Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Daughter of the Moon Goddess book cover

Information

Goodreads: Daughter of the Moon Goddess
Series: The Celestial Kingdom Duology
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: January 11, 2022

Official Summary

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.

Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.

To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

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Review

Daughter of the Moon Goddess is an enchanting and immersive story focused on family and finding oneself. I enjoyed this modern take on a myth and walking with Xingyin on each step of her difficult journey to earn her mother’s freedom.

The story is winding, starting with Xingyin at home on the book, then quickly depositing her in a land she never thought she’d visit, then following her as her path unexpectedly turns and turns again. Nothing she predicted for her life ever seems to pass, and that’s a large part of the beauty of the book, as readers watch her fight and adapt and never give up striving to get what she wants.

There are times in the book in where some of the plot elements seem a bit convenient to keep things moving in the direction the author wants, but overall I was able to overlook these for the sake of enjoying the story and seeing what happened next. This is also something that might be ironed out a bit more in the sequel, as the author gets more experience writing, so I am looking forward to see how Tan grows.

And while Daughter of the Moon Goddess certainly reads as an adult fantasy, with a bit slower pacing and more narrative musings than the typical YA novel, I definitely see the crossover appeal here, with a young protagonist finding her way in a new world while also experiencing a love triangle and finding out she has super special powers no one else does.

Fans of fantasy, retellings, strong heroines, stories focused on family will want to put this one up ASAP.

Briana
4 stars

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Six book cover

Information

Goodreads: The Atlas Six
Series: The Atlas #1
Age Category: Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: March 1, 2022 (Tor release)

Official Summary

The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Their members are caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity. And those who earn a place among their number will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation – and here are the chosen few…

– Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona: inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds.
– Reina Mori: a naturalist who can speak the language of life itself.
– Parisa Kamali: a mind reader whose powers of seduction are unmatched.
– Tristan Caine: the son of a crime kingpin who can see the secrets of the universe.
– Callum Nova: an insanely rich pretty boy who could bring about the end of the world. He need only ask.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they must spend one year together to qualify for initiation. During this time, they will be permitted access to the Society’s archives and judged on their contributions to arcane areas of knowledge. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. If they can prove themselves to be the best, they will survive. Most of them. 

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Review

The Atlas Six started as a self-published novel that became so popular, largely thanks to platforms like BookTok and BookTwitter, that Tor acquired it in order to give it a traditional release. Game to see whether the book lives up to the hype, I ordered a copy of the shiny new and improved (well, I assume improved since Tor probably encouraged a revision!) version. My conclusion: The book is enjoyable, definitely a solid adult fantasy with a range of interesting characters, but I don’t fully get the Internet’s *obsession*. It’s also one of those books that reads better the less deeply you think about it.

Because the story features chapters from the POVs of six different characters, the top magical workers in the world with unparalleled powers that are not yet even fully explored, and all these characters have secrets and ambitions, the book definitely offers readers a wild ride. It’s easy to get sucked into the wild, sometimes disturbing minds of the characters and to try to figure out what games they’re playing and who is going to win.

The setting/premise is also pretty immersive; these six characters are selected for an exclusive, secretive academic opportunity where they can research anything (well, anything the magic library grants them access to) and push the boundaries of the world. And the Society that invited them to do so might not be exactly what it seems. It’s engrossing, and readers will be trying to unlock the mysteries just as the characters are.

However, I found that the book is best when one reads fast, when one just lets themselves get pulled along for the ride, exploring the magic and the characters and accepting things as they come. Read like this, the book is exciting and occasionally thought-provoking; the characters like to pontificate on scientific and magical subjects and frequently also the nature of humanity and how people work, so it can be fun to feel as if one is also a bit of an accomplished academic by reading all these apparently intellectual musings.

