The Best of 2021 in Books and Comics

Oh, 2021… it was, in many ways, quite similar to 2020, actually. We did a general summary of the year here, and now the time comes to sum up our reading/watching experiences. This year, we decided to combine our best and worst title is one place, one reason being it’s already mid-January…

Piotrek: and another, at least in my case, that I mostly made really good choices and there’s really not that much bad stuff to write about.

Ola: Oh, for me this reading year was more of a mixed bag, with some truly flabbergasting titles from NetGalley – and some truly amazing, too. It was generally a pretty good year, reading-wise. Lots of solid titles, not too many re-reads… I will also remember this year as my introduction to the marvellous metaverse of manga – and that journey will continue!

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Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z (1989 – 1995), part 2

Here we go, as promised months ago, in the first part of the review ;). My enthusiasm for Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z hasn’t changed a bit, even though since then I’ve read loads of other shonen titles: Fullmetal Alchemist, Naruto, Kaijuu no. 8, My Hero Academia, Bleach, One Piece, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba… I still consider Toriyama’s opus magnum the best ;). Though that doesn’t include the most recent run, Dragon Ball Super, which is so bad I refuse to acknowledge it as canon ;).

So, without further ado, here’s my second part of the highly emotional journey through Toriyama’s famous manga. There are tears, and fist pumps, and everything in between ;).

Dragon Ball Z, vol. 12: Enter Trunks!

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5.5/10 stars

The first third, concluding the fight between Goku and Freeza, is simply amazing. Loved every bit of it! All stars!!! And it’s actually the only reason this got five stars instead of one.

Because after that first part… well, to be fair, it was probably impossible to top the Goku-Freeza showdown with anything, really. But the rest of the volume is a disappointment, a major slump in terms of both emotional and martial content, with the coincidental return of Freeza and Goku, over a year later, to Earth, just as a setup for the appearance of a mysterious warrior from the future. Trunks must save the day in the absence of Goku, and while the reveal of Trunk’s parentage was a really fun part, the ease with which he dispatched Freeza and his nasty dad was rather jarring. And then we get the forewarning about evil androids soon to be made by a mad scientist, and the decision to wait for them and train hard just doesn’t make any sense. Aargh. That’s just so lazy.

Honestly, I hoped we had seen the last of the Red Ribbon Army a long time ago. Not to mention that the new Terminator vibes are somehow way less alluring than the old Superman vibes 😉

One of the weakest volumes to date, I’m afraid. Still moderately enjoyable, but nowhere near the usual levels I came to expect from Toriyama’s DB and DBZ.

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K. Eason, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands (2021)

Author: K. Eason

Title: Nightwatch on the Hinterlands 

Format: e-book

Pages: 416

Series: The Weep #1

An opening to a new series set in the Rory Thorne universe, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands is a fast-paced SF noir mystery inspired by WH40K and D&D, featuring a duo of unlikely allies embroiled in a conflict that starts small but grows exponentially – and quite satisfyingly – throughout the book. 

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Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (1956)

Author: Alfred Bester

Title: The Stars My Destination

Format: e-book

Pages: 258

Series: –

Bester’s SF classic, Tiger, Tiger!, renamed later to The Stars My Destination for the American market, remains one of his most popular and highly valued novels. Praised for originality as a forerunner of cyberpunk, and for respect for classics as a SF retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo (and clear inspiration from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Blake’s Songs of Experience), The Stars My Destination remains an immensely readable book. It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly 70 years old, as the prose and the meta-level of skilfully interwoven references and tropes are still very, almost cuttingly fresh. 

There is a lot to like in this novel, certainly; intriguing ideas, masterful worldbuilding, fast-paced and delightfully twisty plot. The only problem I had with this book was the characters themselves 😉 And it is, sadly, a rather big problem, all the virtues of Bester’s novel notwithstanding. But ad rem.

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Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber: Subtle Architecture of Treason

This is our post for Witch Week 2021: Treason and Plot, organized by the inestimable Chris of Calmgrove and Lizzie of Lizzie Ross. Witch Week is a yearly event happening in the last week of October, in tribute to Diana Wynne Jones’s third Chrestomanci book focusing on all things fantastical. This year, however, instead of concentrating on Halloween and thereabouts, we’re taking a closer look at the history of the Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot, the British tradition of Bonfire Night, and various treasonous activities causing rot in states, real and imagined.

We chose Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber as our topic for this year’s Witch Week for two reasons: first, Zelazny’s untimely death in 1996 caused a curious silence around his works, so that he’s no longer a well-known author and his novels have been slowly sliding into oblivion in recent years. He remains an author’s author, mentioned here and there by the new generations as a source of inspiration, but in our opinion he deserves wider recognition. Secondly, The Chronicles of Amber, a series of ten books that can safely be classified as fantasy, though discussions can be had whether it’s epic or urban, or something else altogether, is a wondrously complex latticework of betrayal, double dealing, plots within plots, lethal mysteries and hard-bitten protagonists somewhere between noir detectives and medieval knights.

Ola: Well, there’s a third reason. Both Piotrek and I love Amber, and needed little excuse to return to this fantastic world ;). Zelazny’s a great author in general, though uneven at times. But his best works are among the best the genre has to offer, and even his mediocre ones boast of unique imagination, propensity for audacious literary experimentation, and sensitivity to language that’s at once precious and highly uncommon. Incidentally, a novel perfect for a Halloween reading, and also containing a lot of treason, backstabbing, and plots to conquer the world, is his A Night in the Lonesome October.

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