Dark Fantasy, Dystopian Literature, Fiction, Reviews, Teen

Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Mortal Engines Book CoverReeve, P. (2018). Mortal engines. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Hundreds of years after humanity has permanently altered the landscape of the planet and wiped out the majority of its population and resources in what is know as the “Sixty Minute War”, Earth has gone from being “dog-eat-dog” to a “city-eat-city” world.  The last remnants of human settlements have rebuilt their cities onto mobile platforms, capturing and consuming those smaller or less fortunate than themselves across the wastes of “The Hunting Grounds”, otherwise known as the Out-Country, which is roughly what we would know, geographically, as residing across the (now) large open area and marshes stretching between Portugal and Tibet.

Those who live in these traction cities, both small and large, tend to look down upon surface dwellers, i.e. those who have founded permanent settlements on islands, inhabitable areas or in the “Anti-Traction League” capital, which sits behind a great defensive wall near near what was once known as Mt. Everest. They consider them uncouth and unsophisticated, barbarians who are no more than beasts. Imagine the surprise of one life-long traction city tenant, Tom, when he finds himself inadvertently behind enemy lines after a string of unfortunate events, only to discover a colorful, lively, flourishing civilization among its people, a people who do not deserve to die due to the greed and corruption of politicians gone mad with power and delusion. People like his own honorable mayor of London.

Ah yes, but how does Tom reach the Anti-Traction League? How does he find himself removed from his traction-city, a sentence tantamount to death for any traction-city citizen? How has he survived the Out-Country? Who is the horribly disfigured girl, Hester, who he now travels with, and how have their paths intertwined? You’ll have to read the book!

Ok, ok. I’ll give you some spoilers. Don’t read on if you want to be surprised.

Tom is about 16 years old and working as a level 3 apprentice in the History Guild of the traction-city, London. After hiding for many years, with resources dwindling, the great city of London is on the prowl for fresh prey, with a new secret mission privy only to the mayor, some of the his former Engineer’s guild, and the head of the Historian’s Guild (and Tom’s personal hero), Thaddeus Valentine, famed archaeologist and explorer, who also happens to have a daughter Tom’s age, who he develops a crush on. It’s all for the glory of the great city of London (the mission, not the crush) a way to show its supremacy and ensure its survival, so the citizens are led to believe.

Enter Hester Shaw. Stealing aboard London city, Hester attempts to assassinate Valentine, which leads to a near fatal leg would, a chase by Tom , a sudden and unexpected betrayal, and in short, he and Hester find themselves in the Out-Country, would-be-enemies, that find common purpose and common ground in their quest to return to London, initially for different reasons, only to find their reasons become more similar as the know each other better and the way of the real world becomes much clearer. But first, they have to survive.

In the course of their survival, Tom learns that his idol was the cause of not only Hester’s disfigurement at a young age, but also the loss of her parents, a fate that Tom, also an orphan, feels keenly. (Hester also finds out a shocking connection to Valentine’s daughter, Katherine). At the same time, he learns of a mysterious artifact from the time of the Sixty Minute War, the apparent impetus for Valentine’s betrayal, and Hester’s suffering, only to find out , that it is was the missing component for an ancient weapon set to destroy the Anti-traction nation of Shan Guo and it’s massive wall, opening up the resistance’s resources to London, with the ultimate aim of stripping the planet itself bare,  growing and moving on to destroy other worlds…a planet eater, like a galactic virus…eating and consuming, destroying everything in its path, “for the glory of London”, leaving nothing but devastation in its path.

Tom meets steampunk-like air-ship pilots (my favorite), pirates, monks, love interests, new friends, betrayals, destruction and rebirths. He learns more about himself, what he needs, what he wants, and what he believes through hardship, but also, about the real plight of the world, instead of the fantasy version he was brought up in and now, he aims to set things right, even if he didn’t start out that way. While Hester was a lot more world-wise than Tom, Katherine was not, and neither was the late comer, the ill-fated, young Engineer Pod, but all of them develop a new, keen sight throughout the course of the story, even when they may wish they did not.