Once one starts thinking in detail about the book, however . . . things fall apart slightly. The magic system doesn’t feel completely developed; the characters’ abilities seem to be whatever is exciting and will further the plot. The plot being . . . well, that’s not clear either, at least until close to the end of the book. It’s easy to read a few hundred pages of the book before one realizes it’s not really clear where any of it is going, why the characters are doing anything that they’re doing. It’s interesting, but what exactly is the point and the structure of the whole thing? Most of the book is, actually, a character study.

So, I had fun reading this, and I can see why other people like it, as well. There’s enough of a big reveal/cliffhanger at the end to make me want to read more and believe there will be a more directed plot in the sequel. I just don’t think it stands up to other adult fantasy in terms of pacing/plot and world building. There are flaws, but they’re possible to overlook if you try and take the story just as it is.

Briana
3 Stars

My Thoughts on Vanity Fair’s First Look at Amazon’s The Rings of Power Adaptation

On 2/10/22, Vanity Fair gave readers their first look at Amazon’s Tolkien adaptation The Rings of Power. The series will be based on material from The Lord of the Rings appendices and references to the Second Age in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit; Amazon does not have rights to material from The Silmarillion or other works. Because this material is somewhat sparse, this does mean the show writers will be inventing some characters, plot lines, etc. to fill in the gaps.

Here are some things we learned about the new series in the article, and some of my thoughts:

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Tolkien scholars are being consulted.

Fans may know that Tom Shippey was previous dismissed by the show, and many people were worried this was an ominous sign. Vanity Fair speculates this was because Shippey accidentally violated an NDA, but confirms there are still scholars working on the show; Amazon just won’t publicly name them anymore. I consider this good news for Tolkien fans hoping for accuracy and a sense that the series will be thematically true to Tolkien’s work.

Both he and the showrunners decline to say what exactly happened, but the obvious assumption was made by fans. “It seems like the NDA is basically ‘If you tell anyone, we can put you through a wood chipper,’ ” says Drout, the Tolkien professor. Amazon no longer shares the names of its scholars.

Vanity Fair
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There will not be rampant sex and nudity.

After news broke that Amazon had hired an intimacy coordinator for its New Zealand set, some fans feared that the production might have lost sight of what makes Tolkien Tolkien. “My worry would be if it becomes a Game of Thrones in the Second Age,” says Dimitra Fimi, a Tolkien scholar and lecturer at the University of Glasgow. “That wouldn’t be what one would associate with Tolkien’s vision. It would also be derivative.”

Vanity Fair

I remember fans (including me!) being worried months ago about indications this adaptation might not exactly be PG-13 because sexually explicit content definitely does not fit the vibe of Tolkien’s work. I think many people breathed a huge sigh of relief after reading the part of the article where the writers directly say they intend the show to be appropriate for tweens to watch. No word on what exactly the intimacy coordinator is doing on set though.

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There will be proto-Hobbits.

“One of the very specific things the texts say is that hobbits never did anything historic or noteworthy before the Third Age,” says McKay. “But really, does it feel like Middle-earth if you don’t have hobbits or something like hobbits in it?” The hobbit ancestors in this era are called harfoots.

Vanity Fair

I didn’t personally have thoughts about Hobbits in the series before now, but I can get behind the argument that surely Hobbits are around in Middle-earth in the Second Age. They can’t be big players in big events if the series is staying true to the source material, but we’ll have to see what the writers do with the characters they’re inventing there. It could be interesting. I don’t think we really need Hobbits to market the series to viewers, though. The other familiar characters like Elrond, Galadriel, etc. seem like enough of a draw to get the general public interested to me.

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There will be an Elf/Human Romance

 One original story line centers on a silvan elf named Arondir, played by Ismael Cruz Córdova, who will be the first person of color to play an elf onscreen in a Tolkien project. He is involved in a forbidden relationship with Bronwyn, a human village healer played by Nazanin Boniadi, a British actor of Iranian heritage.

