Star Wars: Leia by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

Claudia Gray completely won me over with Lost Stars, so I’ll read anything written by her now if it pertains to Star Wars.  I initially felt a little strange as a forty-year-old man reading a book about a sixteen-year-old princess, but because it’s Leia, I forged ahead.  I mean, after all, she is one of the best characters in the Star Wars mythology.

Gray sets this book slightly before Rogue One.  Leia must go through a rite of passage in order to proclaim her readiness to one day be queen, and so she declares three challenges to overcome.  She’s also serving as a junior member of the Senate.  Finally, she’s got a bit of a love story too involving another junior senator.

But, none of that is what this book is really about.  This book is all about establishing Leia as one of the galaxy’s greatest freedom fighters.  You’ll witness her slowly discover her parents’ role with the upstart Rebels, and you’ll finally get to know Bail and Breha Organa as the heroes they are.  This is the first time I ever really cared about Bail, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Breha, her adopted mother, depicted before.  Furthermore, you’ll realize Alderaan was not quite the random target we all believed.

There are some truly tense moments, like when one person in particular seems to recognize Leia’s genetics.  We have appearances by Mon Mothma, Grand Moff Tarkin, the planet Naboo, Wedge Antilles, C3PO, R2D2, and even a reference to Obi Wan Kenobi himself.  The Emperor is a constant presence, and that presence is stifling as his grip tightens across the galaxy.

Ever wonder why a princess is able to handle a blaster so well?  How she can adapt to any environment?  Why she’s just so damn tough!  This book answers all of that.

We even learn specifically why the Organa’s adopted to begin with.

But this book does not function as a plot check-list.  Gray has a fluid, logical story with this book.  She weaves in some great treats for fans, but they never deter or detract from the overall plot.

Leia’s love story in this book didn’t especially compel me, but even it lays the groundwork for why Han Solo would be so appealing to Leia.  Everything in this work serves a purpose.

By far, though, the book flourishes most when it addresses the birth of the Rebellion.  It does not shy away from the complexities of rebelling against authority, and it’s especially strong as the characters themselves realize no rebellion can remain bloodless.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, I think seeing the Organas, in this new light will prove fascinating.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Doctor Aphra: Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker – A Book Review

First appearing in Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra quickly became a personal favorite of mine.  In fact, along with Rey and Ahsoka Tano, I’d say she’s one of the most significant Star Wars characters to appear within the last ten years.

Consequently, because she regularly stole the spotlight in Darth Vader and even Star Wars, Marvel gave the good doctor her own series.

If you’re unfamiliar with Doctor Aphra, she is amoral, brilliant, and snarky as can be.  An archaeologist by trade, Aphra is not bound by such things as decency and preserving life.  She does what it takes, usually with a smile on her face.  Make no mistake, though — she is not insane.  She’s perhaps a sociopath, but of the really charming sort.

The beginning of this volume, titled Aphra, gets us off to the perfect start.  The first several pages succinctly establish Aphra’s character.  We immediately meet her hilarious supporting cast: the murderous astromech droid designated BT-1, the protocol droid specializing in torture named Triple 0, and the seriously disgruntled Wookie called Black Krrsantan.  Why does such a delinquent crew tolerate one another?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

However, soon enough, Aphra became less enjoyable for me.  I hesitated to write this review for a few weeks because I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and then, last night, it hit me.

Doctor Aphra had a really tragic father figure in Darth Vader.  Their bond, though completely toxic, also had an element of fun in that you could tell, somewhere deep within their crooked souls, they actually cared for one another in a strange familial aspect.  Since we know Darth Vader one day will actually live up to his role as a father, it proved ironically endearing to watch him with Aphra.

I feel that Aprha takes a serious misstep when it introduces her actual birth father.  After such a long story arc with Vader, it struck me as far too soon to put Aphra back in this role.  Yes, she is clearly her father’s better and often puts him in his place, which was an interesting juxtaposition with what we’ve seen previously, but by the book’s end you realize she does care for her father, just as you realize Vader cared for her.  In my mind, this plot would have worked far better further down the road after we got to see more of Doctor Aphra as character devoid of any paternal influence.

In fact, I think Doctor Aphra shines best in Star Wars: Rebel Jail.  In that volume, Aprha is mostly interacting with Princess Leia and Sana Starros (who also has great potential).  These three women are all about the same age and have differing perspectives on life, priorities, and laws.  It was an absolute blast to read their story when forced to work together.

I’d hoped that we’d get more of that sort of thing with Doctor Aphra’s first solo outing.  I really wanted to see her fully in charge of her adventure without, frankly, any sort of patriarchal influence.  I will, of course, continue to read Doctor Aphra, by no means is this volume a deal-breaker.  She’s an incredibly charismatic character who can fit into virtually any spot of the Star Wars universe, and I can’t wait to see her further cement her place in the vast mythology.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye by Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, and Michael Avon Oeming – A Book Review

You may remember from last November that I loved Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 (click HERE if you want to read that particular review).  Life got in the way of reading subsequent issues, but I made a point to purchase the collected edition of the first six episodes which has been titled “Going Underground.”

