Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Trinity Blood: Reborn on the Mars, Volume II-The Iblis

Trinity Blood exists in three different media. The anime came last, based on the manga. The manga came second, based on the books written by Sunao Yoshida. Tokyopop publishes not only the manga, but the book as well. The stories all follow the character of Abel Nightroad, a priest of the Vatican. His superior is Caterina Sforza, sister of Francesco di'Medici, a Cardinal and minister of the Vatican department of the Inquisition. Caterina is also a Cardinal and Foreign Affairs minister.

Caterina and her brother Francesco disagree on how to deal with Vampires. For these stories take place after a great Apocalypse that destroyed much of the earth. Many humans turned to a nanomachine virus that caused Vampirism to keep on living. Now, some vampires believe that they are superior to regular humans, called Terrans. Others want to make peace with the humans. Francesco believes the only good vampire is a dead vampire, whereas Caterina believes that some vampires do want some sort of rapproachment with the humans.

To that end, Caterina has gone to the City of Carthage to meet with a representative of the vampire Queen. Ion Fortuna is the representative. Since born vampires stop aging when they come into their power, Ion appears to be an extremely andorgynous 12 year old boy, but is actually a Methuselah. He has come with his best friend, Radu Barvon, also a Methuselah, but appearing to be a man in his early 20's.

Unknown to Ion, however, is that Radu has sold him out. Radu is working for an organization called the Rosenkreuz Orden, that wants to start a war between the humans and the Vampires. The last thing they want is for the kind of peace an agreement between the Vatican and the New Human Empire (Vampires). When his attempt to kill both Ion and Caterina Sforza fails, Radu sets off an ancient weapon hidden beneath the city of Carthage in an attempt to kill everyone. Can Abel, Father Tres and Sister Esther Blanchett save the city in time? And can Brother Petros, "El Ruinante" lower himself to working with Ion, when he believes the only good vampire is a dead vampire?

I really enjoyed the book, even though much of this story has already been published in the Trinity Blood manga. Reading it in book form, of course, led to a deeper understanding of the motivations of the main characters. A picture may be worth 1000 words (as in the manga), but somehow, reading the book makes the story seem more concrete than the same story in a manga is. My only complaint is that the books take more time to be translated (more words, natch), so reading the stories will always lag behind reading the manga.

Psycho Busters, Volume 2

Kakeru is a normal boy, or so he thinks, so when he met the beautiful Ayano, he was immediately attracted to her. Then, he found out that she was psychic, and that her friends were psychic, too. but he doesn't know much of their background. With his mother and two sisters on holiday without him, he invited Ayano and her friends to stay in his house, in hopes that he can get to know her better, and learn more about her friends and her.

Her friends include Xiao Long, a boy who can heal with his powers, Kaito, who has the power to make fire and uses it as a weapon, and Jôi, who can see into the future, but who is currently in a deep sleep, worn out from using his powers. Ayano herself can read minds.

Jôi finally wakes up, and his power becomes immediately evident as he takes over leadership of the group. He asks the others to do tasks for him, and tells Kakeru to go up and down stairs starting only with his left foot. Kakeru is puzzled by this, but agrees, and Jôi shares his vision of the future with them... the world in ruins, a strange man standing over them, and Kakeru going to face him. Kakeru doesn't know the man, but the others do. He's Ikushima, one of the council controlling the Garden, the place that identifies psychics and tries to get them to use their powers on behalf of the government.

Ayano and the others want freedom, but the council is unwilling to give up control over psychics who are so powerful, and so they send two other psychics after Ayano and her friends, psychics meant to kill everyone except Jôi and bring Jôi back to the Garden so he can be used.

Jôi, meanwhile, tells the others that he feels that Kakeru is actually a very powerful psychic indeed, but his powers are not under his conscious control. Which is actually a good thing, as Kakeru may be a "type zero", one of the most powerful psychics on the planet.

When Kakeru, Ayano and the others are trapped in Kakeru's school by the attack of the other two psychics, and the girls from Kakeru's class are in danger, it's up to him to keep the others safe by dealing with one of the psychics, Takemaru. But does Kakeru have any chance of reaching Takemaru?

This book sets up the situation with the Garden, and much of Takemaru's attack on Ayano and her friends. Kakeru wants to be a man and take care of Ayano because he's such a wuss generally, but his psychic power may give him the edge, even if he can't control it. Secrets are revealed, but even more stay secrets, and the book ends on a cliffhanger.

While I haven't seen and read volume 1, this book intrigued me enough to want to keep reading, which is a hard task for an interstitial book to accomplish. This book is rated for teens and includes some gratuitous nudity for comic effect, and some non-gratuituous nudity used to break people out of a kind of psychic-power trance. No bad language of otherwise sexual situations. Highly recommended.

Megatokyo, Volume 3 by Fred Gallagher

Piro and Largo spend the night with Kimiko and her roommate Erica Hayabusa at a bar, where Piro and Kimiko get very drunk and have to be escorted home by their respective friends/roommates.

Largo continues to teach students at his school, including Miho, who he calls the Vampire Girl and Queen of the Undead. After being beaten by her at a video game, Largo is arrested by the Tokyo Police Cataclysm Division, but an attack by Gameru, Gamera's alcoholic son on a bender, he manages to use Ping to defeat the beast and is offered a place on the force, including a neat identity card/credit card, which he uses to build a Cybercore Node that functions using cereal and cold beer, Cereal for insulation and beer for cooling. Amazingly enough it works, and Largo uses it to take on several men who are holding some kind of covert operation around the Megagamers store.

Meanwhile, Mimiko has auditioned for a part as the voice of the main character from a new game called "Sight", and she gets the part because of the melancholy in her voice. So much so that the writer actually rewrites the part for her. Of course, she doesn't realize how much getting the part will change her life. But her roommate Hayabusa does, because she, too, used to be a voice actress, but apparently walked away from that life five years ago. Her most devoted (ahem, obsessive) fans have been looking for her ever since, and now, they may just have found her. It is this "operation" that Largo foils using his new computer node.

And Piro may have agreed to give Yuki drawing lessons, but that doesn't mean he'll remember them, and even if he apologizes, he'll still feel like an idiot. Can Seraphim, his conscience, help? And what happens when she is kidnapped by her opposite number, Asmodeus, who wants to really get Piro to lose his innocence and hesitation towards women. But considering Asmodeus's plans involve Piro and Largo, will any plan of his involving them go smoothly? Or will his desire to gloat to Seraphim be his downfall?

Another mangs full of the wacky goodness that is Megatokyo. Piro's wishy-washyness and inability to believe girls could actually like him, and Largo's l33t haxx0r skills and computer-building ability combine to bring the pair more concentrated craziness than most people could stand. The story continues, and perhaps, just perhaps, Piro and Mimiko will one day get together. But both have a long, long way to go yet.

Despite the definitely out of this world things that happen to Piro and Largo, readers will get to see a glimpse of the real Tokyo, and what it must be like. Not the Tokyo of many manga, but the strange and weird Tokyo where fanboys obsessively track down the stars they like, a world where Cafés hire girls to wear costumes and falsies to attract boys to come in and spend their money. A Tokyo and Japan far stranger than many otaku could contemplate...

Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, drawn by Sonia Leong

Everyone is familliar with the plays of the bard, but many kids have a hard time getting into them. This should no longer be a problem with Manga Shakespeare, which recasts Shakespeare's plays and places them in the modern age: visually, at least, since the words are kept the same.

Romeo and Juliet is cast as a feud between two Yakuza families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo is now the frontman and singer for a band called the Montagues, while Juliet Capulet is a dutiful daughter and Shibuya girl. Prince Escalus is a detective with the local police force, and Japanese locations substitute for those in Italy (Nagoya for Mantua, for example).

While this book does have all of Shakespeare's poetry, I would recommend pairing it with the actual play for it to get the most impact. If the teenager you are buying it for doesn't quite get the Bard's idea, this is one way to show them.

The drawing is well done, and can be unintentionally funny, as when Juliet shows up at Friar Lawrence's temple on her scooter, which seems rather ridiculous when paired with the Bard's plays. I also had a bit of trouble with the concept of the Duke as a policeman. Better that he be someone further up in the Yakuza that both families owed allegiance to, because making him a cop didn't "fit" the play for me.

On the other hand, it's otherwise very well done, and your opinion may differ.

Buckingham Palace Gardens by Anne Perry

A murder inside the grounds of Buckingham Palace leads to Thomas Pitt being summoned to the Palace to deal with it. Right from the start, it is made clear that the murder could not have been committed by an intruder from the outside, because the Prince of Wales, Albert, has been having a meeting with four wealthy, titled men on a project to build a railroad through Africa, from south to north (or vice versa, depending on how you look at it). That leaves only a few people who could possibly have done it: the servants, one of the financiers and/or their wives, or the Prince of his deaf wife, Alexandra. Naturally, nobody wants to think that the Prince is involved or committed the crime.

To aid Pitt in his investigations, Pitt's superior Narraway asks Pitt's maid Gracie to agree to serve in the Palace for a while. Gracie is to serve as an informant and to search the areas of the house that generally servants only get to see. Also, because servants in noble houses are generally overlooked and treated as invisible, servants get to overhear things that generally aren't let slip in "polite" company.

Gracie agrees, and so must deal with the Palace servants, who are just as status-seeking and opinionated as their masters and mistresses, but she is able to recover several important clues, such as port bottles filled with blood, bloody sheets with the Queen's initials embroidered on them, meaning they came from the Queen's own bed, and the remains of a smashed plate identical to the one from the Queen's own bedroom.

The murder victim, a prostitute who was brought into the palace to serve as "entertainment" for the Prince and his male guests, was found wrapped in a sheet and stuffed into the linen closet. No one knows her real name, but that she was only brought in for that one night.

Reports surface that three of the noblemen were in Africa, specifically Capetown, when a half-caste prostitute was murdered in a very similar way. Also present was the brother of one of the Aristocrat's wives, who later died in an alligator-infested river, apparently attacked by the animals.

One of the men, Cahoon Dunkeld, is particularly abrasive at Pitt. Dunkeld is handling things for the Prince so that the Prince is spared the worry and the necessity of soiling his hands by dealing directly with the Prince. But it seems that Dunkeld has some secrets. In fact, all of the men meeting with the Prince do, along with their wives. Dunkeld's wife fears him and is afraid he will get rid of her so that he can marry the Crown Princess's lady in waiting, for he has boundless ambition and is tired of her. Dunkeld's daughter is married to another man, who Dunkeld's wife is completely in love with, but the daughter doesn't appear to value her husband and is having numerous affairs.

