Thematic Recs: Loathsome Villains

Most of the villains I’ve come across in the last few years have been sympathetic ones, and while there’s definitely something to be said for reading about a villain that you like, or understand, or even feel sorry for, the book I’m reading at the moment has reminded me just how great it is to read about a villain whom you utterly despise; to be outraged by every terrible thing that they do, and satisfied by all the poetic justice that (hopefully) comes their way. So, for today’s post, I’ve compiled a list of books with some of my favourite fantastically-written horrible people! 😋

1) The Poldark series by Winston Graham. The series that inspired this post’s main antagonist is George Warleggan, but while he’s pretty hateful at times, he has nothing on Osborne Whitworth (known as Ossie), who is present in the early books as an admirer of Demelza, but becomes an important part of the plot in the fifth book, The Black Moon. I won’t tell you exactly what makes him so repulsive, as that would be a fairly major spoiler, but in The Four Swans (which I’m currently reading) we get quite a few scenes from Ossie’s perspective, and every jaunt into his head leaves my skin crawling.

2) The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. Alexander’s so-called friend Dimitri is a stand-out character in the first book of Simons’ dramatic, emotional trilogy, as a character who claims to be a friend, but never behaves like one – something which is always frustrating, but is particularly awful in this case because of how often he plays the “if-you’re-my-friend-you’ll-do-this-for-me” card, and how much danger his “favours” (which are actually demands) put Alexander in. And let’s not forget how he refuses to take no for an answer when it comes to Tatiana, even though the only reason he’s really interested in her is because he knows that Alexander likes her… 😤

3) The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. This novel tells two stories: that of a Chinese-American woman called Pearl, and, at greater length, the tale of her mother Winnie’s life in China, and the events that led her to flee to the US. The truly horrible character in the book is a part of Winnie’s tale; her first husband Wen Fu, in fact, whom she is given little choice in marrying, and who treats her – and their children – abominably throughout their relationship, to the point where his memory haunts her long after she’s free of him. This is such an intense, wonderful story, and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who’s even remotely interested in the subject matter. It starts a little slowly, but it’s well worth pushing through those first couple of chapters.

4) The A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. And of course, I couldn’t possibly write a post about loathsome villains without mentioning A Song of Ice and Fire, where even the heroes are not always what you’d call good people, and so the villains have to be truly awful in order to provide a significant contrast… To be honest I could have made this whole list up of characters from this series: Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, Melisandre… but for the sake of brevity I decided to go for Joffrey Baratheon, the cruel and sadistic prince – and later king – of Westeros; there’s no character I love to hate quite so dearly. 😉

Advertisements

Thematic Recs: The Batman Family

(One day, I will probably do a Thematic Recs post for superhero comics in general. This is not that day.) I love the Bat-family. My love for it knows (almost) no bounds, and this list compiles some of my favourite titles so far – though I’ve probably missed some great ones, as I certainly haven’t read the whole lot!

And for the record, I consider basically all the Gotham-centric heroes to be part of the Bat-family in some small way, so long as they are – or have at some point been – acknowledged by Bruce Wayne, the original Batman.

Scott Beatty & Chuck Dixon//Batgirl: Year One1) Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon. A mini-series chronicling the beginnings of the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. I only read this on a whim, but I ended up really loving it, much to my surprise – I’ve never been a huge Barbara Gordon fan.

Peter J. Tomasi//Batman & Robin vol. 12) Batman & Robin by Peter J. Tomasi. The only series on my list since the New 52 rebooted the DC universe (though I do still like some of the other New 52 titles…). This series shows Bruce Wayne teaming up with his son Damian (the fifth Robin), and having to find a balance between fatherhood and crime-fighting.

[This series is collected in seven volumes: Born to KillPearlDeath of the FamilyRequiem for DamianThe Big BurnThe Hunt for Robin and Robin Rises.]

Bryan Q. Miller//Batgirl vol. 13) Batgirl by Bryan Q. Miller. Probably my favourite comic series, this run of Batgirl follows Stephanie Brown, the third Batgirl, as she teams up with Barbara Gordon (now in the role of Oracle) in order to fight crime, and hopefully get some recognition from the Bat-family’s main players.

[This series is collected in three volumes: Batgirl RisingThe Flood and The Lesson.]

Paul Dini//Streets of Gotham vol. 14) Batman: Streets of Gotham by Paul Dini. A sadly short-lived series featuring Dick Grayson (the original Robin, now the new Batman) and Damian Wayne trying to deal with a Bruce Wayne-imposter in Bruce’s absence. The series ended up being cut short, but the storyline was wrapped up in the Batman Incorporated series.

[This series is collected in three volumes: Hush MoneyLeviathan and The House of Hush.]

