David Petersen, Mouse Guard (2005-?)

Piotrek: I was very satisfied with myself when, recently, my little niece asked: why is it only uncle Piotr who knows comics? I try to keep Madzia (her sisters are too young) supplied with age-appropriate comics, stuff like Zita the Spacergirl or Yotsuba, which means I get to read them, out loud and often multiple times 😉 And, since I’m the one to choose, it’s usually something I enjoy myself, but obviously, not things I read in my own reading time. The topic of this review is different. This is a series of graphic novels for everyone to enjoy. I’m not going to leave the verdict for the final parts, I’ll admit straight away: I really like David Petersen’s Eisner-winning Mouse Guard series.

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Ola: Don’t forget it’s my find! 😛 It’s indeed a perfect comic book for all ages 7 and up – first, it definitely helps if you can read on your own ;), and second, the plot, themes and execution are best understood when one is at least a tiny bit learned in the ways of the world, having read or listened to Hobbit, for example, or at least made a passing acquaintance with the material culture of medieval times… On the other hand, the educational aspects and the straightforwardness of the plot suggest a younger cant to the target audience. However, I believe that being young at heart is absolutely sufficient to properly appreciate the Mouse Guard story. It’s a decidedly different read to your average superhero comic books, but the heroic and quite adult themes are very much present in David Petersen’s work.

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Iain M. Banks, Culture – first impressions

The Culture is a group-civilisation formed from seven or eight humanoid species, space-living elements of which established a loose federation approximately nine thousand years ago. The ships and habitats which formed the original alliance required each others’ support to pursue and maintain their independence from the political power structures – principally those of mature nation-states and autonomous commercial concerns – they had evolved from.

from Ian M Banks, A Few Notes on the Culture

It is also a series of 9 novels (plus a short story collection) and the place I want to go to in the afterlife. I’ve heard about it, I’ve read about, in 2016 I bought the first three books, and now I’ve finally started to read.

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Adrian Czajkowski, The Tiger and the Wolf (2016)

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Shadows of the Apt, the acclaimed ten book series about the world of the Insect-kinden, took place in an alternate Europe, during alternate World Wars – mostly the second one, to be precise. Shadows of the Apt is an epic tale of the struggle of different kinden, i.e. humans in kin with different types of animals which serve as their metaphysical and physical totems. Those totems can be perceived as ideals holding certain spiritual power, but also as matrices for particular species, influencing genotypes and phenotypes of individuals belonging to different kinden. But Shadows of the Apt is also a gripping tale of deadly rivalry between technical aptitude and ingenuity – and old wisdom and magic. The world of the Apt and Inapt is fully developed and based on an intriguing premise: it is a realm bereft of vertebrate. Their place has been fully taken by invertebrate of every kind and size, from insects through mollusks and crustaceans, to snails, jellyfish and arachnids. And although the reviews of the series are many – and varied – on this blog, there is a reason I make this short summary at the beginning of the review of Czajkowski’s new series, Echoes of the Fall.

With his new post-apocalyptic trilogy, Echoes of the Fall, Czajkowski takes the readers on a seemingly entirely different ride. Tribes from the time of early Iron Age, brought about as a result of an earlier, terrible shattering of their world, vie for domination in an unforgiving part of the world. They too are linked to their animal counterparts – but this time around, vertebrate are the only types of animals that count. Wolves and tigers, hawks and seals, bears and serpents, owls and bats, hyenas and lions, even toads, crocodiles and Comodo dragons (and wolverines! ;)), all of them act as true totems in the sense that they are the emblems of tribes, but they are also spiritual entities, powerful in their own way as non-omniscient, limited god-like beings watching over their chosen peoples.

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Marvel’s The Punisher (2017-present)

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Piotrek: And the winner of my personal favourite tv series of the year award is… Stranger Things, again. Punisher is a close second. It means a lot, considering in 2017 I’ve seen American Gods, Legion, Samurai Jack’s final season and discovered Rick and Morty. It was even better than this little beauty that sparked my hopes a few years back. I might go as far as to say Netflix might have saved its part of the MCU with this, although it is not a typical superhero show. And it’s not as linked together with Jessica Jones or Daredevil, Frank Castle wasn’t even part of The Defenders (and good for him 😉 ). It is a TV series based on a Marvel comic, part of the geek takeover of the pop-culture of our times, but mostly it is a great story about, and commentary on, the war on terror, military/society relations, and, most of all, individuals involved in all this.