You see them go through all the stages of grief and more  (see below) as the world they thought they knew slowly crumbles before them and they have to reassess and rebuild their perceptions of reality, including their beliefs and relationships with people they thought they knew, based on a fuller, more informed view, something that, even without the similarities in politics and international relations right now, is something that every person has to do at some point in their life, whether as a child moving into adulthood, or as an adult overcoming trauma, conditioning, and/or coming into your own.

Image result for stages of grief
Source: Via Google Image Search from BetterHelp.com

 

 

It’s no surprise that I loved this book. I put it on my Christmas list, with the anticipation that I would read it before passing it along to my kid, but I absolutely fell in love with the story and by the middle of it, I couldn’t put it down. I absolutely love that experience.

YA or Teen literature, and dystopian literature in particular, is one of my most favorite genres, and Philip Reeve does not disappoint. Some people have drawn the similarity between this story line and Star Wars, and I can totally see it, and you will too, particularly with the introduction of MEDUSA. But also, its the story of a reluctant hero, fallible and imperfect, floundering around the world until he gets it right, making mistakes left and right, until he begins to really find himself. It doesn’t make things any easier, and it doesn’t prevent mistakes, but it definitely provides clarity of purpose. I also drew some very strong similarities between this story and our own international affairs, which is exactly what dystopian literature is supposed to do. It’s supposed to keep, upfront in our minds, repressive regimes who often use propaganda machines to promote a utopian view, a holier-than-though image of the regime which keeps people submissive, or delusional, in this case, even in the light of savagery, loss of humanity and empathy and slavery in both life and death. It’s a fictional way to process some very real circumstances, and hopefully gives the reader a frame of reference they may not have previously had that will allow them to objectively assess bias and move forward in a more informed, educated, enlightened, and hopefully humane way. And while many of these dystopian novels are tragic, dark and sad, they also give me hope for enlightenment and again, rebirth. Knowledge is power. Knowledge means life.

Phew, that was deep.

Ok. So, Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings (film) fame, upon reading these books, bought the film rights and, after giving it to a director from his crew, this first book’s adaptation was recently released into the theaters to less than stellar reviews. HOWEVER, I fully intend to see it and give my two cents (though Hester in the movie stills is not NEARLY as disfigured as she is in the book, which I think detracts from it in someways, but that is typical Hollywood fashion, trying to downplay her disfigurement to make her more palatable to a larger audience, so take it as you will. Also I hear they downplayed the steampunk element which really makes me sad!), while trying to shelve my typical “it didn’t happen that way in the book” response (not doing so hot so far am I…keep trying, keep trying! 😉  ). Sometimes you just have to enjoy a movie for entertainment purposes, but I hear that Philip Reeve was pleased with the adaptation, so there is that.

And on that note, I am off to request the second book in the series from the library. Oh yes, there are three more, and then three prequels I hear. Wish me luck!

Shrike - Mortal Engine Movie Still

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Dark Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Reviews, Teen, Tween, Uncategorized

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (novel vs. graphic novel)

 

Gaiman, Neil. (2008). The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins. 352 pages. ISBN 978-0-8037- 3187-5.

Awards/Selection Lists:
– Hugo Award
– Newbery Medal
– Locus Award
– Audie Award
– Indies Choice Book Award
– Indie Young Adult Buzz Book
– Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction
– Carnegie Medal
– Elizabeth Burr / Worzalla Award
– Premio El Templo de las Mil Puertas for Mejor novela extranjera independiente

 

Author’s Website: http://www.neilgaiman.com/

Brief Summary: One dreadful night an entire family was viciously, and inexplicably murdered, save one resourceful and curious toddler, who climbed out of his crib and toddled out the open front door and down the street as the viscous killer, with preternatural senses, completed his foul work, realized his error in allowing one family member to escape and began tracking the mysterious tot. Through a combination of luck, magic and pure circumstance, the youngster finds his way into a locked cemetery, where he is found and eventually sheltered by its ghostly inhabitants, with the killer hot on his heels.