Everything I adored about the first issue continues with each additional installment.  Yes, this title gets weirder and weirder (which is a total compliment), but it also gets funnier, more sentimental, and even more full of action.

Way and Rivera pack this volume full of everything a reader could want.  There’s melancholy and loss regarding Cave’s wife, Eileen.  There’s science fiction and mystery regarding his cybernetic eye.  There’s a family dynamic and father/daughter tension regarding his college-aged daughter, Chloe.  There’s intrigue and corporate turmoil regarding his former employer, EBX.  There’s fantasy and philosophical conflict regarding the underground kingdom known as Muldroog.  And there’s lots and lots of gunfire regarding Cave’s unlikely friend and obscure blast from the past, Wild Dog (a personal favorite of mine).

But, even with all of these different things going on, Way and Rivera deliver a cohesive story that seems to be going somewhere specific.  I won’t lie — this book travels to some strange places and doesn’t always make obvious sense.  That’s part of what I love about it.  However, the authors have revealed enough to make me trust their vision and skill.  I suspect this will be an epic story that unfolds slowly amidst more immediate action, and that’s just the way I like it.  Best of all?  There is a dark humor always present, one that is sometimes delightful, sometimes disturbing, but always funny.

Michael Avon Oeming’s art suits this story perfectly.  At times, this book gets really, really violent.  Oeming’s art is a little on the cartoonish side, so it’s always shocking when he depicts one of those intense moments.  However, even though his art has a simplified look, his characters are always in motion, his panels flow smoothly, and the implied movement is always conveyed interestingly.  In other words, he’s very good at this medium.  I particularly enjoy the angles he chooses and his creative use of space upon the page.  At times he employs the traditional panel grid, but he is also unafraid to subvert that convention and do something more experimental.

We can’t appreciate Michael Avon Oeming without also crediting Nick Filardi’s coloring.  There are certain teams in the industry that enhance each other’s talents to create something incredibly special.  Oeming and Filardi are such a duo.  Filardi’s colors in this book are subdued yet extreme, strange yet beautiful, traditional yet innovative.  His use of the dot matrix looks customary but feels revolutionary, which is probably a great way to describe Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye as a whole.

It’s also a great way to describe another element of this book — Tom Scioli’s Super Powers.  Allow me to take a trip down memory lane … Once upon a time, I enjoyed a cartoon called Super Friends.   The Super Friends had a few kid members, particularly Zan and Jayna — The Wonder Twins.  That cartoon eventually evolved into Super Powers, which also had a comic book and a toy line that I still revere to this day.  Finally, comic books used to have backup stories featuring less popular characters that couldn’t always support their own series.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye features such a backup story called Super Powers by Tom Scioli that features Zan and Jayna — The Wonder Twins.  It is absolutely bonkers and marvelous.  It embraces beloved elements and designs of that era, yet it also undermines those elements to create something mutinous and captivating.  It is unorthodox, daring, and strangely charming.  In an industry where we seem to keep getting the same stories over and over, Super Powers defies established methodology.

By now you’ve probably guessed this, but I highly recommend you add Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye: Going Underground to your bookshelves.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – A Book Review

Neil Gaiman has written an incredibly engaging account of the Norse gods in this slim book.  Often seen as lesser than the Greek gods, I believe the Norse deities are enjoying a resurgence of late primarily thanks to the Marvel Thor movies.  Has Loki ever been more popular than during the last several years?  However, the Thor of the Marvel Universe is most definitely not the Thor of Norse mythology.  Not at all.  If you’re looking for a quick read to gain familiarity with these fascinating beings, Greek Mythology is the book for you.

Though all the names remain the same, Gaiman has written their tales in a more contemporary fashion, one that our modern society will find fluid and easy to comprehend.  Gaiman focuses on the most relevant of the stories, and so you can expect to learn about the major events and figures of the Norse pantheon.

Readers will be surprised to learn that Thor is something of a meathead in his original incarnation, Loki is actually Odin’s blood-brother, and Odin himself is far more dangerous than the movies ever depicted.  You’ll experience trolls, frost giants, serpents, dwarfs, monstrous dogs, and Ragnarok – the fall of the Norse gods.

A quick read, I would have no problem putting this book in the hands of my eight-year-old daughter.  It is not a children’s book, but it’s also not inappropriate for children to read.  As I already said, I can’t imagine a better book to provide a basic knowledge of the Norse gods.

Gaiman is no stranger to Norse mythology, by the way.  Odin is a major player in his novel entitled American Gods (which is soon to appear on STARZ as a television show).  He also uses Thor, Loki, and Odin in his seminal comic book series called The Sandman.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Star Wars: Ahsoka by EK Johnston – A Book Review

Perhaps the greatest Star Wars character to never actually appear in one of the films, Ahsoka Tano broke out during the animated Clone Wars series.  If you’re unfamiliar with her, she once served as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan.  She and Anakin had an incredible bond, and when she left the Jedi Order, it broke Anakin’s heart.  In fact, her departure coupled with the perceived betrayal of the Jedi absolutely led to his downfall.  One must wonder if he could have resisted the Dark Side had Ahsoka been with him.

