Banquet by A. Szabla

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[Edit: Originally posted September 29,  2018]

Do you like eldritch horrors? Do you like the accidental child acquisition trope? Do you like gay shit? If you answered yes to all three then Banquet is the comic for you.

From the earth above, a child has fallen through a mysterious portal, which we know leads into Hell. While his parents and the entire human world believe him dead, but he survives only to be found by Hadrien Galerius Vespatian, fourth crowned king of the Bottomless Pit. Utterly amused by and curious about this little human, King Hadrien, decides against the council of his advisor/bodyguard/boyfriend, the hellhound Bernard, and the anger of some of the other noble houses, to adopt this human child and raise him as a son.

The comic is wonderfully paced and plotted, and the panels manage to be simple yet full of detail without feeling cramped or cluttered or losing any of the story. A. Szabla does an amazing job of conveying facial expression on both the human characters and the monstrous ones. And when the monstrous characters take on human forms, it’s delightful to see how the human form fit and reflect the monstrous character.

While Banquet is humerous at times, it is not just a silly story. It has all the fixings of plot just getting underway. It’s just enough to get you hook and leave you wanting more and anxiously awaiting every new update. And for a new comic that’s a good place to be in.

I will say for those, like myself, who might be concerned about the treatment of a gay couple in the media they consume. The only disapproval of Bernard and Hadrien’s relationship comes from the fact that certain nobles believe that it is not fitting for a king to be carrying on a relationship with someone low born. So fantasy classist, but not fantasy homophobic.

All and all it’s an incredibly fun read and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing Banquet continue.

While I have a hard copy of the first book of Banquet, I do not rightly know where you can get a hard copy outside of FlameCon, where I got mine. You can, however, read the entire comic for free, online at www.banquetcomic.com. Since it’s always nice when a content creator makes their content available for free if you enjoy Banquet you should consider supporting A. Szabla’s patreon.

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Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

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[Edit: Originally published May 26, 2016]

A thrilling conclusion to a thrilling series. Emma, Jacob and peculiar dog Addison, are the only three peculiars of the original group that haven’t been captured, and now they must free their friends and keep Caul (the mastermind who’s been behind all this from the very start) from completing his abominable plans.

The trio winds up in the worst of worst loops, Devil’s Acre. And must navigate their way through it with the help of Sharon, a tour boat driver. (A delightful play on Charon the guardian of the river Styx). Jacob is finally beginning to realize the extent of his peculiar abilities, which is to control hollowgasts, not just to see them, but even with that their plans hits dead end after dead end. And allies turn out not to be such good allies after all. Victory is only gained at the very last moment.

I should say I’ve had a few issues with the heavily romance driven element of the book from the very beginning, but that’s mostly because I am tired and bitter about heterosexual romances. That being said, it’s very well written and I am very pleased with how it wrapped up. The acknowledgement between Emma and Jacob that their relationship as it was probably wasn’t going to last but friends was a thing they could do. Then at the end of the book they got the chance to be able to take their relationship slower, Jacob was like “hey let’s go that route instead, might be better.” This had me enjoying the relationship by the end of this book more than I had during the previous books.

Something that bothered me, was that we never really got proper closure about what happened to Fiona, the girl who could talk to plants. It’s brought up multiple times that she could have survived her fall off the cliff because she could control plants and could have had the trees catch her, but by the end the subject gets dropped and you never learn if anyone ever went back to look for her to confirm that theory, she’s just assumed dead. If anyone did go back to look for her, Fiona does not appear with the rest of the children when they visit Jacob at his home at the end of the book.

A few warnings. There are a few scenes where peculiars are being experimented on, it’s nothing overly explicit, but they are there. 

The big warning however, comes at the very end of the book. There is a sequence where Jacob’s parents try to have him institutionalized against his will. It doesn’t actually happen, Miss Peregrine and the children show up and put a stop to that, but the whole sequence of Jacob’s parents and Jacob’s therapist trying to get Jacob institutionalized was very, very distressing for me to read.

You can get the book here.

The reviews for Miss Peregrine’s and Hollow City.

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They Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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[Edit: Originally published May 21, 2016]

Nobody Owens, a boy raised by ghosts. When a baby is the only survivor of a family brutally murdered in their homes, he’s taken under the wing of the ghosts of an old cemetery near his house. He is named Nobody by Mrs. Owens, the wife of Mr. Owens, and self appointed mother of Nobody, or Bod for short.

