February (particularly the latter half of it) turned out to be the month of the graphic novel. And I certainly read some excellent ones: the Saga series, Pride of Baghdad, and so on… In total, I ended up reading ten novels, one novella, and nine comic books, which is pretty good going for the shortest month of the year!
The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. The story of a man called George, who saves the life of a crane, and then meets and falls in love with a mysterious woman called Kumiko. Also featuring prominently are George’s daughter Amanda, her co-worker Rachel, and a Japanese folk-tale about a crane and a volcano. A very emotional story, all about love and loss and forgiveness. As always, Patrick Ness’ writing is beautiful, and his characters very real, and the way that he spun the folk-tale into their lives was masterful.North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. A classic romance set during the Victorian era, between the daughter of a parson fallen on hard times, and the master of a cotton mill. I absolutely loved this book – it kept me awake for a couple of nights, just wanting to keep on reading – and I’ve written a full review of it here.Animal Farm by George Orwell. The story of a group of farm animals that overthrow their human masters and decide to run the farm themselves. As with 1984, which I read last year, I had mixed feelings over this novel. On the one hand, it is very interesting, and provides an excellent commentary on socialism and corruption; but on the other had, hardly any of the characters are developed in such a way as to encourage any kind of emotional attachment to the author – in fact, many of the prominent characters in the book are utterly unlikeable (the only notable exception is Boxer). That said, I enjoyed Animal Farm more than I did 1984…
Master of the Mill by Cate Toward. A re-imagining of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, where Margaret’s mother passed away before the family moved to Milton. I thought that it had an interesting (and for the most part, quite well-executed) premise, but unfortunately none of the characters really rang true, and I was particularly frustrated by the characterisation of Mr. Lennox, who I feel was unjustly portrayed as the book’s villain, when (even though he was my least favourite character) his only real crime in North & South was loving a girl who did not love him back.In Consequence by Trudy Brasure. Another retelling of North & South, this time speculating on how the story might have progressed had it been Thornton who was injured during the riot, rather than Margaret. I found this one much more realistic than Master of the Mill, and also more in keeping with the characters as they were portrayed in the original novel. It was also very nice to see how Margaret and Thornton might interact in a happy relationship, since in North & South we only got a glimpse towards the very end. The story did seem to be mostly fluff, however, and while that made me smile a lot, at times it became a little too cheesy…Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (& illustrated by Fiona Staples). A sci-fi adventure following a married couple who belong to warring species, and are being hunted across the galaxy (and maybe beyond?) for their crime of loving one another. The story is narrated by their infant daughter (or rather by her older self), which gives an interesting perspective. But overall (though this is obviously just the beginning of the story), the characters are awesome, the story is fast-paced and exciting, and the art is gorgeous. I’m definitely excited to read more. 😀Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan. The second volume, which is also amazing. I’m a little worried about how quickly I’m getting through this series, since I know there’ll be a long wait before volume 5 is released… Also, I am becoming unexpectedly fond of both Prince Robot IV and The Will, despite the fact that they’re both hunting Alana and Marko.A Heart for Milton by Trudy Brasure. This is not a retelling, but a sequel to North & South (which I am still obsessed with), and has much the same tone as Brasure’s other book, In Consequence. I think that perhaps I would’ve liked this better if I’d read it before I read In Consequence, because, to be honest, the story felt incredibly samey. I actually ended up liking this a little less (though there’s not much in it, really), partly because of that similarity, but mostly because there was no real conflict in the story, to break up the fluff… Unmapped Country by Chrissie Elmore. Probably the last fan-written North & South book I’ll be reading for a while, since I’m starting to feel ready to move on… This one is an almost-sequel, set after the events of North & South, but dismissing Gaskell’s ending to the book, where Margaret and Mr. Thornton finally resolve their differences. I found it a bit of a struggle to get through at first, since much of the story seemed to be focused on new characters, when all I really wanted to read about was Margaret and Thornton, but once I got into it, I found it very enjoyable. Of all the North & South spin-off works I’ve read, this is probably the closest to Gaskell’s novel in tone and content – my only real problem with it was that (much like North & South itself) we saw very little of Margaret and Thornton as a couple, having moved on from all the misunderstandings of the original book, which kind of defeats the purpose of looking for a continuation in the first place…Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. An introspective novel about two very different boys who form an unexpected friendship. I’d been meaning to pick this up for a while, but it seems that the last little push I needed was the Little Book Club – this was the January & February pick for the LGBTQ+ theme – and I am so glad that I have finally read it, because it was amazing! I loved Ari, and I loved Dante, and their parents were really fantastic (which is incredibly rare in YA fiction). I would definitely recommend this book to basically anyone. 😀
Fire by Kristin Cashore. This is the second book in the Graceling Realm trilogy, and is my first re-read of the year! The story is set in what appears to be some kind of pocket-universe that can be accessed through a series of tunnels within the Graceling universe, so it’s only really peripherally connected to the other two books in the series, but it’s probably my favourite of the three. It follows a girl named Fire, who is a “human monster”, a creature that looks (and for the most part, acts) like a human, but is incredibly beautiful, with unnaturally brightly coloured hair and the power to sense and control people’s minds. Fire is a very passive heroine (though she’s definitely not a weak lead), which I appreciate, so instead of charging off into important battles, much of the book is spent exploring the Dells, and dealing with her emotional issues. Major themes in this book are guilt, love (romantic and platonic), forgiveness, and so on, and the whole series would definitely be a great read for any fantasy lover.
Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman. A prequel-of-sorts to the His Dark Materials trilogy, detailing the first meeting of two of my favourite characters from the series: Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and Iorek Byrnison the armoured bear. It’s a short story, but very enjoyable, and it was a lot of fun to read about these characters again, and to be back in the His Dark Materials universe, which I seem to have missed more than I’d realised.The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond. The story of a young boy who was raised in a locked room and not let out until he was a teenager, at which point he was perceived as some kind of saint because of his naïvety… It’s an odd story, and there are a lot of religious themes, which is unusual in YA literature. I found myself enjoying it quite a bit once I got into it, but it was very difficult to get into, mostly because it’s written phonetically. The almost post-apocalyptic setting was interesting, as were most of the characters, and the whole book had quite a creepy vibe to it.Batwing Vol. 2: In the Shadow of the Ancients by Judd Winick. Rather more episodic than I remember the first volume being, which I thought was not entirely to the book’s benefit. That said, I enjoyed the end of the Massacre storyline, the Night of the Owls and Zero Month tie-in issues were both good, and Dustin Nguyen and Marcus To’s artwork was striking (though not quite so striking as Ben Oliver’s in Volume 1).Batwing Vol. 3: Enemy of the State by Fabian Nicieza & Judd Winick. Batwing investigates a cult led by a brainwasher called Father Lost, then faces a billionaire industrialist who’s been bribing the police. Again, not quite so good as Volume 1, but a definite improvement on Volume 2. I enjoyed the backstory between David and Rachel, and the building tensions within the police department in the second story arc were interesting, too. With Batwing, at least, I think I tend to prefer the comics where there’s not too much involvement with of the rest of the DC Universe, so this book was right up my alley. 🙂Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan. And the third volume, which was also awesome! So far I’m definitely impressed by how Vaughan has managed to show the sympathetic sides of all the characters in the story, even the ones who are technically the series’ villains… Also in this volume: Marko’s beard, which was kind of hilarious. 🙂Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A standalone graphic novel about a pride of lions that escaped from Baghdad Zoo during a bomb raid. I don’t have all that many coherent thoughts about the story – it was so good that it seems to have short-circuited my brain – but all the characters were well rounded without seeming too human, and the story was incredibly moving. Niko Henrichon’s art was beautiful, as well.Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake by Natasha Allegri. Fionna and Cake save the Fire Prince from the Ice Queen! I haven’t actually seen much of the Adventure Time cartoon, but I’m a huge fan of the Fionna & Cake episodes, so I thought I might enjoy this – and I did! The story is both fun and oddly touching in places, and the artwork is very cute. There are three short stories in the back, too (by Noelle Stevenson, Kate Leth and Lucy Knisley), which were all very funny.Saga, Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan. The adventure continues! Now featuring Hazel as a toddler, and marital trouble for Marko and Alana (amongst other things). Alana’s new job is kind of hilarious, and I have high hopes for Marko and Prince Robot IV’s team-up. The only real flaw of this volume is that I’ve now finished it, and it’ll be another year or so before I can get my hands on volume 5… 😥Dark Satanic Mills by Marcus Sedgwick. A dystopian comic inspired by William Blake’s poem Jerusalem, set in a future where a fanatical religious cult called the True Church is on the verge of taking control of England after manufacturing a “miracle” in order to convert huge numbers of people. The book had an interesting premise, as a religious-dystopian, but in execution I thought it was too simplistic. I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork, either, though I think it might’ve been improved if it had been done in colour.