Review: Dragon Age Library Edition Volume 2 by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Carmen Carnero, Fernando Heinz Furukawa

Review: Dragon Age Library Edition Volume 2 by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Carmen Carnero, Fernando Heinz FurukawaDragon Age Library Edition Volume 2 by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Carmen Carnero, Fernando Heinz Furukawa
Format: eARC, hardcover
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover
Genres: fantasy, graphic novel
Pages: 232
Published by Dark Horse Books on December 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Journey to the world of Thedas in these canonical comics from BioWare and Dark Horse!

Tessa and Marius are mercenary partners who eliminate those using magic to hurt others. When they betray a powerful patron intending to kill them, they're forced to flee and join the Inquisition. Later, they're taken captive during a mission and it's up to an unwitting agent to rescue them: elven squire Vaea, who's just arrived in Kirkwall for a lavish party thrown by Varric Tethras. A talented thief, Vaea takes on an easy side job . . . but when she chooses to change the terms of the deal mid-heist, she is entangled in this dangerous recovery mission that is surely above her pay grade.

Featuring work by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Carmen Carnero, and Fernando Heinz Furukawa, this oversized hardcover edition collects Dragon Age: Magekiller #1-#5 and Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1-#5 and features creator commentary and behind-the-scenes material!

My Review:

I just started a new play-through of the whole Dragon Age saga, which made this a perfect time to review this. The title is a rather unhelpful mouthful of not very informative. What this big little volume is is a hardcover compilation of two Dragon Age graphic stories, Magekiller and Knight Errant.

I knew I was going to get to this eventually – I even picked up an eARC from Edelweiss. But in the end, I bowed to the inevitable and purchased the hardcover. While graphic novels CAN be read on my iPad, that doesn’t mean they SHOULD be read on my iPad – unless I’m really desperate and away from home. The hardcover is large and awkward – but fun reading at the table.

The interesting thing about the two stories in this book is that they both take place in the interstices of the plot of Dragon Age Inquisition. This means three things:

  1. These stories only make sense if you are already a fan of the video game series
  2. They feel/read like short stories that just so happen to be illustrated. I’m not saying that the graphics aren’t terrific – because they are – but both of these stories would work equally well as short stories without the lovely, additional graphics.
  3. The stories are canonical – nothing in them conflicts with the game story canon. A fan can imagine them taking place around the edges of the game(s) actually played. These events happened while your Inquisitor was somewhere else being, as Varric Tethras might say, “all Inquisitorial”.

The first story begins a bit before the game starts, with a pair of mercenary magekillers (hence the title) who have been coerced into killing known cult members before the cult manages to murder the Divine and kick off the whole thing. They find themselves working for the Inquisition, alongside many of the other side characters in the story.

What’s fun about Magekiller is that the male/female mercenary partners are work partners without being romantic partners – nor is there a will they/won’t they vibe to the story. It was pretty neat that the romantic pairing in the story turns out to be between the female mercenary and one of the Inquisition’s better known spies. Who is also female.

That the hero of Magekiller has a very similar vibe to one of my (and many people’s) favorite characters in Dragon Age II is icing on a surprisingly tasty cake.

Knight Errant also feels like it has some callbacks to Dragon Age II, as well as to the game that started it all, Dragon Age Origins – which I’m playing again now.

But the story is all about the power of stories. There’s a quote from Varric Tethras, the author of Hard in Hightown and the premiere storyteller in the series: “There’s power in stories, though. That’s all history is: the best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.”

Varric writes fiction, but he also fictionalizes the heroic deeds of his friends – including himself as a secondary character. It’s a practice that causes him no end of trouble, and makes him an interesting but extremely unreliable narrator.

In Knight Errant, Varric is a secondary character in someone else’s unreliable narration – and he’s more than willing to play along. But under this seemingly simple tale about a has-been knight who travels the world on the strength of the stories he tells about himself, there’s a lot to unpack about why we tell the stories we tell, and how much of ourselves we invest in those stories.

And if you don’t finish this story hearing the original cast of Hamilton singing “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story” you weren’t paying attention.

Escape Rating B: If you’re a fan, this collection is a lot of fun. Possibly even more fun than Hard in Hightown. There are a ton of in jokes scattered throughout both stories, and we get a chance to see a different bit of this world and different facets of characters we have come to know and love.

There are also some informative annotations from the creators on the process of both the story and the graphics.

While I can’t think that anyone else would be interested, for those of us who are working through our hundredth play-through of the series and trying to keep from chewing our nails waiting for Dragon Age 4 (which probably won’t be out until 2021 at the earliest!) it’s a fun way to pass some time in Thedas.

