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October 2009
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Graphic Novel Round-up: Local, Dark Entries, Tintin

LocalLocal(Wood / Kelly): The multi-award winning collection of Local is a true oddity, as it is genuinely good as a comic, without really having much to recommend it as a collection. How's that for bizarre praise? 

Local is a collection of interrelated stories, all following one young woman's daily adventures as she lives in various cities across North America. Some of the stories are humorous, some are bittersweet, some are a little frightening.

My issue was that, the gaps between them are such that, although I can see the physical connections, I have a hard time plotting the line of character growth between all the dots. Megan is sometimes mature, sometimes... completely batshit crazy. And her spontaneous transformation between the two was hard for my imagination to encompass. Great individual stories, but perhaps they were better uncollected? 

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Underground Reading: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Final EmpireThe Final Empire is the first volume of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy.

The land has been controlled by the sinister Ruler for a thousand years. And for a thousand years, it has suffered. A cruel noble class enslaves and tortures the broader population. An evil church oppresses the hearts and souls of the people. The landscape itself cries out - ash raining from the sky all day and eerie mists filling the streets at night.

However, this charming realm is not without champions. 

A handful of Skaa (essentially the common folk) have access to Allomancy, the metal-based magic that is generally the plaything of the upper classes. Lead by Kelsier, a talented Mistborn (someone that can use all sorts of Allomancy), a crew of thieves and rebels plot the overthrow of the Final Empire.

The majority of the story is told from the perspective of Vin, a sixteen year old girl and another Skaa Mistborn. She's 'discovered' by Kelsier and brought into the plot, wherein she soon plays a critical role. 

The premise of the book is, if totally unique, still quite rare. Whereas most high fantasy follows a 'good land, bad threat, good prevails' structure, the idea of starting in a world where the bad guys already won is too rarely explored. And Sanderson spends a lot of time in the exploration. Kelsier's crew of rebels infiltrate every aspect of society - from the military to the mines, from the church to the nobility. They discover undeniable corruption and faint glimmers of hope, and, in a credit to the author, the characters spend their time articulately debating everything. The revolution against the Ruler is a meticulously-plotted scheme, and we're let into every detail.

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New Releases: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

Spivet

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is a unique coming of age story with beautiful design - the ideal gift book released just in time for the holiday season.

Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is the cartographically-obsessed child of a cowboy and an entomologist. Growing up in rural Montana, he fills his hours (and his notebooks) by mapping everything he can find - from shucking corn to the Continental Divide. Fortunately for the reader, the book is littered with his work - maps, doodles and footnotes clutter the margins of every page. 

Although many books try to make the footnotes critical to the story's appreciation, generally it winds up being a distraction. (Two notable exceptions being Stroud's Bartimeaus trilogy and Clarke's Jonathan Strange, both of which do a wonderful job merging footnotes into the narrative). But in this case, Larsen goes well beyond footnotes. As well as text, it seems like every point - key or mundane - is illustrated with charts, diagrams and, most of all, maps. Just flipping through the book is a joy. 

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Peter & Max by Bill Willingham

Peter and MaxBill Willingham (and Vertigo's) tentative advance into the world of novels has paid off - Peter & Max is a genuinely great, if slightly skittish, book. If anything, Willingham (and, again, Vertigo) should be encouraged to try his hand at pure novels, and leave his comic book world behind. 

Peter & Max succeeds as a lovely, modern fairy tale - a well-constructed & delivered plot, filled with intriguing characters. Where it lets the reader down is when it tries to name-check the rest of the Fables mythos. In this attempt to please existing readers, it comes dangerously close to alienating new ones. 

This is a shame, as Peter & Max is oddly reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's better efforts: Stardust or Neverwhere

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A Random Anecdote about Jane Yolen

YolenIn 2005, I went to WorldCon in Glasgow. It was my first major convention. My friends Arin and Rich, experienced at this sort of thing, calmly worked the room, whilst I bounced around like a stoat on speed. Great weekend.

In my typical way, I grossly over-prepared by bringing a few dozen 'essential' books for the key signings. But, never one to let an author go un-molested, I freely shopped for the other authors that were at the event.

One was Jane Yolen, whom I grew up reading - meaning my books were all in boxes in Kansas City, rather than in my greedy hands in London. 

I found a pretty paperback at the event and carried it over to her to get signed.

Only to find that she'd already signed it. Inscribed it, in fact... She wasn't, say, entirely pleased to see it again. I suppose as an author, that must feel like a bit of a rejection. I know that I, as the messenger, felt a bit like shooting myself.

Still, after the initial irritation, Jane Yolen was a sport about it, so I spared myself the ritual suicide.

Plus, I got a cute inscription out of it. Wherever you are, Ms. Yolen, thanks. 

(And you too, Pat)