Note: There are spoilers for previous books in this series.
This is the final book in the Throne of Glass series.
Kingdom of Ash, as noted above, is the conclusion of a series, and it seemed like the author hated to let it go. Not only is it 980 pages long, but the ending stretched out over several chapters, as if an orchestra concluded a symphony with multiple crescendos. I don’t think fans of the series will be disappointed however, as they probably feel the same reluctance to leave the story as Maas apparently did.
Most of the book is devoted to the efforts of Aelin, the heir to the kingdom of Terrasen, to escape the clutches of the evil queen Maeve and get back to her own people to defend them, and the efforts of her friends and supporters to help her. She doesn’t know it, but help is coming from all directions.
Aelin’s mate Rowan, as well as his Fae compatriots Lorcan, Fenrys, and Gavriel, are searching along the east side of the Kingdom to locate where Aelin is being held captive. They are accompanied by Elide Lochan, who is trying to deny her feelings for Lorcan.
In the north, close to Terrasen, Aelin’s cousin Aedion is fighting against the soldiers of Morath who are made up of Valg, a race of malicious demon parasites who have taken over human bodies. They serve their leader, Erawan, who wants to destroy the world. Aedion is greatly assisted by Lysandra, a shape-shifter. Aedion and Lysandra are also loathe to admit their feelings for one another.
On the sea in the south, Chaol, who is sworn to Dorian – the heir to the kingdom of Adarlan and Aelin’s friend, is heading toward Terrasen with fighters from the Khaganate to help. Chaol has gotten word that Morath is planning to destroy Chaol’s homeland at Anielle; it is on their way to Terrasen, and he feels compelled to stop there and help defend Anielle. With Chaol is his new wife, Yrene, who is a powerful healer.
And in the western mountains, Dorian is traveling with Manon Blackbeak, a witch who has broken with the malicious Ironteeth witches and is searching for the more peaceful Crochan witches. She wants to convince them to join the cause of saving Terrasen and making a better world for everyone. Dorian has his own mission: to find the missing key that will lock the Valg back in the dark world from whence they came. Lest any group not have a romantic entanglement as well, Manon and Dorian are dancing around their attraction to one another.
Map of the world of Erilea from the Throne of Glass fan wiki
Some of the characters get broken; some get killed, and some get stronger, albeit in ways they had not anticipated. The questions for this book are who will survive and how, and whether the forces of darkness will succumb to the combined might that stems – in this story, anyway, from loyalty, goodness, and love.
Discussion: There were less sex scenes and more battle scenes in this book, and a clear emphasis on wrapping up the story. I was fine with that; I feel the author’s descriptions of sex are the weakest part of her writing. She is quite good at battle scenes, however.
As I thought in the previous book, the portrayal of the relationship between Elide and Lorcan stood out for its romanticism and emotional depth. Aelin, despite clearly being the heroine of the series, never seemed as “real” or sympathetic to me as did the other women, especially Elide and Yrene. The characters of Dorian and Aedion saw more development in this book, and each of them became more interesting.
Alas, it would appear the series is over. It is not out of the question, however, that Maas could pick it up again one day; there are plenty of aspects to the story that could be continued.
Evaluation: Maas really is a master of fantasy, or what one hopes and wishes is fantasy: her descriptions of the intentions of the evil Valg to change the world for the worse seem all too real at times. She gives them some nuance too, which is laudable. She also has her heroic characters reveal their fears and failures. In addition, I like the way the story reflects her own experience and feelings as a new mother, and shows her commitment to demonstrating, as she says in her dedication, that “girls can save the world.”
These books are definitely not standalones, but should be read in order.
This book, subtitled “The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe” sets out to explicate “our current knowledge about the Universe, the Milky Way, the Solar System, as well as what makes for a habitable zone and life on Earth.”
The author, an award-winning professor of science at Harvard, explains that there were five major mass extinctions in the past 540 million years, as well as about twenty lesser ones, in which approximately 20 percent of life-forms died out. Many people are familiar with the extinction of the dinosaurs, the Mesozoic species that dominated the planet for more than 100 million years. She reviews the observations of geologists and paleontologists confirming that a big object hit the Earth 66 million years ago and as a result at least 75 percent of life on the Earth died, including the dinosaurs.
