A Stranger Look at 4 new Young Adult Fiction novels

Young Adult fiction has always been a genre where shift is a constant. Every few years or so, the topic at hand shifts from one to another; from paranormal romance to the dystopian society that every female protagonist had to combat. These trends domineer the market, saturating the shelves with a new popular theme that seems to dictate whatever appears on them, trumping all original ideas and creativity along the way.

A Glance at Today’s Market – 

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Barnes and Noble’s website put out an interesting list; “The Best Young Adult Books of 2016 So Far“, highlighting 14 new promising new novels. I have strong thought on four books listed there…

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

Overview:

This vividly rendered novel reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Ambitious in scope and intimate in execution, the story’s atmospheric setting is rife with political intrigue, with a deftly plotted narrative driven by fiercely passionate characters and a fearsome heroine. Fans of Victoria Aveyard’s THE RED QUEEN, Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING, and Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES won’t want to miss this visceral, immersive, and mesmerizing novel, the first in a trilogy. NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets. Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion. But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Ultimately described as ‘What if Vlad Tepes, the historical inspiration for Dracula, had actually been a fearsome and brilliant teenage girl?’ (Publishers Weekly), the book describes the tale of a woman doomed either to be married to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire or to be executed for her father’s mistakes.  White plays heavily upon the presence of historical figures to highlight a gender-based commentary, geopolitical relations, and a religious conflict through a conversion in this crafted world.

This novel is no different than other typical modern-day young adult books with the usual tropes involved. Among the text, love-triangles and wrongful romances are ever present, even with characters who are described as ‘brutal and ruthless’. It plays into the lack of creativity that more modern novels suffer from; new ideas nowhere to be found. While the concept of rewriting history from a different point of view is no modern concept, it seems exhausted when used in a way where the only big change is the historical figure’s gender; using it as a plot point for romance.  In the end based on description alone, I would not agree with that four-star rating from BN.

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The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Overview: 

As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all. But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy. If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. Heidi Heilig blends fantasy, history, and a witty modern sensibility into a magical journey that will captivate fans of Sabaa Tahir and Leigh Bardugo.

Just by reading the description alone, I feel that the novel has the potential to be wonderful and interesting. It has a ‘time travel with exceptions’ approach to sci-fi, providing a more intriguing and structured aspect in comparison to free-form free-world travel. Heilig provides a sense of exploration that is non-linear, allowing aspects of the world to change in an instant as they had over time, providing myths, legends, and lore along the way.  Upon reading the description, it appears that the romance between the protagonist and a crew member is pushed to the side; something that is not seen too often in more modern Young Adult literature. In the end, I find that this novel is a step in the right direction when looking at the industry as a whole.

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The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Overview:

All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Premiering as Book IV in the Raven Cycle series, The Raven King tells of a magic-lacking girl living among a house of psychics, giving a life warning to that with her first kiss, death will come to who she loves the most. Leading up to this book in the series, the main character has interacted with three Raven Boys, an honest and fearless Ronan, a self-sacrificing Adam, and a hardworking and studious Gasey, ultimately aiding the protagonist on a dangerous quest. Upon interacting with these boys, the main character begins to question whether or not she actually believes in true love, finding that each holding their own charm and characteristics.

The Raven King is yet another example of young adult fiction playing importance into the romantic aspect of a plot more so than a plot itself. With the world built around it, I feel that there is more that the author could do with it all; highlighting different aspects of the character, her abilities, and struggles along the way through this dangerous quest. A setup does not need to be the defining plot trait of the novel, especially a four-part series. It is not something that I would necessarily read but does fit the love-stricken agenda of an average teen girl.

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Where Futures End by Parker Peevyhouse

The novel approaches itself from six different aspects, holding the viewpoints of six different main characters, describing how the world ended itself. In short, it is described as Cloud Atlas, but for teenagers.

Overview:

Five teens, five futures: Dylan develops a sixth sense that allows him to glimpse another world. Ten years from now, Brixney must get more hits on her social media feed or risk being stuck in a debtors’ colony. Thirty years from now, Epony scrubs her entire online profile from the web and goes “High-Concept.” Sixty years from now, Reef struggles to survive in a city turned virtual game board. And more than one hundred years from now, Quinn uncovers the alarming secret that links them all. These are stories about a world that is destroying itself, and about the alternate world that might be its savior. Unless it’s just the opposite.