Her Husband has a brother who despises him, and so on. The ladies, even though the men try to keep the facts of the matter from them, find out all too quickly what has happened, and one of the women, Minnie Dunkeld-Sorokine, decides to investigate on her own. At dinner one night, she asks many questions, and by the next morning she is dead, apparently killed by her husband, who Dunkeld beats savagely before calling in Pitt.

But Pitt is by no means convinced that Sorokine killed his own wife and simply left her body in their shared room. For one thing, it's stupid, and Sorokine isn't stupid. So who is the real killer, and what is the circumstances of the Prostitute's death? If Pitt can't find the answer soon, the whole matter could come out and cause the fall of the monarchy, not to mention lose Pitt his job.

This book takes us to an area of Victorian society we haven't really seen before in a Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novel, literally, to the house of the Queen and the people who congregate there. While we have been exposed (so to speak) to the nobility before, we haven't actually seen what life was like for those who ruled the nation, in the form of Prinny (Prince Albert Edward of Wales), his wife, and those he associated with.

Needless to say, this is pretty rarefied air for Pitt, who was born to a servant on a manorial farm. But despite not being comfortable with the company he'll be keeping, Pitt must do his job if he is to have any chance of succeeding.

This is also one of the few Thomas Pitt novels to lack his wife, Charlotte. Though he loves her dearly, as the wife of a man in trade, she is not allowed to circulate in the same ranks as the wives of the men Pitt is investigating, so she literally only appears in one scene in the novel, towards the beginning. This will be a blow to fans of the couple, as Pitt is staying in the Palace until the case is solved. Frankly, the book seems a little dead without her, even though the plot is a good one and moves along swiftly. Frankly, scenes with Pitt and Gracie just didn't have the same kind of buzz and left me a little disappointed.

It's a solid novel, but not, I think, one of Anne Perry's best. Unfortunately, there is a kind of feeling scenes between Pitt and Charlotte bring to the novel and they were missed in this book, leaving a sort of "off-kilter" feel to the book.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Knights of the Silver Dragon Book Nine- Key to the Griffon's Lair by Candice Ransom

The Knights of the Silver Dragon were a famed company of adventurers who fought on the side of good. After a massive battle during the Troll Invasion, most of the Knights died, leaving only the Wizard Kendric behind.

When Kendric's apprentice Zellach, his brother Driskoll and his friend Moyra joined together to do good around the town of Curston, Kendric bestowed upon the three the name of the Knights of the Silver Dragon. Even though the three are just children, and not quite teenagers, they continue to investigate mysteries and defeat evil, even if it is sometimes overstated and not what they believe it to be.

The story begins with the Mop Faire, an annual fair at which people hire all sorts of servants. Moyra is looking for a woman who sells all sorts of amulets and charms, whom she met at the last Mop Faire. When she finds the woman, she buys a ring for Kellach that will keep him from being affected by spells. She is also hoping to buy her father a charm that will help him be a better thief. Moyra is a thief, too, but her father is a really incompetent thief, and she wants to help him become a better one. Sadly, the woman doesn't have a charm for that, but she presses on Moyra a small falcon in a cage.

Moyra is upset, saying that if she tries to return to Curston with the falcon, a bird only nobles can fly and which she can't possibly afford, she'll be arrested for stealing it. Given that it is a noble bird, Kellach says to try letting it out of the cage. They do so, and the bird leads them to a strange and spooky tavern, where they are met by a woman, Caroline, Lady Dardley. She begs them to help her.

It seems that her father has fallen under the sway of a magician he hired to be his court mage. Lord Dardley's father died in the Troll Invasion, and the magician has told him that his father's death was caused by Zellach's mentor, Kendric. Caroline is certain that Lord Dardley wouldn't have accepted this without the use of some kind of mind-affecting magic, and she begs the knights to set her father free.

This magician, Nimrae by name, has gathered together an army of undead monsters. The only way to save the town is to go to the Crypt of the Silver Knights that lies somewhere under Dardley lands, wake the spirits of the Silver Knights, and lead them into battle against the undead army. To that end, she gives them a silver key. The head of the key is embossed with a Griffon's head on one side, and a stylized sun design on the other. And then Caroline must go, but before she does, she tells them that her maid, the woman selling charms, can be used as a go-between between the Knights and her.

On their way home, Moyra feels something or someone watching and following them, so she has them duck into a nearby warehouse to throw off pursuit. They see no one, but a tuft of silvery-white fur is left behind on Moyra's boot.

Moyra doesn't want to tell anyone about the mission, but Zellach and Driskoll end up telling Zellach's mentor Kendric about the claims Nimrae is making. Kendric is not well, but he makes it clear that he knows Nimrae and has a low view of the man's abilities. He also tells them that Nimrae visited him recently, and tried to cast a spell on him, but failed. With Nimrae set to unleash his army in three days time, the Knights must find the tomb on their own, since Kendric is having dizzy spells.

Moyra also has them visit a friend of hers, a man named Rom, who is a Traveller who has left his people and settled down in Curston. Rom has known Moyra since she was a toddler, but he has a gift of foreseeing, called Beyond, and Moyra asks Rom for help. He reads the key with Beyond, and sees a forest with roads, but not roads. Circles. and then he nearly goes into convulsions. When they finally get the key from his grasp, he warns them about the Juckal, a white, wolf-like creature that prowls the forest. He tells Moyra to take the most care, as she has connected with the Juckal.

They are summoned back to Dardley Manor to meet Caroline that night, and keep watch over the stables, where her father has seen a prowler. They keep watch, and are rewarded with a meeting with the Juckal, who Kellach can talk to mind to mind. The Juckal says he is here to help them, then leaves before they can get any more information.

Later, they meet the Juckal's master, a former Knight of the Silver Dragon who was blinded before the last battle and left the order in shame. The Griffon who guards the tomb is the same Griffon that led to the deaths of the original Knights of the Silver Dragon. One of the Knights had been attempting to tame the Griffon, but when this knight rode his horse into the battle, the horse panicked at the sight of the Griffon, which attracted its attention, and it broke to kill and eat the horse. This lost the Knights the battle until Kendric cast a spell and saved the town.

Finally, the Knights learn the location of the Crypt: in the hunting preserve of Lord Dardley. But until Lord Dardley announces a hunt for the white wolf-like creature that has been spotted on his lands, the Knights have no way to get there. But can they sneak into the hunting preserve without attracting the attention of Nimrae?

This is a very enjoyable novel aimed at kids 8-12. The three characters are all within that age range or a little older. The actions the kids perform are all within the range of things that normal kids that age can do, with the exception, of course, of Kellach's ability to do magic. The kids are also portrayed as being realistically inventive and knowledgeable for their age range with Kellach, of course, being the smartest, as knowledge is paramount for wizards.

In short, this set of novels is perfect for any child into adventure and/or Dungeons and Dragons. There is nothing truly objectionable inside, either in themes or language. Some parents may find it objectionable that Moyra is a thief, but those familliar with D&D will understand that it is merely another class. Additionally, Moyra's father is a thief, a bad one, and during this novel, gives it up for honest work.

Even though this is a novel for younger readers, I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone in the target age.

Powers Book 7: Forever by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

Powers readers have long wondered about the origins of Detective Christian Walker's origins. We know he was a Superhero named Diamond, but we never know where he really came from or how he got his powers. Now, all will be revealed!

We are in the age of Neanderthals. Two ape-like humans fight over a woman in the tribe, White-Stripe and Red-Stripe. Red Stripe loses, but doesn't like it. After he manages to kill a lion with his bare hands, Red Stripe goes back and rapes the woman who likes White Stripe more. However, when White Stripe defends the woman from a vicious rape, Red-Stripe turns his powers on her, and melts her into black goo. This breaks up the tribe, and White Stripe strikes back, manifesting powers of his own. The two fight each other fruitlessly, and the fight finally ends when they are both exhausted. Each goes their own way into the desert.

Many thousands of years later, Gora the Champion rides into a small town, seeking to get away from his problems. He is followed by Princess Zanona, who wants to persuade Gora to become her husband and take the throne of her father after her father dies, but Gora doesn't want to be the figurehead.

Their conversation is interrupted by a red warrior, who challenges Gora to fight, and melts the princess into a puddle of goo. Gora and Haemon, the red warrior, fight each other to a standstill, and the Red Warrior leaves, exhausted, telling Gora to prepare for battle when they meet again.

A thousand years later, in China, a man comes to the Hoshu Mountain Temple, seeking answers for why he has the powers that he does, and what his fractured memories mean. The master of the temple welcomes him, for the other members of the temple all have powers like him. The master tells the man that he is as old as the world, and he cannot remember his childhood because it was too long ago. But he can live there with them, in a world with others of his kind. But when a foreign land invades China and kills people, the man and his friends decide to fight on the behalf of people as heroes. Others disagree, and stay behind, saying that the people will come to resent their saviors and kill them for it.

In 1936, in Chicago, a man has begun fighting corruption down on the docks. This same man goes to talk to Albert Einstein about his powers and missing memories. Einstein tells the man he cannot explain his powers, but that he should keep his identity secret, lest other people kill him for them in the name of God, country and science. The man goes home to find his wife killed. The killer says he knows the man, but when the man doesn't remember the name of the killer, the killer says he is ruining it, and fights him, beating him up a little and leaves.

50 years later, Christian Walker is the Diamond, superhero working in Chicago. One of his team members finds a way to turn off the powers of supervillains. Christian is both disturbed and delighted by the idea. He'd like to turn his own powers off and live like an ordinary human. This deeply disturbs his friend, but their argument stops when Power Girl shows up and warns them about Johnny Royalle, aka Johnny Stompinato is gathering the supervillains in his lair for some kind of meeting. He thinks the supervillains should team up to overcome the team of superheroes. Powergirl is all for stomping on the villains, and the other two agree.

During the fight with Johnny Stompinato, Christian is attacked by Wolfe, the man with the red aura who killed his wife. He takes off after the man and brings him to his friend's lab, where he turns on the device that takes away both their powers, and proceeds to beat the living daylights out of the other man. Their fight ends up with them smashing into the machine that generates the power-denying field, which explodes, bathing them both in radiation. When the fight is over, Christian wakes up in the hospital. His powers are gone, perhaps permanently. After he recovers, and a great deal of soul-searching, he decides to become a cop, and goes to a cop he helped before. The other man agrees to help him.