Tyrannosaurus rex holotype specimen at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh.
The description of how scientists solved the mystery of the dinosaur extinction is fascinating. It included detecting huge amounts of the rare metal iridium in the clay of the K-Pg geologic boundary marking the period of the dinosaur extinction. The K-Pg clay layer was meticulously studied in almost 40 locations around the globe. Other rare metals in that clay layer were also found, at levels a thousand times higher than seen elsewhere on earth. Scientists also identified shocked quartz, which indicates a high-pressure origin, and crystals called spinels that point to rapid solidification after high-temperature melting. The only known sources for the state of these materials are meteoroid impacts and nuclear explosions. Obviously, there were no nuclear explosions before 1945, leaving only one “culprit” to account for the measurements.
Badlands near Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, where glacial and post-glacial erosion have exposed the K–Pg boundary
Scientists, further investigating evidence left by the meteor impact crater at Chicxulub (pronounced CHICK-shuh-lube) in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, concluded that the meteor had to have been an incredible 10-15 kilometers in diameter. An object the size and speed of that meteor “would have released an energy equivalent of up to 100 trillion tons of TNT, more than a billion times greater than that of the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
Even just a kilometer-wide meteoroid, the author points out, would do global damage, creating extreme winds, huge tsunamis, tidal waves, massive earthquakes, and trillions of tons of material ejected into the atmosphere and then rained down upon the Earth.
The only survivors would have been living creatures that could hide – through hibernation or otherwise.
The author suggests that a disk of dark matter might have been the trigger dislodging a comet from its orbit – probably in the Oort Cloud, and send it veering toward the Earth. A meteor from the comet then caused all this devastation upon impact.
In order to establish her theory, she has to take a detour to explain the composition and history of the Universe to readers. Thus she educates us about ordinary matter and how it differs from dark matter, and how we know about the existence of dark matter and dark energy. She talks about the composition of our Solar System, and how it operates within the Milky Way. She does all of this clearly and lucidly, with plenty of popular culture references and metaphors so that any reader should have no problem understanding her.
Although most of the book concerns impacts from meteoroids, the author ends with a cautionary note about a possible sixth extinction unrelated to celestial bodies:
“Many scientists today think we are currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction – of manmade origin. . . . The mammal extinction rate of the last 500 years has been about 16 times higher than normal, and in the last century the rate has been elevated by a factor of 32. Amphibians in the last century have died off at a rate nearly 100 times higher than in the past, with 41 percent currently facing the threat of extinction, while bird extinctions in this same time frame have exceeded the average rate by a factor of about 20. . . . The changes in the environment that are occurring now . . . have a disturbing resemblance to those at the time of the P-Tr extinction. [The P-Tr extinction was an event about 250 million years ago that was the most devastating known extinction in terms of the percentage of species that disappeared from the planet. While the cause of the P-Tr extinction remains the subject of controversy, massive climate change and changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans are thought to have been determinative.]”
Ocean areas predicted to be at high risk of extinction (red) are overlaid with areas most impacted by humans (black outline) and regions experiencing a high rate of climate change (crosshatch). (Finnegan et al, Science.)
“Incredibly, the rate of temperature and changes in pH (which measures acidity) seems to have been comparable at that time [the P-Tr extinction] to what they are today. Human influence is almost certainly largely to blame for the recent diversity loss. . . . We are very rapidly undoing the cosmic work of millions or even billions of years.”
Predicted extinction risks from climate change by continent. (InsideClimateNews)
Evaluation: The relationship between the dinosaur extinction and the presence of dark matter unfolds like a murder mystery. It was fascinating to read about how scientists pieced together clues and evidence to solve a “cold case” – one that occurred some 66 million years in the past.
