Monthly Archives: August 2018

In/Spectre (Manga)

Title: In/Spectre

Format: Manga

Volumes: 1-8

Kuro is a regular visitor at the hospital Kotoko goes to for checkups, but as he’s usually accompanied by his girlfriend, Kotoko has kept her crush a secret. After she learns they broke up, however, she’s determined to make her move. After all, they both have secret ties to the world of yokai, monsters, and spirits. But both of them will be stretched to their limits by a ghost that’s started appearing. Steel Lady Nanase, whose face is smashed in and who wields the I-beam that killed her, is starting to rampage . . .

This was a lot of fun. Kuro is so laid-back about everything, including having his arm chomped off by a giant monster. Turns out he’s basically immortal (and has one other fun ability that can only be activated when he dies). So he spends the story facing incredible danger with a really bored expression. He’s not good at fighting, but he doesn’t really need to be, because nothing can kill him so that he stays dead.

Kotoko is also interesting, although I don’t like her as Kuro’s girlfriend because she’s incredibly pushy. I suppose she does listen when he tells her no, even if that doesn’t stop her from continually trying. She’s missing one eye and one leg as part of a bargain she made with the yokai when she was a kid to be their goddess of wisdom. Which basically means she troubleshoots their issues, which is how both she and Kuro get involved in the Steel Lady Nanase case.

Steel Lady Nanase herself is a really weird little upside-down mystery. Kotoko’s relationship with the local spirits means that discovering the truth is actually pretty easy—but the truth is the problem. Steel Lady Nanase is an urban legend, empowered by belief, and allowing other people to believe that she’s responsible for the things she’s actually doing will only empower her to do worse. So now the question becomes how to put down a ghost that isn’t a ghost, and it will take everything Kotoko and Kuro can do to stop her.

Although I do find it hilarious Kuro’s role in books 5-6 particularly boils down to “get killed repeatedly to keep the ghost distracted from killing people who can’t survive the experience.”

The first six volumes cover the plot of the novel (which doesn’t appear to have an English version), and it was pretty obvious to me it was based on a book. The way the plot stays tight despite hundreds of pages, the flashbacks, the focus on the mystery, and the way a lot of the action is everyone sitting in a room trying to discuss what they know and what they need to do feels like a novel. Which isn’t a bad thing, as volumes 7 and 8 are definitely less compelling simply because their stories are too short to build up the same stakes.

These stories are also hilarious, even if you don’t have my sometimes macabre sense of humor. Kotoko quoting various pacifists and Kuro responding “He got shot, too,” in volume 7 is one of my favorite moments. Or the myriad of ways Kuro shuts down Kotoko’s attempts to get him to sleep with her. I was rooting the whole time for him to get back together with Saki. The one time he looks genuinely happy talking to Kotoko about their relationship is when he tells her if he can have anything he wished for, he’d wish to break up with her. I think they work well as friends and partners, but Kuro clearly isn’t on the same page as Kotoko when it comes to a romantic relationship.

Overall, this is a fun series that’s enough sideways to your typical modern supernatural story to stay surprising. Books 1-6 do comprise a complete arc, with 7 and 8 feeling more like bonuses. I rate this series Highly Recommended.

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Warrior Genius (Geniuses #2)

Title: Warrior Genius

Author: Michael Dante DiMartino

Series: Geniuses #2

Giacomo and his friends are on the run from Supreme Creator Nezzera. They have the Creator’s Compass, but they still need to find the Straightedge and Pencil. But when they locate the Straightedge in a neighboring country, they have an additional problem—all of the horse-shaped Geniuses are dying from some mysterious ailment, and Giacomo may be the only one who can stop it.

I didn’t like this book. I tried. On a technical level, it isn’t bad. The plot has good pacing, the characters grow a bit, and we get to see more of the world.

But the various twists just torpedoed all my interest in finishing the story.

Giacomo’s innocence is souring to arrogance, as when he tries to fix Zanobius by himself to disastrous results. Predictably, this leads Zanobius to abandon the party again, so rather than having the other kids work out their mixed emotions towards him, all that gets pushed off.

Zanobius aims for peace, then revenge. He’s got enough vision to see Nezzara is a huge problem, and he should be able to turn those tables. And then he gets her scrawny neck between his powerful hands and HESITATES to off her. Look, I get he has a crisis of conscience, but do it AFTER you kill her, not before. She’s already AMPLY demonstrated she’s a tyrant willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone around her (and my one small joy was watching Pietro’s attempts to reason with her fail resoundingly), and at some point someone should be asking if the number of innocent victims she’s piling up are worth the minuscule chance of redeeming her. Aren’t their lives worth anything?

Apparently not.

Enzio is the only real highlight of the book, and even he gets incredibly far only to utterly fail at the last. He’s captured, tortured, and yet holds out enough rebellion to turn the tables—but he can’t quite manage to push in the knife. And that has unfortunate consequences for everyone not named Nezzara.

