Patricia A. McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974)

Author: Patricia A. McKillip

Title: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Format: paperback

Pages: 200

Series:

Patricia A. McKillip won the first World Fantasy Award for this novel, third she had ever written. And let’s be frank: her writing skill by that time was already masterful. The prose of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld echoes the mythopoeic style of A Wizard of Earthsea, and McKillip’s novel seems to have been inspired by Le Guin’s masterpiece in more ways than one.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld tell the story of Sybel, the heir to the wizarding family tradition of acquiring power over sentient creatures through the subtle yet ruthless art of name-calling. Sybel doesn’t conjure fireballs or ice towers, and yet is extremely powerful: gaining knowledge gives her total control over others who, bereft of free will, become her slaves. Oh, she’s a benevolent master, but a slave master all the same. She controls fantastical beasts from myth and legend, and while they retain their individuality, they are tightly leashed indeed. Only when she herself becomes an object of such magic does she begin to realize how harmful that control can be. And then she just flips out and embroils several kindoms in an all-out war in her quest for revenge. Hell hath no fury like a woman disrespected and abused.

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Neal Asher, Dark Intelligence (2015)

Author: Neal Asher

Title: Dark Intelligence

Format: hardcover

Pages: 402

Series: Transformation #1

As weird as that may sound, Asher’s Polity books are my go-to comfort SF. Yes, they are filled to the brim with gore, lethal action, and body horror, and brazenly discussed issues such as free will, determinism, identity, and the origin of emotions, but they are also written (especially the newer ones) in a very accessible, quick and unobtrusive style, non-stop action, incredibly imaginative space battles and a general cinematic feel to the vast vistas of the void. Sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the real deal.

Plus, let’s be honest here, this series boasts my favourite black AI Penny Royal as its protagonist. I just couldn’t pass this!

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau (2022)

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Format: e-book

Pages: 306

Series: –

I’ll be brief, and frank. Yes, ouch.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is not a long book, and yet reading through it felt like eternity. I have been reading the first half of the book for over a week; every time I picked it up I felt that I was forcing myself to do it. Nothing was happening, and the reveals were totally unsurprising for a book that is to a large extent a retelling of The Island of Doctor Moreau. The second half picked up the pace, and offered some entertainment, but never on par with my previous encounters with Moreno-Garcia’s books. In short, this is not a bad book, and yet it’s far from good, too. It’s mediocre, and I’m actually sad to say it, because all Moreno-Garcia’s novels that I have read before were pretty enjoyable – and quite remarkable, too. I had so much fun with the fungal creepiness of Mexican Gothic, and with the darker realistic vibes of Velvet Was the Night, and even the early fantastic unevenness of Certain Dark Things was entertaining. 

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Marlon James, Moon Witch, Spider King (2022)

Author: Marlon James

Title: Moon Witch, Spider King

Format: e-book

Pages: 626

Series: The Dark Star Trilogy #2

First things first – I’M BAACK! 😉 My vacation in Poland proved to be more adventurous than expected, what with flights cancelled barely days before departure and getting covid right after we finally arrived in Poland after 72 hours of travel… But that might be a topic for a separate post, because today I’m going to write about James’s long-awaited sequel to Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf was a singular book: dark with horrifying, intimate violence, propulsively emotional, full of fantastical monsters (some of which were still wearing human skin), crass and whimsically poetic, and, ultimately, abrasively addictive. The protagonist, Tracker, was bare against the world: his emotions were naked, extreme, and absolutely understandable for everyone who ever met a boy on a cusp of manhood.

But why do I write about the prequel in the review of the second installment? Well, because Moon Witch, Spider King is not similar to Black Leopard, Red Wolf in any recognizable manner – and yet it serves as a satisfactory juxtaposition of perspective to the first book. Moon Witch… tells the tale of Sogolon, the old witch we already know from Tracker’s tale, the witch we all rather despise even though we know of Tracker’s misogyny and his total lack of empathy to anyone so vastly different from him.

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Kiyohiko Azuma, Yotsuba&! (2003-today)

Author: Kiyohiko Azuma

Title: Yotsuba&!

Series: manga slice-of-life/shoujo

Yotsuba&! is a slice of life manga depicting the life of a little eccentric girl in a small Japanese town. Piotrek waxed lyrical about this manga before, many times, and for a long time I just nodded amiably and continued not to read it ;). I guess tastes change, though, and about a year or two ago I gave Yotsuba&! a try – and never regretted it. While it starts slowly and somewhat clumsily, it quickly finds a way to one’s heart. Admittedly, the first few tankobon volumes were just okay for me, and filled me with suspicious questions, such as “how a single male in early thirties can become an adoptive father of a four-year-old girl?” or “why are we seeing a spread of a teenage girl showing off her curves to a bunch of single guys twice her age?” Yup, I had my doubts. For a “realistic” manga, a slice-of-life comedy, this was going in strange directions.

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