Published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2015
This lovely book tells the story of a little boy named James Otis, who, along with his mother, is enduring hard times since the death of his dad and loss of their farm. They now live in a run-down house with few possessions. But Mama tries to remain upbeat:
“‘Long as we have our health and strength, we are blessed, James Otis,’ Mama said, tryin’ to sound brave.”
Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, the reverend at their church announced:
“Just as we always do, we’ll be delivering love boxes to needy folk in our community.”
He asked them to add Irene Temple and her young daughter to their list, because they just lost everything in a fire. He told them:
“Remember, what is given from the heart reaches the heart.”
Mama encourages James Otis to come up with something for the little girl, even though they have so little themselves. He considers everything he might give, but none of it seems right. Then he comes up with a great idea.
While this story for ages 4-10 was touching enough to make me cry, it was the outstanding artwork by April Harrison that really held my attention. April Harrison, a designer, used collage, mixed media, dappling, and a muted but gorgeous palette to illustrate the characters and the supportive relationships among them. The flat perspective employed by Harrison ironically imbued strength into the characters.
Note: Patricia McKissack, a three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author, passed away in 2017, and this was her last book.
Evaluation: This book touches on many subjects children may face, including death of loved ones, poverty, friendship, compassion, and faith. All of it is expertly dealt with in a subtle but effective way. Highly recommended.
Published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2019
This love story switches back and forth between the two main protagonists, and between two periods in time: 1991 when both were students at University of Illinois, and 2001, when both were living in Chicago.
Jonathan and Annika first meet in the chess club at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Annika has Asperger’s syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism. Annika is very smart and great at chess, but she has trouble with social skills. She sometimes forgets to look at others for cues about how to act, and copes with anxiety by engaging in repetitive behaviors.
Jonathan is attracted to Annika, both because of her looks and because he can be herself with her. He finds liberating her lack of pretension in herself, and her lack of expectation of it in others.
They begin seeing each other romantically, but something happens to break them up. When the story opens in 2001 they unexpectedly and awkwardly run into each other at a grocery store. We only gradually learn why their relationship ended. What is clear from the beginning however is that they are still attracted to one another after ten years of being apart.
They start dating again, and Annika gets frustrated by her inability to feel comfortable in Jonathan’s investment banking circles. She tells him:
“All I wanted was to show you that I’ve changed. That I’m not the same person I was in college.”
“Well, guess what? You haven’t changed all that much. You’re still the same girl I fell in love with at twenty-two. And here’s a newsflash: I like that girl and always have, and I never once said I wanted her to change.”
Most of the story concerns the unfolding and rekindling of their relationship, with Annika’s needs adding a different spin. Not much else really happens in the story until the very last section, when tragedy strikes. It is then you fully understand the ways in which Annika and Jonathan have affected one another, and the depth of their feelings.
Evaluation: This story stands out for featuring an adult female protagonist with Asperger’s syndrome rather than the usual focus on a male character with that condition. It is also a lovely romance generally.
Having now read two books by Maurene Goo, I think I can say three things about her: she has an entertaining sense of humor; she has a great insight into teenage concerns and dialogue; and she is totally into food.
This book is a young adult retelling of “Roman Holiday” only with a better ending.
[“Roman Holiday” is a 1953 American romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. In that movie, Audrey Hepburn is a royal princess who escapes from her handlers in order to see Rome on her own, and Gregory Peck is the reporter chasing her for a scoop. His plans are upended however when he inconveniently falls in love with her.]
In this book, “Lucky” is the moniker of a big idol in K-pop, the popular South Korean music genre. K-pop is known [in real life as well as in the book] not only for its distinctive performance style, but for the close management of its artists. For one thing, these manufactured teenage idols live together in a regulated environment and spend many hours a day training, especially in dance, an integral part of K-pop. The performers have strict diets, and must adhere to rigid codes stipulating acceptable speech, appearance and behavior so as to maintain a “perfect” unblemished image with zero scandals. Consequences of a violation are severe.