Review: Battle Lines by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman

battle lines by keller and fetter vormFormat read: hardcover provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover
Genre: history, graphic novels
Length: 224 pages
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Ari Kelman’s Website, Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

The first graphic history to capture the full scope of the Civil War, gorgeously drawn and expertly told

The graphic novelist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and the award-winning historian Ari Kelman team up to create a unique portrait of a brutal and defining event in American history: the Civil War. The result is Battle Lines, a monumental graphic history—rendered in Fetter-Vorm’s sweeping full-color panoramas, and grounded in Kelman’s nuanced understanding of the period—offering a series of wholly new perspectives on the conflict that turned this nation against itself.

Each chapter in Battle Lines begins with an object; each object tells its own story. A tattered flag, lowered in defeat at Fort Sumter. A set of chains, locked to the ankles of a slave as he scrambles toward freedom. A bullet, launched from the bore of a terrifying new rifle. A brick, hurled from a crowd of ration-starved rioters. With these objects and others, both iconic and commonplace, Battle Lines traces a broad and ambitious narrative from the early rumblings of secession to the dark years of Reconstruction. Richly detailed and wildly inventive, its stories propel the reader to all manner of unlikely vantages as only the graphic form can: from the malaria-filled gut of a mosquito to the faded ink of a soldier’s pen, and from the barren farms of the home front to the front lines of an infantry charge.

Beautiful, uncompromising, poignant, and utterly original, Battle Lines is a daring vision of the war that nearly tore America apart.

My Review:

Note that the subtitle for this is “a Graphic History of the Civil War” and not anything like “the Complete History” or “the Comprehensive History”, because it isn’t either of those.

Instead, Battle Lines is the history of the Civil War told in a series of snapshots. Each chapter illustrates the history of one found and commonplace item, as seen through a short graphic story of what the thing is and how it got to be part of the history of the Civil War.

The snapshots usually show the story of someone equally commonplace, or someone who would be commonplace except for their intersection with the War. These are stories of regular people who are in uncommon and usually unpleasant situations. It is a refreshing change from all of the histories of the war as it appeared to generals and statesmen, or even to upper and upper middle class observers.

These objects and these individuals tell the story of the war as it felt on the ground. It brings the tragedy of the war down to a human level, and the graphics make the reader feel. The thinking comes later – but it certainly does come.

The graphic stories relate things and incidents that are known, but are generally seen at a more strategic and less visceral level.

The chapter on Andersonville Prison is stunning and heart-breaking. We all know from reading even a cursory history of the Civil War that conditions at the POW camp were brutal and degrading. In this graphic history, we see it from the prisoner’s side, as a diary is passed from one prisoner to another, as each one goes through the cycle of initial internment through grinding hunger and despair to sinking into oblivion and death, only for the diary to be found and continued by the next inmate/victim.

Although the Andersonville chapter sorrowed me deeply, the one that gave me the biggest chills was the one about the draft riots in New York City in July of 1863, 152 years ago this month. The draft could be avoided by paying a fee, and many, but not all, rich people paid to stay out. So the draft affected the immigrant population, who took out their frustrations on a readily available target – the free blacks who lived in NYC, as well as federal institutions. The scenes of death and destruction, and of mob violence aimed at non-threatening targets out of hate and fear, are utterly chilling. This chapter is told from three perspectives: the immigrants participating in the riot, the rich family who act as if it is none of their business, and the black families trying to protect their children from the mob.

The story in Battle Lines starts from an attempt to show the flash points that caused the Civil War, both from the direct military standpoint at Fort Sumter, and the court cases and laws that built the cause of abolition. The denser history is conveyed through short but compelling and accurate newspaper article type pages that tell a lot of history with succinct exposition. For the background history, it helps to already know at least the outline of the causes of the War, but then, most Americans have had this in school, probably multiple times.

The narrative ends with a chapter about Reconstruction and the rise of the KKK and the white supremacists in the post-Reconstruction South. Just because the official battles were over, it did not mean that hostilities had in any way, ceased.

Have they yet?

Reality Rating A-: Anyone who is looking for an accessible history of the Civil War will want to read this book. It is not comprehensive, but the graphic stories make the reader feel the War. It is not a view from 1,000 feet. Instead, it is a view from the muddy, bloody ground. For a war that still inspires so much passion, it helps the understanding to experience, even vicariously, some scintilla of what the participants might have felt. Even through the glass darkly.

While the format makes it difficult to convey large pieces of complicated history, such as the parts about the causes of the war, when it reaches for one single illuminating article, it works incredibly well. These stories and these pictures feel true, even though they are made up of amalgams of personal accounts and histories rather than simply illustrating a single one.

And we know what the Civil War looked like because there are so many photographs. One of the chapters of the book shows the creation of one such photograph, and it feels like we are there.

If you need to tell someone what the Civil War was, and most importantly, why it still matters, hand them this book.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (78)

Stacking the Shelves

Someone blogged a couple of weeks ago about the temptation to get ARCs, resisting the temptation, and feeling overwhelmed by the number of review copies in one’s TBR stack versus the number of books one actually wanted to read, but wasn’t committed to. (And now I can’t find it!)