To view the world in six different ways, all characters pinning exactly what caused the destruction of the world or society is a rather interesting topic. It gives light to what exactly those characters are like, glimpsing into their thought process and characteristics in a deeper way than speech and actions could. Although I feel that it could be narrowed down for a more personal and in-depth tone to the story, there is nothing inherently bad with looking at many different situations and trying to broadly link them. Peevyhouse provides an intriguing story line, questioning a commonality to a world’s demise and suggesting a backup once it happens.

Thoughts Overall – 

Despite themes from years past still being present in more modern Young Adult fiction, this is not inherently a bad thing. Plots seem to be stepping away from strict tropes and guidelines and exploring ideas and worlds as best they can. In the end, I have hope for the future. While a large majority of novels on the list are not books I would personally read, they touch basis on a much larger audience. They provide the sense of exploration, strength, questions and in the end, answers. Much like novels of years past, the themes are shifting and narratives follow along with it. In a world where no idea is original, I feel that the strides made are effective enough to induce change to the strict “Young Adult” guidelines.

-Katherine A

New graphic novel comic preview – RE*PRO*DUCT by Austin Wilson and Logan Faerber

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RE*PRO*DUCT

  • Writer: Austin Wilson
  • Artist: Logan Faerber
  • Published by: Magnetic Press
  • Publication Date: Mid-August, 2016 Pages: 96
  • ISBN: 78-1942367024, Price: $19.99
  • Notes: Softcover with French flaps and die-cut cover. Added short stories drawn by Seth T. Hahne and Sabrina Scott.

Synopsis:

In the future, robots have been legally granted the right to life. Their intelligence is not artificial, and it may not be the best approximation of a personality. But they reflect all the intricacies of a human mind and personality, only from within a manufactured shell, developing and learning as the rest of us do. They mirror us in all the ways we would want, but also in those ways we would wish to exclude…  A tale of teen-angst and romance, through the eyes of a growing ‘bot. . “

Preview Pages (click on each for full-size image, slideshow options):

Special thanks to Magnetic Press for providing access to preview pages. You may follow them for more info and other great books on Twitter @MagneticPress,  Facebook via facebook.com/magneticpress, and their official site at http://www.magnetic-press.com.

– Orion T

New graphic novel comic preview – LOVE: The LION by Fredèric Brrèmaud, Federico Bertolucci

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LOVE: THE LION

  • Writer: Fredèric Brrèmaud
  • Artist: Federico Bertolucci
  • Published by: Magnetic Press
  • Publication Date: July 12, 2016 Pages: 80
  • ISBN: 9781942367093, Price: 17.99
  • Notes: Hardcover edition, First volume is Love: the Tiger, second volume is Love: The Fox

Synopsis:

“The third volume in the lavishly illustrated series of wildlife graphic novels, each following a single central animal through an adventurous day in their natural environment. Each tale depicts genuine natural behavior through the dramatic lens of Disney-esque storytelling, like a nature documentary in illustration. Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, this volume focuses on a solitary Lion as it wanders the plains of Africa, handling the daily hunt, and vicious rivalry, without a Pride of its own. The circle of Life takes center stage in a world where predator and prey trade places on a regular basis, and Family is something worth fighting — and dying — for. This exciting tale, written by Frederic Brremaud, is told without narration or dialogue, conveyed entirely through the beautiful illustrations of Federico Bertolucci. A beautiful, powerful tale of survival in the animal kingdom that explores the all-too-identifiable, universal concepts of Life, Courage, Aging, and ultimately Love. “

Preview Pages (click on each for full-size image, slideshow options):

Special thanks to Magnetic Press for providing access to preview pages. You may follow them for more info and other great books on Twitter @MagneticPress,  Facebook via facebook.com/magneticpress, and their official site at http://www.magnetic-press.com.

– Orion T

The SW Best Comic Book Reads of 2015

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2015, a splendid year for the sequential arts in comic books, for printed and digital.