Vanity Fair

Can we stop this? I’m enough of a Tolkien purist to be annoyed by this. There are only three named Elf/Human unions in Tolkien; it’s clear this was rare. I guess some people could have had a romance that didn’t ultimately work out and didn’t get a mention in the records of history, but I suppose I’m still bitter about the Elf/Dwarf romance that got thrown into The Hobbit movies. I don’t know what it’s supposed to add to the series besides being dramatic because it’s forbidden, but it seems as if there would be enough excitement without it.

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The adaptation will compress the timeline of the material.

In the novels, the aforementioned things take place over thousands of years, but Payne and McKay have compressed events into a single point in time. It is their biggest deviation from the text, and they know it’s a big swing. “We talked with the Tolkien estate,” says Payne. “If you are true to the exact letter of the law, you are going to be telling a story in which your human characters are dying off every season because you’re jumping 200 years in time, and then you’re not meeting really big, important canon characters until season four. Look, there might be some fans who want us to do a documentary of Middle-earth, but we’re going to tell one story that unites all these things.”

Vanity Fair

I’m fine with this. It seems like a reasonable change to make when moving from page to screen. I can see the argument it would be choppy to introduce times and characters and then immediately jump to a different time with different characters, also making it hard for viewers to connect to the plot or the material. I’ve seen fans propose alternate solutions, and maybe compressing the timeline isn’t the only way an adaptation could be done, but I don’t think it’s inherently a bad choice.

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We Have Photos and First Looks!

Be sure to click through to the Vanity Fair article to see the photos. Galadriel seems to be highlighted, perhaps because people who have seen the LotR movies but not read any other Tolkien material will already know who she is.

Some aspects of the photos honestly look a bit modern to me, like Galadriel’s hair. However, I am not enough of a Tolkien expert to have an opinion on things like the symbols on costumes or in the backgrounds of photos, and I would caution others to be wary of people who do have strong opinions.

For instance, I’ve seen dozens of people on Twitter complain that the star on Galadriel’s armor is “wrong” or “inaccurate,” yet I’ve also seen about 10 different interpretations of what the star even is. Clearly, some of the people saying, “Oh, it means X and therefore it’s wrong,” are not correct that it’s even X in the first place, so take interpretations with a grain of salt.

And, no, I don’t expect the armor, dresses, etc. to look like the costumes in Peter Jackson’s movies. Besides the fact the creators can’t just copy someone else’s costume designs, there’s the small matter that this series takes place thousands of years before LotR, so fashion will be different.

What are some of your thoughts?

Briana

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Last Graduate bookstagram photo

Information

Goodreads: The Last Graduate
Series: The Scholomance #2
Age Category: Adult
Source: Gift
Published: September 28, 2021

Official Summary

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year–and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .

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Review

I loved the first Scholomance book, A Deadly Education, with its depiction of a mysteriously dangerous school and a protagonist with edges who secretly wants to do the right thing, even with the time it spends on info dumps. The Last Graduate continues in much the same vein, with a few minor changes in tone, so I was once again captivated by the world of the Scholomance.

I admit that while I defended the info dumps in book one because I just found them fascinating, I found them slightly more off-putting this time around. I would have expected that, since so much stuff had been explained in the other book that it wouldn’t be so necessary in The Last Graduate, but Novik is still going all-in on world building and making sure readers know every bit of it. Every time anything is introduced, a new mal, a new classroom, a new student, a new school tradition, etc., it gets paragraphs of background and explanation. It’s still interesting, but I can see how it’s not for every reader. And due to the ending of The Last Graduate, I know we’re going to get even more info dumps in book three.

But I did still love the book! Novik throws in new challenges for El and her friends to fight as they prepare for graduation, not exactly sure what they’ll be facing even with the cleansing mechanism in the graduation hall supposedly fixed, and as the school seems to change its modus operandi. El thought she knew how the Scholomance functions and how the mals target students, but everything she learned in three years gets turned on its head, and she has to adapt to continue to survive.