Now a cop, Christian Walker is summoned to the scene of his apartment. Wolfe has regained his powers and is using them to take out Christian's apartment. Christian goes up to the roof to confront Wolfe, who is bleeding and apparently dying. But he still has enough power to destroy a helicopter. He asks Christian Walker to forgive him, calling him "Gora", but Walker can't, and shoots Wolfe through the head. Wolfe says in that case, he hopes, with his dying breath, that he can take Walker with him. He then explodes quite messily, but without killing anyone, even Walker.

Walker is left to deal with his death, and the end of his longtime foe. The end.

This was an unusual graphic novel, beginning, as it did, so far back in time. It also showed the great enemy that was made because one ape was jealous over one female liking another ape rather than himself. It's implied that somehow Wolfe remembered all his life, while Walker continually forgot who he was and where he had come from, but the reason why is never discussed.

I did enjoy the graphic novel, even if the stories didn't share much of a thematic whole, sometimes. We do learn Walker's background, but it feels more like a scattered series of snapshots rather than a coherent whole. It's only towards the end of the book that we really get any sense of continuity. I feel that it is somewhat flawed as a story, but I don't regret spending money on the book.

Mu Shi Shi Volume 3 by Yuki Urushibara

Ginko is a Mushishi, a man who fights against ancient life forms known as the Mushi, who seem to live between the possible and the impossible. Only Ginko seems to see them, though many others feel the effects.

The first story is called "The Voice of Rust". A young girl living with her family seems to be cursed in that anyone who speaks to her becomes covered in rust, and their bodies grow heavy and unable to move. The rest of the town blames her, even as they donate food for her family to live on because they are so covered in rust they can no longer move. It is up to Ginko to determine the true source of the trouble and free the town... as well as the girl, to move on in their lives.

The second story is "From the Ocean's Edge", and it tells of a Young man stuck on a strange shoreline waiting for his wife to appear and her boat to come in. He has been waiting for three years, but hasn't given up hope. She and her boat disappeared in a strange mist, when the water grew full of snakes. She and her husband had been having a disagreement, so his waiting is partly guilt at abandoning her. When the strange mist returns, can Ginko and the man retrieve his wife?

The third story is called "The Heavy Seed". In a land of famine, only one village has fields bursting with crops. But everyone around won't take their food, seeing it as something unnatural. It turns out that their harvest is due to something called the Heavy Seed, a mushi that guarantees a bountiful crop, in exchange for the life of one person who eats the food it brings. Can Ginko show the Crop Master the dangers of using the seed before someone else dies?

The fourth story is called "White Living in the Ink Stone". When three young villagers fall ill after using an inkstone full of Mushi, Ginko must go to find the origins of the Inkstone, as well as finding a cure for the three children before they die of the cold inhabiting their bodies.

The last story is "The Fish Gaze" about a young boy named Yoki who can see Mushi. He loses his mother and hurts his leg and is found by a woman in the forest. She takes him back to her home to nurse him. The boy is curious about the woman, who has snow-white hair and only one eye, but she reists his questions, instead telling him about Mushi. She does later answer his questions. She is, or rather was, a Mushishi, and wandered about the land, returning to her home village where her husband and daughter stayed. One time when she came home, however, her husband and daughter were missing. She went out to search for them, and decided they must have fallen to the Mushi of the Lake. It turns the fish living in the lake white and takes an eye from them. Because she has lived near the lake for so long, she, too, has fallen victim to the effects.

Yoki is curious, and one night sees a fish in the lake lose its other eye and dissapear. He tells the woman, and she basically says she knows this. She is waiting for it to happen to her so she can finally be with her husband and daughter. The next full moon, she disappears, but Yoki grabs her arm and is taken with her. She tells him to keep one eye closed, and he follows her, but finds his way out of the Mushi, and she disappears. Afterwards, his hair is white, but one eye is completely black. He is adopted into another village. His new parents call him Ginko...

Mushishi is a title filled with mysteries, from the Mushi themselves to the people who are infected and caught by them. This leads to a sense of wonder that lingers long after you have finished reading the story.

I, for one, really enjoy this series, and if you enjoy mysteries that may never be explained, you will, too. Ginko has remained much of an enigma during the first two books, but the last story here goes some way towards explaining his profession. How he can see Mushi isn't explained (was he born with the ability?), but the continual mysteries of the series bring both awe and wonder.

Tell Me Where It Hurts by Dr. Nick Trout

Veterinarian Dr. Nick Trout leads us through a typical day at his surgical veterinarian practice, diagnosing cases, doing surgical operations on pets, and generally living with the chaos and uncertainty that goes on in any doctor's day.

Along the way, he tells us about his life, how he got into being a veterinarian and why he stays, as well as the unexpected costs of being a veterinarian and of owning pets. He shows us people who are forced to pay huge costs for veterinary surgery, and sometimes cannot afford it, and others who view pets as just another accessory on the road of life... if it gets broken or lost, just throw it away and replace it. But he also shows us the human faces of owners who treat their pets like family, and who sacrifice to keep their pets alive in the face of overwhelming sickness or injury.

And he also shows us the pets themselves, and how hard it is to be a vet compared to a doctor who operates on humans. Like the title implies, pets cannot tell us where it hurts or how, and lack the voice to tell us how much they are hurting. So, the doctor becomes the voice of the pet as well as a healer, letting owners know where and how they are hurt.

Central to this book are the stories of individual pets and their owners, from the older man whose dog was a last gift from his dying wife, and the daughter who wants him to cut his losses and have the dog put to sleep, to the otherwise healthy-seeming dog with cancer, who has three masses in his chest whose removal will only give him months of healthy living.

Dr. Trout also shows us some of the strange conceits of Dog owners, such as Neuticals, a company that makes replacement testicles for male dogs who have undergone neutering. Whether or not the dog feels that they need them, it is more likely the owner who buys them who needs to feel secure in his masculinity, not wanting a "girly-dog".

Whether or not you agree with Dr. Trout, you will probably find the stories amusing as well as heart-breaking. As a memoir of a day in the life of a Veterinary Surgeon, this is an amusing but deep book that will make you laugh, worry, cry, and then laugh again. A treasure.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Captain America: Winter Soldier

Captain America is a man out of his time. A young man before the Second World War, Steve Rogers has remained young and in perfect physical condition thanks to the Super-Soldier serum he was given to become his country's perfect fighting man. But now the effects of his long life are catching up to him.

He's having to deal with the deaths of the people he loves who are aging and dying as he stays forever young. He also has to deal with the new morality of America that he is definitely not in line with. Plus, all his old foes are still out there, like the Red Skull, juat waiting to bring him down.

In particular, the Red Skull once had an object called the Cosmic Cube, that could literally rewrite reality at the holder's whim. Don't like the way the world is? You can change everything about it, as long as you are the holder of the cube. Fortunately for the world, the cube was broken, rendering it non-operational. But now the Red Skull has retrieved the pieces and is ready to kill thousands of people to power it up again.

All until the Red Skull is killed, and Cap, because of his long and well-known history of being at odds with the Skull, is one of the suspects in his killing. Too, something odd is happening to Captain America. He's been recieving strange dreams or visions that seem like memories, but which don't really conform to the memories he knows are true. And someone else is killing or damaging items in Cap's past, from the tombstones of two heroes that took up the role of Captain America when the real one was incapacitated, to killing one of Cap's former sidekicks, known as Bucky, but not the one that died in World War II.

Or is he dead? Bucky II has his own problems. Long ago, he took a version of Cap's Super Soldier serum, but something in it was incompatible with his body chemistry and it was driving him crazy. Put in cold storage and revived by S.H.I.E.L.D. when they had a cure for the madness, Bucky is now dying as the Super serum degrades his immune system. He finds one last foe to fight in a drug dealer preying on kids, but is this person really a drug dealer?

Finally, Cap must find who it is who stole the Cosmic Cube and killed the Red Skull, and must find them before they continue the Red Skull's plan to kill numerous people to re-power the cosmic cube. But with bombs set to go off in three major cities around the world, can Cap stop them in time?

This graphic novel points out that, even as a super-powered, super-effective soldier for the American government (and the American ideal), Captain America is still only human, and that the powers he has are only as good as his mind and morale. If Cap's mind can be broken, he'd be no better off than an ordinary man in that situation. The same if he can be distracted, as he is by these strange dream/memories.

We also see this in Bucky II. Bucky is dying, and tries to make one last stand as what he sees against the forces of darkness targeting kids. But in reality, the man is an icecream truck man, rendering Bucky's battles sad and pointless. Since he was being driven crazy by the super-soldier serum beforehand, seeing enemies where there actually were none, you have to wonder if it is happening all over again now. And then he gets killed before he learns the truth.

A sad book that leaves uncomfortable feelings behind, where the heroes fail against the bad guys despite their best efforts.

The Apostate's Tale by Margaret Frazer

Just before Easter, the Nunnery of St. Frideswede's is amazed to see Sister Cecely return to them. Cecely had been a nun, but run off with a man because she could no longer stand the other nuns and wanted the excitement and contentment of living her life the way she chose. But now the man she loved has died and left her with a son, Edward, called Neddie.

Cecely says that she has nowhere else to go, but that won't keep her from being punished for breaking her vows. What to do with her? None of the nuns really want her back with them, and a punishment of her being returned to the nunnery would be more of a punishment for them, rather than Cecely. Her son will be kept by the nuns until her fate is decided.

Soon trouble comes chasing Cecely in the form of her in-laws, who claim she stole valuable deeds from their family before she ran off with her son. Another merchant, staying in the nunnery's guest house, meets with Cecely, but she cannot run off with him because she is too closely kept. When her relations arrive, Cecely claims that they attempted to take her son from her, while they claim she stole the boy and that she was a liar and not really married to the father of her child, because of her vows to the nunnery.

But that isn't all that troubles the nunnery, for Domina Elizabeth, their abbess, has not been well and seems distracted of late. When her brother, the Bishop, arrives, she is heard crying before him, and her distraction only grows worse. What could be causing the Abbess such distress?