Lucky is 17, and although she was born and bred in L.A., she now lives in Seoul with a team of handlers. As the story opens, she is performing in Hong Kong, staying at a fancy hotel surrounded by managers and bodyguards who make sure she doesn’t leave and doesn’t eat anything except salads. In a few days, she is scheduled to make her debut on American television, a huge opportunity. But she feels like the thrill of performing is gone; everything is so tightly regulated, and she doesn’t feel joy anymore.
Most of all, Lucky would kill for an “In-N-Out Burger” or even just any hamburger. In spite of having taken her mandated sleeping medication, she manages to sneak out of the hotel and into the city of Hong Kong in search of food.
In alternate chapters, we hear from Jack Lim, 17, also originally from L.A., but currently in Hong Kong. He is taking a “gap year” before college, and working as an intern at his father’s bank. He hates the job and wants to be a photojournalist. He is moonlighting on the side as a paparazzi, taking surreptitious photos of high-profile people for exposés in a sleazy tabloid. He will do anything to be able to take pictures for a profession; photography is his passion.
Out in the street, Jack bumps into Lucky, who is groggy and lost. At first he doesn’t know who she is, but he is not the type of guy who wouldn’t try to help someone in her situation. When she passes out, he takes her back to his apartment so she can sleep off what he assumes has been too much to drink. While she is conked out, he checks his twitter feed and inadvertently discovers who she is. This could be his chance for a career-making scoop.
If you’ve seen “Roman Holiday,” you know what happens next. The two spend the next day together, seeing the sites and having a wonderful time, with Jack taking pictures on the sly.
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday
But of course they fall for each other, and worse yet, Lucky finds out about the photos, and that Jack has been using her. Pictures of her having a “normal” life – especially with a boy! – could destroy her career. She is hurt and angry, and Jack is devastated. After an upsetting confrontation, they both go their own ways. Nevertheless, while they only spent one day together, each inspired the other to change and to alter the course of dreams that had seemed unattainable.
Evaluation: This is a wonderful travel guide to Hong Kong and its food, as well as an entertaining rom-com. It’s a fun read with a satisfying ending but also carries a message about finding out what is important in your life.
N.B. Don’t read it on a diet.
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2019
Books for children with diverse characters are rare enough, but books featuring mixed-race Asian characters even more so.
In this picture book for ages 4-7, Lila, who lives in the countryside with her mixed-race parents, is looking forward to a visit from her cousins, who come from an apartment in the city. They have different pastimes and customs than Lila: Rosie and Takeo ride skateboards and eat with chopsticks. They have hairstyles Lila has never seen before. Lila wears braids, rides a bike, uses a fork, and likes camping outside and catching fireflies. Lila feels like the odd person out.
In the end however, Rosie and Takeo surprise her not only with their acceptance, but their admiration and love.
The author is also the illustrator, and uses her bright mixed-media illustrations to expand on the story conveyed by the text. Fun details are added to the pictures for careful readers to find and identify.
Evaluation: This is a good book to teach children about difference and how it can enrich relationships rather than obstruct them.
This graphic novella comes in a box. I didn’t understand why until I pulled it out. When you do, you discover the book unfolds like a scroll, and continues all along one side and then along the reverse side.
“You don’t know our names but you’ve seen us. In this country we build houses, we harvest crops, we cook, we clean, and we raise children. Some people want to kick us out and some act like we don’t exist, but we are here, compañeros. We may not have documents, but we all have a story and we all have a name. This is my story. I am Juan.”
Juan is fictional but his story is representative of others in his situation.
The book is made in the accordion-fold form of Mixtec codices from the 14th century. Mixtecs are an indigenous group from southern Mexico. As Tonatiuh relates in an interview, some of the people he met at the worker’s center in New York City where he volunteered were Mixtec, and their experiences inspired Tonatiuh’s book.
As Juan’s story unfolds (literally), we learn that Juan, who grew up in a small Mixteco village in Mexico, travelled to the U.S. when he was 18 to find work. He moved in with his uncle and cousins, and finally got a job in a New York restaurant.
He met his future wife there, and she helped him learn Spanish (he spoke Mixteco) and English. He also met a Chinese waitress who asked him to come with her to a workers’ center where they were discussing efforts to improve conditions at their jobs.