So it took me a long time to finish this because I kept putting it down and dreading picking it back up because it felt like the stupidity kept piling up. If these kinds of plot twists bother you less, you may like the series more. For me, I’m done. I rate this book Not Recommended.

The Detective & The Unicorn

Title: The Detective & The Unicorn

Author: Michael Angel

Derek Ridder never had much interest in the fantastical creatures from the Morning Land that contacted Earth. He was more invested in doing his job as a cop and trying to get over the loss of his wife. But that was before a call brought him face-to-face with a warlock. Now he’s somehow ended up with the unicorn Tavia as his partner as they hunt down the madman who wants to open Earth to demons . . .

I received this book for free as a gift.

If you’ve seen the author’s other series (Fantasy & Forensics), this has no relationship, despite a rather similar premise.

I loved this. The characters all have a lot of depth, especially those like Coombes, the unidentified-agency agent, who would have been easy to write as stereotypical given his relatively minor role. I loved that Coombes kept showing his humanity. I also appreciated that Derek seems to work at a hard but mostly functional police department with a boss and co-workers who look out for him. And Thunderbolt (the Wonder-Colt) was hilarious. Kids will be kids, no matter the species . . .

Tavia and Derek play well off each other. They’re both guardians of the peace, with serious personalities and a lot of smarts. Derek doesn’t take long to adjust to her as a partner, and while he doesn’t have her knowledge of magic, he also doesn’t have her blind spots. It’s interesting to see how their histories have so many common points, even though they’re from vastly different backgrounds. And I liked that Tavia points out that it’s possible to lose the one you love without death necessarily being the cause—that just because one loves deeply, truly, and well doesn’t mean everything will work out.

I also really like the exploration of various fantasy races. Unicorns, pegasii, dryads, the werewolf-like yena . . . they have their familiar points, but they’re also drawn up in new and interesting ways. Like unicorns as predators as much as herbivores. Or like a pegasus diplomat, and how things work out for him. Or certain creatures being able to run faster than a speeding car. Or, my favorite, a MALE sphinx (who is just as cat-like as one might expect. Which is to say arrogant, ruthless, a bit cruel, and not interested in much outside of himself). There’s a surprise in each chapter, but overall it all hangs together very well.

If I have one small criticism, it’s that it feels Tavia should have picked up on the reason for her own immunity to William Teach’s mind control a while back, and only been confused at how Derek was also able to resist. After all, she knows a good amount about magic, and it doesn’t seem that the ultimate cause was that obscure to someone of her education.

Overall, this is a fast-paced and fun ride, especially for those who wanted a “first contact” type story to be with a fantasy world instead of an alien race. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Door to the Lost

Title: The Door to the Lost

Author: Jaleigh Johnson

Two years ago, the magical gate that led to the world of Vora blew up, scattering magic everywhere. And now magic itself is broken, unreliable, distrusted. Rook and Drift have been scrounging for a living since then, bartering Rook’s ability to open magical doors to anywhere for cash. But when she opens a door she never intended, and a gigantic fox slips through, her life will change drastically . . .

I adored this. In a weird way, it’s an anti-dystopia: the harsh, desperate, oppressive times we start out in gradually come to light as not actually as bad as Rook always assumed. That not everyone outside of the band of magical children is a horrible person just waiting to turn them in. The world’s broken magic makes an interesting backdrop. All sorts of things went sideways thanks to that.

The characters are so much fun. Rook and Drift are two of the last people who had come through the gate before it exploded, along with a host of other children. Unfortunately, since the explosion wiped out their memories, they have no more idea than anyone else why everything went down. I love the tight friendship between the two of them. Both of them struggle with mistaken assumptions, both fear that their commitment isn’t mutual, and both of them realize that their friendship means more to them than anything else.

Fox is amazing. He’s a gigantic fox that Rook initially mistakes for a monster, and he certainly has several interesting abilities (shadow foxes!). Even though he doesn’t say much, I love how he worms his way into Rook’s heart.

Overall this is a complete story, but I do hope for more in this world because it was such a charming stay. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Isolator: The Stinger (Isolator #4)

Title: The Isolator: The Stinger

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: Isolator #4

Still reeling from the aftermath of his previous battle, Minoru is determined to improve so that the people around him won’t be hurt. But the newest Ruby Eye proves a huge challenge—someone who attacks Jet and Ruby Eyes alike, and has a more dangerous ability than anyone they’ve met so far.

I liked this, but it feels like a big step back from the previous books.

The biggest issue is that it feels like more of the same. The new facet to Minoru’s abilities is immediately overshadowed by the Stinger’s attack, and the story never really gets back to it except to prevent him from trying this with someone else. Although we get a lot more insight into Liquidizer and Trancer, there still isn’t much about the Syndicate’s real goals. And it’s never clear if the Stinger is even human, much less what his actual abilities are.

