Where I got it and why: as a free ebook from Net Galley, courtesy of IDW Press, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thanks, guys! I read about this in Peter S. Beagle’s newsletter, but I was waiting for the trade to actually pick it up; the comic book store that is okay with girls is out of my way, and I prefer to collect trades anyway.
Recommended? Oh god yes. This is gorgeous. And if you’re not familiar with the story, this would be a fantastic introduction.
Review: When I was a kid, there was a movie rental place across the street from my grandmother’s house. You went in the door, down a couple of steps, and turned left into the children’s area. There, under the picture window, on the second shelf from the top, was where the VHS of The Last Unicorn lived. I adored that movie, and I’m sure I contributed substantially to the demise of that poor videocassette. When I was a little older, I discovered the book, and I loved it even more. This is one of my favorite stories, all about myth and meaning and magic, so of course I was thrilled when they announced a graphic novel adaptation, and I am overjoyed to tell you that it is not disappointing.
The art, of course, is the real draw for a Last Unicorn comic book, and it’s spectacular. It does seem to be a little bit inspired by the movies – there’s a strong resemblance in the art for many characters, particularly the side characters who show up and then vanish again. Schmendrick looks much more like his description in the book than he does in the movie, which I like, but Molly looks younger, which I don’t. I do like the way the unicorn is inked in a reddish sepia rather than the black of everything else; it makes her stand out and glow (which I think is another trick they used in the movie, now I think of it). And then when the Red Bull arrives! The chapter two cover featuring Mommy Fortuna is my favorite, though. She’s always been one of my favorite characters, and the drawing of her with all these little charms and tiny figures tied in her hair is perfection.
The script owes much more to the book than to the movie. It features several more episodes from the book that I miss in the movie – Arachne the spider in Mommy Fortuna’s carnival, Schmendrick’s history, the princess attempting to summon a unicorn before her wedding, and most importantly, the village of Hagsgate. (I will never understand why they left Hagsgate out of the movie and put the bosomy tree in. Hagsgate has plot relevance, but that tree! — never mind.) Plot-wise, it’s a fairly loyal adaptation. There are places, though, where scenes are incredibly rushed, and I almost wish Gillis had left out some bits entirely rather than put them in and have them feel clumsy and extraneous. (Said tree, for example – not bosomy this time, but still unnecessary.)
While the movie will always have a fond place in my heart, and the book will always be the most spectacular, this incarnation of The Last Unicorn is a perfectly respectable edition. The art is always good, and sometimes breathtaking, and while there are flaws in the script it does seem to grasp the point of the book a little bit better than the movie does, and to bring some of the quality of heartache to it that the book does so well. If you’re a fan of The Last Unicorn already you’ll want to buy the hardcover for your collection (I know I will); if you’re unfamiliar with it, this is a wonderful place to start.
The Last Unicorn, an adaptation of the Peter S. Beagle novel by Peter Gillis, illustrated by Renae de Liz and Ray Dillon, was published in hardcover by IDW Press on January 25, 2011. Find it on: Goodreads,Indiebound, Publisher’s website
Stephen T. Asma, On Monsters
I picked this up while I was browsing the mythology section for faerie books. I didn’t find any, but I did find this, a history of the Western conception of monsters and monstrosity. It was interesting, but alas, not as good as I would have liked. I found by the end of the book that I was having to fill in the details of examples he was using from my own knowledge — not that the stories were wrong, per se, just drastically incomplete. This makes me distrust the earlier bits of the book where he was discussing things I didn’t know much about already. At least I acquired a nice long reading list from it.
The Walking Dead volume 5, Robert A. Kirkman
I do not understand the appeal of this series. It’s full of situations that would be traumatizing on their own, but presented as they are, it’s just One Damn Thing After Another. Trauma, melodrama, melodrama, trauma, horror, trauma, melodrama. And I can’t stop reading it. (Book six on hold now!)
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
A book about the dysfunctionality of the American criminal justice system, and how it (mostly based on the War On (Some) Drugs) functions as a social control system that keeps black (and brown) Americans in the position of second-class citizens. Overall I found it was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but having it all in one book, with all the connections drawn, was illuminating. Alexander says she hopes that this will open a dialogue about the problem, rather than being the definitive work on the subject, and I hope that it does, because I don’t see any way of fixing the problem without replacing all our legislators with pod people who believe in rehabilitation over punishment.