There is also a young woman come to the Abbey, whose mother says she is thinking of her daughter becoming a Nun, but the daughter claims that her mother only took her to the abbey to dissuade her from becoming a nun. But the daughter wants it more than anything, is easily capable of defying her mother to get what she wants.

But when two men in the abbey's guesthouse sicken, one after the other, each related to Cecely's case, can Frevisse find the culprit who seems to be poisoning them with items out of the abbey's own stores? And what of the supposedly stolen deeds? can they be found before the claimants in the case come to blows?

What I really like about Margaret Frazer is her ability to make you feel like you really are in the place you are describing, in this case, a Benedictine Nunnery. You also get to see it from the point of view of Cecely, who sees the nunnery of St. Frideswede's as a prison, and from the point of view of Sister Frevisse, who sees it as a sanctuary. By reading the book, you get to see it as both at the same time.

We get to see how Sister Cecely sees the other nuns at the abbey, and especially Sister Frevisse, and it is not a flattering picture. But these are all incidental to the story, which is first rate. The ending is something of a shock, but also a delight, and something which takes the series in an unexpected, new direction.

An excellent book with a well-plotted mystery.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dark Side of the Moon by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Susan Michaels was once an award-winning reporter, until she ran into a scandal that stripped away any professional credibility she'd ever had. Thanks to her friend from college, Leo, she'd found a job working at a paper based out of Seattle that covered the same kind of territory as the Weekly World News, but it hurts that she is never going to be able to write the kind of groundbreaking news stories she once did.

Leo asks her to look for a Catman that supposedly is running around in the Pike's market district, based on the blog of a goth college student, and then Susan gets a call from her friend Pete, who asks her to come see him at the animal shelter where he works as a Veterinarian. He claims that one of the vets that works with him is a Vampire, and Susan can tell he isn't joking.

She goes to the shelter and meets Pete's wife Angie, who is also her friend. Angie begs her to adopt a specific black cat, even though Sue is allergic. Sue does so and brings the cat home, where it appears to be choking. She removes the silver collar it is wearing and the cat turns into a man, passed out, stark naked face down on the carpet. Sue cannot believe her eyes and thinks she has gone insane. But when the police come by looking for her, saying that her friends are dead and she is suspected in their deaths, she is shattered.

The cat-man is Ravyn Kontis, an Arcadian Were-Hunter. Arcadians are humans who can change into animal form. There is another type of Were-Hunter called a Katagaria, who have animal hearts and prefer to remain animals. The Arcadians and the Katagaria are at war, but Ravyn's former mate led to his mother and sister dying, so many of his family blamed him for the deaths, and he was killed by his brother, Phoenix. However, Artemis brought him back as a Dark-Hunter.

Ravyn was checking out the recent upsurge in Daimon activity when he was ambushed in cat form and taken to the animal shelter. There, the Daimon vet threatened to neuter him before he died, as he would eventually die when the sunlight fell on him. But when Susan takes him home, he assumes she is a squire and is there to protect him, but that only lasts as long as it takes him to realize she has no idea what he is talking about.

Susan risks her life, and his own, to help him flee the police, and eventually takes him to the headquarters of the squires in the city. There, she meets her boss, Leo, who is a member of an old squire family and is convinced to join the squires, since the other choice is death. Ravyn stays with him when the Squires HQ is attacked, and helps him beat off a Daimon attack. Ravyn is amazed with her sword skills, which she learned in the SCA, and when he is injured, she takes him to the local Sanctuary, which just happens to be run by his family. She tells them off when they would refuse him shelter, and they allow him to stay... in the basement, in a holding cell for "problem guests".

Here, Susan finally has the time to react to the death of her friends, who were as close to her as family. She apologizes for being a wuss, but Ravyn says she is a pillar of strength. He finds himself attracted to her, and she to him, despite being allergic to his hair (and to him, when he is in cat form). Despite Ravyn's known dislike for humans, he finds her restful to be around, and doesn't find her to be a pain in the ass at all. He also finds her easy to talk to, and finds himself telling her more than he ever wanted to about his family and his nightmares about the night he died.

Susan remembers that her friend Pete kept a journal in which he wrote obsessively. If anyone would know who was behind the Daimon attacks, he would have figured it out. As time grows tighter, and the attacks grow ever more fierce, Ravyn and Susan must work to discover the real threat. But is there any chance for them when romances between Dark-Hunters and Squires are forbidden?

I truly enjoyed "Dark Side of the Moon". The two characters seemed so much at odds at first, but Susan's calm, level head and ability to fight with the big boys (the Dark Hunters) made her almost their equal. I liked to see a heroine with a level head who didn't do stupid things, and didn't act like an idiot for story reasons. There are no "Too Stupid to Live" moments here, and that was a good thing!

I also found Ravyn very sexy. He wasn't a bastard, although his character did have a spicy, peppery attitude. Seeing how he and Susan got along together made much of the story more satisfying. This is a story I would definitely read again.

In addition to the main characters, the side characters, and characters from other books, are what will keep you returning to the Dark-Hunters series. Sherrilyn Kenyon has peopled her books with so many interesting characters and ideas, and different types of supernatural creatures that it's quite easy to never get tired of what she writes. If you're tired of Dark Hunters this month, you could move on to the WereHunters or the Oneroi... As I have said, I will definitely be looking forward to more books in this series!

Devil May Cry by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Sin, better known as Nanna-Sin, was the Sumerian God of Fertility and the Moon. Thousands of years ago, he was tricked and seduced by Artemis into betraying his own pantheon, and betrayed in return by her, having his godly powers sucked away and taken by Artemis herself. Since then, he has hated her, but lived the life of a Dark Hunter. Still, unlike most Dark-Hunters, he has his own problems to worry about, or rather, his own demons.

The gallu demons, whose powers can even affect the gods themselves, were created by Sin's own pantheon, and they are looking forward to releasing an even worse set of demons called the Dimme. The Dimme were created by the Sumerian Pantheon, but locked away because their release would bring Armageddon. Every two or three thousand years, they must be once again locked away, and by members of the Sumerian Pantheon. But now Sin is the only one remaining, and despite Artemis's hatred of him and wanting to kill him, if Sin dies, the world will come to Apocalypse, as there will be no one left to lock them away again.

Katra is Artemis' daughter by Acheron, or Ash, first of the Dark-hunters, and their leader. She has literally been invisible to her father since shortly after she was born, and he doesn't know he has a daughter by Artemis. It was she who took away Sin's godly powers and gave them to her mother, because she believed Sin would kill Artemis if she didn't do so. Now, when Artemis calls on her once again to kill Sin, she is distrustful enough of her own mother to investigate on her own.

Katra is immediately attracted to Sin, though she finds his actions horrible and cruel. And yet, she isn't able to see him as the same kind of terrible monster that her mother does. Not at all. Katra finds Sin quite delicious... and she's attracted to him in ways she has never been attracted to another man in her entire life. She might be a virgin, but she's burning for him now.

When she discovers what Sin is up against, she decides to help him, not kill him. However, Sin, owing to his history, is extremely short on trust. He might be attracted to Katra, but that doesn't mean he'll trust his life to her, no matter how honorable she might seem. And he's definitely attracted to her and her sarcastic outlook on life. As Sin works and fights with Katra, he begins to fall for her in ways he thought lost to him, until she is the most precious thing to him. But can their relationship survive the revelation that it is she who stole his powers, and not Artemis?

I really enjoyed Devil May Cry, part of the complex Dark-Hunter Universe that encompasses vampires, werecreatures, demons, gods and various creatures from Greek and other Mythoi. Sin's story adds to the universe in the form of the Sumerian mythos, and attendant Gods and demons.

This book is not only a wonderful romance, but also a tightly-plotted thriller with Armageddon looming, and the Atlantean Gods coming together with Sin and his brother Zakar to lock away the Dimme for another couple thousand years. But I really enjoyed watching Sin and Katra moving from suspicion to lust to love, to the point where Sin considers her the most important thing in his world. Best of all is Acheron finally getting to meet and know his own daughter, and that the conflict that drives Sin and Katra apart also brings them back together at the end.

Sherrilyn Kenyon remains one of my favorite authors, and even though her books are like Lay's Potato Chips (can't eat just one!) I'll be looking forward to more books by her in the future.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yumekui Kenbun Nightmare Inspector, Volume 1 by Shin Mashiba

Hiruko is a Baku, or Dream Eater, who works out of a place called the Silver Star Teahouse. When patrons are troubled by bad dreams, they can come to Haruki, who will put them to sleep and enter their nightmares with them to find the source of the trouble and solve it, then Eat the bad dream.

This volume has a gamut of bad dreams, from the dream of a weathervane, who wants to see his dead mistress one more time, to a woman who has been able to change the course of her life by writing in her dreams and now fears becoming a murderer, to a woman who has been losing parts of herself in her dream and wants to get them back before she loses herself completely, to a girl who fears killing herself in her dreams and the boy who wants to save her, to a boy whose father died in a way that makes him afraid that he killed his father, and wants to find the truth, to the fan of a deceased actress who wants to find a way to save her in his dreams, to a man who wishes he could see the face of the girl who calls him every night, but whose face he has never seen, not even in his dreams...

I can't really say the stories are usual, but all of them are short, and rather quick reads. We don't learn much about Haruko, although the ending of the last story shows that he definitely isn't all-knowing. Why he needs to hang out in a tea-shop or even how he became a dream-eater in the first place isn't explored. Perhaps they will be in future installments of the series.

For now, I can only recommend this series for an intriguing concept and interesting stories. We'll see how and if that changes with later volumes.

Tarot Cafe Vol. 5 by Sang Sun Park

Alecto the Dragon was Ash's friend, back when Ash was alive. He didn't much care for humans, until an old crone foretold that Ash would die when he admitted his love for a human. Ash was horrified, as he considered humans beneath himself as a dragon, and as a consequnce, began killing any human that entered his territory. Thus, he kept himself from dying.

Until he went to see Ash and met Pamela. Something about her touched his heart, although he wished to deny it. He has also carried the secret about Ash's death inside him. Ash wished to die so that he could be reborn into a new life, as he was bored with being a dragon. So Ash made a pact with Belial and forbade him to tell Pamela of it.