I do have slightly mixed feelings about the fact El seems genuinely nicer in this installment. I get its character development, but since so much of book one showcased her harsh exterior, her isolation, her instinct to mainly look out for herself even as she was kind of looking out for others by refusing to use her powers for evil, it’s weird to see her become basically the most altruistic character in the book. She’s still brusque, but she’s so often looking out for other people at her own expense that it’s a little jarring.

The romance is, as ever, meh. The nature of the school is, of course, that relationships are a distraction and getting pregnant (since there’s basically no birth control) is like a death sentence, so of course El tries to avoid the situation. But it’s hard for me as a reader to buy into any chemistry between the characters when El keep avoiding the love interest or insulting him. At least he’s interesting as an individual character.

Still, this is an amazing story. It still feels like something I haven’t read before and like something I desperately want to read more of when it comes out. If you got through book one because the info dumps weren’t a turn-off, you’ll enjoy this one, as well.

Briana
4 stars

The Wickeds by Gayle Forman

The Wickeds book cover

Information

GoodreadsThe Cleaners
Series: Faraway Collection (Amazon Original)
Age Category: Adult
Source: Free with Prime trial
Published: December 15, 2020

Official Summary

The reviled villainesses of Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel team up to set the record straight in a subversively funny short story by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay.

Envious queen? Evil stepmother? Kidnapping hag? Elsinora, Gwendolyn, and Marguerite are through with warts-and-all tabloids, ugly lies, and the three ungrateful brats who pitted them against each other and the world. But maybe there’s more to the stories than even the Wickeds know. Is it time to finally get revenge? After all, they’re due for a happily-enough-ever-after. Even if they have to write it themselves.

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Review

One of 5 Amazon-exclusive short fairy tale retellings from beloved authors, The Wickeds is the only one in the collection I really felt was worth reading. (You can read my review of The Cleaners by Ken Liu here.) To start, The Wickeds is a bit longer than some of the authors, giving a little more time for character development; it also has an interesting premise– trying to make readers wonder if the wicked stepmothers of classic fairy tales might have been misunderstood or even sabotaged (Who made the magic mirror say mean things anyway?). Did they really behave badly? If they did, perhaps their position was understandable?

Now, I don’t think the story succeeds 100% at making the evil characters sympathetic. Many of them did, in fact, actually do things that were pretty horrible! But it was fun following them on their journey to unravel exactly how things played out in the lives, what parts were under their control and what parts weren’t, and which people were actually cruel to them but got away with having a clean reputation.

As with The Cleaners, I’m also not convinced the story is distinctly YA. After all, it follows a bunch of characters who must be in their fifties, and one of the defining characters of YA is that the story has a teen protagonist; however, there’s a lot of crossover appeal here. I see no reason why a YA reader wouldn’t enjoy it.

So, this is fun. It doesn’t quite hit the mark with its message because things aren’t neatly separated into boxes of, “This person was nice and never did something cruel” and “This person was mean for no reason,” but it gives the reader a lot to think about, and the execution of the idea feels pretty original. I do hate that the book fell into the trap where an author seems to believe that a good short story has an ambiguous ending, though.

Briana
4 stars

For the Wolf by Hannah F. Whitten

For the Wolf book cover

Information

Goodreads: For the Wolf
Series: Wilderwood #1
Age Category: Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: June 1, 2021

Official Summary

The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.

For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

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Review

Reading For the Wolf was a bit of a letdown because most readers seem to have been raving about it since its release in June 2021; it was also nominated for 2021 Goodreads Choice Award. However, I found the book repetitive and don’t think it offered much of a new take on a old tale.

For the Wolf is essentially a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, set in a magical woods and more enmeshed with the larger-scale politics of the surrounding kingdom than a lot of fairy tale retellings. Normally I love reading “Beauty and the Beast” books, but because it’s a common tale to base a retelling on and because I’ve read a large number of variations on the story, it’s often hard for me to think that any of them stand out. For the Wolf simply . . . doesn’t.