I’m also really frustrated with turning the Professor into the latest girl in love with Minoru. For starters, she’s ten. And even if she wasn’t ten, she’s still presented as someone who has no handle on emotions, just super-smarts for logic. So the whole bit where she’s playing “little sister” comes off as creepy, like she’s aping the trope in an attempt to figure it out and make Minoru more attached to her. I also completely fail to see what she sees in Minoru other than a mystery she can’t solve, as his direct interactions with her are (as Suu accurately identified) basically ignoring the person in favor of the ability.

The fight scenes are still a lot of fun. I’m always up for more of Divider’s random sword skills, or Trancer’s clever use of water phase changes. And the fact that THIS enemy is targeting both sides leads to some initial misunderstandings followed by unlikely teamwork. I really liked seeing that Minoru’s big stand against Liquidizer in the last book actually shook her up enough to seriously consider his words.

And I love the science, especially this little gem in the author’s note afterwards:

To sum it up, weak forces are carried by elementary particles called weak bosons, strong forces are controlled by gluons, electromagnetic forces are what make giant robots move and stuff, and gravity is what makes them fall when they’re defeated in battle.

Overall, I really hope the next book has more progress on some of the bigger mysteries. I’m still enjoying the series but I miss the way the earlier volumes did so much more to expand the overall world. I rate this book Recommended.

The Isolator: The Trancer (Isolator #3)

Title: The Isolator: The Trancer

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: Isolator #3

Minoru never thought his protective shell abilities could be so useful. But its incredible impenetrability combined with his newly-discovered ability to cover more than just himself would make it the perfect weapon . . . if he could actually recreate the part where he can protect another person. The Ruby Eyes won’t wait for him to figure it out, though. This time, their enemies are a few steps ahead.

I have to admit I really enjoyed Yumiko’s abrasive personality coming back to bite her, as Minoru can’t figure out how to include her within his shell again. Instead, as his interactions with Suu shows, he’s more comfortable (and “comfortable” is really stretching it) with someone who’s equally afraid of him. And he can work with Suu because she doesn’t make it personal, and goes out of her way to minimize the friction between the two of them.

I also love what happens with Minoru’s developing powers. He’s figured out more about it than someone with a literal power of super-intelligence. The revelation at the climax was especially good. And now that he knows, now that he has more flexibility with how he can use his power, there are so many places the story can go.

We don’t get as much on the Ruby Eyes this time around, but we do get an interesting new set of powers, and some very intelligent ways to use them. I particularly liked how Liquidizer got around Minoru’s invincibility. He’s starting to trip up more and more on the fact that he’s basically a regular kid thrown into a high-stakes arena he has no idea how to navigate. Just because nothing can get THROUGH his shield doesn’t mean he’s actually safe if he doesn’t use his head.

Overall, this one kicks up another gear. Although I’m still not fond of the more typical “we’re totally not in love” hijinks, I liked that this volume pushes forward so much more for the characters and the overarching plot. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Conspiracy of Unicorns (Fantasy & Forensics #9)

Title: The Conspiracy of Unicorns

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #9

Dayna has a plan to pay off her ludicrous debts, but she’s running short on time, and even magic may not be enough to bridge the gaps. She needs to figure out a get rich quick scheme fast. But even as she’s scrambling to make ends meet, she’s trying to keep the bigger problems in mind. The war against the Dark grows ever closer, she’s still hunting for allies—and who better than a council of wizards? If she can find them. And back home in LA, her department is under intense scrutiny by Internal Affairs, which bothers Dayna about as much as it bothers Bob McClatchy. They’ve both got things they’d rather keep off the books . . .

I will never get over how hard these books make me laugh.

“Because that is what ‘forensics’ is all about,” her son informed her. “Poking around with dead things’ innards is what she does to draw in her magic power.”
Lord Quinton couldn’t contain himself any longer. “Blast it, you mean like…necromancy?”
The younger Quinton paused for a moment. “From what I understand, it’s very similar.”

This time around, as evidenced by the cover and the title, we get unicorns! One thing I really like about this book is how deliberately it subverts expectations. Unicorns are typically portrayed as gentle, as living in someplace warm and grassy, as really magical. Well, the last is still true, at least. Here, the unicorns live in a cold, barren wasteland, and if you remember the fayleene, you may already have a pretty good idea how this is going to go.

Dayna’s problem isn’t finding SUSPECTS for her locked room mystery. It’s finding how, which will tell her who. For instance, after discovering the body, we get this little gem:

“It’s not my fault that Dekanos didn’t die when he should have!” Windkey flared. Then, as if thinking better of it, he turned and spoke to me. “That sounded a trifle inconsiderate.”

And back on the home front, things finally come to a head with Bob McClatchy—in a way I never saw coming. (Well, THIS should make book 10 interesting.) I get the feeling it’s not quite over yet, despite how it worked out.

Overall this is another wild ride, with several twists that once more change the face of the game. I can’t wait to see where we go from here. I rate this book Highly Recommended.