Judd Winick//Under the Red Hood5) Batman: Under the Hood by Judd Winick. Bruce Wayne deals with a new, incredibly violent, vigilante in Gotham, who calls himself the Red Hood. This is one of my all-time favourite Batman storylines – the big mystery he has to figure out is the identity of the Red Hood (my favourite character in the DC universe, and an important figure from Bruce Wayne’s past). The animated film was also incredible (which was called Under the Red Hood, like the bind-up of the comics), though it presented a rather different backstory from the original comics.

Judd Winick//Red Hood: The Lost Days

+1) Red Hood: The Lost Days by Judd Winick. Just a little bonus recommendation, since this is a spin-off of the Under the Hood storyline, and serves as a prequel to it. It tells the story of the Red Hood’s time training, and his return to Gotham, and gives an interesting new perspective on the events in Under the Hood.

Thematic Recs: Graphic Novels

Well, it seems like I end up saying this every time I do a new Thematic Recs post, but… it’s been a while since the last time I did a Thematic Recs post! 😉 This time I wanted to share some of my favourite graphic novels with you all.

There are plenty of comics that I love, too (and I expect I’ll be doing a post on them at some point as well), but they’re often very interconnected, and their quality often fluctuates with their creative teams, so they can be difficult to recommend… So for now I’ve decided to stick to graphic novels (i.e. non-serialised publications) as well as a couple of limited-series comics (i.e. comics with a pre-determined number of issues), as their stories tend to be more self-contained than other comics. But enough rambling, and onto the recommendations!

[An aside: I just realised that three out of five of these are blatantly about death, even without going into spoiler territory (which might reveal that they’re all about death! Or not. 😛 ). What that says about my taste, I’m not certain. ^^’ ]

1) The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isbel Greenberg. A wonderful story about a storyteller who’s travelling the world in order to find the missing piece of his soul, and telling all kinds of stories to the people he meets along the way. Greenberg’s art style is really cute, and complements the folk-tale feel of her writing perfectly; I stumbled upon this book two years ago, and it’s probably my favourite graphic novel of all time.

2) The River of Lost Souls by Isabel Greenberg. Another Greenberg story, written in a very similar style, though this one is only a few pages long, and was never officially released. It tells the story of a young woman who follows her father into the afterlife, and ends up meeting – and marrying – Charon, the ferryman of souls. I’d actually be quick to recommend any of Greenberg’s work, but this, and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth are probably my favourites.

3) Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A single-volume limited series that’s set in Baghdad in the aftermath of an American bomb raid, and follows a pride of lions that escaped from the zoo. Beautifully illustrated, and incredibly moving, and apparently inspired by a real pride! Vaughan’s Saga series has become really well known in the last couple of years, but Pride of Baghdad is every bit as excellent.

4) Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman. This is a spin-off from the Sandman series, but I’m recommending it here anyway because it’s a completely self-contained story, as well as a fantastic one. The personification of Death must live as a mortal for one day in every century, and this time, she’s spending her time exploring New York with her new friend Sexton – who’s pretty sure she’s crazy. The Sandman has some really great spin-offs, and The High Cost of Living is definitely one of the best.

5) The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff. A strange tale about a young man called Deshi who is tasked with finding a bride for his deceased brother (apparently an old tradition in Northern China). The story is both haunting and incredibly intriguing, and is accompanied by some really amazing watercolour illustrations. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the character design, but that’s a very minor complaint, considering everything else about this fantastic book.

Thematic Recs: Short Stories & Novellas

The end of the year is coming up quickly now, and I’m sure that many people – like me – are seriously behind on their overambitious Goodreads reading challenges. But fear not! I’m here to help, with some recommendations for really short, but still fantastic books for you to read! 😉 Obviously, not finishing your Goodreads (or equivalent) challenge isn’t the worst thing that could happen in a year (and I know I won’t finish mine, even if I read nothing but short stories from now until New Year), but seeing that shiny “COMPLETED” label always gives me a small sense of achievement. 😀

Yuri Herrera//Signs Preceding the End of the World1) Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. This most recent novella that I read is a thought-provoking story about a young woman crossing the border illegally from Mexico to the US in order to find her brother, an illegal immigrant, and pass on a message from their mother. Despite its length, this is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a while, and because I picked it up as part of the Library Scavenger Hunt, I’ve also posted a review – you can find it here. 🙂

Brandon Sanderson//Perfect State2) Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson. The tale of a man who has become the God-Emperor of his people, but is forced by the mysterious Wode to choose a partner and procreate. The woman he ends up choosing is at the very bottom of his compatibility list – a women’s rights activist – and the personality clash when they meet makes for a fascinating read. Additionally, this is another story that I’ve reviewed, as I read it during Booktubeathon this summer.

