Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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All the Blondes Are Fantasies

Many months ago, rachelmanija recommended Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes, so when Borderlands had her over all the way from South Africa last month two months ago, how could I say no?

Zoo City takes place in Johannesburg, but in a world where something called the Ontological Shift occurred. Now, whenever someone commits a heinous crime, they are "animalled," saddled with a scarlet furry letter that immediately ostracizes (or exoticizes) them, but they also receive a mashavi, a special ability. Zinzi December has a Sloth and a talent for finding lost things. She's an ex-journalist and ex-addict, working to get out of debt with 419 scams ("Hello, I am a Nigerian prince who wishes to give you lots of fake money if you give me some real money"). Against her better judgment, she takes a missing persons case, hunting for one half of a brother-sister pop duo. Things get difficult.

The book has a lot of things going for it, like the noir urban fantasy with a dash of cyberpunk, the setting (Johannesburg is totally hip these days), the occasional in-universe media clippings (scientific papers, newspaper and magazine articles, and, perhaps my favorite, an IMDb entry), a snarky female protagonist with a Beukes-imbued gift for analogy, and, of course, that strange and intriguing premise.

I tend to generally agree with Rachel, however, that the book doesn't delve enough into that premise. I wanted to know more, more about the animals and why people had them, how they functioned. I also wondered why, exactly, Beukes chose to center the book around this particular mystery. Why spend so much time on pop music and clubs? Zinzi has no personal investment in the case, although it does end up drudging up some of her past. The case, obviously, is more than it seems on the surface, and it leads to a resolution befitting a fantasy-noir hybrid.

I definitely liked Zoo City overall, even though I wasn't sure about the purpose of the individual elements and how Beukes intended them to cohere. It was definitely an interesting look into another culture, albeit through a fantastical eye.

After my exuberant review of Late Eclipses, it seems futile to continue reviewing Seanan McGuire's Toby Daye series because if that didn't convince you, what will? I mean, it was a New York Times bestseller! But maybe the occasional reminders that there's this cool urban fantasy series written by a friend of mine will keep the recommendation fresh.

One Salt Sea decides that the stakes haven't been high enough lately, so Toby has to prevent an all-out war between the land and the sea by finding two kidnapped children. As has been the trend after the first couple books, there isn't really a "mystery," as the culprit is determined fairly early and then confirmed over and over, although there's more to it, of course. At this point, the series has settled into a familiar groove, Toby having acquired many allies, all of whom are great characters I always enjoy spending time with. The book is almost deceptively straightforward, though entertaining and imaginative, especially when Toby must visit the Undersea, the scene of the crime, but, like I said, the series has settled into a familiar groove, and part of that groove is that even though each book is a stand-alone story, there are always consequences and events that ensure Toby Daye will not be the same in the next book and that we will have even more questions about the mythology of Faerie and its inhabitants. Especially the Luidaeg, who is basically a mystery wrapped inside an enigma with pigtails.

Level Up, by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham, sounded right up my alley: the story of an Asian-American boy who loves video games but is under pressure by his very traditional parents to succeed succeed succeed!

Dennis Ouyang is a video game fanatic, but his dad just wants him to do well in his studies. Then, when Dennis is in high school, his dad dies. His grief lasts longer than expected, and before he knows it, he's kicked out of college.

And that's when four extremely bossy angels show up to help him get his life back on track.

The simple, crayon-y art helps sell the magical realism angle; the angels are clearly manifestations of Dennis's grief, but they're also real. They help him get into med school and follow the path his dad had laid out for him. But is that the path he wants to be on?

Level Up reads like a good short story, moving quicky through time and establishing characters in short scenes. I was surprised and a little disappointed that the video game angle didn't really figure too prominently in the actual story (I expected something more akin to Scott Pilgrim), but I didn't mind too much because the story and characters were engrossing enough. I felt like there wasn't enough meat, however, because it was so short. Character relationships aren't explored as fully as they could be. That being said, though, it does lead up to a solid climax and resolution, so...really, like I said, this is basically a good short story.

My thoughts on Heartless, by Gail Carriger, are similar to my thoughts on the last book in that the series continues to have an unflappable heroine in books where nothing much HAPPENS, per se, but there are a handful of REVELATIONS scattered about, and it's just silly fun. This book does have some interesting developments as well as a pretty rousing climax, but the actual plotline is sort of a mess and a little annoying for spoilery reasons. As usual, however, the end of the book does leave me intrigued as to what Carriger has planned for the next (and final) book.

You guys, why aren't you reading the Secret Series? Were my reviews of The Name of This Book Is Secret and If You're Reading This, It's Too Late not convincing enough? I didn't even review This Book Is Not Good for You, but it seems that it was a turning point in the series, as the first two books were just an introduction to the three-book quest to uncover the Secret! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

You may have noticed that I've been reading lots of series books; the intention was to read books I knew would be good after spending months being disappointed or underwhelmed by what I'd been reading. So I was certain to enjoy This Isn't What It Looks Like, by Pseudonymous Bosch, although I can't really describe what it's about because it picks up right where the third book leaves off. Suffice it to say that it begins with Chapter -Ten. These books are simply a delight, full of clever wordplay, sly humor, and cryptic codes. Cass and Max-Ernest are endearing protagonists. The mythology of the series builds with each book, and this one in particular features a SUPERAWESOME METATWIST. They're so much fun, and I almost can't wait to buy the fifth and final book in paperback next year, knowing it's already out in hardback right now, available at the library and everything.
Tags: books, comics, real life friends

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