Many of the immigrants felt fear, because they were illegal: if they complained about their treatment, their bosses could have them deported. The people at Juan’s workplace agreed to stick together: if they all made the demands, the boss could not get rid of everyone! But the boss still tried to punish Juan for his leadership by cutting his hours, and thus, his pay.
Juan and the rest of the workers protested, and when it made the newspapers, the boss offered Juan thousands of dollars to drop the case:
“But I said no. I wasn’t fighting for only me. I was fighting for everyone in the restaurant.”
Eventually, they settled out of court.
Juan started volunteering at the workers’ center to share what he learned with others there. Some of the fights for better treatment were successful, and some not. But Juan maintained:
“We need laws that protect ALL workers. You may not know our names, but we are here. We work hard. We pay our bills. We pay taxes. Papers or no papers, we have our dignity and we deserve to be treated fairly.”
In an Author’s Note at the end, Tonatiuh writes:
“Many people in the United States are hostile toward undocumented immigrants. These immigrants are seen as criminals who need to be kicked out or stopped from entering this country. But the undocumented are an important part of the workforce. They are a source of cheap labor, performing work many Americans will not do.”
And in fact, in spite of repeated falsehoods promulgated by the Trump Administration, statistics do not bear out the accusation that illegal immigrants commit crimes disproportionately.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, for instance:
“Neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence than comparable nonimmigrant neighborhoods. Foreign-born men age 18-39 are incarcerated at one-fourth the rate of native-born American men of the same age.”
And immigrants do, like Juan in this book, pay taxes. They are not just getting a “free ride.” History professor Aviva Chomsky, in her book They Take Our Jobs! And Twenty Other Myths About Immigration, cites studies attesting that “Immigrants, legal and illegal, are more likely to pay taxes than they are to use public services.”
Tonatiuh also offers evidence about how difficult it is for the undocumented to stand up against unscrupulous bosses, lest the bosses retaliate and have them deported. In fact, he reports, “43 percent of workers who dared to complain or tried to organize were threatened, suspended, or had their hours cut.”
Tonatiuh, who is an award-winning illustrator, creates gorgeous folkloric art work that juxtaposes indigenous style with modern characters and settings. He also uses the pictures to enlarge upon the text.
Evaluation: Tonatiuh has crafted a beautiful testament to hard-working immigrants who want a fair shake for the work they do, and an opportunity to build lives in the [at one time at any rate] “land of opportunity.” Prior to the current administration, the U.S. policy was “charity toward all, malice toward none.” Now, according to the false narrative purveyed by President Trump, “Our country is full.” There is no more room, he mistakenly claims, among other lies about immigration.
The suggested age range for this book is 8 and up; it provides a wonderful way to approach the debate about immigration. The message, while multi-faceted, is delivered simply and effectively. In addition, the choice of art style lends itself to a discussion of the role of communication by media as well as through media.
I have been an avid reader of history for many years. I estimate that I have read several hundred books that can be classified specifically as “military history.” With all due respect to John Keegan and Thucydides, Cathal J. Nolan’s The Allure of Battle may be the most perceptive and one of the best written of the bunch.
Nolan’s main thesis is that many military planners and historians have been seduced by the appeal of a big, decisive battle choreographed by a brilliant tactician (think Napoleon), as an instrument of state policy and as a tool to resolve controversies. That is, win a major battle and you can win the war. He argues that such a perception has nearly always been flawed, and has led to disastrous consequences for states basing their policies on it. Seeking a decisive battle has not only usually been the wrong strategy, but:
“. . . with few exceptions, the major power wars of the past several centuries were in the end decided by grinding exhaustion more than by the operational art of even the greatest of the modern great captains.”
Nolan bemoans the fact that time and again, military theorists as well as generals have been seduced by the “cult of battle.” To demonstrate, he delves into details of all the significant – mostly European – wars from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) to World War II. He shows that lopsided victories in large battles seldom put national or international disputes to rest, but this fact has never led to an abandonment of the theory.