Of course, Belial went back on his word and imprisoned the remains of Ash's body in his sanctum, where he has the dragon on permanent display. He also took some of the blood from Ash's heart, and the largest jewel from his necklace, and made a copy of Ash, then released him to torment Pamela. Why? Because long ago, Pamela saw through Belial's glamour when she was only a child, and Belial thought he would take Pamela as a toy to play with. When Ash died, Belial took his immortality and bestowed it on Pamela, allowing her to live an endless life so that she could provide him with endless amusement.

Now Alecto has found out about Ash's clone, and he tells Pamela, and Ash's clone, about what Ash is. But in doing so, he reluctantly confesses that he has feelings for Pamela, which hastens his death, as Belial has infected him with an insanity plague. Belus shows up once again to save Pamela, and is forced to kill Alecto when the insanity plague takes full effect.

Fake-Ash is unable to handle the truth of his existence and freaks out, fleeing after telling Pamela he absolutely despises her. Belus is nearly killed in the fight with Alecto, and Pamela is barely able to get him to the hospital in time to save him. But even so, will Belus survive his wounds? And will Pamela be able to kill Fake-Ash to retrieve the stone he was created from and retrieve more of her stolen memories?

This series continues to intrigue me. This volume is told mostly in flashback, as we find out that Pamela doesn't have all the facts of her early life. Specifically, Ash may have loved her, but he loved himself far more. Is there any way for Pamela to recover her memories and be happy? I don't know, and that very uncertainty is what keeps me reading.

Eye of Heaven by Marjorie M. Liu

Blue Perrineau works as a detective for the agency of Dirk and Steele. It's a most unusual agency with extremely... unusual operatives. How unusual? Blue is an electrokinetic, able to manipulate electricity with his mind. He can disable cell phones, destroy computers, shut off whole cities... or a man's heart. He is in Indonesia, tracking down a man who has been snatching women and children off the streets, harvesting their organs, and disposing of the remains. Now, Blue has a lead on him. But he is confronted by a woman who calls him by name and tells him to back off, then explodes a bomb on him.

When he recovers, he finds his colleagues at Dirk and Steele have saved his life. Elena, wife of an operative named Alexi, has healed Blue of the worst of his injuries. But something else has happened. Blue's father, a senator named Felix Perrineau, has died. When Blue travels to the funeral, he finds his father isn't dead after all, but has faked his death. And he has a job for Blue, one that he doesn't hesitate at blackmailing Blue into taking by threatening Blue's mother.

Blue hates his father, who is intelligent, ruthless and a master-class manipulator, but he agrees to find his father's other son, Blue's half-brother Daniel. Daniel also had a touchy relationship with his father, and now has gone missing. Felix has tried everything to find Daniel with no success. So he gives Blue the job.

Iris McGillis is a performer in a Las Vegas-based circus, currently working for the Hotel Maximus. Like Blue, Iris is not strictly human, but a werelioness who must hide what she is every single day. She has a number of big cats who perform in her act, but they are not mistreated. Unfortunately, the animal-rights activists don't see it that way and are constantly trying to "free" her cats. Lately, it has gotten much, much worse.

Into Iris' life comes walking Blue, and despite her habit of never trusting anyone, she begins trusting him when he saves her life. As she and Blue are thrown together by a series of attacks on her and the circus she works for, Iris begins to fall in love with Blue, who is there because Daniel is also in the circus, working as an escape artist. But the feelings and sexual tension between them are real and too strong to be dismissed.

As Blue slowly falls for Iris, he must drop everything to rescue her when she is kidnapped by an ardent admirer who wants to own her and completely possess her... and he knows exactly what Blue is and wants her to turn him into a Werelion as well. Now, to save the woman he loves, Blue must team up with his half-brother and Iris's recently returned mother to rescue her before she can be experimented on or be forcibly impregnated by her captor. But Blue is running against almost impossible odds. Can he save her? Can he even save himself?

I have enjoyed past Dirk and Steele books from Marjorie M. Liu and first encountered her as the writer of a series of books called the "Tigress" series. I have enjoyed every single book she has written and haven't found her to write a single bad novel yet. "Eye of Heaven" is no exception. Indeed, I was readily drawn in to both the characters and the situations in the novel, and the scenes with Iris and Blue have a steady heat that makes you want to wipe your forehead while you read. Their few love scenes are delicious and satisfying, though they are few because of the personal danger all of the characters end up facing.

This book is excellent and I highly recommend it. In the world of Paranormal Romance, Marjorie M. Liu is one of the best. Look out for her, you'll be glad you did!

XXXholic Volume 11 by Clamp

Domeki has recovered from his illness and returned to school, but now people that he has encountered and helped in the past have returned to see him once more. First the Ame-Warashi and Zashiki-Warashi, then the Pipe spirit, who he names No-Moon, the Odenya-san and his child, both Fox Spirits, and Kohane-Chan, the child exorcist.

But all is not well with the store. Due to the choices made by the characters from the Tsubasa, Reservoir Chronicles, the store itself somehow seems to be failing. The two spirit-girls who maintain the shop seem to spend their days in slumber, doing their best to prop up the shop's magic. The reason for the shop's failing seems to be a man named Fei-Wang Reed. Is this Clow Reed, creator of the magic Clow cards? The end is coming.

But in the meantime, Yuho still has customers coming to her store, including a young girl from Watanuki's school who is troubled by sounds in her home, things moving apparently on their own, and feeling the brush of someone else's hand. Yuho gives her a number of bells to wear, promising that they will make the problem go away. It does, when it is revealed that she is the spirit, and the owners of the house turned to an exorcist to make her leave.

Yuho gives Domeki an egg that was the twin of the one she gave Watanuki (Watanuki's hatched into a bird that he gave to Himawari-chan and which he named Tampopo, or Dandelion). She tells him to keep the egg close to him. It won't hatch, but he will need it to save someone or something at the right time.

Doom is coming. Will the store survive?

You can really tell that this series is coming to an end, and I don't think that all the people and creatures that Watanuki has helped coming to see him again is some kind of coincidence. But I am not looking forward to the end of this series I have so enjoyed reading. Ah well. We can't always have what we want.

Ilario: The Stone Golem by Mary Gentle

Ilario is a hermaphrodite who has survived slavery, herm own mother's attempted assassination, the attentions of a paid assassin, and childbirth. Now, with herm daughter to protect, as well as Ilario hermself, Ilario must take charge of herm destiny and save everyone from the threat of herm mother's husband. But how can Ilario do that without killing the man? Is it possible to come to some sort of accomodation that will leave Ilario alive and out from under the fear of assassination?

Ilario travels to Constantinople, where s/he brings Johannes Gutenberg to the Library of Alexandria. Gutenberg's printing press will allow the Alexandrian Library to print many copies of the books in their library and disseminate the information they hold all over the world. But first, Ilario and Rekhmire' must meet with the captain of an enormous ship that sailed into the harbor and find out where it comes from and who built it.

Ilario and Rekhmire' befriend the Chin Captain and with Queen Ty'ameny's help use him to frighten Ilario's home country of Tarasco, in Iberia. But before they leave, they must somehow disable the golem sent from the Turks to Constantinople, before it can be used to assassinate the Queen.

Then, Ilario travels home on the Chin Junk, to broker a peace between himself and his mother's husband. Afterwards, he will travel to Carthage, to see if he can use the threat of the Chin ship sailing the Meditteranean to keep both sides of the possible war in line. And in the end, Ilario will find love, possibly in the place least expected.

An epilogue, set 24 years later, caps off the series, showing how the world was changed from the world we know.

My problems with Ilario in the first book came from the fact that many times Ilario seems swept along by fate, unable to make any kind of decision on herm own, because of Ilario's early life as a slave when masters made all of Ilario's decisions, and the hermaphrodite only had to obey them and go along.

Now, the point has arrived in Ilario's life when herm has to make herms own decisions and live with the consequences. Ilario could simply arrange for herm's mother to die, but Ilario cannot or will not do that. So, I found Ilario's decisiveness much improved over the first book.

Again, the character of Ilario is the viewpoint character, but you get to see some truly interesting and amazing alternate history being worked out in the pages of the book. So, when as in our own world, Alexandria was sacked and the scrolls and treatises were lost forever, due to Ilario finding Johannes Gutenberg and bringing him to Alexandria, much of the information was saved, and even though Alexandria does eventually fall to the Turks, books of knowledge from the library continue to flow.

The epilogue is rather sad, as Ilario and herm daughter don't seem to be very close, and, reading between the lines, she appears to want to forget her father/mother as much as possible.

So, all together, the series is intriguing, and gave me lots to chew on. Unfortunately, it didn't feel all together satisfying to me, because it's a lot like real life, and that rarely ends as satisfying as we want it to either.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Endless Nights is a series of short stories in graphic novel format about the Seven Endless. In the order in the book, they are Death, Desire, Dream, Despair, Delirium, Destruction and Destiny. Each is a story illustrating the nature of that particular Endless.

The first story involves a man named Sergei. Sergei has come to Venice to return to a small island he first visited as a boy. After a picnic with his Uncle's family, Sergei went exploring the island, and met a most unusual woman waiting by a closed gate. He tried to open the gate for her, but it was locked, and the woman said it was okay, she would wait for it to open. He was found and taken away by his family, who had been unable to find him until it was mostly dark.

Now he is a man, and he returns to the island to find her still there and waiting. This time, he manages to kick the gate down, and accompanies the woman through it. Behind it is a place out of time, a venetian estate in the 18th century where time has been standing still. The woman, who is Death, tells Sergei about everyone they see, when and how they died. As she does, they crumble to dust.

The count of the castle confronts her, after a long diatribe he speaks, and she reveals herself to him for whom she is, and he says he's missed her. He takes her hand... and Sergei wakes up back on the island. A soldier, he will soon be returning to his regiment, where he will send her more people.

Desire tells the story of a young woman who wanted a certain man, but wanted him to want her just as much as she did him. She sought out a witch, and after the young man's father, the chief of the tribe, is killed by the men across the river, she goes to fetch him back and meets Desire, who allows her to get what she wants, and she eventually marries the new chieftain.

But nothing comes without a price, and her husband is murdered, and the murderers come to her village for hospitality. She lets them in, but is unfazed when they put her husband's severed head on the table in front of her. Instead, she uses her beauty and her wiles to keep them occupied and fighting each other until the rest of the men from the village get back and slaughter her husband's murderers. It was only on that night, she says, that she was truly alive.

