Stan Sakai, Usagi Yojimbo (1984-?)

Popular culture gives us many great samurai figures. There are probably almost as many live action samurai movies as westerns, and The Magnificent Seven Samurai duo of wonderful classics show us how close these genres could be.

But I want to introduce one of my favourite comic books, so no more about cinematic depictions (hmm, who would have won if guys on the left fired on the guys on the right :D?).

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In a world of countless great mangas, my favourite graphic novel Japanese warrior is an anthropomorphic rabbit by Stan Sakai, who, though born in Kyoto, is undoubtedly an American artist. I’m not going to argue it’s the most accurate vision of the medieval Japan, from the stuff I’m familiar with the honour goes to Vagabond, probably, and Rurouni Kenshiin has some great moments – usually just before going for silliness and fanservice. And then there is Samurai Jack, a hero whose story recently concluded, after years of waiting.

But Miyamoto Usagi from Usagi Yojimbo, he is my favourite!

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Ursula Le Guin, The Found and the Lost (2016)

The Found and the Lost

The Found and the Lost is a collection of novellas by Ursula Le Guin, the founding mother of fantasy and SF as we know today. It’s a perfect book for both die-hard fans and for those who have never had the pleasure of reading anything by Le Guin before. A doorstop of a book at 600 pages in my digital copy and 816 pages in hardcover, it contains 13 novellas written in the period between 1971 (Vaster Than Empires and More Slow) to 2002 (Paradises Lost). The collection is presented mostly in a chronological order, but another categorization rule readily comes to mind while reading as the novellas can be divided into three main groups: Earthsea, Hainish cycle and “other”.

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Shadows of the Apt – final thoughts.

Quite recently I dedicated an unusually long post to a heated critique of some minor points of one of my favourite fantasy series ever. Apart from my conviction that one of the characters is overpowered and unnecessary, I concluded: arguably some obscure details of how war develops are slightly distorted, giving the series 9,5/10.

That was before reading Seal of the Worm and now I have to admit – the final instalment made me sad. So – the whole series keeps the “well done” tag, “medium” applies to the Seal of the Worm.

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Spoilers ahead, even more than in the previous post.

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Brian McClellan, Sins of Empire (2017)

Sins of Empire

A sequel of sorts to the critically acclaimed Powder Mage trilogy, Sins of Empire takes us ten years forward and half a world away from Adro, to the newly created country and nation of Fatrasta. When Taniel Two-Shot more than a decade ago helped the Fatrastans win their independence from the Kez, he fought alongside Old-World Kressians and aboriginal Palos. But now, as the nation of Fatrasta has become increasingly rich and influential, its leaders and Kressian elites have started to mercilessly exploit the weaknesses of Palo. The internal inequalities and segregation policies introduced by Kressians pushed the mutual distrust between the former colonialists from all over the Nine and the aboriginal tribes of Palos toward political unrest and a bloody civil war. And when the empire of Dynize, remaining in self-imposed isolationism for the last four hundred years, comes knocking with a big-ass fleet of war ships and an army bloodied earlier in  a cruel civil war, things get even more dire pretty soon.

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Ilona Andrews, Magic Binds (2016)

Magic Binds

Magic Binds is the ninth installment in the highly acclaimed urban fantasy series by the writing duo, Ilona and Gordon Andrews. Having reached the status of bestsellers and the rare honor of hard cover over the span of an almost decade of writing, Kate Daniels series is widely recognized as one of the best urban fantasy series in the market. I have written about the series here. After several pretty decent novels there came a serious dip in the form of Magic Shifts, then a couple of novellas about side characters from Kate Daniels’ world, and an entirely new urban fantasy/romance series before finally the ninth book saw the light of day.

Magic Binds garners enthusiastic reviews from critics and fans alike, showcasing all the strengths of the previous novels. The end of the 10-book story arc is near, and so the ninth book cannot but head toward some kind of a grand conclusion, upping the ante and preparing ground for the big climax. All the smoldering conflicts burst up in flames, all the grudges and favors are coming to the fore once more, and the knowledge of previous events is a must. It follows logically that the readers in general – and the people writing reviews specifically – have invested so much into the series already that their reception might be more than just a bit skewed.

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Shadows of the Apt. Visionary, masterful, sometimes annoying.

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Spoiler alert! Unless you’ve read till the end of book 8, don’t go further 😉

Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of our favourite modern genre authors. There are several proper reviews and many favourable mentions here. I’ve just finished volume 8 in his 10 book long Shadows of the Apt series, I’ve read Spiderlands, and a few doorstopers patiently wait on my shelves for the right time. I trust this author, and I don’t feel the need to read everything at once. I know I won’t be disappointed, so I can wait. Although, if he keeps publishing two books a year, I might speed it up a bit, there seems to be quite a few stories left in him.

Shadows of the Apt are becoming one of my all-time favourite series, and  two final instalments would have to be really terrible to change that. I essentially agree with everything Ola wrote in her review, but I would like to share a few thoughts about one topic, something important for genre literature in general, and here presented with art and vision, in my opinion, unparalleled. Czajkowski makes the clash of magic and technology one of the central issues here.

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Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs (2014)

City of Stairs

Let’s take a tour through the streets of the fabled city of Bulikov, where gods lived, where they created and destroyed, took care of their followers and inevitably issued edicts. Bulikov, city of grand spires and beautiful gardens, shining like an immense jewel of the world. A seat of gods, a place of power, a source of pride – and hubris – for the people dwelling on the Continent.

If you were to walk through the streets of Bulikov now, you wouldn’t see any of the wonders. You’d see a forest of decrepit, half-ruined buildings, hundreds of thousands of stairs ending in the thin air, as if cut by a gigantic scythe, and a sea of poverty, resentment and anger.

Because the gods weren’t omnipotent, omniscient or immortal. They were killed, and with their destruction came the destruction of everything they have ever built. Bulikov is now a gaping wound in social memory, a festering boil waiting to burst at the slightest pressure. And guess what? That pressure is easily applied, from many directions at once.

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