THE SONG OF RHIANNON by Evangeline Walton (cover by Bob Pepper, all rights to current holder) was the third of her Mabinogion-based novels, (following Island of the Mighty and Children of Llyr): following the great war in Ireland, Manawyddan reunites with his lost love Rhiannon only to find her son’s kingdom targeted by a malevolent and powerful entity out of faerie. While this lacks the epic drama of Llyr, the magic is absolutely eerie, for example the scene where Dyved’s entire population vanishes overnight. Wonderful.
BREATH OF EARTH by Beth Cato is a steampunk fantasy set in an alt.1906 where the US and Japan are allies (leading to them briskly grinding China into the dust) and magic is integrated into the industrial revolution. The protagonist is a black serving woman in San Francisco who has to deploy her own powers when someone annihilates the city’s entire cabal of earth magicians, leaving the city helpless against the next big quake. There’s nothing really bad about this (other than how easily Isabel trusts the male lead, given she has no idea who’s behind the conspiracy), but nothing that grabbed me either.
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH by Vera Brittain is the slow-paced but absorbing account of Brittain growing up in rural England before WW I, eventually signing up and joining the nursing corps, and become a diplomat and peace activist in the following decade (this came out in 1933, when she could still be optimistic there wouldn’t be a second world war). Brittain’s account of unreasonable supervisors, hellish medical crises and tragic losses (a lot of those) seems very similar to a lot of later memoirs, while her and her friends’ reliance on poetry to ease their pain seems like something out of another world. Also interesting as a bit of feminist history, Brittain defining herself as such and doing a lot more than I usually imagine women doing in those days (my bad, obviously). I must admit, I skimmed some of the slower bits.
FRESH ROMANCE is an anthology of Indie romance comics and like many anthologies varying wildly in quality: I really loved The Ruby Equations (can a cynical cupid ever make a match that lasts) even guessing the finish, and the brief final story (about a woman whose first kiss with someone gives her a vision of their final kiss); the opener about high-school relationships and magic feels like a more diverse version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Overall worth reading, even though I’m not a romance fan in particular.
THE COMPLETE E.C. SEGAR POPEYE, Vol. 9 (picking up not long after the last volume I read) has the squinting sailor coping with a new girlfriend (who annoyingly disappears from the story without explanation), a town of Western outlaws, the Sea Hag’s even-more-evil sister (plus her immortal brute sidekick, Toar), and Popeye’s efforts to establish his own land of Spinachovia. I love Segar’s work so this was a real treat, though even a comic genius can have off days—the plotline of Olive becoming a movie producer is a collection of cliches that never adds up to much. And this has a boatload of Native American and Savage Tribesman stereotypes (“Indians” even show up as the native inhabitants of Spinachovia, which makes no sense), so now you’ve been warned.
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS: Starfire by Scott Snyder and multiple artists mercifully avoids the sex-kitten characterization of Starfire from vol. 1, but it’s not terribly interesting. Snyder tries way too hard to show us that Jason Todd as the Red Hood is utterly awesome (I’ve never understood why anyone wanted to revive him after he died) and while Starfire’s arc works some variations on her pre-New 52 history, it just feels more like a knockoff of the X-Men’s Starjammers. So, forgettable
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: Century 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill has the latest incarnation of the Murray Group (Mina, Allan, the psychic Carnacki, the immortal Orlando and the cat burglar Raffles) going up against a sinister cultist plotting something apocalyptic, but discover they’ve arrived a little early—plus the League itself is showing fractures. The ending foreshadows the sour tone I remember from 1969 and 2009 and the gimmick of using one character singing to provide narrative captions is really forced (it worked in V for Vendetta but it’s er, discordant here). And the rape of Janni Nemo is really gratuitous, as if there’s no other reason she’d want to ditch the life of a kitchen drudge to command the Nautilus (reading so soon after the first series, I can see why some readers complain about Moore’s use of rape as a plot device). Second-string for this mythos.