Now, with the man who killed his family still at large, Bod is, for most of his early life, confined to the graveyard. He has teachers in some of the other ghosts, and then there’s his mysterious guardian Silas as well. Silas can leave the graveyard while the other ghosts can’t, so he’s the one who’s charged with getting Bod food, among other things.

Bod has many adventures in and out of the graveyard. He has encounters with ghouls, discovers the guardian of the oldest grave in the cemetery, makes friends with a girl who comes to the graveyard, and even sneaks out of the graveyard in order to try to get a headstone for his witch friend.

This is, thus far, the only Neil Gaiman book I’ve read outside of Good Omens, which is of course, a combined effort of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Therefore, I can’t really say how The Graveyard Book compares to other things that Neil Gaiman has written on his own. 

I greatly enjoyed the book. It’s creepy in the way that visiting a cemetery after dark is creepy. It’s a fun creepy that makes you want to explore more, you want to know exactly what happens to Bod, and despite the apprehension you might feel (there were several sections that had me very anxious about what would happen to Bod), you keep going.

I will always enjoy a book that has a male/female friendship that doesn’t end in romance, and Neil Gaiman delivers that in the friendship between Bod and Scarlett who visits the cemetery on a number of occasions throughout Bod’s life. At the end of the book, when Bod finally leaves the graveyard. It’s not with her, or for her. He’s just going out on his own to have his own life and adventures in the outside world. I was very pleased by that.

@neil-gaiman​

The book can be found here.

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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

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[Edit: Originally published May 19, 2016]

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants- I’m sorry, the wights and hollowgasts, formerly peculiars who lost their forms in an experiment to increase their powers and raise them to the level of gods, are after the Peculiar Children and Miss Peregrine who is injured and stuck in her bird form. The trouble that was brewing in book one has now come to a head!

The children, plus one Jacob, must travel through the war torn country side to London to find help for their teacher and guardian Miss Peregrine before it’s too late and she’s stuck as a bird forever. 

This is a typical book two of a trilogy (this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a way trilogies often get set up, you can see it in “Hunger Games” too). The first book set everything up, we know what we’re dealing with, then in book two everything increases in intensity. If a series is going to have a book about traveling or searching for something, this is going to be that book (see “The Two Towers”).

The children meet more people, some who help and some who hinder. Some who die and some who don’t. Frankly I was surprised with the amount of deaths and who the deaths were. The plot twist was excellent and beautifully placed. There’s a point in the book where things are winding down and it looks like things are going to be sorted out, but then you see how many pages are left and go “That can’t possibly be right, if it’s resolved then what happens in these pages?” That’s the beauty of the plot twist, it ends the second book and prepares you for what’s next.

Update on the favorite character front, still Millard, but I have a growing fondness for Hugh. The poor boy only has one bee left.

Buy the book here.

Related reviews: Miss Peregrine’s and Library of Souls

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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[Edit: Originally published May 16,  2016]

When I started reading this book I described it to a friend as a historical fantasy X-Men AU, and having finished it I still stand by that statement. There was the parallel between Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters that I saw and there was also the peculiars as sub species of homo sapiens (see mutants as homo superior). However, boiling it down solely to that would not be doing the book justice at all.

This book was fan-fucking-tastic. It had literally been sitting on my bookshelf for two years and I am so mad at myself for not having read it sooner.

It’s the exact sort of eerie that I adore. It’s eerie and mysterious, but it’s not smacking you over the head with grimdark either. It’s exactly as eerie and peculiar as the covers make it seem. The black and white photos that accompany the story are perfectly placed and enhance what your reading ten fold. 

The year is 1940, but no wait, it’s also 2011. September 3rd 1940, it’s a very important date. A date that holds all the answers that our young protagonist Jacob needs after the death of grandfather. “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940.” His grandfather’s last words lead him on a journey that there’s no turning back from. A group of peculiar children and their teacher, who have secrets and not-so-secrets, and there’s trouble brewing abroad that is more that just the troubles of World War 2.

I’m a huge sucker for WW2 era books, and this is the perfect blend of historical and fantasy. You get a whole bunch of weird set to a back drop of World War 2. 

Also, like I talked about at the beginning, I get the same draw from the peculiar as I do with mutants. There’s an othering there that I can identify with which allows me to latch onto the characters more tightly than I might in another book. Basically, if you really like the whole mutant metaphor thing of the X-Men, then I would highly, highly, recommend this book.

For the record, my favorite character is Millard the Invisible Boy. 

Book can be found here.

Related reviews: Hollow City and Library of Souls

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