-3 by Nagabe, translated by Adrienne Beck [Jump]
- Tomorrow by Jack Lothian and Garry Mac [Jump]
- Follow Me In by Katriona Chapman [Jump]
1. Oh My God! Volumes 1 and 2 by Natsuho Shino [Top]
I read the first volume of Oh My God last year, on a day when I read like... Twenty volumes of BL manga in one day? (Still not sure if Living My Best Life or Sure Making Some Choices There, answers on a postcard), and it was a fun and silly story! The teenage descendant of a family of sorcerers (who are now reduced to scam artists without a spec of magic between them) accidentally discovers a bound god in the shed and lets him loose. Cue: SHENANIGANRY. The first volume was very much a cute and generic manga about spirits, with more gods showing up to cause havok as the series goes on. The second volume appears to be where the plot comes in, as the protagonist and his steadily increasing collection of magical followers end up dealing with ghosts, curses, and other spiritual nonsense that is Definitely Not Being Set Up As A Trap.
Honestly, it's very generic, but it was exactly the sort of nonsense I was in the mood for. Some of it nudged a little too hard against my embarrassment squick, and some of it was very blatantly just set up for future volumes, but I had fun reading it! It has the occult mystery set-ups that I really enjoy, and most of the answers were quite satisfying. ... Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that there are only these two volumes of it available in English, so guess who's not seeing the rest of this nonsense play out!
2. When First I Met My King by Harper Fox [Top]
So do you remember when I mentioned about a million years ago that I craved stories about queer knights, that I was slaking with reading a ridiculous amount of Merlin fic (despite having seen MAYBE six episodes of Merlin total)? Eventually it occurred to me that I could solve this problem by just finding queer retellings of Arthuriana. I know, I know, it took me FAR too long to realise. In my defence, I only really got interested in King Arthur when the Guy Ritchie movie came out, and every other version has suffered for not having giant war elephants in it.
Anyway, When First I Met My King focuses the story on Lancelot, who in this case is a teenage Celtic prince on the border with Scotland, whose village has been raided and his family killed, which adds complications to the fact that his village is suffering under a cold snap that has killed their crops and driven off any game, meaning that everyone who survived is starving to death. Cue: ~Magical Shenanigans~ in the truest of folklore fashions (Always listen to old women that you find in caves, okay, it's the only way to do it.), a teenage Arthur arriving on his gladhanding tour of the country, and an infinitude of shenanigans ensuing.
I don't know enough Arthuriana to know whether what the author is doing here is particularly interesting or clever? I feel like she's got the "raised at the tail end of the Roman empire" thing down better than the Clive Owen movie did, but that's not particularly hard. I think it got the folklore feel of the narrative right, which really worked for me in its weirdness! I was also intrigued by the way this story approaches destiny – it's not something fixed, it's something that you have choices in, which gets around a lot of the problems I have with stories where people have grand immutable destinies.
I... Think I liked it? It didn't exactly scratch the itch for stories with queer knights, and I wasn't that emotionally invested in any of it, but as a quick read about teenagers falling in lust/love and making world-affecting decisions that they don't understand yet, it was fine?
[Caution warning: Violence, starvation, homophobia]
3. Passing Strange by Ellen Klages [Top]
I can't remember who mentioned this book to me first, but whoever it was thank you because it's delightful. It follows a group of queer women in a slightly fabulist 1940s San Francisco, and I was charmed and delighted by the characters and by the setting and the sense of community and the gentle touches of magic dabbed on top of this story. It's lovely, and I said as much in my review on The Lesbrary.
4. The Scorpion by Gerri Hill [Top]
I absolutely dragged this book for The Lesbrary. While it's got a good premise – an investigative reporter and an under-utilised detective sent to spy on her team up to solve a decade-old cold case, action-movie nonsense and repeated murder attempts ensue – but it has an character whose asexuality is handled in an extremely allo-centric way (including "Oh maybe she's not ace, maybe it's just her trust issues" as a story arc, which SURE WENT DOWN GREAT in my twitter feed.) I can't recommend it, I genuinely can't.
5. And Then There Were N-One by Sarah Pinsker [Top]
Ooooh, okay, this was interesting. And Then There Were N-One is a queer science-fiction riff on Agatha's Christie's And Then There Were None (which I didn't conciously realise until I noticed that everyone was trapped on an island with no way off – I KNOW), where versions of the author from across the multiverse are invited to a convention to compare their lives and enjoy the discovery that multiverse theory is not only real, but it's possible to collect every version of a person in one reality! ... And then of course, one of the Sarahs gets murdered.
I found the mystery to be somewhat predictable, in that I figured out what had happened and why halfway through (my friends are very used to me yelling the inevitable solution of a mystery at things because I'm cross that the characters haven't figured it out yet, which is why I'm banned from watching NCIS with company), and the only thing I missed the extra step of whether anyone else was involved. And the ending is somewhat ambiguous, which in this case I found effective, but a little emotionally unsatisfying! But apart from that, I really enjoyed And Then There Were N-One! It was an accurate depiction of conventions where you don't know anyone but you sort of do, and I really enjoyed the weirdness the protagonist found when she compared the turns her life took to those of everyone else's! (Plus working out which Sarah Pinsker is the one from our universe is fun, as is going "Oh, oh THAT's a major event in the timelines people are from, okay!") I especially liked the emotions throughout, and the shorthand the Sarahs come up with, and the loneliness our protagonist Sarah feels. It's so good!
I can't remember exactly where I placed this in my Hugo rankings, but I remember it being high. If you don't mind ambiguous endings and want an inter-reality murder mystery, this is definitely for you.
[I read the copy included in the Hugo Award packet, but you can read And Then There Were N-One online here.]
6. The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil, A Rún Volumes 1-3 by Nagabe, translated by Adrienne Beck [Top]
The Girl From the Other Side is probably the most recommended manga to cross my twitter feed, right up there with Yona of the Dawn and The Ancient Magus' Bride, so of COURSE I had to check it out. It follows a young girl and her teacher as they live in the abandoned remains of a town; her teacher is cursed with a monstrous form that means the two of them can never touch, in case the curse spreads to her as well.
To start with: I adore how sweet the relationship between Shiva and Teacher is, and the workarounds they find for when Shiva needs comfort despite the fact that they can't touch each other. Add in the fact that it's also heartbreaking, because she is convinced that her family is going to come back for her no matter what Teacher says (or doesn't say), and you've basically got catnip for me. (The downside is that these two factors lead to HORRIFIC END OF VOLUME CLIFFHANGERS, and I say this as someone who's normally pretty chill about cliffhangers.)
The art is spectacular – the style looks so different to what I usually read, and the scratchy look of both the forest and the Others who live there really works to emphasise their otherworldly nature, especially when compared to the soft shapes of Shiva; it also really helps to show up the difference between the woods, and the "civilised" world inside the walls of the towns, where the banal evil lives and, y'know, tries to kill or capture little girls! And the worldbuilding that goes along with both parts of that is FASCINATING to me, I'm really looking forward to reading more and figuring out what the heck is going on!
Basically, I'm so glad that my corner of twitter recced this series so hard, because I've been genuinely enjoying it in all its weirdness. Thank you manga side of twitter! ♥
7. Tomorrow by Jack Lothian and Garry Mac [Top]
This one didn't thrill me. It's a quiet story about an old woman who's the only person left behind when everyone else in her city – and possibly the world – vanishes. Do they get raptured? Are they destroyed by aliens? Who could say! It's quiet and full of melancholy, but... I dunno, it rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not sure I'm okay with her essentially kidnapping a tiny alien and treating it as though it's her baby – I understand her loneliness and the things she's trying to cling to in the face of the world being empty, but the way the story is told doesn't work for me and the ending was just a bit too much. I don't know if it's just that I don't like the art style or what, but Tomorrow doesn't work for me.
(I have so many questions about how she manages to fit shirts and dresses over the alien's Popeye forearms by the way. I just don't understand how she did it.)
[This review is based off a copy provided by the publisher.]
8. Follow Me In by Katriona Chapman [Top]
Follow Me In is a graphic memoir about a British artist's six-month backpacking trip around Mexico with her then-boyfriend, an alcoholic. It's bright and colourful, and I do like the art! And I like the way that the narrative is structured – it's not linear, it jumps forwards and backwards in time a fair amount. Sometimes we see the repercussions of a scene, and only then go back to see what led to it. It's an interesting choice of structure! The book also reads a little like a travelogue, with sketches and historical information about the areas the two of them travelled through – I have no idea how accurate the information is, but it was still interesting. Plus, the narrative does highlight that in a lot of cases, the tourists – the author and her boyfriend included – are being kinda gross and exotifying cultures, especially because the author specifically talks about how neither of them were very comfortable talking to the people who actually lived in the places they were visiting.
I think what puzzles me most is what type of book it's trying to be. Is it a travelogue? A story about someone's personal journey around a country mirroring their artistic journey? A story about travelling with an alcoholic and the consequences of that for both of them? Because it has elements of all of those, but there's not a clear thing tying it all together, and it doesn't really have a neat conclusion. It makes sense – real life does not come with conclusions, and it's a hazard of biographies that they have to reflect that – but it's a strange choice to let a narrative just fizzle out. It left me unsure what the point of the narrative was, and thus the point of me reading it.
I picked this up for a book group, and to be honest, I'm not sure it's one I would have bought on my own. I might have picked it up from the library, because graphic memoirs are my jam, but as a book for me... It's not quite my thing.
- Witchmark by C. L. Polk — I made the dreadful mistake of starting this at work, and oh no, it's exactly my thing, that was a TERRIBLE thing to discover in the middle of a shift.
- Robots Vs Unicorns — I don't know if your corners of the internet also screamed in awed horror about Sarah Gailey's Bread and Milk and Salt when this anthology first came out, but I finally understand!
Reading goal: 98/180 (8 new this post) Prose: 61/90 (4 new this post, 41/98 short stories) Nonfiction: 3/12 (1 new this post)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 24/50 (1 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 35/50 (5 new this post; Oh My God, When First I Met My King, Passing Strange, The Scorpion, And Then There Were N-One)