Well gosh, it's been a while. Here's some book reviews!
Jess Fink — We Can Fix It (comics)
I kind of had the wrong expectations going into this. I was geared up for some kind of absurdist-but-vulnerable adventure story where Fink had to learn to collaborate with her distracted past selves to solve some kind of urgent problem, but it was more like an episodic memoir with a side of time travel comedy.
Larry Brooks — Story Engineering
A writing advice book, focused on novels. Recommendation via yhlee Yoon Ha Lee's journal. (Hey locals: Multnomah County Library has this as an ebook.)
Brooks' writing voice is pretty corny, and he dedicates about 40% of this book to throat-clearing, repetition, and justification. It's also kind of disorganized. But all is forgiven, because this has some of the most astute and immediately useful analysis of story structure I've ever seen. I got grumpy waiting for him to get to the point sometimes, but it's solid material and I'm grateful for it.
In particular, Brooks’ framework for pacing and plot development is excellent. It's sparse enough that I'm not worried about painting-by-numbers, but it's explicit enough to actually help answer the question of what has to have happened by a given point in the novel. And it makes sense in the context of how I read novels, in a way that most renditions of 3-act structure have never managed to do.
He also has some useful thoughts about character writing and theme and initial concept; nothing as huge as that pacing framework, but at least a few cool tools I hadn't heard elsewhere.
Andrea K. Höst — Bones of the Fair
I was having a hard time powering through Black Wave, so I took a break to read something fluffier.
This is a fairly straightforward secondary-world fantasy from the author of the Touchstone trilogy; a comfortable sort of adventure with good character writing and just enough interesting details to feel fresh. I liked it, and Höst is now firmly established as one of my go-to authors for relaxing junk food reading.
Hope Larson and Tintin Pantoja — Who is A.C.? (comics)
I was all ready to like this, and then I just couldn't manage to actually like it. The story just seemed busted somehow. Incomplete motivations, incomplete magical mechanics, unclear stakes, unclear causes and effects. It has the exterior gestures of a magical girl story, but lacks the working core.
Larson's other books are better.
Max Gladstone — Two Serpents Rise
This was solid. It's a mystery/urban fantasy story in a truly bonkers setting — the main character works for a corporation headed by an undying skeleton who fought and killed the gods, and the plot largely hinges on contract negotiations and urban water infrastructure.
The Mesoamerican megacity where this takes place was rad as hell, and I really liked the way magic works there. (It's a "dirty" magic system where everything has a fairly extreme and direct cost, with some clever approaches to weaving it more firmly into normal life in that world. Everything in the city runs on magic, and the currency system is based on small, fungible fractions of your soul. Like, your utility bill is the water tap claiming some of your life force when you turn it on.)
So yeah, the setting rules, but also the plot, prose, and characterization are all hella competent. This was a pleasure to read. I went ahead and bought the ebook omnibus of the whole series so far based on the strength of this one. (They're mostly written so you can read them in any order, which is a lost art I greatly appreciate.)
Oh, and ignore the random white kid on the jacket, because almost the entire cast are people of color 👍🏼. (Including the skeleton, although both "color" and "people" are a little conceptual in his case.)