The Battle of Borodino, fought on September 7, 1812, by Louis-François Lejeune, 1822
So many factors, often aleatory, figure into the final equation of victory: economic resources, food and water supplies, relative health of armies, differential access to superior weaponry, and “the powerful reality of moral and material attrition.” Moreover, military engagements often designated as “great” by historians are not necessarily the most important. For example, students of the United States Civil War focus on the battles at Antietam and Gettysburg, which stand out for the number of casualties sustained as well as their political import. But they were not decisive. Rather, the Battle of Vicksburg had much greater effect on the outcome of the war by cutting the Confederacy in two along the Mississippi River and opening the river to Northern traffic. Nuance, however, is not as compelling for either histories or propaganda campaigns as are stories of vast, bloody conflicts. Because of, or in spite of this, countries rarely seem to learn from the past. Nolan seeks to remediate that problem.
Battle of Vicksburg shown by Kurz and Allison, chromolithographers in the mid-1880s
Nolan is not so dogmatic as to assert that his thesis always applies. Importantly, he cites the example of Moltke’s success in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) as an exception. Nevertheless, he demonstrates that even such famous generals as Marlborough, Frederick II of Prussia, and Napoleon ultimately were unsuccessful in their efforts to end major disputes with climactic battles. In fact, even Moltke’s ostensible favorable outcome in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 was quite misleading in that the French, though they were defeated in battle and their capital was occupied, continued to harass the Prussians outside Paris and eventually expelled them from France.
The archetypical example of the unsuccessful quest for a decisive battle occurred at the onset of World War I when the Germans attempted to eliminate the French army in one extended blow by executing the Schlieffen Plan before the Russians were able to mobilize. [The Schlieffen Plan was the name given to previously formulated German war plans for the invasion of France and Belgium in 1914.] The initial thrust of the German army simply expended its momentum and degenerated into the most frustrating grinding exhaustion in military history.
Count von Schlieffen in 1906
Nolan is capable not only of hard-headed analysis, but also of moving prose. He observes that the planners of war are usually older men who do not actually have to fight it. Here he describes how hatred of the war and the enemy arises in various situations, usually after the initial thrust of invasion degenerated into the slog of inglorious attrition:
“It came from fear of being shot or bayoneted at Verdun, or captured and mutilated by a Soviet partisan, or murdered by a roving SS death commando. From being 18 or 20, far from home, ashamed over crying in your slit trench every night, embarrassed by loss of bowel control. From lying under a barrage during another accursed Isonzo battle or charging a sleeping French division over the Somme with bayonet and unloaded Mauser. From seeing a buddy step on a landmine on Guadalcanal or disappear into a pink mist at El Alamein or Okinawa. Or watching a mate die from a sniper’s bullet while hung up on a the wire at Ypres or on the ash at Iwo Jima, or charging the Russian machine guns at Mukden, or sick with typhus in a prison camp, or doing forced labor down a Honshu mine. It came from hedge-fright because you thought tirailleurs or snipers were hiding behind every haystack or down the next cellar, so you tossed in a grenade as you passed by and heard a family scream. It came from scrambling with 10,000 other prisoners for ‘a bit of potato, please,’ looking up as a callous camp guard tossed scraps into a surge of starving men.”
His depiction of the condition of the Japanese garrisons on Borneo and New Guinea at the end of World War II is succinct but powerful:
“Death on land, at sea, in the air. Always death, and more death. Not glorious at all, in fact. More nihilistic: thin, fanatic, futile, fatalist.”
Evaluation: This is an excellent book that should serve as a warning to would-be conquerors and put a damper on paeans to past and future Napoleons. The hardcover book includes illustrations, maps, and extensive footnotes.
Note: Allure of Battle is the winner of the 2017 Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History. This major book prize “recognizes the best book on military history in the English-speaking world distinguished by its scholarship, its contribution to the literature, and its appeal to both a general and an academic audience.”
Each double-page spread of this book for young readers (ages 3-8) features one of twenty-seven different sleeping animals (or insects, birds, or fish). The author speculates in poetic form (translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone) about what each might dream about, and in so doing, teaches kids about what the creature does during the day.