One of its main points seem to be the ~atmospheric~ setting of the magical, dangerous, sentient forest, but I have to say a lot of books that center themselves on having an atmospheric woodsy vibe also sound the same to me. The reader goes on about trees (often in a nonspecific way that doesn’t convince me they truly know that much about trees) and the oppressive, mysterious feeling of the trees, and the characters walk around the trees and discuss their fear of trees and . . . it kind of gets monotonous. That’s even truer in For the Wolf, which has some truly repetitive prose. I think it was supposed to add to the character of the book and really get readers into the minds of the main character, but it was odd feeling like I was reading a passage for the fourth or fifth time in the book.

That said, I didn’t think For the Wolf was terrible or anything. It’s a pretty solid “Beauty and the Beast” retelling with some mystery and romance, and the author works hard to add in the political, historical, and religious aspects that are meant to differentiate it from other retellings. I do wonder if those things will come more to the front in the sequel (which I am not planning to read). A lot of people love this book, and I can kind of seem why, but to me it just felt long and like dozens of other books I read before.

Briana
3 Stars

The Cleaners by Ken Liu

Information

Goodreads: The Cleaners
Series: Faraway Collection (Amazon Original)
Age Category: Adult
Source: Free with Prime trial
Published: December 15, 2020

Official Summary

Touch the past or wash it away? Two sisters have a choice in this unforgettable short story of everyday magic and the power of memory by the Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author Ken Liu.

Gui is a professional cleaner at A Fresh Start, scrubbing away the unpleasant layers of memory that build up on the personal objects of his customers. Memory-blind himself, he can’t feel those wounds. Clara can, and she prefers them irretrievable. Until her sister, Beatrice, ultrasensitive to memory, raises one that could change Clara’s mind. For Gui, the past is gone. For Clara and Beatrice, deciding what to remember reaches to the heart of their shared history. 

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Review

This is a quick, mildly interesting story focused more on exploring a concept rather than plot or character development. It asks: What if memories left actual deposits on objects, and people could feel those memories when they touched the objects? What if some people felt them more clearly than others, and some people couldn’t feel them at all? Would you want bad memories washed away, or would you keep them as part of you?

To be honest, however, I didn’t find the concept all that intriguing. Would I want to sanitize my life so I didn’t encounter memories? No, not in general. Perhaps if something particularly bad happened to me, since apparently touching objects could bring that memory back more clearly and more painfully than it is in my own mind. But this just isn’t a question I’m going to sit around pondering for hours because I don’t think it’s ultimately that profound or complex, which means the story fell a bit flat for me. It was fine, but it’s not a story I’m going to really even remember I read three months from now.

I do think it’s worth mentioning I don’t think the story is YA. This collection got some attention when originally released in 2020 because it has the involvement of big-name authors, most of whom are known for writing YA, like Gayle Forman and Rainbow Rowell. The Cleaners, however, reads like adult speculative fiction to me, and of the three protagonists, not a single one is a teen, nor do they have teen-relevant problems. There’s no reason a teen reader wouldn’t enjoy it, but I think the Goodreads categorization of the story is misleading.

So, this was fine. I’ve read three out of five stories in this collection, and so far The Cleaners is my second favorite, but I haven’t found the stories particularly great overall. There was some consternation when the collection was released because they’re Amazon Originals, but I honestly don’t think readers who can’t access them are missing out on much, even with the big name writers.

Briana
3 Stars

Thoughts on Rereading The Return of the King: This Book Is Dark

Spoilers!

This year, I embarked on a quest to finally reread The Lord of the Rings. (I know: I talk about it enough on the blog that people probably assume I must reread it every year or something, but that’s not true. It’s been a while since I last read the story cover to cover.) In April, I posted some reflections on the geography of Middle-Earth after finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, in which I realized the world is much more isolated than I tend to remember. Now, after finishing The Return of the King, I’ve realized the story is also darker than I often remember.