This year presented well for readers craving more variety in creative storytelling and visual arts. With prior success in creator pushed titles like Chew, Saga, Locke and KeySex Criminals; I see more investment in fresh ideas from companies also focused licensed properties as well including IDW, Boom!, Dark Horse. While the Marvel and DC are still focused on their superhero flagships, they also have experimented with interesting new takes on licensed characters. Meanwhile, I feel Image Comics led the charge on new creator-owned, imaginative worlds for new readers in 2015.

I missed some comic titles, while less drawn to some entire genres (manga, superheroes, webcomics, multi-title crossovers). Not that such things I dislike, as some I read are hidden throughout here.  Some missed has received critical praise elsewhere, of which are probably missed on my list. I swear I will get around too, and perhaps give appreciation in some other way later on (Wytches, Squirrel Girl, Nimona, Through the Woods)

Here below, are the best of what I enjoyed in 2015, according to each heading that mattered in my buying decisions. Each title has their matching publisher, and shares equal credit with the other two as I have trouble deciding further on. I hope for some nods from readers who share in my reflections, while igniting the fires of curiosity to others. Dig in and feel free to approve, question, or challenge these decisions in the comments section further down..

BEST NEW SERIES of 2015

Paper Girls (Image)

Omega Men (DC)

Arcadia (Boom)

BEST LIMITED SERIES of 2015

Divinity (Valiant)

Richard’s Matheson’s The Shrinking Man (IDW)

Star Wars: Lando (Marvel)

BEST ONGOING STORY EPICs of 2015

Saga (Image)

Chew (Image)

Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye (IDW)

BEST USE OF LAYOUT FORM IN STORYTELLING in 2015

Sandman Overture (Vertigo/DC)

Omega Men (DC)

Zero (Image)

BEST STORY ENHANCED USE OF COLORS in 2015

Papergirls (Image) –

Descender (Image)

Low (Image)

BEST IMAGINATIVE WORLD-BUILDING  SETTINGS / CONCEPTS  in 2015

The Spire  (Boom! Studios)

The Empty (Image)

Saga (Image)

BEST SOCIAL POLITICAL SATIRE in COMICS of 2015

Bitch Planet (Image)

Prez – (DC Comics)

The Devastator #13 (Devastator Press)

BEST MYSTERIOUS HAPPENINGS of 2015

Twilight Children – (Vertigo, DC)

The Beauty – (Image)

Paper Girls – (image)

BEST UNSETTLING HORROR SERIES of 2015

Nameless (Image)

Archie Vs Predator (Dark Horse)

I Hate Fairyland (Image)

BEST ACTION PACKED AWESOMENESS of 2015

Godzilla in Hell (IDW)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutanimals (IDW)

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso (Dark Horse)

BEST SHORT STORY ANTHOLOGY in 2015

Moon in the Trees (Inverse)

Pressure Sensitivity (Wacom)

How to be Happy (Fantagraphics)

BEST CREATIVE USE OF POP-CULTURE ICONS in 2015

Jughead (Archie)

Star Wars: Darth Vader (Marvel)

Transformers vs. Gi Joe  (Inverse)

BEST USE OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY in 2015

Barrier (Panel Syndicate) – A pay what you want digital comic

Faster than Light (Image) – Print version makes use of matching augmented reality app

Z-Men (Double Take) – Digital only motion-comic

BEST FULL LENGTH GRAPHIC NOVEL STORIES of 2015

Wrenchies (First Second)

Scupltor (First Second)

Last of the Sandwalkers (First Second)

BEST REPRINTING OF COMICS HISTORY in 2015

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini-comic Collection (Dark Horse)

The Don Rosa Library Collection (Fantagraphics) – Volume 1-4 (each are equally great)

Batman: the Jiro Kuwata Batmanga (DC) – Volume 2

BEST COLLECTED ISSUE VOLUME PRESENTATION of 2015

Multiversity: the Deluxe Edition (DC)

Wayward: Book One (Image)

Chew Smorgasbord Edition Volume 2  (Image) 

That’s all for now. Let’s see if next year can top this!!

Orion T

 

Overwatch – First Impressions

Overwatch (Closed Beta)

These are interesting times we live in.