Dream is the story of when the universe was young, and Dream himself was having a romance with a woman named Kilalla of the Glow. Dream takes her to a meeting of Powers and stars, where Desire has Kilalla meet Oa, her own sun, and has the two Desire each other. Dream is not amused, and breaks off with his sister.

Despair's story is 15 separate portraits about Despair herself and people who Despair, from a priest falsely charged with molesting girls, to a woman who drives her car out into the wilderness and lets herself freeze to death.

Delirium's story is about five psychologically damaged people who go to retrieve Delirium's consciousness when she goes too deep into herself. The main character is a girl who has lived in a catatonic state for years, but helping Delirium breaks her out of her Catatonia and brings her back to life again.

Destruction's story concerns a female archaeologist summoned by a colleague to help him excavate a small peninsula where artifacts from the future have mysteriously appeared, buried in some strange cataclysm. She had been having dreams of death and destruction, where everyone around her was dead, dying, and the country was falling apart. She happens to meet Destruction, and his sister, Delirium, and hires him to help them excavate the site. But the arrival of men from the government puts an end to the excavation, and she barely escapes with her life before the island blows up and vanishes completely... and she finds she no longer dreams about the end of it all. Just the man who she knew from the island.

Destiny's tale rounds out the book, and it is the most lyrical of all, describing Destiny in his garden, reading his book that tells all.

This is a closer look at the Endless of the DC universe. Each story is told by Neil Gaiman, and each story is illustrated by a different artist, giving each story a unique look of its own. I found each interesting in its own way, but my favorites were the story of Desire, Death, Destruction and Destiny. Destiny's stands out as my clear favorite, being lyrical and with an ending I just can't get out of my head. "A page turns. Destiny continues to walk. He is holding a book. Inside the book is the Universe."

Pretty heady stuff, and if you get a chance to buy this book, take it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ilario: The Lion's Eye by Mary Gentle

Ilario is a hermaphrodite born in Iberia, child of a rich noblewoman who exposed him to save herself from the shame of having engendered a "Monster" child. Luckily, Ilario is found by another family, and sold into the King's court, where s/he grows up as the court freak, being neither wholly man nor wholly woman but an unnatural mixture of both.

In Ilario's free time s/he takes up drawing and painting, and when Ilario is finally freed by the King to raise money for the dowry of one of the Royal Princesses, Ilario takes ship to Carthage, where s/he may draw, paint and limn the particular sky there, which has had no sun for over 200 years, and is illuminated by a strange combination of Auroras, Coronas and strange veils of light.

A chance meeting with a guard at the gates brings Ilario to the guard's home, where the man makes love to him both as a man and a woman. Shortly afterward, the guard's mother brings Ilario a meal, which is drugged, and Ilario is sold into slavery.

When Ilario wakes up, s/he tells the slavemaster that s/he is a painter and scribe and can read and write. Ilario is sold to Rekhmire', an Egyptian Eunuch who goes around buying up books and treatises for the library in Alexandria. Rekhmire' has sympathy for Ilario, who is as damaged physically as he is. Unlike Ilario, Rekhmire' chose to be a eunuch, and became one after he went through puberty, so unlike the popular image of the fat, lisping, high-voiced eunuch, Rekhmire' actually looks like any normal man, except for the lack of balls.

From the start, Rekhmire' treats Ilario more like a friend than a slave. But Ilario is hunted by his mother, who wants to kill him so that the threat to her honor and station can be expunged without evidence. Rekhmire' shows up as Ilario confronts his mother, and charges her with attempting to steal and kill his slave. He hopes that when he formalizes his charges before Carthage's magistrate, word will get back to Iberia, and end the threat of Ilario's mother once and for all.

But Ilario then becomes a pawn in the hostilities between Carthage and Iberia. Carthage wants to hold onto Ilario so that his mother cannot say the charges are false and there is no witnesses. Rekhmire' tracks down Ilario's actual father, who accepts him for who and what s/he is, and Ilario makes plans to sail for Rome, slipping out of the city with Rekhmire' while his father returns to Iberia to placate the King.

When Ilario goes to Rome, he is able to apprentice to a painter who is teaching a new style of art, Art as seen in perspective. S/He learns a great deal, but has a falling out with the master when Ilario falls in love with a girl whom the master had once wanted to marry, but was rejected by her family. Ilario meets her, and falls completely in love. She is also damaged, having a club foot, and Ilario charms her by telling her of his/er travels and offering to take the girl along. Ilario doesn't tell the girl of his/er own physical abnormalities, and they are married by a bribeable cleric.

The girl is an Etruscan, and must be purified for three days before the marriage can be consummated. Ilario agrees to wait, and tries to make up with the Master Painter. Before they had their falling out, the master had been comissioned to paint an animate statue, a golem. The Golem has so intrigued the painting master that he has decided to steal it, with Ilario as his unwitting accomplice. Unfortunately, the Golem has orders about being taken away, and grabs the painter, who struggles and is rather unfortunately killed. Ilario is injured when he tries to run, but Rekhmire' and he manage to hush it up with the help of the Egyptian embassy, who owns the golem to begin with. Making the painter's death seem an accident, they plan to flee to Venice with Ilario's new bride in tow, but when she sees the truth of her new "husband", she is repulsed and rejects Ilario.

Before Ilario and Rekhmire' can leave Rome, Rekhmire' has Ilario examined by a doctor, concerned over the head injuries inflicted by the golem. Ilario will be fine, but is stunned to learn that herm encounter with the guard had other consequences. Ilario is pregnant.

Now disguised as a woman, Ilario and Rekhmire' travel to Venice and are met by Ilario's father, who accuses Rekhmire' of impregnating his daughter/son. Worse for Ilario is that his mother and step-father are in the city, along with their children, and have brought an assassin disguised as a secretary who is charged with killing Ilario.

Howver, that isn't the only danger in the city of canals, and Ilario, Rekhmire' and Ilario's father are attacked twice on their way to their new lodgings. Ilario is injured, and Rekhmire' is shot in the knee, trapping them in the city while the wound heals. Since travelling while massively pregnant is going to be impossible, as well as dangerous, Ilario must fend off her former family with politics and diplomacy until they can move on. But even with herm father's troops and his own presence, staying alive isn't going to be easy.

This was an unusual book, and Ilario is a very unusual character. Mary Gentle managed to get around the problem of pronouns to describe Ilario by having the book be told from Ilario's point of view. As you can see, just from the review above, using his/her or "herm" is extremely unwieldy.

I must point out that one of the reviews for the book, printed on the cover, manages to be extremely misleading. It says, "This action packed, deeply intelligent novel [is] a focus for intrigue, intellectual debate and a fair amount of polymorphous hot sexual action." (From Time Out London). From the way it's stated, either the reviewer thinks that hermaphrodites are going to be getting lots of hot sex because of this book or that a lot of sex goes on in the book, involving the main character. I counted exactly two acts of sex, and both occured in the first six pages of the book. Ilario states the intention of having lots of sex, but being sold into slavery puts rather a decided crimp in those plans. And Rekhmire' does ask if Ilario will consider a sexual relationship with him as part of his bondage, but Ilario says no. That's the only described sexual relationship involving Ilario in the entire book! Not what I would consider "a fair amount". Anyway, realize that this is misleading, for those who care about those sorts of things.

Ilario's world is not ours. In fact, one could say it is a fantasy version of our own: Rome has no Pope because the Papal Seat was cursed, the city of Carthage still exists in the era of Christianity, we have the "No-Sun" area over a fair bit of North Africa, and so on.

Also, Ilario is not an exceptionally decisive character. More things happen simply because of Ilario's presence, and because herm existence is a threat to Ilario's mother and stepfather. Also, because Ilario was raised a slave and never had to make a decision more important than what was for dinner or when to go to bed. Still, it's possible not to notice this as Ilario is pulled along by circumstance, luck, unluck and fate. It does make the story very strange and not the usual sort of book I read.

Murder at Drury Lane by Robert Lee Hall

Ben Franklin goes to the theatre to see David Garrick, and is hired to investigate strange threats that the Theatre has been recieving, promising fire, mischief and the unveiling of adulterous dealings in the playhouse. And, indeed, strange accidents have befallen the theatre. Though Garrick pleads his case to "The Blind Beak", Justice William Fielding, but Fielding says he can only deal with crime *after* it occurs, and recommends Ben Franklin to Garrick.

Garrick and Franklin conspire to create a reason for Franklin to be at the theatre, and to poke around where he wishes. Garrick will say he is hiring Franklin, as a man of science, to improve the lighting and machinery in the theatre, and meanwhile, Franklin can investigate the notes. But if Franklin actually does come up with something to improve lighting and machinery, so much the better!

Franklin and his son and copy-boy, Nick, take in another evening at the theatre. Outside, preachers condemn playgoers and actors alike with fire and Brimstone, and inside, a new play "A Lord and No Lord", by company-member Abel Drumm, is performed. During the performance, the actual lord the play satirizes, watches in ill-concealed fury, but afterwards, the play itself is shouted down by the watchers. During the shouting, a man falls from the upper tier of seats. But did he actually fall? Or was he pushed?

The dead man turns out to be one Dudley Midge, a former ticket-taker at the theatre sacked for theft. Since his firing, he has become an inveterate foe of the theatre, and David Garrick in particular. Since he also worked as a part-time journalist for scandal rags and wrote saucy stories in the bargain, it is obvious that he had enemies. But who could have wanted Dudley Midge dead?

Franklin must investigate deep inside the swirling stew of jealousy, rakes and actresses with powerful "protectors" to find out the true reason for Midge's death. But can he discover the murderer before more are killed at the theatre?

This was an excellent mystery, with the information coming by dribs and drabs. Ben Franklin is, as befite a man of science, an astute and logical thinker, but still, only human for all that. Even he cannot prevent him or his illegitimate son Nick from coming to harm in the course of the investigation.

The book also provides a well-researched look into the workings of an 18th century theatre, and presages both the inventions of Fly dollies, limelight and illuminating the stage more than the audience. Mix these intriguing bits of theatrical history, throw in some real historical personages, and you have a mystery you have a hard time putting down.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

Years ago, the Super-Adaptoid was being taken by S.H.I.E.L.D. to one of its labs, when A.I.M. managed to overwhelm the convoy and steal it. Now, with the Vision, an artificial being, being inducted into the Avengers, both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the U.S. Government are having shit-fits. Neither trusts the Vision, who admits readily that he was originally made to kill the Avengers. But having broken free of his creator and decided for himself what he wants to do, he has decided to join the Avengers, and they are welcoming him.