Rainbow Rowell//Kindred Spirits3) Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell. A World Book Day 2016 story about a small group of strangers waiting in the overnight queue to see Star Wars on its release day. It’s simultaneously adorable and hilarious, and I only wish there was some way that I could read more about these characters. 😀

Ursula K. Le Guin//A Fisherman of the Inland Sea4) Another Story OR A Fisherman of the Inland Sea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Rather on the longer side for a short story, this tale blends science, mythology and emotional drama in a way that pulled at all my heartstrings, and tells the story of a young man leaving for university on a planet far away from his own, and the difficulties he faces in keeping in touch over such long distances. I don’t think that this book is available on its own, but it can be found in both Le Guin’s A Fisherman of the Inland Sea anthology, as well as the massive time-travel compilation, The Time-Traveller’s Almanac (volume 1, for the curious). It’s also part of the Hainish Cycle, but it can be read individually.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry//The Little Prince5) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Last but by no means least is The Little Prince, a novella that I’m sure you’ve all at least heard of about a pilot who crash lands in the desert, and there meets a little boy who claims to have come from an asteroid. Beautiful, poignant and touching, this story is known as a classic for a very good reason, and I only appreciate it more every time I re-read it. As a side-note, I watched the film adaptation of this recently, and it’s also fantastic; you should definitely check it out if you have access to a Netflix account.

Thematic Recs: Interesting Magic Systems

In most fantasy novels that I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a lot of them), performing magic is a matter of waving a wand and saying some words, or concentrating very hard on your desired outcome; consistent actions, and (mostly) consistent results. Which is great – all magic is awesome magic! 😀 Every now and then, though, I come across a book with a really interesting, inventive magic system, unlike anything I’ve seen before. And exploring these kinds of magic – learning their uses and limitations, and seeing how the characters put them into practice – is one of my favourite things to do. 🙂 The magic systems in these books/series are some of my recent favourites, so I hope you like them, too!

Rainbow Rowell//Carry On1) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Though heavily influenced by Harry Potter and its fandom, the magic is one thing in Carry On that’s entirely unique, and was one of the best things about this (already fantastic) novel. Spells in this world are popular phrases, and are given power by how well-known they are. So, for example, “some like it hot” can be used as a warming spell, but if people stopped using the phrase, then the spell would become less and less effective. It’s mentioned a few times that song lyrics don’t make very good spells (with a few exceptions) for this very reason; they enter and leave popular culture too quickly. Nursery rhymes, on the other hand, apparently make great ones, as people are never really able to forget them… There’s a really epic scene near the middle of the book, where Baz uses “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home” on a dragon. 😛

Brandon Sanderson//The Final Empire2) The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. The magic in this book is called Allomancy, and those who use it are Allomancers, their powers drawn from different kinds of metals, and their alloys (hence the name). Iron and steel push and pull (respectively) on nearby metal objects; tin and pewter enhance the users’ senses or physical abilities; brass can be used to calm emotions, while zinc enflames them; and bronze is used to locate nearby Allomancy, while copper hides it. Allomancers can generally only use one type of metal, but there are a few select people, called the Mistborn, who are able to use them all. Each power seems quite limited in potential, but the way that Sanderson incorporates them into the story is pure genius, and he writes some of the best magical action scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Peter V. Brett//The Painted Man3) The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett. I have a love-hate relationship with this series, because it’s really great, but horrible things keep happening to all my favourite characters… 😥 The magic system, though, is based on wards – runic images painted onto any surface available, which do things like create barriers, or turn a demon’s fire into wind – and only have an effect on demons (which is convenient, since the Thesa is beset by them). Runic magic in itself isn’t all that unusual in fantasy, but what sets The Demon Cycle apart is this interesting detail: The wards are all powered by the demons themselves; the more the demons fight against them, the more power the wards will be able to draw on, and the stronger their magic will become.

Garth Nix//Sabriel4) The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix. This series uses another runic system called Charter magic, but there are actually several different schools of magic in The Old Kingdom series. When I first read it, I was particularly enamoured of the Clayr, a group of sorceresses who can see into the future, but the kind of magic that’s most important to the series is that of the Abhorsen – a hereditary title belonging to Sabriel’s family, which marks them as necromancers. Main characters who are necromancers are incredibly hard to come by, in my experience, but the way that Sabriel uses her powers is a little different from most portrayals of necromancy – she uses a selection of bells, each with a different purpose (one to call the dead, one to banish them, one to bind them, etc.). In the second book, another character is introduced who’s also able to channel her power through a mirror, which is just as unusual as the bells.

