- Wotakoi Omnibus 1 by Fujita [Jump]
- Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun Volume 1 by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey [Jump]
- A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad [Jump]
- Fate/Zero Volume 1 by Shinjiro [Jump]
- A Lily Among Thorns by Rose Lerner [Jump]
- The Henchmen of Zenda by KJ Charles [Jump]
- The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin [Jump]
- Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire [Jump]
- The Hexworld Series 0.5-3 (The 13th Hex, Hexbreaker, Hexmaker, A Christmas Hex, Hexslayer) by Jordan L. Hawk [Jump]
1. Wotakoi Omnibus 1 by Fujita [Top]
My first inclination based off the premise of Wotakoi was to do a comparison between it and Complex Age, as they SOUND like they're talking about similar things – a young office worker who's heavily into fandom gets dumped because her boyfriend finds out she's a fujoshi! (Here used for someone's who heavily into BL manga/games, although I believe in Japan it has specific connotations.) But if you were expecting any similarities between the two, they stop there – Complex Age is a coming of age story about fandom and societal expectations, whereas Wotakoi is (almost) a dating-of-convenience story between a social group of geeks who work in the same office and nerd out together! The fujoshi accidentally ends up dating her best friend from childhood due to their shared interests in geekery, and finds out that he might actually have meant it when he said that he liked her.
... I’m not gonna lie, my main note on the first omnibus of Wotakoi is just “I FEEL CALLED OUT!” in big letters.
I livetweeted Wotakoi, because it is full of mutual admiration, which works for me! It honestly reminded me of my own friendship group and all the different styles of nerdery you find side-by-side in the wild (especially the fannishness, because look at these beautiful nerds cosplaying and drawing doujinshi with all their hearts)! Especially because there's awkwardness and affection in equal measure!
Wotakoi is mostly comedic, which doesn't always work for me (Seriously, there are SO MANY JOKES about the protagonists' chest sizes. SO MANY), but when it's doing geeky humour and sending up various forms of nerdery it's great. Plus, sometimes it just blindsided me with sincere emotion, which I am absolutely here for! The protagonists are trying to date despite one of them having been in love forever and the other literally never having considered the idea before. It's sweet and kinda slow-burn despite the fact that the initial getting together happens in chapter one! Seeing them trying to negotiate their relationship, and build on the friendship that came before it, was great for me.
But yes, I enjoyed it a lot, and I'm planning to pick up the rest of the series to see where it goes.
[This review is based off a review copy provided by Netgalley.]
2. Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun Volume 1 by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey [Top]
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a gag comic about Chiyo Sakura, who tries to confess her feelings to her crush... Only to be handed his autograph, because he is actually secretly a high-profile manga artist?
Honestly, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun makes me giggle – it’s ridiculous, it’s silly, and it has cute send-ups of shojo manga tropes! It turns out that being a great shoujo artist does not actually translate to being a functional human being with emotional awareness, which is equal parts entertaining and “Oh Chiyo no.” Plus, there’s teamwork as Nozaki recruits people into being his manga assistants, and people being competent, which is exactly my jam. It has things that drive me up the wall (the self-centered editor who’s obsessed with tanuki, dudes demanding to be allowed to help while pretending they don’t want to), but those are supposed to drive me up the wall for a change.
(And while I’m usually a bit sceptical of creators drawing characters from life, as Nozaki does, it actually works here for oversized everyone’s personalities are. Especially for things like one of the characters trying to be charming and absolutely MOTIFYING himself as he does.)
... But of course the best thing is when Mikorin and Nozaki play a dating sim, and accidentally stay up all night making a BL doujinshi about the best friend character. That is PEAK REALISM and we all know it.
Basically, this is fun and silly, and I wish my library had more of it.
3. A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad [Top]
A Series of Steaks is a cyberpunk tale about illegally 3D printing meat, and it's great. Helena is making a living 3D printing meat for local businesses, when a threatening guy demands a rush job: two hundred t-bone steaks, with vague specifications and a deadline that she had better not miss. Enter Lily, Helena’s new assistant, who is probably the only thing between Helena and a very messy death.