Among the ghosts of the dead he is adopted, given the sanctuary of the graveyard and named “Nobody” or “Bod” for short. By the undead, who have the freedom to come and go from the cemetery, Bod is fed, clothed and educated.  With a knack for finding trouble where-ever it may be, he goes about his days living in a world between worlds, and along the way he meets friends and foes, both living and dead, from mysterious slithering Celtic burial-mound forces, to ghouls, to cryptids, to thieves, and disreputables, unaware that his family’s killer still searches for him year after year. But time is short. As Bod’s desire to stretch his wings beyond the confines of the graveyard grows, his spirit permissions and gift of sight wane, which means so does his allowable time in the graveyard, the only home and family he’s ever really known. How will he build a life outside of its walls, still a child?

Imagine, this backward life. Instead of going through life trying to find the answers to death, you begin life with death, and then have to learn how to live with the living! Can Bod discover the truth about his family’s killer, learn to live among the living, build a new life and leave behind the only family he has ever known? Can he continue to cheat death without the protection of the graveyard as his life-long, yet unknown nemesis breathes down his neck and worms his way into Bod’s protected circle? Will Bod uncover just how deep the conspiracy goes to remove all traces of his human family in time to stop it? Most importantly, will he survive existence among the mundane, once he no longer has a choice and how will he ever live without his unconventional adopted parents and guardian?

Personal Reaction: 
I LOVE this book. I’m a little obsessed with Neil Gaiman but you might know that by now, but books like this are exactly why. I loved it so much that I sped through reading it and then immediately picked up the graphic novel version (comparison a little further down).

This is considered a YA novel. I believe that’s pretty accurate, though the portion at the beginning talking about Bod’s family dying at the hands of a madman with a knife was a bit much )The graphic novel pics, while definitely cartoony were still a little over the top for me. BUT, that being said, I’d say the reading level is spot on…maybe 7th or 8th grade for typical readers. It’s dark in tone, and a little sad. As you move on you can feel the sadness and longing within Bod, and the foreboding in his adopted family, for they know he can’t stay forever, even if they wanted him to, but the more the living world draws him in, the less he sees and hears in the Graveyard, perhaps a metaphor for a loss of innocence, with a great Neil Gaiman twist.

Bod, other than living with ghost parents, is a typical kid, doing exactly what he’s been told NOT to do, complaining about lessons being boring, being intensely curious, putting himself in potentially mortal jeopardy, and learning significant lessons along the way. He’s a good kid. He wants to help those he loves, those less fortunate, but he also can’t help but long for a world just outside his grasp, like adulthood outside of puberty. He wants to know, he wants to love, he wants to live, but he is scared to let go of the world he knows and move on. He’s stuck in limbo, until the Universe really doesn’t give him any other choice. He dips his toe into the unknown, and those questions he didn’t want to answer now are thrust upon him and in answering them, he finds himself, his place, his voice, his direction and his confidence.

Bod’s story is EVERYbody’s story, which is why you may find yourself crying, or terrified as you walk through the journey with Bod, like you were looking into a mirror of your own image.

If you want to get a little less philosophical, read it because its familiar, dark, edgy, sweet, tender, and yet still unknown. Read it because it’s an amazing story on its own. Read the graphic novel (which comes in two parts, which killed me when I got to the end of the first one and didn’t have the second on hand) for the same reasons. But the graphic novel is more like a cliff notes version. Still you get the main pieces of plot and character, just not the minutiae, which made me hesitant for the first chapter or so, but really, after that, you’re just flipping through the pages faster than you realize, devouring the whole thing.

The art in the graphic novel is good..much like a typical comic book. The color palette really does exemplify the tone (I was constantly cold while I read it…I recommend a good blanket and tea nearby!). My favorite thing about the graphic novel, though, was that it gave me a visual of some of the characters I thought I knew so well, but obviously didn’t. The way they were conceptualized in the novel, with Gaiman’s approval of course, were sometimes far different than what I had imagined, or filled in a gap where I felt like I had no visual reference and I really liked that.  The content is well curated and it would be perfect for a reluctant reader, or someone who thinks they are too cool to read novels. 😉 But, no matter what, this book will be one of those pieces that becomes a part of you and your identity in a way many other books fall short. Neil Gaiman definitely did not miss the mark on this. Pure genius.