For nearly the last 20 years, Blizzard Entertainment has relied on the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo trinity to entertain fans and generate revenueand who could blame them? From Warcraft spawned the perennial best seller World of Warcraft, and lore infused Warcraft trading card game Hearthstone. Their latest fully released game Heroes of the Storm also draws from that trinity, clashing heroes from all three game worlds against each other in a multiplayer online battle arena.

While Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm branched out from their core list of games genre-wise, their legitimacy was safely backed with successful content from Blizzard’s big three titles. Now that Blizzard is breaking away from the holy grail and developing an entirely new game world in an entirely new genre (First Person Shooter), it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that everyone is watching.

First Impressions: Feels good, man.

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-09-12-000For a company who is new to the genre, Overwatch feels like the efforts of an experienced FPS team who know exactly what they are doing. The aiming and shooting are both tight and responsive, and the game just feels solid. If you’re wondering what engine Overwatch runs on, it is actually powered by Blizzard’s own proprietary engine, and it feels fantastic.

zenyatta-screenshot-001.3n2TNIt’s in this “feeling” that Overwatch begins to come into its own. Each character feels dynamically different, not only with their individualized skill sets and weapons, but most particularly in the way they move about the map. Reinhardt the tank plods along with big heavy footsteps, while Zenyatta, well, he doesn’t even touch the ground at all and silently floats around in his zen-like trance.

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-55-28-000Most characters also have some sort of secondary movement mechanic that allow them to quickly traverse obstacles around the map. From grappling hooks and wall running, to flying in the air with jet packs and short distance time traveling, characters can appear from just about anywhere if you aren’t vigilant enough.

The action is always moving at a frenetic pace, but it is a beautifully controlled chaos.

Who put the MOBA in my FPS?

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-10-41-000As far as comparisons go, the general consensus is that the game is similar to Team Fortress 2 because of the ability to choose from different classes, but that comparison is superficial at best. A more telling description of Overwatch would be that it feels like a FPS injected with every fun element from a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game.

Each character has a signature weapon, as well as additional battle abilities that have their own separate cool-downs, and an ultimate ability. Like MOBA games, team compositions and hero synergies are definitely a thing, and using your ultimate at a timely juncture in a team-fight can be the difference between winning and losing a match.

Overwatch 1Another MOBA-esque feature of Overwatch is the inclusion of “tank” type characters in the game. These are characters that have big health pools and low damage output, but can protect other allies and draw enemy attention disrupting their formations. While they aren’t traditionally seen in FPS games, this type of character thrives in Overwatch and adds an extra layer of complexity in a straight shootout.

Unlike MOBAs however, is the fact that Overwatch does not require the same type of time investment per game, though it’s not to say you’ll spend any less time playing. The 10 minute match time is just the right bite sized treat to keep players coming back for more, making “This is my last game” a phrase that will lose all meaning after saying it for the umpteenth time.

A quality challenge

ScreenShot_15-11-08_14-34-41-000It may take new players some time to feel comfortable and confident in Overwatch, especially if they are new to the FPS genre.

Each character moves differently, shoots differently, and may have up to three different abilities not counting their ultimate. This depth makes learning any character a very rewarding experience, but learning only one character is not the meta of this game.

Instead, this a game where team compositions matter and character fluidity is a necessary skill to win matches. Attacking and defending as a team are completely different scenarios, and require different tools to get the job done. There is no one character that can do it all, so players must be able to play at least a few characters per class to have the right answer for any given situation.

Closing Comments

dva-screenshot-001.4TARvIn a relatively short time, Overwatch has made a big splash.

Blizzard has combined the genres of FPS and MOBA in a seamless way, with characters that are both diverse and memorable. I am personally not a heavy FPS player, but even I was drawn in to this incredibly unique experience. With each character playstyle being so different from the standard FPS archetype, I guarantee there is something in Overwatch for everyone.

As of December 10th, the closed beta will be on a break until mid-late January. If you aren’t in the Beta already, make sure to sign up and give yourself a chance to get in once the action resumes! Overwatch is a must play for fans of Blizzard, FPS, and gaming enthusiasts period.

– Brian F
Contributing Editor