Ola: Huh, for me it’s the other way round: Punisher just a hair breadth before Stranger Things, right up there with the first season of Daredevil among the very best MCU has to offer. Punisher is the comic-based TV series I’ve been waiting for: dark, gritty, realistic, tackling vital and controversial themes and topics in a way that is both respectful and immensely entertaining. It is closely linked with Daredevil, both in the overarching theme of violence as a means of justice, with DD and Punisher two sides of the same ethical coin, and in the supporting cast of characters – most notably Karen Page, who plays an important role in both series.

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Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962)

My love of reading does not distinguish me from the rest of my family. Generations of readers, a few volumes in family for a hundred years, nothing special, but nothing to be ashamed of. High brow, but also crime stories, thrillers… Grandma read French romances in original, Grandpa received boxes full of Chandler, Le Carre and Clancy paperbacks from his brother lucky enough to get to Canada after the War had ended. I’m the book-craziest one, but only by a few degrees.

Fantasy, though, that was something new. Older cousin gave me Hobbit when I was… about ten, I believe, but one of the most beloved books of my early childhood, book that sparked my interest in supernatural fiction, was A Room Full of Leaves, an anthology of short stories by Joan Aiken. Goodreads lists it as a Polish edition of A Small Pinch of Weather, but it’s not precise, Polish version lacks some stories from this collection while including some from A Harp of Fishbones and Other Stories. It’s not strictly fantasy, but mysteries happening to regular people in a world otherwise exactly like ours. So, a tried and true technique older than rigid genre distinctions. I liked the melancholy of most of these stories, the impossible things happening to their young protagonists. I wasn’t able to catch their Englishness, mythical references. I need to revisit this world.

But Aiken’s most famous works were beyond my reach then, and I wasn’t even aware of their existence. The Wolves Chronicles, a long series of novels for younger readers, never translated into Polish. That’s a real problem. Picture books with a few lines written below illustrations, and comics designed for small kids – it doesn’t matter whether they’re in Polish in English, the younglings have to had them read to by someone else and I can translate on the fly. But books you’re supposed to read on your own among your first literary adventures… these, if not available in your native tongue, might miss their perfect moment.

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Greg Park, Carlo Pulayan, Aaron Lopresti et al., The Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk (2006-2007)

Piotrek: We did not like Thor: Ragnarok. I was unimpressed, Ola hated it almost as much as Wonder Woman.

Ola: That’s right. Only almost :P.

Piotrek: As we’ve mentioned, one of the reasons was the lack of respect towards the material it was supposed to adapt to the silver screen. Another – a feeling that it could easily be more entertaining, but also much, much deeper.

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Glen Cook, Bleak Seasons (1996)

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Bleak Seasons is the sixth novel in Cook’s acclaimed Black Company series. A brutal, straight in your face account of an ugly, unredeeming war was a welcome refresh after the streak of bad and mediocre books I had recently hit.

Bleak Seasons take place at the same time as the Dreams of Steel, recounted from the Lady’s point of view, but this story is told from the perspective of Murgen, the new Standardbearer of the Black Company. Murgen, along with the majority of the Black Company under the command of Mogaba, has been trapped in the siege of Dejagore. You remember that monstrous city ruled by Shadow masters in the middle of southern nowhere, past the Hindu-like Taglios on the Black Company’s way toward Khatovar? Dejagore is a living hell. Fear and hate, utter lack of hope clashing with the animal need to survive, tight confines of the stone city bereft of food but full of hungry, hostile mouths, and a looming catastrophe of an urban fight change the place into a nightmarish landscape of grisly death. Reading Bleak Seasons I had one name in mind – Hue. Although, considering the recent wars, at least a couple of others should join it – from Fallujah to Mosul.

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