Spies Like Thus

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9780553535204. 304pp.

(Note from Gene: I’ve known Kelly since back when she was a children’s librarian back in the early 2000s, I meet her to write a few times a month, and I loved her first book.)

Gene: So your book, your fantastic book. Give me your pitch for it.
Kelly: It’s about a girl, Annis, whose father is murdered and instead of becoming a governess she’d much rather become a spy. Unfortunately the War Office doesn’t see eye to eye with her.
G: Don’t you have to pitch it as a Regency first though?
K: I don’t, actually. I typically don’t. When I’m talking to elementary school kids about what I’m writing next, I say this happened 200 years ago and then I give that pitch. This one kid was like It’s exactly like Maximum Ride!  And I was like, um
G: I haven’t read that. But what about the Alex Rider series. This is if Alex Rider wore a dress and he could sew.
K: Yes. That is exactly not what it is like.
G: No.
K: It’s a Regency but it’s not a romance.
G: She doesn’t find for a while that her dad is murdered. She’s kind of cast out of her life because she and her aunt suddenly don’t have any money — all of her dad’s money goes missing. And she goes to the War Office in a very haughty moment, after she knows she has magical talent, and tries to convince them to hire her as a spy. She goes about it in completely the wrong way.
K: I think that is basically her approach to pretty much everything for most of the book, if not the entire book. She has her idea of how things should be done and nobody else ever agrees with her.
Continue reading “Spies Like Thus”

Princess of Power

pocahontasPocahontas: Princess of the New World by Loïc Locatelli-Lournwsky, translated by Sandra Smith. Pegasus Books, 2016. 9781681772172.

Locatelli-Lournwsky’s retelling of the story of Pocahontas (also known as Matoaka) opens with her becoming a woman and getting married, though she is still treated like a child. Trying to teach herself to hunt, she is injured and rescued by John Smith. After they are found her people want to kill Smith but she intercedes and saves his life. From that day forth she is called Pocahontas, which the book translates as “shameless whore.” Smith returns to Jamestown where Pocahontas visits frequently and learns English. As the white men continue cut down trees and destroy the forest, moving ever closer to the Natives and affecting their ability to hunt, tensions rise. When the Natives are about to attack the settlement she warns Smith in an effort to save lives on both sides, but loses her place among her people because of it. She moves into a different settlement, converts to Christianity, and marries a widower. She is eventually taken to England where she is presented at court.

This graphic novel’s setting and subject matter reminded me of Nick Bertozzi’s epic Lewis & Clark, though this feels like more story than history. This version of Pocahontas is an expressive, strong character quietly determined to move forward despite the difficulties of her life. She pulled me through the story as much as Locatelli-Lournwsky’s artwork — he uses one color, an orangish yellow, along with black, to create a sense of everything from the wild forests of North America to the formality of the English court.

Have a look at some pages from this book.

Viking Road Trip

Black Road Volume One: The Holy North by Brian Wood, Gary Brown, Dave McCaig, Steve Wands.  Image, 2016. 97816321587.

Contains Black Road #1 – #5.

Brian Wood is one of my favorite comics creators, and his Vertigo series Northlanders was one of the best things he’s written, so there was no way I wasn’t going to pick this up. In Norway, in about the year 1000 A.D., the Christian conversion of Viking civilization is in full swing. Magnus the Black is just trying to keep his head down as he tries to decide whose side he’s on. He’s hired to escort a Roman cardinal on the Northern Road to Hammaruskk, “…a path
built of misery, sorrow, blood, and bile.” The Cardinal isn’t worried as he says he has a guardian angel. (His angel can’t stop his murder, but she does try to complete the Cardinal’s mission. And along the way she gets vengeance for him.)

Full of double crosses, murder, and gloriously bloody violence, this reminded me of the more brutal bits of Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. And it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger — I’m happy that there’s more coming.

PS: I highly recommend Wood’s current monthly comic from Dark Horse, Briggs Land, about a woman trying to take control of (and improve) the secessionist community her husband created, after her husband goes to prison. (Her husband isn’t happy about it, but luckily she has the support of most of her sons.)

PPS:  You should also try Wood’s Rebels, a graphic novel of the Revolutionary War that features Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys and others. Good stuff.

Sale on European Artist’s Work

DieterLumpen.jpegThe Adventures of Dieter Lumpen by Jorge Zentner, Rubén Pellejero. EuroComics (IDW). 9781631406065. 260pp.

This omnibus includes eight shorter comics and three graphic albums featuring adventurer Dieter Lumpen, originally published between 1985 and 1994, written by Zenter (Argentina) and drawn by Pellejero (Spain). I must have ordered it from the Seattle Public Library when checking for new graphic novels, which I do periodically. I’m not much of a fan of realistic European comics of this time period, but artist Tim Sale’s introduction gave me a way in: he talks about Pellejero being a kindred spirit in terms of how he balances black and white in his drawings. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Sale’s work (my favorites are probably Batman: The Long Halloween and Catwoman: When in Rome) you’ll love these stories more than a little, too.

Full of sex, violence, criminals, and settings around the globe, the eight short comics were the high point of the book for me. “A Dagger in Istanbul” opens with Lumpen on the run from a gunman in a Turkish market. He’s been hired to chauffeur a widow who is out to recover a dagger her husband donated to a museum, which has been stolen. The next short, “Games of Chance,” picks up right where this left off (as does the next, and so on.) After a run of bad luck, Lumpen must kill a man to clear his gambling debt. But after the man saves his life, Lumpen tries to find a way to do what he must and maintain his honor.

See more of Tim Sale’s art and Rubén Pellejero’s art.