Nonetheless, due to her break with the Jedi, she escaped Order 66.  Ahsoka picks up later after Palpatine took control.  Now permanently on the run, Ahsoka must use an alias wherever she goes and downplay her connection to the Force.  She’s a hero at heart, though, and like her Master, she can’t help but get involved when she must.

The first half of the book is comparable to the other Star Wars books in that she lands on a remote planet, she meets characters of no real significance, and a small–ultimately inconsequential–operation begins against the Empire.  I felt real disappointment at this premise because everything felt rather … unimportant.  The beginning of this book seemed entirely forgettable.

But then the second half of the book happened … and I couldn’t put it down.

I won’t spoil it for you, but Ahsoka leads directly into both the cartoon Rebels and Star Wars:  A New Hope … maybe even Rogue One.  Want to know why the Sith’s lightsabers are red?  Want to know how Ahsoka ended up with white lightsabers?  Want to know how Ahsoka became Fulcrum?  Want to witness the beginning of the Inquisitors?  Ever wondered about Bail Organa’s role with the Rebels?  The second half of the book answers all of those questions and sets Ahsoka up for big, big things.

Johnston understands Ahsoka’s character well, especially in terms of where she was in Clone Wars and where she’s going in Rebels.  I’m not sure how I’d feel about it without  having watched both cartoons, but as it stands, Ahsoka ended up being incredibly satisfying.

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Barkskins by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

Though I adore Annie Proulx’s work and count her among my favorite authors, Barkskins did not engage me as much as her previous books.

That’s not to say it’s not worthy of praise.  It’s magnificently written.  It’s also intricately detailed.  To declare it as epic may be an understatement considering it follows several generations of two men’s families from the 1700s to present day.  It pays an astounding amount of attention to historical fact, the trends and science of deforestation and reforestation, as well as various cultural customs spanning several centuries.

Honestly, I felt like I’d lived several lives by the end of this book, and it taught me much about how difficult surviving in this country proved to be for both Native Americans and the various early explorers, invaders, and settlers.  After all, nearly every character meets with a difficult end in this novel.  It also made me think about my own family history, as well as what the future may hold for my descendants.

So why didn’t I like it as much as Proulx’s other work?  I suppose I found it a little dense and slow.  Furthermore, part of what made it brilliant is part of why I didn’t find myself engaged – there are a lot of characters.  Too many characters, actually.  Six or seven of them I found captivating, but many of the rest were difficult to track and I lost interest in their particular stories.

Frankly, I may not have been in the right frame of mind for a book so demanding of my time and attention.  Perhaps I should revisit it in the summer when things are a little slower and I can give it more consideration (and possibly take notes).

As expected, Proulx has delivered a masterfully written book full of such passionate detail and historical authenticity that it’s hard not to appreciate its many positives.  In the end, though, I simply found it too long with too many characters that did not consistently hold my interest.

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The Remains Of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – A Book Review

I shouldn’t have enjoyed this book, yet I couldn’t put it down.

The novel details a butler named Stevens nearing the end of his career.  Part of the book revolves around Stevens driving across the countryside in order to reunite with a former fellow servant, Miss Kenton.  He’d like to offer her a position … or is there something more he has in mind?  These are no mere servants, however.  Stevens was once the epitome of perfection as the highest ranking butler in Darlington Hall, a mammoth estate owned by an internationally renowned gentleman.  Though those days are past, Stevens reminisces about them as he travels.

I agree that the plot is not the most enticing, yet trust me when I tell you that as the story unfolds, Stevens becomes a fascinating character.  He is incredibly conscientious, yet emotionally impotent.  His loyalty is unfaltering, but he also lacks critical perspective.  His work ethic is nearly super human; however, he cannot prioritize between his work and his personal life.  And his morality?  Dubious, at best.

These contrasts create a deeply satisfying character study.  Make no mistake, though, it is Ishiguro’s pacing that makes it so captivating.  He knows exactly when to introduce revelations.  Just as things seem to be stagnating, the author embarks upon a relevant piece of information that calls everything prior into question.

Best of all?  The entire book is from Stevens’ perspective, so as these alarming details arise, we must doubt not only the guilty parties, but Stevens himself.  There are moments when the reader suspects Stevens may not be the most reliable narrator …

Because Stevens takes his role so seriously, he is an incredibly well studied, intelligent man.  His vocabulary is complex which results is very high diction throughout the novel.  Consequently, Ishiguro creates beautifully structured sentences that demand both concentration and consideration.  I’m ashamed to admit this is my first Ishiguro book, so I don’t know if this style is a reflection of Stevens’ personality or the author’s typical delivery.

Though I only read the book because a friend recommended it, I’m glad I did.  If you appreciate excellent pacing, engaging vocabulary, and a true character study, I believe you will enjoy The Remains Of the Day.