But the Government doesn't see it quite that way, and they arrest the Vision, taking him to a small room and scanning and interrogating them. With Captain America taking more time to work on his own, he has given up leadership of the Avengers and nominated Hank Pym, better known as Goliath, for leader. Hank quickly finds himself obsessing over the responsibilities of his new position.

Of course, the Vision isn't the only member new to the team, the Black Panther, better known as T'Challah of Wakanda, has also joined, and is trying to make a new life for himself in America, a new life that doesn't go over very well with some of the people in his country. After seeing him adopting the identity of teacher Luke Charles, and attempting to reach the Black youth of America directly, they decide he has betrayed his nation and hire Death Tiger, a Wakandan Assassin, to take him out.

All that is put to the wayside when the Super-Adaptoid reappears once again, cloned many thousands of times by A.I.M. But the experiment is out of control and the Super-Adaptoid clones overwhelm and kill the A.I.M. Scientists on the small island.

The Avengers race to the scene, and Goliath assumes a leadership role and stays behind to deal with many of the clones. Quickly losing control of his emotions, he smashes and breaks the clones left and right with his giant form, just managing to survive. When the other heroes find him, it is obvious something is wrong, but they cannot get him to tell them what.

Black Panther finds that one of the children in his class is being systematically beaten and bullied by some of the other young men, and although he tries to reach out to the boy, the young man rebuffs his attempts to reach out.

Hank Pym, meanwhile is terrorized by nightmares of fighting the Super-Adaptoid clones. He derides himself as worthless and quickly adapts a new identity, Yellowjacket, a brash and crude man who takes on small-time crooks and thieves. But when he shows up demanding to be let into the Avengers, claiming he's more effective than "that loser Pym", it's the first sign of his mental instability. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s resident psychiatrist says it would be better for Hank Pym's mental health to play along with his new identity for now, and Wasp, loving Hank Pym, persuades the rest of them to do so. Yellowjacket even claims to have killed Pym.

Captain America returns, but Wasp persuades him to also go along with it, and Yellowjacket declares that he and Janet will get married, and invites many other heroes in New York to their wedding. But the party is infiltrated by villains, and in the ensuing fight and chaos, Hank comes back to himself and defeats the heroes by returning to giant-size. But he's chastened by the experience and steps down from leadership.

Meanwhile, back at the school where he teaches, T'Challa is about to leave for the day when Death Tiger ambushes him. The fight attracts the attention of the abused student who, seeing his teacher attacked, kills Death Tiger with the gun he smuggled into the school.

Meanwhile, the original Super-Adaptoid tracks the Avengers down and attacks the Vision, who fights him with the help of Hawkeye. But by saving the humans in the street, the people's opinion of him does an abrupt 180, and they accept and cheer him on. Meanwhile, Black Panther meets with the abused student, now about to be tried for the murder of the Death Tiger. He shares the secret of his identity, which the boy agrees to keep, and to face the consequences of his actions like a man.

Hawkman assumes the leadership of the Avengers... just as his love, the Black Widow leaves him, perhaps for good. Nevertheless, the torch is passed, and Wasp and Goliath take a short leave of absence to deal with Hank's mental troubles.

This book is a reprinting of the second "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" series, that came out in 2003. It introduces many of the classic Avengers heroes and plots, such as Hank Pym's mental instability, only the beginning of which is chronicled here. Since this book pretty much has it all, anyone interested in the Avengers will find this book a must-buy. And even if you aren't interested in the Avengers, any fan of comic-book action will also find much to admire in this collection.

At $25, it's pricey, but gives a lot of bang for the buck. Well worth the price and a very enjoyable read,

Pumpkin Scissors Vol. 2 by Ryotaro Iwanaga

The Empire and the Republic of Frost have been at peace now for three years, since the "Thin Ice Treaty", but the wounds made during the war are still evident. The Pumkpin Scissors, better known as the Imperial Army State Section III are still working to clean up the fallout from the war.

Corporal Oland is a mystery. Although he is a member of the Pumpkin Scissors, his past is unknown and is driving Warrant Officer Machs crazy. Then, Machs sees a gun exactly the same as Oland carries, and learns that the gun was only ever used against tanks, but that no one wanted to carry them, as sending an unarmored man against a tank was sheer suicide. So the gun never went into production. But then why does Oland carry one?

Another problem arises when a tank confiscated from a Viscount is hijacked and tries to take out the Pumpkin Scissors men there in the hangar. Oland steps in and saves the day with his anti-tank gun, driving Machs to research Oland's background and who he really is. Machs learns of a unit called 901-ATT. Called "The Invisible Nine", a unit that should not have existed. Further research brings up the fact that Corporal Oland was transferred into the Pumpkin Scissors by the Imperial Science Research Institute.

Oland, meanwhile, has been in the hospital, injured by the attack on the tank. His roommate is there due to an accident on the job, but when he disappears from his bed, Oland realizes that something is wrong. He finds his roommate on the roof, where the man tells him that he was fired from his job for missing work... because he was in the hospital for a week after being injured on the job. His boss blames him being let go on the economic depression after the war.

Oland manages to convince the man not to commit suicide, and saves him when he slips on the edge of the building roof. But that puts Oland into the hospital for even longer when he's injured again saving his roommate.

The second story concerns refugees living in the sewers. During the war, many of the people went to the government shelters only to find that they were full. With nowhere else to go, they went down into the sewers, which at least afforded them some protection from attacks. But now there are people still living there, unable to leave, or unwilling, or both. Many of them are drug addicts, but when the Pumpkin Scissors go down there to try and get the residents to relocate, they discover that the water and sewer authority is letting the people live down there and selling them addictive drugs to screw every last bit of money out of the dejected drug addicts. Not only the drug addicts live there, but their families, who do their best to raise the money their loved ones need for the drugs. And the sewer authority workers take advantage of this, using and abusing the people living in the sewers.

When the Pumpkin Scissors discover the true depths of this depraved system, the head of the water and sewer system sends his enforcer in to kill them, a psychopath obsessed with fire and burning people so that he can feel "warm" inside. Can the Pumpkin scissors defeat the psychopath with the flamethrower before he can eliminate the evidence of the water and sewer department's wrongdoing?

This is a most unusual series, a military series that takes place, not *during* a war, but in the aftermath of one, based around the country dealing with economic depression, displaced people, and wartime secrets. It's an interesting enough mix that I don't usually see in manga, as more wars tend to be fought in manga and the cleanup left to the reader's imagination, after the manga ends and the war is (usually) won.

I haven't yet seen Volume 1 of this, but now that I have read this one, I am definitely going to be on the lookout for it. Each member of the Pumpkin Scissors is a separate and individual character, including the intelligent messenger dog. For a generally quirky, yet interesting look at the aftermath of war, Pumpkin Scissors will tickle your funnybone even as it exposes the inequities and injustices of war.

Incidentally, the name of the unit (and the manga) comes from the scissors one uses to cut through the rind of a pumpkin. Like those scissors, the unit cuts through the hard crust of corruption to set free the people affected by it.

Megatokyo, Volume 2 by Fred Gallagher

Piro is obsessing about the sketchbook he lost when he left his messenger bag behind at the bookstore. Yuki picked up his bag and has started looking through it after she was scared to look at it, and is now commenting on the Pictures Piro drew in it. Piro has a job, but no apartment, since their friend Tsubasa took off to find his first love. Since he left her behind, his experimental Nintendo robot girl, Ping, is left to share space with Piro and Largo.

Largo finds a job inadvertantly, when he is mistaken for a new English teacher at a nearby school. Calling himself "Great Teacher Largo", he is instantly beloved by his students, and starts teaching them L33t sp34k and how to build computers. Piro is allowed by his boss to move into the small apartment located above the store where he works.

Largo meets a cute Goth chick and is sure she is the Queen of Vampires, due to her evil aura. He starts following her, which is how he gets the high school teacher job. When the real teacher arrives, he gets kicked out, but when the students protest en masse, Largo is reinstated, despite his complete lack of teaching degrees or certificates.

Piro finally gets his bookbag back, and finds Yuki's annotations on the pages. he's shocked and amazed, but Largo points out to him, that as a girl, her suggestions on the clothes his models are wearing at least have some validity... Largo gets his own conscience, Boo, a small squirrel with fake wings. His inability to speak English makes him completely unable to hold Largo back from what Largo really wants to do... and even if he spoke English, I suspect that would still be the case.

Largo and Piro strike up a close acquaintance with Hayasaka Erika, Piro's co-worker, and Nanasawa Kimiko, her voice-acting roommate. Kimiko is attracted to Piro, but believes she would never be the kind of girl to attract him. Piro is interested, but doesn't know how to talk to a real girl.

Two operatives, Dom and Ed, are sent to retrieve Ping, but they fail to realize she is living with Piro and Largo. They do manage to fight off an invasion of extra-dimensional zombies with the help of Largo, who, thanks to his years of playing FPS (First-Person Shooter) games, is just as good with a real gun as with a controller.

More insanity from Megatokyo. A fun comic, still somewhat more set up around comedy than actual storylines, while poking fun at more Japanese culture and manga than you can shake a stick at! Lots of fun and well worth a read.

Megatokyo, Volume 1

Piro, an anime Otaku, and his friend Largo, a l33t hardcore gamer, try to get into E3 and are expelled because they don't work in the industry. Instead, Piro convinces his friend to fly to Japan, instead. However, he maxes out his card buying anime stuff, and Largo does as well, leaving them stranded in Japan without a way to get home.

Piro calls on one of his friends in Japan, Tsubasa, asking if they can crash with him for a while. He lets them, but six months later, they are still living with him. This volume of the series focusses on their struggles to try and get home, trying to raise the cash for the plane tickets, and then trying to get a job, from their wildly diverging perspectives. Also introduced are a number of female characters, from Piro's conscience to a girl trying to make it as an anime voice artist, and her roommate, who works at a gaming store. Their significance will become apparent as the comic continues....

The comic starts out as four-panel strips, and eventually goes to a manga-esque format. As it does so, the story becomes richer, deeper and something more than just a "Funny ha-ha" strip. At first, the viewpoints of Piro and Largo are used for laughs, but later, they are used for laughs *and* to advance the story.

This is an enjoyable manga, sort of Seinfeldian. "About nothing, really" and about living in and adjusting to a foreign culture while retaining your own insanity.

