Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2016. 9781626722644. 205pp.
Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2017. 9781626722668. 207pp.
In the first book, it’s summer, and Jack has to stay home and take care of his quiet little sister, Maddy. He is not happy. At a swap meet, at Maddy’s urging, he trades his mom’s car keys for a packet of seeds that he’s told will change his life. Mom is angry. The next day, as Jack and Maddy are planting their garden, Lilly introduces herself. (Jack saw her practicing sword fighting the day before, which is good because it’s a skill she’s going to need.) Magic plants grow. Veggies grant unusual powers. And a dragon tells Jack that evil is growing in his garden. There’s a beanstalk of sorts. At the end of Mighty Jack, he and Lilly set off to another world to rescue Maddy. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is about their other-worldly rescue mission.
The art is colorful and kinetic, and the whole story is pure upbeat Ben Hatke (Zita the Spacegirl, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, other amazing books). For me this read like one long story — I like the books much better together than apart — when you give them to your favorite young relative this holiday season or check them out at the library, make sure you get both.
The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. Scholastic Graphix, 2017. 9781338089516. 214pp.
Aster’s family can use magic. Girls learn spells and potions and how to talk to trees, that kind of thing. Boys learn to shapeshift, and have the ability to see the demons they fight. Aster isn’t allowed to learn girls’ magic even though he feels drawn to it (and practices it in secret). Worse, his grandmother’s twin brother secretly learned girls magic, lost control, and had to be cast out because he was a danger to himself and the rest of the family. He prefers the girls’ company but can’t spend time with them during their lessons, and he’s a bit of an outsider where the boys are concerned, but he makes a friend outside of his family’s land, a normal girl named Charlotte who also hates the way boy and girl stuff is split up at her school.
Aster’s witchery gets stronger while his shapeshifting skills fail to develop. His parents don’t know what to do. There’s a big bad evil beyond the boundaries of the family’s land. Bad things happen, good things result. It’s really good. In less-skilled hands it could really come off as a thinly-veiled after school special about gender roles and sexual identity, but it reads like a good all-ages story full of magic. My advanced copy’s art was mostly black and white; the finished graphic novel will be color throughout, and based on the few pages that were colored in this, I can’t wait to read it again — it looks beautiful.
Seven To Eternity Volume 1: The God of Whispers by Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña, and Matt Hollingsworth. Image Comics, 2017. 9781534300613. Publisher’s Rating: T / Teen. Contains Seven To Eternity #1 – #4.
I read a few issues of this back when it started coming out, and I thought it was going to be better to read the collections. I was totally right. There’s so much going on in each issue, and the lack of explanation is wonderful. But it was impossible to keep it in my head from month to month as I waited for the next installment.
First, if I had to classify this, I’d say it’s a fantasy title. There’s lots of magic and enough different types of folks that it will immediately remind you of that D&D campaign you used to run. But it’s not quite high fantasy — there are also guns and an order of warriors that have super powers.
Adam Osidis’ father Zeb was once a powerful Mosak warrior. When one of his order, Garils Sulm, used his power to become The God of Whispers, Zeb refused to bow to him to to hear his offer and took his family into the wilderness. They are seen as traitors. (The God of Whispers grants your deepest wish, and in return you become his — he can see through your eyes and hear through your ears, and he can also control you. A huge portion of the population has accepted his offer.)
At the beginning of the book, the Osidis family is attacked by The God of Whispers warriors, including the creepiest flute player I’ve ever seen. Adam is ordered to go and hear The God of Whispers’ offer or his family will suffer. He is considering bending the knee and accepting to help himself and his family when the palace is attacked by remaining Mosak warriors. Adam is left with a choice — to help them in their quest to sunder The God of Whispers from those he controls, or to get what he wants most. Will he betray his fathers’ ideals or not?
I was a huge fan of the first Marvel Weird World comic (Marvel Premier #38), which I bought when I was 6 or 7, because the whole setting was just so unexpected. This world has as much appeal even though it doesn’t have a young female elf in a spiderweb bikini.
Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. Orbit, 2017. 9780316362474. 544pp.
The last fantasy novel that made me laugh this hard was Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself with its aging barbarian, Logan Ninefingers. This book has more swearing, weird tech and magic, and references the entire AD&D Monster Manual. It’s also got great characters and a whole lot of heart.