I really enjoyed this. Helena’s narration is great for its exhaustion and matter-of-fact reaction to Mr Anonymous’ threats and intimidation, and the way Lily is vibrant colours and noise in every part of her role in this story makes me happy. The way both of their backstories unfold, the creativity they apply to their project and problem solving, and Lily’s cheerful attitude to crime is great. Plus, it manages to take a story about something slightly alien (3D printing meat!) into something rooted entirely in what it’s like to be a young woman in tech right now (Threats, scapegoating, harassment, awful specifications from customers who expect you to read their mind, that lovely customer who still doesn’t understand your job...).
I think it’s really well done, and now I need to go and read everything else Vina Hie-Min Prasad has written.
[Caution warnings: harassment, threats, and intimidation. I read the copy of this included in the Hugo packet, but this can also be read online here.]
4. Fate/Zero Volume 1 by Shinjiro [Top]
If you've ever been on my other social media, I make no secret that I really like the Fate franchise, sometimes despite the Fate franchise. And in a Comixology sale, I had a weak moment and grabbed... Several... Volumes of the manga, which means that now I need to work out how to summarise a Fate series so it makes sense. The best description is that in the Fate universe, seven mages gather to summon Heroic Spirits – the spirits of fallen heroes, villains, and other people of legend – and battle each other in a Holy Grail War; the winner gets to make a wish on the Holy Grail, the ultimate wish-granting artifact. Fate/Zero is set ten years before the events of Fate/Stay Night, and follows the Grail War that kickstarted the events of that series. With me so far?
Volume one of the Fate/Zero manga introduces us to a handful of the factions in play, but it feels a bit... Clunky, compared to the way that the anime handled it. I’m not necessarily salty that they started with Waver summoning his servant and being a brat, but seriously that’s just skipping over half of his motivation and him committing crime to do it, which considering how much time he spends complaining about Rider committing burglary... And it doesn’t help that half of the factions give their motivations in Long Speeches or omnisciently-narrated flashbacks. It’s interesting to see a different approach to the same source material, and seeing the various characters and fights translated to a static medium is cool! It’s just a bit odd in comparison.
The art also isn’t as good as I’d hoped. It works for characters like Rider and Waver, who are entirely exaggerated poses and expressions, and it works when it’s doing DRAMATIC POSES and DRAMATIC LIGHTING, but for just faces, there is something distractingly off. I want to say that it’s the difference in how male faces and female faces are drawn, but I’m not sure!
I’m still going to read the rest of the manga, but so far it's more of a reminder of what happened in the anime than an actual pleasure to read on its own.
5. A Lily Among Thorns by Rose Lerner [Top]
I have the long version of this review queued up and ready to go, but the tl;dr version is that I loved it. It follows a chemist and a hotel owner (who happens to be a former sex worker and current crime boss) as they try to save her inn, commit espionage, and have completely different expectations of what their relationship should be. It’s so good, with all of the political and historical details I could have wished for, romances that I pined for, and a plot that layered up intrigue and explanations so well that I couldn’t put the book down. Seriously, loved it.
[Caution warning: period-typical homophobia, mentions of suicidal inclinations, sexual harassment, mentions of abuse]
6. The Henchmen of Zenda by KJ Charles [Top]
The Henchmen of Zenda is KJ Charles' queer retelling of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda. It was originally intended to be part of Riptide's Queering the Classics line (and the only one not set in the modern day as far as I could tell) before, y'know, the week where Riptide exploded. (Link goes to a round-up; any links from there will involve abuse, harrassment, racism, and exploitation.) KJ Charles pulled it from Riptide and released it under her own label, so if you’re still boycotting Riptide you can pick it up with a clear conscience.
KJ Charles’ adaptation focuses on Jasper Deschart, a bravo in the service of the wicked duke in the original novel; Antoinette de Maubin, the duke's mistress, and Rupert of Hentzau, a dashing figure who is as entertaining (but maybe not quite as brilliant) as he thinks he is.