Genevieve Cogman//The Invisible Library5) The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. This last series is one of my most recent discoveries: I’ve only read the first book so far, but I think I’ve just about got a handle on the magic that Irene uses (which, again, is not the only form of magic in the book, just the most interesting). It’s called the Language, and can only be used by Librarians of the mysterious Invisible Library, of which Irene – our heroine – is one. Instead of casting standardised spells, Irene is able to use the Language to instruct the world around her to alter itself (for instance by telling a lock to open), and – so long as she’s worded her order correctly – the world will obey her. It’s incredibly open to interpretation (she has to choose her words very carefully), and constantly evolving, and she receives new updates on the Language whenever she returns to the Library from a mission. Interestingly, she also tells us a few times that the Language doesn’t work so well when ordering objects to do things that are against their nature. For example, she very easily manages to tell a collection of enchanted gargoyles to stop moving, since stone is naturally still; it would have been much harder for her to make them move in the first place (had they not been enchanted), and the spell would have worn off much more quickly.

Thematic Recs: Arthurian Mythology

My current read, The Table of Less Valued Knights, is on one of my favourite topics: King Arthur! (Or the stories of him, at least.) And it’s very enjoyable, but I keep getting distracted by Mass Effect life, so I haven’t been making the progress I was hoping for… (& the readathon I picked it up for is already over 😳 ). So, I thought I’d spur myself on a little bit! And what better way than to share some of my absolute favourite Arturian stories? 😀 In no particular order, I present…

Susan Cooper//The Grey King1) The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. A boy called Will finds out on his eleventh birthday that he’s an Old One, charged with defending the world against the Dark. King Arthur doesn’t really come into the series until book three, The Grey King (which is my favourite), but it’s definitely worth waiting for! This is the series that sparked my love for Arthurian mythology~ ❤

T.H. White//The Once & Future King2) The Once & Future King series by T.H. White. The ultimate (in my opinion) tale of King Arthur’s life, from his childhood to his death. Beautifully written, though the style is – naturally – somewhat old-fashioned, and with one of the most interesting portrayals of Merlin that I’ve ever come across.

Kevin Crossley-Holland//The Seeing Stone3) The Arthur trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland. A surprising and fresh take on the Arthurian myths… A young boy called Arthur is one day given a seeing stone, which shows him visions of another Arthur, who is destined to be king. I read these books quite a few years ago, but they’ve really stuck with me. 🙂

Marie Phillips//The Table of Less Valued Knights4) The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips. And last but not least, the book that inspired this list! 😀 The Table of Less Valued Knights is made up of those knights who’ve been kicked off the Round Table, for old age, infirmity, or cowardice. As I mentioned, I’m not that far into it yet, but what I’ve read so far has been fun, and very witty.

Thematic Recs: Dragons!

Once again, I’ve been pretty caught up with playing Dragon Age for the last couple of days, and of course I’ve now got dragons on the brain. So I decided to put together a collection of some of my favourite literary dragons! 😀 But first, a quote:

Finn: I’ve never met a dragon worshipper before. Not much for small talk, are they?
Ariane: Why would anyone worship a dragon?
Finn: Dragons are big, powerful, and they breathe fire! … Some people are easily impressed.
~Dragon Age: Origins (Witch Hunt DLC)

J.R.R. Tolkien//The Hobbit1) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, signs on with a company of dwarves who are determined to reclaim their homeland from what is quite possibly the ultimate literary dragon – Smaug! I love this book so much, and Smaug is such an amazing villain; there was no way I wasn’t going to add this to the list! 😉

Naomi Novik//Temeraire2) The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. A fascinating re-imagining of the Napoleonic Wars, but with the addition of an Aerial Corps, made up of talking dragons, and their captains. The two main characters are Will Laurence, a captain in the Navy, and Temeraire, a baby dragon who imprints on him.

Julie Kagawa//Talon3) The Talon series by Julie Kagawa. Another series with an interesting concept: Set in a world where dragons are not so imaginary as people assume, but instead learned to shape-shift in order to blend in with humans. Ember, a young dragon, is sent to live undercover in a human town, and there she meets Garret, who is a member of the Order of St. George – an organisation that exists to hunt dragons.

Tamora Pierce//Wild Magic4) The Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce. The main character in this excellent fantasy series (which is set in the Tortall universe) is a wild mage – someone who has a magical ability that lets her communicate with animals, amongst other things – and she uses this ability in order to fight against an invasion of Immortals – creatures that have long been thought to be extinct, or even mythical. Towards the end of the first book in the series, one of the Immortals she encounters is a dragon, who charges Daine with taking care of her baby, the dragonet Skysong.