Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fables, vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Long ago, the fairytale lands were conquered by an unknown Adversary. Those members of the fable community who were able to escape have set up a new government within New York City. As Fabletown's Mayor, Old King Cole, is preparing for the annual benefit dinner that provides the government's operating budget, Deputy Mayor Snow White is investigating her sister's disappearance. Rose Red's apartment has been trashed, and her posessions are covered in her blood. Snow must do what she can to help Fabletown's sheriff, Bigby Wolf, uncover the truth of what happened to Rose.

Willingham's take on the classic fairytales is intriguing. Bigby, as the Big Bad Wolf, becomes the hero while Prince Charming is portrayed as a broke womanizer (well, he did marry ALL those fairytale princesses!) who is reduced to auctioning off his title for cash. A must-read for fairytale lovers.

*Note to parents: this is a fairytale book for adults. It's a graphic novel (the literary term for comic book), which means pictures, and there is occasionally nudity involved. You may want to look it over before letting your kids read it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Jane Austen's writing is funny and clever in its own right, but never in my life have I laughed as hard at a book as I did while reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Grahame-Smith took a beloved literary classic and turned it on its head by the addition of zombies. In order to counteract the "strange plague" that is turning English citizens into zombies, Elizabeth Bennett and her four sisters have been trained as ninjas during a stay in China. Mr. Darcy is also an esteemed zombie-killer, and his aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, is the most celebrated slayer of dreadfuls in the nation. The novel follows the same plot and characters it has followed for more than a century, but now with a few detours here and there while the Bennetts and Darcys do their best to protect Britain from the zombie threat.

I didn't know how well the melding of these two genres would work. It could easily have been painful to read, especially given my great love for Jane Austen's works. However, I am glad to say that the zombie part of the story adds rather than detracts, and gives readers another way to experience this well known literary classic.

So now, I have to ask, when will someone get around to writing Wuthering Heights and Zombies?

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Anaximander, an applicant for the prestigious Academy, must undergo her final examination before she is admitted. Her thesis topic is the life of Adam Forde, an important figure in the civilization's history. In her examination of Adam's life, she veers off the course of the accepted historical versions of events. As the Examiners' questions become more and more difficult, Anax is left to hope that her new take on history will not give them cause to do more than just reject her.

This is one of the best futuristic/dystopian novels I've read in a very long time. Setting up the entire novel as an interview between Anax and the Examiners was a risky decision on Beckett's part. The current expectations for Science Fiction tend to involve futuristic weapons and difficult to follow action sequences; but Beckett's Genesis is more like Shelley's Frankenstein. Instead of action, what we get is largely the second hand description of action, which is remarkably satisfying.

Beckett deals with some of the major recurring themes in Science Fiction, and makes me nostalgic for that Science Fiction class I took in college. Genesis is incredibly well done, and it's a book I plan to keep on the shelf so I can read it again.

Star Wars: The Fate of the Jedi: Outcast by Aaron Allston

A former student of Luke Skywalker's has turned to the dark side and caused a major galactic civil war. He was struck down by the Jedi, but the damage had already been done. In the aftermath of the war, Luke Skywalker is put on trial for the crime of allowing one of his students to wreak havoc on the galaxy. Luke agrees to a plea bargain and is sentenced to ten years of banishment from the Jedi Order and his home on Coruscant. The sentence will end early if Luke can discover what caused his student's turn to the dark side and implement measures to prevent it from happening to future Jedi. With his son Ben at his side, Luke sets out on a journey of discovery that will span the galaxy.

Aaron Allston is one of the best writers in the Star Wars author group. He manages to jump from one storyline to another in a way that seems almost seamless, and always leaves readers wanting more. He has the difficult task of sharing popular characters with many different writers, but in Allston's capable hands, our favorite characters always seem like themselves. His handling of the Star Wars galaxy is done with humor and with honesty.

This is the first book in a new series. Omen by Christie Golden will be released on June 23.

Chicken Cheeks by Michael Ian Black (illus. Kevin Hawkes)

I don't usually review picture books on this blog, but I feel that an exception should be made for a book that is this exceptional. If you had asked me which celebrity I thought would be least likely to write a truly enjoyable picture book, Michael Ian Black would have been near the top of the list. That being the case, I was quite pleasantly surprised when I saw his name on the front cover of a book I had just read and thoroughly enjoyed. The title and cover art had grasped my attention, and I hadn't even bothered to look for the author's name until I was already a fan of the book.

The premise of Chicken Cheeks is simple. A bear spies a beehive dripping with honey at the top of a very tall tree, and enlists the help of nearby animals to reach the top. The animals form their own sort of ladder by climbing on top of one another. We get a description of each animal's backside as it climbs to the top, including a "penguin patootie," a "moose caboose," and a "duck billed platypus gluteus maximus." Black's hilarious descriptions and Hawkes's charming illustrations are the perfect compliments to one another, making this book a joy for kids and grown-ups alike. I'd recommend it, even if you're not a picture book reader.