Gear School

Teresa Gottlieb is a student at Gear School, where students learn to pilot Mecha against alien invaders who are fighting a war that is seemingly endless. Even though she isn't the best in her class, Teresa has all the other normal school things to deal with, in addition to learning piloting and keeping her ears open to learn real news about the war.

But when her first day to pilot an actual gear looms, the school is attacked by an alien mech. To save her friend, who is stuck in another Gear and paralyzed by a panic attack, Teresa must take on the alien mech with no actual weapons, just her piloting ability and courage. Can she stay alive and manage to save her friend as well?

This is a very short comic. It may be based on manga, but it is drawn in the American style and paginated in the American fashion. Most of the book is taken up with Teresa's school problems: liking a boy who doesn't seem to notice her, being the class screw-up and so on, but manages to redeem herself with her actions against the alien mech.

There is no sign that this volume is the first of a series. There may be a number on the spine, but I got this copy from the library, so I can't tell because part of the spine is covered. From the indications inside, this is part of a series and will continue. However, it's extremely slim for a first volume. Nonetheless, it's packed with story. As for me, I'll have to see more of the series before I would advocate buying it.

So, the final verdict? Good, but I want to see more before comitting my money.

Miki Falls: Winter by Mark Crilley

Mark Crilley is the well-known writer and illustrator of the series Akiko, about a young Japanese-American girl taken from her safe life on Earth to the Planet Smoo to every now and again become a planetary hero. Now, he has come back with another series, about Miki, a Japanese girl who falls in love with a boy named Hiro. But he's no ordinary boy, he's a Deliverer, a quasi-celestial being who tries to save actual love between humans so that great loves happen and continue to happen.

Hiro is supposed to stay above relationships himself, all Deliverers are, but he and Miki have fallen in love, and now are on the run from the Deliverers and their leader, Akuma. They are trying to run away from Japan to the South Seas with the help of another Deliverer, Reika, but it seems that Hiro's Hold Spirit helper, Anra, is being controlled by someone else and is no longer strictly on their side.

They manage to make it to the ship that will take them away from Japan, only to find it was all a trap from the beginning, and that Akuma is on board, Miki is imprisoned in a cabin far away from Hiro and returned to her village, where she and Hiro are tried by Akuma and the other Deliverers. Just as Miki's memories are about to be purged by the hold spirits, she makes a mad dash and throws herself through the window to preserve her memories of Hiro and their love.

But when she comes back to herself, she is the *only one* who remembers him. She manages to hold it together, until she sees the man who helped her and Hiro months before. She runs to him and he leads her back to the temple, where he reveals himself to be Freya, goddess of love. Freya says that Hiro and Miki's love was planned for by Freya, who wanted to oust Akuma as leader of the Deliverers. But she was unprepared for how strong their love was. The Deliverers had branded Miki as a "neverfind", someone who will never find love. But the goddess offers her a potion that will change Miki into a Sustainer, someone who will find love and sustain it all her life. But to change, she will have to give up her memories of Hiro.

Miki is about to drink, but pours it out. She will never give up her memories of Hiro, never give up her love for him. She tells the Goddess that if she believes this was possible for her, she knows as little about love as Akuma does. The goddess is offended by Miki's refusal, and prepares to leave her, but Miki pleads with her for a different outcome...

This was a wonderful end to the story, full of danger, fear, heartbreak and love. Although it plays with the emotions of the readers, it manages to pull off a twist ending that even took me by surprise. This may only be a manga series, but even adults will enjoy the rich, complicated love story and the magnificent ending. Well worth the look *and* the money. This is one you'll end up cherishing.

Kingdom Hearts by Shiro Amano, Part 4

Sora and the others have found the final Gummi block to take them to Hollow Bastion, where Riku, Kairi and Maleficent wait. Sora is confronted by Riku, who manages to take the Keyblade from him, saying, "Let the Keyblade choose its own master!" With that, Sora loses hope, and Daffy and Goofy, heeding the words of their king, follow Riku now.

Sora wanders about the castle and discovers the Beast. When Belle was kidnapped from the castle, he managed to follow her here without magic, by using his heart. Sora goes with him to rescue Belle, and finds a wooden sword to use. When they do find what they think is Belle, she is revealed to be a heartless. Riku confronts Sora again, and Goofy and Daffy side with Sora, whose wooden sword becomes the Keyblade again as Sora says he has a more important weapon, his heart.

Riku is momentarily dismayed by this, but unleashes a sword of his own, a dark sword. He takes Kairi to Maleficent, and when she reveals her plans to rule the worlds through the heartless, he uses his Dark sword to let the darkness within her rule, killing her. Sora arrives, but cannot lock the keyhole here, as it isn't complete. Riku tells Sora that Kairi's heart is within him, and that he must unlock his heart with the Keyblade to bring her back. He also reveals that he isn't Riku anymore, but Ansem, who was taken over by the darkness in his own heart.

Sora frees Kairi's heart, but the darkness is about to overtake Hollow Bastion. Sora is transformed into a heartless, but Kairi transforms him back with a kiss. Beast finds Belle and the other Princesses, who have been holding back the darkness. Sora arrives, to find Cid, Squall/Leon, Yuffie and Aerith have arrived as well. They say that Hollow Bastion was once their world, overrun by the Heartless and the Darkness. Sora locks the Keyhole, and says he won't rest until he has undone what Ansem and the Heartless have done. The others look sad.

Cid explains that when he does this, the worlds will stay and remain separate, forever. They will never see each other again. Kairi wants to come with Sora, but Sora tells her to stay, because in their hearts, they will never be separated. She agrees, and gives him another Thalassa shell charm. Then it is off to the final confrontation with Ansem. But Riku still has a part to play, for he is the bearer of the dark Keyblade, meant to close the door to darkness and the heartless from the other side. And he's not alone. King Mickey is with him...

But can Sora take on Ansem and show him that he was wrong?

The last book has very few Disney characters in it at all, showing, I suppose, that they really aren't all that menacing. For real menace, you need a manga character (Ansem). But even now the series isn't ended, for there is still King Mickey to find, and Riku to free from the darkness...

As a series, I am not sure how well it works as a whole. The mixture of Disney and manga characters is awkward at best, but the writer manages to make the story work. The artwork... less well. Combine the two, and well... some people love the story, some people hate it. Me, I consider myself in the "eh" category, in that I can take it or leave it. It will never be a great manga obsession for me in the way that Saiyuki is, for example, but it's an okay story and I will continue to read it. If you have a chance to read this without paying for it, like at a library, take it before purchasing it on your own.

Kingdom Hearts by Shiro Amano, Part 3

Sora and the others lock the heart of Hercules' world and recieve a gummi block from one of the other contestants. Then, before they can move on to another world, they are swallowed whole by a giant monster and discovered by Pinocchio and his "father" Gepetto. Pinocchio has been gathering Gummi blocks so that his father can build a ship to survive being spat out by Monstro, the whale.

But when Pinocchio goes in search of more blocks, he is captured by a heartless, and Sora, Daffy and Goofy go to save him. There, they encounter Riku, who is controlling the heartless that kidnapped Pinocchio. Riku lays into Sora, saying that all he seems to be doing these days is showing off his keyblade. Does he really want to rescue Kairi? Sora says at least Pinocchio has a conscience, and his heart is telling him Riku is on the wrong side.

Riku leaves, and leaves Sora to fight the heartless. Maleficent tells Riku that unless Kairi gets her heart back, she will sleep like a doll forever. She tells him there are seven princesses, called the Princesses of the Heart, that when brought together can open a pathway to the world of the heart. If they can do that, then surely Riku can find Kairi's heart there. Riku says he will do anything to save Kairi, and Maleficent gives Riku the power to control the heartless. She and her raven share a smile...

Sora rescues Pinnochio and they and the others are expelled from Monstro. Sora, Daffy and Goofy's Gummi ship crashlands into an ocean world, where Ariel and her father are having a disagreement, as usual. She went outside the palace, against her father's orders, and is being chased by three heartless. Sora and company save her, and she takes them back to her father, who yells at her for leaving the safety of the palace. When he sees that Sora is the bearer of the Keyblade, he takes a dislike to him, and denies there is a keyhole here. Sebastian asks the King about it later, but the King won't discuss it with him.

Ariel takes Sora and the others to her secret grotto, but when they get there, it is destroyed, and her father is standing in the middle. Ariel thinks her father destroyed it, and flees, but after she is gone, he tells Sora that the heartless destroyed the grotto. He also tells Sora that the wielder of the keyblade brings ruin and death to worlds, which Sora disagrees with.

Meanwhile, Ariel has encountered the Sea-Witch, Ursula, who agrees to help Ariel journey to another world, if Ariel can bring her to King Triton's trident. But once she gets it, she turns the king into a sea-worm and tries to rule the seas. It's up to Ariel, Sora, Goofy and Daffy to defeat her. After everything returns to normal, King Triton has Sora lock the keyhole for his world, and tells Sora that the keyblade can bring ruin or salvation... it's up to the wielder. Therefore, he should use it carefully.

Sora also finds another page of Ansem's report, and faxes it to Cid, who sends them back the first page they found, translated. It was Ansem who first discovered the heartless and named them, and also made a machine to make heartless so that he could study them in greater depth. Sora and the others theorize that Maleficent found the machine and abused it.

They are interrupted when the ship collides with a pirate ship captained by Riku and Captain Hook. Kairi is there with them, but she is more like a puppet than a human. Riku says he controls the heartless now, and that his heart is too strong to be overtaken by them.

Sora and the others are imprisoned in the ship, where they meet Peter Pan and Tinkerbelle. They work with Peter Pan and Tink to rescue Wendy and Kairi from Riku and Captain Hook. But can they succeed? Will Sora and the others learn to fly? And can Sora save Riku from himself? All will be answered in the next volume!

The story continues to get darker, but once again, the juxtaposition of Disney Characters and manga characters is very strange. Because Ursula and Hook are more Disney and less manga-eque, the characters look very strange when they are shown in the same panel. Thankfully, instances of this are limited, but still, it makes for a strange mixture that is not as successful as the earlier volumes.

Some Omake (Extra) four-panel comics are included in the back of the book, all generally silly.

Tension is maintained in the story, and leaves readers wanting more. For such a short series, the creator did manage to pack in a lot of story into so few pages...