Thursday, 14 October 2010

A few short reviews

After I’ve been ‘missing in action’ for a while, I’m back with a few short reviews of books I’ve read recently. A warning, though: some of the books here are comics or manga!

Gunnerkrigg Court

The online comic/graphic novel by Thomas Siddell is set in a strange and very huge British boarding school of the same name. As Antimony Carver comes to Gunnerkrigg Court for her first year at school soon after her mother’s death, she soon realizes that not everything is ‘normal’ there. For instance, she has suddenly acquired a second shadow…

The story of Gunnerkrigg Court is a strange and very long one (and far from finished) which features robots, demons, strange contraptions and many other things.

Graphically, the series is a healthy mix between Western (European/American) and Eastern (mostly Japanese) influences. The position of the panels is rather conventional, two-sided panels have been missing as far as the story currently goes, but there have been some panels taking up one side completely. The colouring, while also rather conventional, fits nicely with the story, dark colours are dominant (plus the borders around the panels are black), but always broken up by Antimony’s red hair, the white, khaki and lighter green of the school uniforms and the very inspired design of the robots and supernatural creatures that might appear.

Each chapter tells a story of its own and only over time the connecting story behind each little novella emerges from the darkness. The characters show depth and are not easy to see through. New characters join over time, so you never feel overwhelmed by all those new people around. The main characters (Antimony, Katerina, Reynard[ine]) grow in depth throughout the stories, but the same can be said of the supporting characters.

Gunnerkrigg Court can be bought in (currently) two huge volumes at amazon (and other places) or you can simply read the whole story for free at the website

Black Butler

I’m not completely sure whether or not this manga is also available in English, but I’ll cover it nevertheless. Set in a very twisted Victorian era (where people actually already listen to radio shows, play games on consoles and own cell phones), the story of “Black Butler” by Yana Toboso is centred around the very young Earl Phantomhive and his very unusual butler Sebastian.

Sebastian is a very good butler, actually, with abilities far beyond everything you might normally expect. That’s not much of a surprise, though, because he’s not human. Sebastian is a devil, bound to the young Earl Phantomhive by a contract (about the boy’s soul, no doubt). And the thirteen-year-old boy is not what he seems to be, either. He’s hunting down criminals in the name of her majesty (Victoria, not Elisabeth II. – Victorian era, remember?). And not all criminals are human…

The graphic style of the manga is very traditional: black and white and a lot of raster foil. The artist has a thing for clothes, though, and it shows in her designs. She also has obviously spent a lot of time researching the styles and traditions of Victorian England. Despite the rather cute shojo (girl’s manga) design, there’s also quite some blood and murder and action in the story. (Exactly what I like.)

The story balances out well between everyday episodes (and in a house with a lot of rather … incompetent servants … a butler has a lot of work to do), strong passages driving the story and well-drawn battles (between Sebastian and various enemies, some human, some less so). Within the first three volumes, two stories have been completed (the first one introducing the rather unusual talents of the Black Butler) and a third one has been hinted. I have no idea whether the manga is already finished in Japan or not, but I rather like it so far. It reminds me a bit of Kaori Yuki’s manga “God Child” (one of my all-time favourites) and is done well.


“Stolen” is the first Mystery Case Files novel around and set in the town of Blackpool at the English coast (which is a good deal nicer than it’s described in the novels, from what I’ve heard). The novel by Jordan Gray, the first of four novels, is concentrating on the greatest mystery of Blackpool – a train robbery during World War II, during which various people were killed and a huge amount of gold (plus a lot of expensive art) was stolen. The novel also tells me that Ravenhearst, a manor in which two of the Mystery Case Files games are set (so far), is situated just outside Blackpool and might play a more important role in future novels.

I have to admit that for me the style needed some getting used to. Despite the early first murder (much faster than, say, in any Agatha Christie novel), it took me quite some time to really get into the story. The novel presents the characters in a rather quick succession and spins the story along as they appear (or that is how I felt while reading). As a result, I found it hard sometimes to identify the characters or understand what they were doing. The crime story, though, is very interesting and encompasses murder, robbery, forgery and blackmail.

So far, I’m set to give the next instalment of the series a chance, but if things don’t get better, that will probably be it for me.

So, those are three reviews of stuff I read lately. But I also have to admit that I still have quite some novels ahead of me to catch up with my reading. Expect a review of the first Flavia de Luce novel soon, too.

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