Dark Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews

Review: Neverwhere: Author’s Preferred Text by Neil Gaiman

    Gaiman, N. (2016). Neverwhere: Authors preferred text. New York, NY: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.
   Awards:

  –  Adult Literature : 1998 Mythopoeic

 

 

Have you ever found yourself moving through life, step-by-step, following “the guide” that you believe was set down for you and indicated success? “This is the way things are supposed to be, and I’m ok with that,” you find yourself saying. A few shallow friendships, a promising but not quite there career, a significant other who you have little in common with, but works in the context of the framework, even if they’re not terribly nice and change the bits about you they don’t like, similar to pieces on a chess board. But you smile, and go along, thinking how good things are, even if somewhere between the lines you’re wondering who these people are and how you got there. It seems the plight of many, including Richard Mayhew.

    One night, Richard is walking with his girlfriend, Jessica, to meet her all important boss, after she coaches him on what to say, how to look, what to wear….does he have his keys, did he check the reservation, hurry up, you’re a mess, we are going to be late, don’t give money to that homeless person. In a state similar to blurred vision, many of these details do fall through the cracks for Richard, only to have Jessica berate him, with him following up to fill in the gaps, always to her specifications, even though she is never quite satisfied. Yet he never stops to ask himself why, or why he doesn’t seem to care, or why he’s living his life according to someone else’s rules. Numb and ordinary, he smiles and shrugs and moves one foot in front of the other…not quite the man he thinks he is but can’t remember. Then, a door appears in the middle of a wall, a bleeding girl drops out of it onto the dirty London sidewalk and she croaks a simple cry for help, even as Jessica steps over her as if she didn’t exist. Without question, without hesitation, even with the ultimatum from Jessica that they are through if he picks her up and helps her to safety, he doesn’t think twice, and that is where his life completely changes.
    After a brief encounter with the most vile and mysterious villains, the young lady he has helped, The Lady Door, recovers sufficiently enough to return to her home, to find the name of her family’s killer, and discover the deep seeded plot which rocks “London Below,” in the company of the mysterious Marquis de Carabas, with only a “thank you” and “I’m so sorry.” Richard’s life soon ceases to exist as he knows it, near invisible and insignificant to the mundane. His property management company leases his apartment to a couple, while he is in the bath in the very same apartment. His cubicle is removed from his office in his presence. His best friend doesn’t know him. His fiance can’t recall his name but swears he looks familiar. And good God, what happened to all his troll dolls?! Searching for answers, and determined to get his life back, Richard packs a bag and heads out for a subterranean adventure the likes of no-one has ever seen.
    Through life-or-death trials with rat speakers, angels, monks, subways, night markets, portal-openers, murderers, and all those who slip between the cracks, not to mention the dreaded “ordeal”, life is anything but dull in this land of muted, earthly light. Will Richard Mayhew make it out alive, and even if he does, will he regain the life he once knew? More importantly, can he be satisfied in that life, now that the lines have sharpened, he has been tested, and the volume of life turned to 11? Can he go back to simply being “normal” after becoming extraordinary? Could you?
   A Little Extra:
   There are a few different edits of this book, and I, of course, was grateful to read the author’s preferred text. He was able to take his draft and revise it for television (yup, I’m gonna have to binge watch that one), revise it based on his experiences there, and eventually, defy his editors until the story resembled what his mind and pen weren’t able to convey before. That’s Art. That process is known to many of us. Never satisfied with the first attempt, we either re-work it into ruin, or into absolute genius. It’s no surprise to me, that Neil Gaiman landed squarely in the genius category with this last manuscript.
    I had a really hard time putting this book down for meals, for work, for sleep. I was constantly looking for the character I most identified with, and was ultimately shocked to find I related in many ways to Richard…previously dulling  down my own character to present what I was brought up to believe was acceptable or expected, feeling slightly less that my full potential, and putting up with far more abuse than I ever should have, while everything else I should have enjoyed seemed muted, clinging to the tiniest piece of magic in the world, to feed my soul, even if no one else knew but me. By the end, I understood, for me, this book had a message for me…to continue to be my most genuine self; to be bold; to acknowledge fear but not to let it rule over me; to understand the “muchness” of my own self, not someone else’s projection of me. We are stronger than we appear, even to ourselves. Richard ran a gauntlet, had a quest, and a trial. He was tested, and as battered and bruised as he came out each time, he knew himself better and luckily, someone else did, too. He found his place, his tribe, his people, in a world he never thought existed when he was too busy, trying to make it “above.” Door may have fallen in his lap, and led to another world, but Richard…Richard held the key, even when he thought his hands were empty.
    Now, my obsession with Neil Gaiman is cemented (as if it weren’t before). This book is a good mix of mystery, fantasy, horror and crime. An adult fiction book, sometimes for language and dark violence only, and in only a few places, but just barely. It feels like a guilty pleasure that you don’t fully understand the enjoyment of until you’ve completely finished. Like another reviewer mentioned, part way into it you start to berate yourself for not having read more Neil Gaiman, even while you ARE reading Neil Gaiman, and then you have to re-focus to dive back in, and remind yourself late to rush out and reserve the rest of his works from the library. And there are sequels people… SEQUELS (not to mention a graphic novel, of course…we expect nothing less from the man who took the Sandman so far into graphic history)! A short story about how the Marquis got his coat back, which presents as an epilogue in this edition AND “The Seven Sisters,” which he was writing as of the release of Norse Mythology.  It’s a marvel. Give it a read.
Dark Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Teen