The illustrations done by the author may remind children of scratch art projects in school in which they etch colors onto a black background. The bright colors stand out and create a delightfully surprising twist to art done on a white surface. In this book, the technique is particularly appropriate, since it is about what takes place in the dark. The visually arresting result glows, thanks to the luminescent colors the author uses over the background.
The living things in the book include a sloth, stingray, whale, snail, cat, flamingo, and rabbit, inter alia, with the last in the series showing a young girl asleep and dreaming about all the animals in the book. There are also spreads with no creatures at all, depicting the night sky in a setting in which one can find the animals that follow. For example, a lovely pond with neon-orange accents precedes the spreads beginning with a frog; a mesmerizing forest at night is followed by a feature on a wolf.
The poetry is free verse, meaning that it does not rhyme, but is still clearly an artistic rather than a narrative expression of ideas. For example, about the cat, the author writes:
“Even as she dreams,
The cat is on the lookout.
At the rustle of a leaf,
Her ears twitch.
At the beating of a wing,
Her whiskers quiver.
She purrs herself back to sleep again.”
This is a bedtime book unlike most others. Children will want to return to it during the day to learn more about the creatures introduced by Simler.
Published in the U.S. by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2019
Saga tells the continuing story of the little family of Marko and Alana – a mixed-race couple – and their daughter Hazel. The family is struggling to stay together in spite of a war between their two races.
Alana is from the planet Landfall, where inhabitants have wings on their backs, and Marko is from its moon, Wreath, where all people have horns on their heads. The two defied all convention (and propaganda, viz: those people have horns on their heads!) and fell in love. Hazel was born with both horns and wings, and it is Hazel who narrates the story.
Marko and Alana just want to find a way to be safe and happy and live in peace, but it doesn’t seem possible. The three of them are being pursued throughout the galaxy by a number of beings trying to exploit them or kill them (or first one, then the other).
Volume 9 picks up with the members of Marko’s family group considering getting new identities as amphibians in exchange for a news exclusive about their stories. (This would be analogous to a witness protection program.) The reporters Doff and Upsher make the offer not only to Marko’s immediate family, but also to those traveling with them: Sir Robert, his girlfriend Petrichor, and his son Squire.
What happens in Volume 9 is nothing short of astonishing, in two senses. One is the story line itself, which is as emotional, nuanced, and as stunning on several levels as one could imagine. And the second is in the “meta” sense of authorial discretion, because in this volume the authors make some pretty shocking decisions for the trajectory of the series. Sorry I can’t reveal more, but you won’t want to miss this installment of the saga.
Illustrator Fiona Staples is again listed as first author, which seems appropriate. Her art work contributes to the meaning of the story in ways it would be hard for words to do alone. She not only imbues the vivid panels with dynamism and astounding creativity, but the way she captures emotions of all sorts of creatures is incredibly impressive.
Evaluation: This is an outstanding “saga” whether you like graphic novels or not. This is not by any means a series for kids but it is nevertheless a story strongly supportive of families – both the kind you are born with, and the kind you make as you go through life. This volume is a must-read, but is not a standalone.
Published by Image Comics, 2018
Note: If you are new to the series, be sure to read the books in order!
Note 2: According to Newsarama, where “comic book fans and sci-fi enthusiasts can find the latest news, theories and speculation about their favorite characters, movies, books, games and shows”:
“Image Comics’ long-running Saga will be having a year-long ‘intermission’ following this week’s #54. [#54 is the last issue of the series included in Volume 9.] In a letter published in the backmatter of this week’s issue, series writer/co-creator Brian K. Vaughan explains the reason behind his and Fiona Staples’ decision.
‘After fifty-four issues and over 1,200 consecutive pages of sequential storytelling together, Fiona and I have decided to take an extended break before we eventually reunite with Saga #55. And unlike our usual three months of ‘Vacationanza’ between arcs, we plan to pause publication of this series for at least the next year.’”
Marko’s expression echoes my feelings both about Volume 9 and about the subsequent hiatus: Nooooooooooo!