The Lord of the Rings is generally a story I associate with hope. Small, unimportant people do great deeds. Disparate people band together to fight an incredible threat. Frodo succeeds in his quest despite all odds. I’ve written before about how the ending is bittersweet, as some things blossom and come to fruition (the actual return of the king) but other things pass away (the Elves). However, I don’t generally think of the book as actually dark. That changed with this rereading.

This time around, I really felt the despair of the peoples of Gondor, and slightly less so Rohan, as they prepared to take on the forces of the Dark Lord in battle. I know, of course, that Lord Denethor despairs of victory, but I always have it in the back of my mind that, of course, he’s supposed to be wrong. Gandalf tells him off for his despair, and readers learn that he’s been tricked into by Sauron, who has selectively shown him things in the Seeing Stone that will make him think Gondor has no chance of winning the coming battle. Knowing that, I’ve come to have in the back of my mind the idea that the other characters must be a bit more optimistic about the situation, but upon rereading, I’ve realized that’s not true.

None of the characters really know what’s coming before the battle at Minas Tirith, but they are not hopeful about it. In general, they are convinced they are going to die. Pippin fears the battle and that he will never see his friends again. Gandalf thinks they have a slim hope of winning this battle, maybe, but of course the whole war rests on Frodo’s ability to destroy the Ring. The people of Rohan ride hard to Gondor’s aid but are half-convinced they won’t arrive in time to participate in the main battle but instead will simply have a chance to briefly harry the orcs and Men who have triumphed over Minas Tirith before succumbing to said orcs and Men themselves, with no one even left to sing songs about their deeds. There is truly a sense that all the characters are going to fail. Or, even if the main battle is won, a lot of these characters are going to be dead.

Things get even more dire after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, when Aragorn and the Captains of the West go to challenge Sauron at the Black Gate. They’re not even pretending there’s a chance they are going to come back alive at this point. It’s basically a suicide mission to buy Frodo a little more time and privacy to get to Mount Doom while Sauron is looking elsewhere. This is very depressing! And when a chapter ends with Pippin’s being attacked and subsequently closing his eyes and losing thought, well, it certainly seems as if he’s dead! I cannot remember what I thought the first time I read the book, and didn’t know the ending, but I assume I really thought Pippin was gone, and perhaps Aragorn and all the others were next.

Of course, the Eagles come, Frodo’s quest succeeds, and things generally become happy by the end. It’s the eucatastophe Tolkien wanted, but for many, many chapters in this book, it really feels as if hope is missing. One gets into the minds of the characters, who do not know where Frodo is or if he’s even still alive, who assume they have a part to play in fighting Sauron because, really, it’s the only option, but they’re not convinced it’s going to work or they’re gong to come out alive. In some places, this may in fact be the most hopeless book I’ve ever read! Or perhaps the most realistic about how people feel before a large battle in which they are outnumbered. Why should they expect to be lucky enough to survive?

The Lord of the Rings is, of course, still one of my favorite books. I simply did not remember the amount of darkness and despair Tolkien manages to convey in the first part of The Return of the King, especially since I now know how it all ends. It’s really a masterpiece of writing, and I think this bit of darkness is often overlooked.

Briana

Silk, Volume 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon by Robbie Thompson (Writer)

Information

Goodreads: Silk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon
Series: Silk, Volume 0
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Official Summary

Cindy Moon exploded out of her bunker and into the Marvel Universe when we first learned that she had been bitten by the same radioactive spider from the Spider-Verse arc of Amazing Spider-Man!

She then went on to save Peter Parker’s life (more than once!) and traverse the Spider-Verse alongside Spider-Woman. Now, as Silk, Cindy is on her own in New York City, searching for her past, defining her own future, and webbing up wrong-doers along the way! Robbie Thompson (writer from TV’s Supernatural) fills this new story with his unique blend of antics and feels. Featuring interiors by future superstar Stacey Lee.