Review: Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Riggs, Ransom. (2014). Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books. 416 pages. ISBN 9781594747359

Awards/Selection Lists:

– New York Times Bestseller List 2014
– Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction 2014
Author’s Website: http://www.ransomriggs.com/

 

Brief Summary:  Jacob and the remaining peculiar children are fighting for their lives, while being chased by deadly and evolving hollowghasts and wights. With ymbrynes being snatched, left and right, Miss Peregrine appears to be in danger of staying a bird forever, unless this rag tag group of refugees can find a safe haven and the last of ymbrynes to turn her back. With mysteries, narrow escapes, new friends and talents, regrets, betrayals, gypsies, enemies and dangers untold, Jacob and his friends discover and explore new time loops, including WWII England during The Blitz, fight beasts and bombs, trains and troops in an attempt to save peculiars and normals alike, all with only mere hours before Miss Peregrine’s transformation becomes permanent and the peculiars’ run the risk of turning to dust.
Personal Reaction: While even darker than the original installment of this series, Hollow City is full of intrigue and exploration, new characters and details, all leading to the deciphering of a series of  mysteries vital to anticipating the fate of Riggs’ characters, and even then, you’ll never see the twists coming. I did find it to be a slower read than the original, which I just couldn’t put down, and significantly sadder in tone, but it was compelling none the less and made me want to read Riggs’s “Tales of the Peculiars” (2016) even more than the third book of this trilogy, as it “Tales of the Peculiars” (2016) featured prominently throughout Hollow City as their treasured relic from their original time loop…a book… giving clues and hints to help the peculiars survive and find what they need through myths and stories.

That being said, I still can’t get enough of the photographs Riggs uses throughout the book, to help tell the story and appreciate the developing love story between Jacob and Emma, which is not sexualized but shows a unique blend of self-sacrificing maturity and the insecurity of youth in love.

Content Evaluation: Definitely a book for 6th grade and up, the content has many starts and stops that make following difficult if you are not paying attention. Dark and melancholy in tone, this must be taken into account when suggesting to readers. It’s an excellent blend of mystery, science fiction, historical fiction and even a little bit of fantasy, with a complex weave to the story. So, make sure your reader loves a challenge, a mystery, a survival story and won’t get discouraged by a slow passage or two, as the ending will leave their head spinning, but all in a good way.

 

 Enjoy Ransom Riggs’s book trailer for this title here: