Monday, August 25, 2014

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/23

I've got a long list this week -- the big Yen box for the month came in, which means a vast assortment of manga and similar goodies -- so I'll keep the preliminaries to a minimum. These are books that showed up on my doorstep this week, real old-fashioned books on paper, and I'm hoping to review at least some of them here. But I know I won't get to all of them, so I do these weekly posts every Monday morning to write a quick paragraph about each, based on a cursory glance, to at least give them that chance to catch you attention.

First up is Exo, the new novel by Steven Gould. It's the latest in his YA-ish series that started with Jumper, initially about Davey Rice, a young man who discovered he could teleport but now about his family, now that he's grown up and started one. Exo is the direct sequel to last year's Impulse, which was told in first person by Davey's teenage daughter Cent, and this one continues her story. Gould's writing is compellingly readable and the Impulse books are a hell of a lot of fun: I'm looking forward to this one. It's a Tor hardcover, officially available on September 9.

Jasper Fforde's current YA series, The Chronicles of Kazam, reaches a third book with The Eye of Zoltar. (And that reminded me that I missed #2, The Song of the Quarkbeast, so it's off to the library for me. Do see my review of #1, The Last Dragonslayer, as well.) As usual for Fforde, it's set in a weirdly quirky world -- the Ununited Kingdoms, a massively Balkanized Britain where magic has been ebbing for centuries, until recently -- and has a great, engaging heroine in Jennifer Strange, a teenage founding and default head of the ramshackle Kazam Mystical Arts Management company. Zoltar is a hardcover from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, coming on October 7th.

And now I have the beginning of a series, for those who would rather jump in on the ground floor. M.C. Planck's Sword of the Bright Lady begins the World of Prime fantasy series, as modern man Christopher Sinclair accidentally travels from Arizona to a fantasy world. It looks like Sword is a distant cousin of Lest Darkness Fall and similar books; Sinclair is a mechanical engineer and his way of surviving in a world of magic seems to rely heavily on his professional knowledge and skills. (So this looks like a fantasy novel that SF readers will particularly enjoy.) It's a trade paperback from Pyr, available September 9th.

If you are or have a teenager, I probably don't have to introduce James Dashner, whose mega-seller The Maze Runner has just become a big movie. His current series began with The Eye of Minds, a near-future cyberpunky story (oh, it's a dystopia as well, since SFnal YAs are required to be dystopian these days) with virtual worlds and self-aware programs and the teen boy who has to save everyone. And there's a sequel already in The Rule of Thoughts, a Delacorte hardcover on September 19th.

Another novel published for teens -- though I find that 99+% of those are equally as entertaining for adults -- is Alan Gratz's The League of Seven, which begins a trilogy set in a steampunky 1870s. (This is in the half of steampunk where Edison is the evil genius behind everything -- which I presume means Tesla will show up eventually as a white hat.) The setup here is that electricity is the energy that powers an ancient race of gigantic monsters, who were defeated long ago and secreted in underground prisons. But now the evil forces of Edison have foiled the secret society that kept electricity from the masses, and one plucky boy must gather six others with very specific skills to save the world. This one's from Tor's Starscape imprint, and is available now.

From here on out, it's all manga and similar stuff; if any of you have an unreasoning fear of Japanese cooties (or maybe even comics cooties, though my blog is infested with those as a matter of course), you'll want to run screaming now. As I usually do, I've organized them in rough order of volume number, moving from most accessible to least, with the odder things (light novels and adaptations) at the end. All of these are from Yen Press, and all are available now, having published either this month or in July.

So we start easily with High School DxD, Vol. 2 by Hiroji Mishima, adapted from Ichiei Ishibumi's light-novel series of the same name. (See my review of the first volume.) It's quite fan-servicey, but I liked the first one despite that -- Mishima has a solid shonen-manga style, and he pushes some obvious buttons with some individual style.

Then there's Cocoa Fujiwara's Inu x Boku SS, Vol. 4, the confusingly-titled story of a group of supernatural kids of rich Japanese families who all live in a Tokyo apartment building (some of them as the pampered residents, some of them as the elite "secret service" bodyguards to those residents). I reviewed first the initial two volumes, then went back for number three. And I gather that this volume is where The Big Event happens that sets up the rest of the series, so we've all got that to look forward to.

Nico Tanigawa is back with No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 4, continuing the story of the geekily self-blinded Tomoko. (I covered the first two books as Day 56 and then went back for number three as Day 89.) Tomoko is a great, unique character -- obsessed with sex but repelled by people, hugely introverted but with a massive desire to be popular -- and I'm glad to see she's back.