Collecting: Silk (2015) 1-7

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Review

I wanted to read about Silk since I read Michael’s post “The Strength of Silk – Cindy Moon May Be Marvel’s Most Inspiring Hero” because I loved the idea that there is a character who is so unselfish that she decided to isolate herself in a bunker for ten years in order to save the world – and only came out against her will. I was not disappointed by this first installment, as I did indeed find a heroine who truly looks out for others and who also tries to see the best in them, even when others don’t.

In hindsight, I do wish I’d read whatever comic we first meet Cindy in, or whatever comic in which Peter Parker lets her out of the bunker. (Someone help me out here and tell me what to read!) This one starts with Cindy already out, exploring the world and trying to figure herself out now that she has to interact with other people, learn to use her superpowers, hold a job, make friends, possibly date, etc. Her backstory is explained, so following the story isn’t a problem, but I did feel a bit as if I were missing the fuller experience of having read about how Cindy and Peter first meet.

I enjoyed the story as it is, however. Cindy is personable. She has small moments of not understanding how the world progressed without her (like, what is Twitter?), and she’s not afraid to make some lighthearted self-deprecating remarks or to admit when she’s not quite getting something. This balances out the fact she’s, of course, incredibly talented and literally has superpowers. I also like the moments she engages with other people, like her friends at work or even some random bad guy she’s supposed to be beating up. It’s fun because, one one hand, she knows exactly who she is: the girl/woman who had the strength to give up everything to help others, but, one the other hand, she still has some things to figure out.

The one downside is that multiple artists worked on this volume, and I strongly prefer the installments done by Stacey Lee. I supposed varying artists is a thing with comics and can even be part of the appeal, but I did experience some disappointment when I realized I’d have to read an installment with art I liked less. However, Lee’s art is a bit on the cute side (one of the reasons I like it), but one could argue some of the artists do a better job making Cindy look older; she ought to be about 28, if she spent 10 years in a bunker starting as a teen.

Overall, this was a great read. I am definitely interested in continuing to learn more about Silk!

Briana
4 stars

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education book cover

Information

Goodreads: A Deadly Education
Series: The Scholomance #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2020

Official Summary

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. 

Star Divider

Review

Dark academia isn’t necessarily my genre, but I loved Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver, so I had to pick up A Deadly Education. And while the school in the book is full of monsters, and characters need to spend their days on guard lest they die in the middle of their studies, the effect is lightened by the wit of protagonist El and by her fellow student Orion Lake, who is full of good humor and unusual luck.

As I began reading A Deadly Education, I had to admit to myself that it felt like an extended info dump. El has to explain everything to the readers: her backstory, what she did the previous years in school, how the school works, how the world in general works, how the monsters work. Everything. I found it interesting, so I read on, but I can imagine it being a deal breaker for readers who aren’t huge fantasy fans and don’t want to deal with extensive world building.

El herself is a bit of a challenge, but that’s her beauty. She doesn’t have a lot of friends at the school, and the reader can see why, but as she’s in her junior year she begins to recognize how big of a problem this is for her: she needs to make an alliance if she’s going to survive graduation next year, but she hasn’t put in the work to make anyone want to be her ally. Her big plan is to do something impressive, rather than to be approachable, and convince people she has strong magic they’ll want on their side, but she ends up being more approachable as the book goes on anyway, which will at least win readers over.

The book, once one gets over the info dumps, is fairly fast-paced, and there always seems to be something happening. After all, the school seems intent on killing El, so she has challenges she has to deal with frequently. El is wary and clever and powerful, and there’s so much of her magic that remains to be explored that I hope to see tackled in the next book. It’s also fun to see the other characters’ strengths and how they can use them to work together to beat the monsters, if only they stop being so suspicious of each other.

This is a wildly original and imaginative story, and I’m definitely excited to read book 2. However, readers who thought Novik’s other books were “too slow” probably won’t be better pleased by A Deadly Education.

Briana
4 stars