The Henchman of Zenda had a similar problem to The Prisoner of Zenda for me, where it didn’t really grab me until the female lead showed up. After the female lead show up, it’s a deliberate subversion of the original book and its nonsensical devices and flat female characters! It gives them agency and motivation! Sold. Some of the villains are still cyphers and caricatures, but I’ll honestly take that as a fair trade.
(The pot-shots at The Prisoner of Zenda were perfectly in character, but still felt a little mean, though. Although I did appreciate that some of the choices from the original novel frustrated the characters as much as they did me!)
But yes, it was compelling and full of action and the occasional horrifying imagery (THAT SWIM AT THE END THOUGH)! Not my favourite of KJ Charles’ work, but still pretty good!
[Caution warnings: abuse, mentions of torture]
7. The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin [Top]
THE STONE SKY
Okay, fair warning: so much of what I want to say about The Stone Sky is spoilers. I am going to be as vague as I can, but there are absolutely going to be spoilers. What you need to know is that The Stone Sky is heart-breaking and really good.
It answers questions that it never even occurred to me to ask! (Where the Guardians, Stone Eaters, and Orogenes sprang from, what Hoa’s past was). It has an explicit depiction of hatred as a constructed thing, something made to make people feel superior that gets shaped and moulded over time, and the ways it’s deliberately built are nauseating before you even get to the consequences. (If you have read the book, you probably know exactly which scene I’m talking about, even if really the entire world setting of the book is the consequence of xenophobia.) And N. K. Jemisin is not afraid to have her characters suffer permanent consequences as a result of their choices, which is perfectly understandable, but also more than a little harrowing in a story full of ruthless pragmatism.
The descriptions are beautiful, especially in Nassun’s section; the city she ends up in and the route she takes to get there are beautifully described, especially the people she finds.
And for all that my reaction to The Broken Earth trilogy is that everything is completely understandably bleak, but it still ends in a hopeful way. Essun and Nassun’s meeting is a prime example of that – Essun realising what she’s turned Nassun into and making her choices from there, everyone’s determination that the world can change and they can thrive, Essun’s realisation that she does care for the people she’s chosen – it’s heartbreaking and hopeful, and the ending was the most satisfying resolution it could have had. It’s great and I adored it.
8. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire [Top]
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel to Seanan McGuire's Every Heart A Doorway, and contains a bunch of spoilers for it! I am trying to be spoiler-free here, but skip both review and book if you don't want to be spoiled at all for Every Heart A Doorway
The protagonists of Down Among the Sticks and Bones are Jack and Jill, the sisters that Nancy befriends during Every Heart a Doorway. It shows the childhood that led them to their door, the fractured shape of their relationship, and how they became the people they are when we first meet them. It’s told in almost a fairytale style for the first half, which works really well with the narrative! It’s a little distant and omniscient, and that is perfect for the story of distance and dehumanisation that is Jack and Jill’s childhood – their parents don’t want children, they want dolls that they can trot out at appropriate moments, and the narrative is very clear about that. The narration gets a little closer when Jack and Jill go through their door, as they finally get a chance to grow into their own people. It’s really interesting to see how their existence around monstrous people influences who they become, and how their already complex relationship strains and changes!
… Look, it’s a story about siblings and potentially monstrous girls, I was always going to be here for it.
The setting is definitely my sort of thing – it feels like the prototypical setting of every gothic novel and classic horror movie you’ve ever seen, with its crumbling castles and endless moorland and mysterious horrors in the dark, and I’m here for it. The way the story fits into what we know of the world and characters from Every Heart a Doorway is pretty great, and gives the resolution of that story more weight and meaning than it had before. The different trajectories of the sisters, the different ways that they might be considered monsters (one a mad scientist raising the dead, one a vampire’s darling), and the ways that they intersect is really cool for me! Especially when you consider what Jack and Jill had to do to get sent back to the real world, and the ending of Every Heart a Doorway. Plus, there is about half of a sweet queer romance with negotiating of germaphobia in here! (I don’t know if Down Among the Sticks and Bones counts as queer tragedy or not, I can see the arguments either way. But regardless, caution warnings for the death of a queer character in case you’re avoiding that.)
