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.

Czajkowski_Shadows of the Apt

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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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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Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife (2015)

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi debut novel from 2009 was popular, smart and powerful, but didn’t excite me. I found it a bit grotesque and too full of political anger. And I did not like the ending (that I’m not going to spoil here).

Novel about a world of the future, plagued by environmental collapse, food scarcity and energy shortage, with disastrous consequences for societies, reaching even greater levels of corruption, racism and violence. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But I couldn’t really care about – or identify with – any of the characters, I  was not wholly convinced by the worldbuilding, and aforementioned ending… still, it was a powerful image, and I respected author’s passion, so I awarded it three stars on Goodreads 😉

 

The Water Knife has the same passion, but better characters, more thought-through plot, and after the recent leftward shift in my political views – is very emotionally satisfying. Reading about the collapse of America, and with the red states hit the most, due to global warming, just after Trump decided to withdraw from Paris Agreement – priceless.

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