Ellis Peters, Monk’s Hood
More Cadfael! (I find Cadfael strangely soothing.) I did not have the redundancy problem with this book that I had with the last one, largely because the ending of Monk’s Hood the TV adaptation is completely different than the ending of Monk’s Hood the novel. For one thing, the novel has much more Welshness. (I should get my sister to read these, she studied abroad in Wales and has become very fond of the place.) Cadfael is also causing me to dig up more histories about twelfth century Britain – did you know about the war between King Stephen and the Empress Maude?
Cordelia’s Honor, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, Young Miles, Miles, Mystery & Mayhem
Lois McMaster Bujold, Cordelia’s Honor
This is actually two books as an omnibus, those being Shards of Honor and Barrayar. (I am reading in chronological order, yes.) Really, though, they don’t seem like separate books at all, and according to the afterward, they almost weren’t. I love Cordelia; she’s a wonderful character, strong in her own right without being military, willing to go to unbelievable lengths for things she really cares about (like the life of her unborn son), and completely divorced from the politics of the society in which she finds herself living. Also, I grew so attached to Kou in his brief appearance in Shards that I absolutely cheered out loud when he showed up again in Barrayar.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, Alan Moore & Kevin J. O’Neal
Yes, I bought this when it came out and it took me this long to finish it. I got bogged down in the beat poetry section (which was pretty terrible, and I say this as someone who actually enjoyed large portions of On the Road). You know, sometimes Alan Moore is brilliant, and sometimes he’s insane, and I suspect that this book is just exactly the wrong combination of the two. It feels like it’s trying to be much more important than it is. And it’s much less fun than the first two.
Anyway, back to Miles —
Lois McMaster Bujold, Young Miles
Being an omnibus of The Warrior’s Apprentice, the short story “Mountains of Mourning”, and The Vor Game. This is where we’re introduced to the main character of the series, Cordelia and Aral Vorkosigan’s son Miles. (Elli Quinn says to Ethan in a later book, “Look for a big pile of trouble with a squiggly-minded little man on top.” That’s a remarkably good description of Miles.) Warrior’s Apprentice is, of course, named after the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and it shows. It’s an insane amount of fun, one accident piling on top of another one, until Miles has accidentally acquired a mercenary navy. And then, in Vor, he acquires them all over again. And in the middle, in “Mountains of Mourning,” he’s back at home on his family’s land, working out the small (and yet simultaneously not-so-small) problems of a small hill village. I recommend the omnibus for this order as much as anything; it carries a wonderful impact.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles, Mystery & Mayhem
Being a compendium of Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos, and the short story “Labyrinth” (which I’m actually still reading as part of Borders of Infinity, shh). I adored Cetaganda for the old-fashioned sci-fi worldbuilding and the amazing political structure where women seem to have no power and yet also manage to control the empire, and also for Ivan. I’m becoming very fond of poor Ivan Vorpatril, prettier than Miles bot not as brilliant, and he knows it. Ethan is also spectacular for the worldbuilding, and I think the plot is stronger too, and boy is that laying some interesting ground for what’s going to happen in this universe in forty or fifty years. Athos is a planet without women — it’s clearly been founded on misogynistic principles, but it’s hard to call any of the men who live there misogynistic, because they have absolutely no experience with women whatsoever. I found it interesting that while the planet was founded in order to help men escape from the evils of women, in the wider universe it’s known (if it’s known at all) as Planet of the Gay, and Ethan gets beaten up over it.
One of the things I like about the Vorkosigan saga all together is it’s clearly very interested in the power and position of women in a society. There are no women at all on Athos, but there are donated ovarian cultures; on in the Cetagandan empire the highest-class women travel in opaque bubbles so they can never be seen, and are genetically engineered (by their own hands) for supreme beauty. On Barrayar women have very little power, but on Beta Colony they’re quite egalitarian (and Betan Cordelia is astounded when the Barrayan Emperor entrusts her with the education of his grandson and simultaneously tells her she’ll have no power; clearly she cannot believe that educating the future Emperor is a powerless position). Women serve in the Dendarii Mercenaries the same as men do (as well as one hermaphrodite). Miles has a tendency to want to be the Hero, rescuing the Damsel in Distress, but he’s very good at acknowledging when the Damsel no longer needs to be rescued. It’s not something I’m used to in science fiction, and I love it deeply.
(I’ve been so busy with my 30 Days of Books posts, I’ve been neglecting to post about my latest reads. Ooops.)
Cherie Priest, Not Flesh nor Feathers
Last in the Eden Moore series, and still awesome. Now with zombies! This book is pretty apocalyptic, what with the flood of Chattanooga and the undead coming out of the darkness — not to eat people, in this case, but at the behest of an angry twelve-year-old ghost who can’t be stopped or comforted. I love the…well, the realism, for lack of a better word, of Priest’s ghosts. They act just like people do, only more frustrated, because they’re dead.
Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic
I blogged about this a little earlier in my 30 Days of Books series, too. Like I said there, it’s a pretty fascinating overview of what we know, scientifically, about how traffic works — not only how people drive, but how patterns and trends emerge, and what to do about them. There’s a whole chapter on my favorite insight about traffic, which is that roads are safer the less safe drivers feel, largely because when drivers feel safe they speed and when drivers feel unsafe they slow the hell down.
Lauren Myracle, ttyl
You know, I don’t have to look at this book and think, Was I ever like that in high school? I know I wasn’t. I just wasn’t that type of teenager; I couldn’t wait to grow up and get out into something that more closely resembled civilization than high school does. I enjoyed this book nonetheless. The girls are bright, their fights are indeed about real things high school girls fight about, and their solutions are occasionally brilliant. I don’t think I’ll read the rest of Myracle’s books, it’s just not really my thing, but I would have no hesitation about recommending them to people for whom this is their thing, particularly high school girls.
Mushishi 8-10, Yuki Urushibara
I don’t know why they decided to publish the last three volumes of this series all in one gigantic brick, and I have to say, I’m kind of annoyed about it. The stories themselves, though, are as wonderful as ever; Ginko is brilliant and slightly sneaky, the mushi are tremendously alien, and all of the stories have an excellent meditative kind of feel. They’re like haiku in manga form. Supernatural haiku. I love it, and while I’m sad there won’t be any more, I don’t think the series is lacking in any way.
I am on a book-finishing roll.
Tamora Pierce, Wolf-Speaker
Second in the previously-gushed-about Immortals series. I admit I don’t like this one as much as the first; where Wild Magic features tons of characters from the Alanna Quartet, plus some new ones as well, this one is almost all just Daine, the wolf pack, a girl from the Dunlath fort, and the basilisk Tkaa. I don’t know if it’s because they’re all new characters, or if it’s because they’re so isolated, both physically and in their concerns, but Wild Magic (and the sequel, Emperor Mage) feel much richer than this book. Not that I don’t love it, mind. It’s just the least-awesome of the four.
Phonogram Vol. 1, Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
A graphic novel about…well, lots of things. On the face of it, about a phonomancer — a magician who uses magic as his medium — attempting to save himself and the memory of BritPop from retromancers — magicians disguised as DJs who play nothing but old music in an attempt to make people feel nostalgia, which they feed off of. You can kind of see the other things they’re playing with from that; music and pop culture, of course, the difference between nostalgia and memory, what it means to be shaped by your past. I liked it, even though the main character was a wanker. (He knew he was a wanker, but that didn’t stop him, which is exactly the kind of person I hate the most.) I’ll read the other books in the series if he’s not the main character any more.
Ann Jones, Women Who Kill
The classic work on women murderers throughout history. Originally published in 1988 and reissued in 1996, this is a very classically feminist work, focusing on the way women who were subject to a law more interested in keeping them out of the way than addressing the wrongs done to them might turn to murder just to get any damn thing done. Jones explicitly says that she’s talking only about cases that excited the public imagination; she’s not talking about murder as much as she’s talking about women in history, with murder as the catalyst. I started reading a dissertation on female serial killers once that made no sense to me as part of the serial killer literature, but now makes a little more sense as a kind of sequel to this work. (Maybe I’ll dig that dissertation out again and finish it, actually…)
China Miéville, The City & The City
As usual from him, a book you can’t even begin to talk about sensibly unless the other person has also read it. Reviewing without spoilers is complicated. Basically: this book takes place in two cities that occupy the same space, Besźel and Ul Qoma. (Do you know how long I had to hunt for that accented z? I finally gave up and pasted it from Wikipedia.) That is, citizens of Besźel live in their streets, some of which are all Besźel and some of which are part Besźel and part Ul Qoma, and they go about their days and if they encounter any citizens of Ul Qoma (as they are bound to do), they unsee them. Act as if they aren’t there. Same with buildings, cars, smells, sounds…everything. (Obviously tourism is somewhat complicated.) One day a murdered woman turns up in a Besźel slum, and it seems that she was killed in Ul Qoma and dumped in Besźel, which is a breach, which is handled by Breach, a shadowy, mysterious, and entirely creepy organization that stringently enforces the boundaries between the two cities. But Breach won’t take the case (since, it turns out, there was no breach involved), and the poor inspector who started working on the case is stuck with something much, much more complicated. It’s an amazing book (featuring two of the most incredible chase scenes ever), and the effort it takes to get started is entirely worth it in the end.