And then there's Junya Inoe's BTOOOM!, Vol. 7, another two hundred or so pages of people trying to kill each other with various bombs on an isolated island for the amusement of the shadowy forces that set it all up. (Or, more obviously, for the amusement of the kind of readers who like stories about teenagers killing each other.) I reviewed the first volume in a round-up post last summer, and haven't kept up since; I'm not really a fan of the Battle Royale genre.

Shouji Sato's series about impressively-chested hospital personnel stylishly killing gangsters rumbles forward in Triage X, Vol. 7. I reviewed the first five volumes in one post -- I intermittently decide that covering individual manga volumes is about as useful as looking at one issue of an American comic -- and then came back later for the sixth. You probably won't respect yourself for reading any of these, but they are stylish and entertaining.

Speaking of things you might not respect yourself about in the morning, I also have the new volume of Sacchi's harem manga: Is This a Zombie?, Vol. 8. In fact, I'm chagrined to realize that this is the final volume, which means my review of the first seven was just slightly premature, and I could have done the whole thing if I waited a little while. Anyway, this is the end of the manga based on the light novels of the same name by Shinichi Kimura.

Another final volume is Omamori Himari, Vol. 12 by Milan Katra, but I haven't read any of this series. I believe this is a romance series among supernatural creatures -- so there might be some demon-fighting mixed in -- but I don't know much more than that. But the series is complete in English now, so anyone old enough to read it -- it's rated M, and sealed in plastic -- can run through the whole thing now.

I might start writing shorter here, as we're getting into the deep volumes of things I know very little about, like Yana Toboso's Black Butler, Vol. 17. It's set in some version of Victorian England, has a super-competent butler, and, um, other stuff happens to, OK?

Similarly, I can't tell you anything specific about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 19, a manga by Gaku Tsugano from the light novels by Nagaru Tanigawa. (Or maybe Tanigawa actually scripted this stuff, too: I don't really know.)

And I'll similarly skip lightly over Pandora Hearts, Vol. 21 by Jun Mochizuki, because again I could only reveal my innocence. It's had a long run, so it clearly has a devoted audience and a complex story -- apologies for not being able to say more.

But I do know a bit about Soul Eater, Vol. 21, the new book in the series about demon-hunters and their sentient shape-shifting weapons by Atsushi Ohkubo. The series moved from the professional hunters into a school setting along the way -- manga have a tropism to high school like teenage boys to porn -- but Ohkubo still has a clean, energetic shonen art style and tells zippy stories.

His side-series is also back in Soul Eater NOT!, Vol. 3. I don't remember exactly why this is a side-story, I'm afraid: I've only read a few of the main books. But this is more in the same world, if you're a fan of the parent series and have somehow missed this.

There's a series of horror-tinged games in Japan that retell something like the same story with variations, and -- since every media property in Japan has to be adapted to every other media possible -- they've been turned into manga along the way. Umineko WHEN THEY CRY Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch, Vol. 1is in that tangle of story, beginning the adaptation of that particular game in the middle of the series. The manga credits story to Ryukishi07 and art to Soichiro, both of which could be actual human beings, corporations, or post-human uploads running on a unobtanium substrate, as far as I know.

It's odd to name the first book in a series Accel World, Vol. 1: Kuroyukihime's Return, but that's what Reki Kawahara did with this light novel. (Which also has illustrations by Hima.) It's another book about a schlubby junior-high boy approached by a gorgeous slightly older girl, who initiates him into the secret world (and will probably finally fall in love with him about volume four). This time, the secret world is in a computer, and I think it's some kind of virtual reality.

The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Princess has a big number 3 on its spine, but resolutely refuses to explain what that means. (The first page of comics here also starts with a caption that says "Chapter 17," so it's clearly a more-detailed-than-usual adaptation of a book.) This is credited to Cassandra Clare with art by Hyekyung Baek, so it's clearly based on Clare's steampunk novels -- how, exactly, and whether Clare did her own comics scripting, the book declines to say.

I thought the Spice & Wolf light novels had individual titles, but what I have in hand just says it's Spice and Wolf, Vol. 12 by Isuna Hasekura. This is mercantile fantasy as you love it -- hardcore trading action on nearly every page! Oh, and our merchant's assistant is an ages-old fertility goddess in the form of a wolf-girl.

Last for this week is Sword Art Online: Aincrad, Vol. 2, one more light novel. This one is by Reki Kawahara, with illustrations by an entity credited as abec. (All lower-case.) In the near-future, virtual reality has finally become a thing, and our heroes are, inevitably, trapped in a fiendishly complicated one and will Really Die if they die in the game. (Perhaps this is why virtual reality will never really become a thing; we all assume that playing games there will be fatal.)

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