The adventurers formerly known as Saga, aka the Kings of the Wyld (a deep dark wilderness where everything will try to kill you), are legendary. They’re also retired. Gabriel’s daughter has become a successful badass adventurer in her own right, but she’s trapped with thousands of others in a city besieged by a horde of monsters. So Gabriel decides to put his old band back together and go rescue her. His first stop is to find his buddy “Slowhand” Clay Cooper, a man with an unbreakable shield who has settled down, has a daughter of his own, and helps guard his city. Clay initially says no to his friend and feels terrible, but where the hell would the book be if he stuck to that? So he goes off, leaving his wife and kid, determined to help Gabriel and return to his family. (As motivation, this works.) They get Gabriel’s sword out of hock from the man who stole his wife, and who also used to be their agent. Then they find their buddies: a wizard marketing his cure for erectile dysfunction, a knife fighter who’s a sedentary cuckold, and the greatest warrior among them who is currently turned to stone.
The violence is offhanded and often hilarious. The destruction is rampant. It’s the characters you’ll come back for again and again. My favorite among them is the immortal, undead bard who, I have a sense, refused to die when Eames planned. Oh, and if all of that isn’t strange enough, the story’s Big Bad has bunny ears. And somehow it all works wonderfully.
The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds Book 1) by writers Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel, and artists Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781101935866. 256pp.
The 5 Worlds are overheating, and if the ancient beacons aren’t relit, the environmental disaster could kill everyone and everything. Oona Lee’s sister Jessa was supposed to be the chosen one who could relight the worlds’ beacons and restore harmony, but she disappeared. Oona, like Jessa, is a Sand Dancer, but she lacks her sister’s talents. (Oona’s teacher calls her a disgrace. Sand Dancers do magic with sand. It’s complicated but super cool-looking in the graphic novel. It’s hard to do it justice in writing.) Oona seems to have more talent than she believes. After receiving a note from her sister she sets out to find her and bring her back.
As she’s leaving, her world (Mon Domani) is attacked by those who want to stop the beacons from being relit. Oona’s ship falls from the sky onto a starball stadium. Oona saves street urchin An Tzu (who has a condition that’s making him disappear) and famed starball athlete Jax Amboy (who has a secret). Her new friends help Oona continue her journey and her mission to find her sister, but [minor spoiler] it’s clear that Oona herself is probably the chosen one. And that this and the next books in the series will fly off library shelves.
I read an early copy of this that was mostly black and white, with a few full-color pages in the middle. Reading it was kind of like watching Dorothy arrive in Oz. It looks great in black and white, and I was enjoying the story. Then I turned the page and bam! Color! Wow. I’ve flipped through the published book (which is printed in color throughout) and it still has that wow factor. It’s so beautiful and bright that looking at it feels like I’m reading on my iPad in the dark.
Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan. Orbit, 2014. 608pp. 9780316219044.
My friend Eric has been telling me about this series for years. Every time I heard “Powder Mage” all that came to mind was “take a powder” or “baby powder” and I didn’t pick it up. Huge mistake.
The series’ eponymous powder mages have an affinity with gunpowder: they can snort it for super strength, speed, and stamina, cause it to explode from a distance, and use its explosive power to hurl bullets with and without guns. All of which is good, because they’re hated by members of the royal cabals, the more traditional magic users who are valued and kept close by their rulers.
The book opens with a coup by a general who is also a powder mage, who leads soldiers against a corrupt king who is bankrupting his country and abusing its citizens. There are a lot of beheadings and violence. He has to fight off royalists and try to control the city. He hires an investigator to figure out the cabal members’ cryptic last words. And he sends his son (also a powder mage) to kill his son’s best friend (the only surviving member of the royal cabal) at a remote mountain outpost. Nothing goes as planned. A neighboring country is about to invade. A popular master chef claims to be a god. Oh, and some version of Armageddon is coming. At the center of most of it is my favorite character, a mute young woman who uses some kind of “primitive” uncivilized magic no one understands, and who clearly kicks ass. (Eric assures me she figures into the later books, so I can’t wait to read them.)
Brandon Sanderson apparently mentored/taught McClellan, and their books share a level of craft and just sheer entertainment value that I rarely find elsewhere. If you liked Sanderson’s Mistborn series I think you’ll love this book.
Rapunzel by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Archana Screenivasan. Little Simon, 2017. 9781481490726. 24pp.
Snow White by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Misa Saburi. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481471855. 24pp.
Cinderella by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Sandra Equihua. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481479158. 24pp.
The board books are all part of the Once Upon A World series, short retellings of classic fairy tales for very little kids set in different places around the globe: India (Rapunzel), Japan (Snow White), and Mexico (Cinderella). The tales themselves are short and simple — details aren’t changed at all to make the text refer to the cultures where the stories takes place. (The one exception I recall is that in Snow White the text mentions that the seven dwarves have teacups in their cabin.) It’s the art that sets the stories in other lands. The books make the unstated point — that these stories are universal — and they totally work.