I know I get more books than I can reasonably read in a week, month, or possibly year. But I only get eARCs unless I have a firm commitment to review a particular title. (Library Journal sends print ARCs, but they also send a deadline)

It’s about having LOTS to choose from. Which seems contradictory, because I usually end up reading books based on what tours I have scheduled. But I only pick tours or eARCs that I think I will like (we all get disappointed occasionally!)

So how do you feel about the size of your TBR? Does it weigh you down, or is it just a fact of life? Or perhaps you revel in it, just a bit?

For Review:
Always On My Mind (Sullivans #8) by Bella Andre
At Star’s End (Phoenix Adventures #1) by Anna Hackett
Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek
The Fan Fiction Studies Reader edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse
The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
Good Together (Carrigans of the Circle C #1) by CJ Carmichael
It’s Always Been You (Coming Home #5) by Jessica Scott
Love Game (Matchmaker #3) by Elise Sax
A Plunder of Souls (Thieftaker Chronicles #3) by D.B. Jackson
The Retribution by Anderson Harp
Taken with You (Kowalski Family #8) by Shannon Stacey
The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend by Annabelle Costa
Trinity Stones (Angelorum Twelve Chronicles #1) by L.G. O’Connor
Wicked Temptation (Nemesis Unlimited #3) by Zoe Archer

Borrowed from the Library:
Fables: Snow White (Fables #19) by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham

Stacking the Shelves (69)

Stacking the Shelves

There’s an irony in this post being called “Stacking the Shelves” as we are very much trying to unstack the physical shelves at our apartment. Thankfully the titles listed below don’t add any weight to our actual shelves, as the only print title on the list is the one that belongs the public library.

But we’re moving in EEK two weeks, and we’re downsizing. So the book collection has to be reduced from 20ish Billy bookcases to about 5. If there’s anyone in Seattle who wants to talk about buying some older romance, fantasy or SF, or some used IKEA bookcases…this opportunity will be disappearing fast!

For Review:
The Arnifour Affair (Colin Pendragon #1) by Gregory Harris
The Chance (Thunder Point #4) by Robyn Carr
Christmas at Copper Mountain (Copper Mountain Christmas) by Jane Porter
Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews
Come a Little Bit Closer (Sullivans #7) by Bella Andre
The Cottage on Juniper Ridge (Life in Icicle Falls #4) by Sheila Roberts
Dark Moon (Spirit Wild #2) by Kate Douglas
Known Devil (Occult Crimes Unit Investigation #3) by Justin Gustainis
Master of Crows by Grace Draven
Scarlet Devices (Steam and Seduction #2) by Delphine Dryden
Soul Sucker (Soul Justice #1) by Kate Pearce
The Sweetest Seduction (Kelly Brothers #1) by Crista McHugh

Purchased:
Payoff (Mindspace Investigation #1.5) by Alex Hughes

Borrowed from the Library:
Fables Encyclopedia by Bill Willingham, Jess Nevins and Mark Buckingham

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Stacking the Shelves

This is two-weeks’ worth of shelf-stacking. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Again.

However, a quite possibly germane post appeared this week at All About Romance titled Hoarders: The TBR Episode? While I can cheerfully say that I do not have 600 print books in my house labelled “TBR”, I have to confess that I do have about 200. And the low number isn’t because I’ve restrained myself, it’s because I switched to ebooks over two years ago, so I have lots of TBR ebooks, they just don’t take up nearly as much space!

Stacking the shelves April 13 2013

For Review: (ebooks unless noted)
Antiagon Fire (Imager Portfolio #7) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
The Brazen Amazon (Alliance of the Amazons #3) by Sandy James
Frat Boy & Toppy (Theta Alpha Gamma #1) by Anne Tenino
Hair of the Dog by Kelli Scott
Hers for the Holidays (The Berringers #2) by Samantha Hunter (print)
How Beauty Loved the Beast (Tales of the Underlight #3) by Jax Garren
Living Dangerously (Adrenaline Highs #4) by Dee J. Adams
Long Simmering Spring (Star Harbor #3) by Elisabeth Barrett
Lover Undercover by Samanthe Beck
The Original 1982 by Lori Carson
Outcast Prince (Court of Annwyn #1) by Shona Husk
The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Private Practice by Samanthe Beck
Real Men Don’t Quit (Real Men #2) by Coleen Kwan
Rules of Entanglement (Fighting for Love #2) by Gina L. Maxwell
SEAL of Honor (HORNET #1) by Tonya Burrows
Shadow People (Peter Warlock #2) by James Swain
Wounded Angel (Earth Angels #3) by Stacy Gail

Picked up at Norwescon: (all print)
Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Purchased: (all print and all graphic novels)
Dragon Age by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
Dragon Age: The Silent Grove by David Gaider, Alexander Freed and Chad Hardin
Dragon Age: Those Who Speak by David Gaider, Alexander Freed and Chad Hardin

Borrowed from the Library: (print)
The Devil’s Armor (A Novel of the Bronze Knight #2) by John Marco

Better Days and other stories (Serenity volume 2)

Bottom line, it would be a better day if the Serenity were still flying. And while I’m wishing, I want Wash to still be her pilot, and the Shepherd to still be in the back, keeping his secrets and reading his book. Not to mention keeping that hair of his under control. If you watched the show, you know exactly what I mean.

In the meantime, we all keep the dream alive as best we can.

The graphic short story collection from Dark Horse Books, Better Days and other stories (Serenity, volume 2), is part of keeping that dream alive. This new, hardcover edition includes the story Better Days, which was originally published in 2008, plus three newer stories, The Other Half, Downtime, and the bittersweet Float Out.

All the stories except Float Out take place before the events of the movie Serenity, which is nostalgic but slightly confusing at this point. It’s great to see Wash and the Shepherd again, but I know they’re gone.

Better Days is one of the two best stories in the book. It’s about a job that both goes very, very well, and very, very badly. Which, come to think about it, seems pretty typical for our heroes. At the outset, they open a cache that contains way more money than they expected, and the crew of the Serenity is temporarily rich beyond their wildest dreams. Part of the story is telling each other what those dreams are, or living them while spending some of that lovely money.

The other part of the story is the bad luck part. They stole a weapon, and the Alliance wants it back. And Mal and Zoe, because somebody believes that Mal was a terrorist at the end of the war. As usual, the Alliance soldier is off the reservation, and he also has the wrong Browncoat in his sights. Also, as usual, Mal is too stubborn to admit that. The relationships between the crew were captured really well, including some laugh out loud bits.

Float Out is a different kind of story. Three of Wash’s old frenemies are sitting around telling stories about him, planning to drink to his memory. The stories are funny, and very typical Wash incidents–his questionable charm, his even more questionable fashion sense, his insane love of plastic dinosaurs, and his willingness to do absolutely anything to save his friends. Zoe saunters in at the last minute and provides the drinks for the toast. “Wash hated champagne.” I’m sure he did. The drink Zoe brings is a “quick drunk, but lots of fun.” Sounds like Wash, doesn’t it?

The two stories in the middle didn’t stick with me, but these two did. Better Days because Mal didn’t have any dreams of what he would do with all that cash–his dream is flying Serenity with his crew, keeping his “family” together, and he knows it. Being rich hurts his dreams, it doesn’t help them. Float Out was a good-bye kiss to Wash, and it was fine one.

Escape Rating A: I escaped back to the Serenity for a little while. Enough said.

Doctor Who and the Spam Planet

First of all, that’s not the real title. When I requested this title from NetGalley to review it, the official listed title was Doctor Who II Volume 1. That’s way too boring for the Doctor. And it’s not even technically correct. The publisher, IDW, lists it as Doctor Who Volume 2 #1. Still boring.

The graphic novel is definitely not boring. What it is is an absolute howl. After the wedding, Rory and Amy are traveling in the TARDIS, and Rory finds one of the many phones that the Doctor has spiffed up over the last few years for his human companions. So what does Rory do? Does he phone home? No, not our Rory. He signs it up for a data plan. Only one problem with that. The TARDIS may have lots of really neat features, but one of the things the old girl doesn’t have is a firewall.

The Doctor discovers what Rory has done when the TARDIS gets flooded with spam. And not just spam email, but spam holograms. Yes, spam gets much more sophisticated as the millenia move on, and this is not a GOOD THING. The poor TARDIS overloads, shuts herself down, and they crash. Nothing unusual in that. Howsomever, the TARDIS crashes on a planet chock-full of holograms, holograms and nothing but holograms. Many of whom are spam. And one little holographic stapler, who just wants to help.

And, in true Doctor Who style, the planet is about to be destroyed by intergalactic scroungers who are more than a wee bit annoyed that the holograms can’t be taken off-planet and sold as slaves.

There’s a good time to be had just in playing “spot the trope” among the various types of spam that the planet, the email run amok and the Doctor’s own plots foist on the raiders and on the readers.

This was lighthearted fun. I had a good time giggling with the story over my lunch. And the drawing of the characters worked for me. I know what the Doctor and Amy and Rory are supposed to look like. That can make it difficult for a graphic novel to be “close enough”. This one was. Some of the images of the Doctor were spot on, and he’s the character that matters most.

The adventure the Doctor has on the spam planet is just the lighthearted opener to a much more serious encounter with Jack the Ripper.  In The Doctor and the Ripper, it looks like the Doctor is going to get in some serious trouble, again.