The long and the short of it is that I really enjoyed Down Among the Sticks and Bones. It was short and dramatic, and illuminated a lot about both characters, which is honestly what a prequel should do. If you liked Jack and Jill in Every Heart A Doorway, definitely check it out!
[The first two chapters are available to read on Tor.com!]
[Caution warning: neglect, death of a queer character, germaphobia]
9. The Hexworld Series 0.5-3 (The 13th Hex, Hexbreaker, Hexmaker, A Christmas Hex, Hexslayer) by Jordan L. Hawk [Top]
In theory, the Hexworld series is exactly my thing. It’s a queer fantasy historical mystery series! Those are catnip to me, and I will follow wherever an author leads if that’s what they’re offering me, especially when – as with Jordan L. Hawk – they already have a pulpy queer fantasy historical mystery series that I’ve read and love. Apparently, I’ll even follow them right into soul-bonding stories, which are a bit hit and miss for me.
In the Hexworld books, witches are a common thing, and they often have familiars – people who can shapeshift into animals and function as magical batteries for witches, and who function as the most efficient battery for Their Witch, the one special person whose magic is most compatible with theirs. …. It’s soul-bonding, okay, it’s soul-bonding fic with shapeshifters and witches who fight crime (and also commit it).
The world-building is interesting, although it has a similar problem to SPECTR in that the oppression that familiars face feels very much like a metaphor for other kinds of oppression that changes when it’s convenient – sometimes it reads as a metaphor for race and sometimes it reads as a metaphor for sexuality, and it changes in the same book. (Also, there’s a bit more of the “Ew, the Irish,” than I’m really comfortable with in a political climate where historical treatment of Irish immigrants is used to derail discussions about the historical treatment of PoC, okay; I can see what the author was going for and I approve of alternate history books being less -ist than actual history, but we are in the Worst Timeline so it pings in a narrative that otherwise elides discrimination based on things other than class or magical status.) I do like the extrapolation of how things would be affected by the addition of magic and being able to draw hexes to get effects (I’ll be honest, I’m mainly interested in the applications to normal things like adverts and gender confirmation, because it’s cool to see how they’re applied and regulated, and the way that they get used and misused!), and the different historical traditions affecting how hexes are done and familiars are treated.
But yes, they’re pulpy in the same way that the Whyborne and Griffin books are, and I enjoyed the mysteries! The scale of them consistently ends up much larger than I expected from the initial problem, with further-ranging political repercussions, even if sometimes I ended up yelling “IT WAS THAT PERSON! THAT ONE RIGHT THERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” The romances were a bit more predictable for me (not necessarily in a bad way, because sometimes what you want from your life is genuinely being able to work out the crux of the romantic drama two chapters in, and the most likely solutions), but they’re entertaining enough!
... I’m going to be honest though, the main story that I’m hype for is the one coming out this month, about a familiar rejected by his witch (caution warning for homophobic violence in that storyline), and a police officer who as far as I remember isn’t a witch at all. I’m so ready for it, because it sounds like it’s going to be a slow-burn playing with the established soul-bonding tropes, and resolving a like E plot romance that I’ve been rooting for since book one. GIMME.
[Caution warning: mentions of abuse, stalking, off-screen homophobic violence, church-based oppression, mentions of attempted suicide]
- Fireside Quarterly July 2018 — I'm not gonna lie, this is my first subscription to a fiction zine, and so far it's been absolutely worth it! I'm halfway through, and so far it's been pretty cool (especially a story about knitting, which is ABSOLUTELY MY JAM), and it's really pretty.
- Bloodline by Jordan L. Hawk — THIS TIME I am going to finish this book instead of getting to the exact same paragraph I did last time and raging out! I mean it!
Reading goal: 187/180 (13 new this post) Prose: 106/90 (10 new this post, 60/106 short fiction) Nonfiction: 6/12 (0 new this post)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 25/50 (1 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 71/50 (7 new this post; The Henchman of Zenda, Down Among the Stick and Bones, The Hexworld series. Although I THINK A Series of Steaks, A Lily Among Thorns, and The Stone Sky might count as well?)