Today, the Wyrd and Wonder prompt is focusing on fantasy settings inspired by non-European cultures. It’s true that many fantasy books are based on European Renaissance or Middle Ages. But in recent years, both big publishers and people self-publishing stories have published more non-European-based fantasy.

I’ve read some of them. Perhaps the least European of them was Aliette de Bodard’s Obsidian and Blood trilogy, which is set in the Mexica Empire. It’s based on Aztec culture.

Acatl-tzin is the High Priest of the Dead, and his job is to make sure that the dead get the right rites. Sometimes, he also investigates suspicious deaths. Perhaps surprisingly at first, he doesn’t have a high status in his society or even with his family. In the Mexica Empire, people respect only warrior strength and many think that all men should only want to be warriors. Anyone who isn’t a warrior is viewed with contempt. Acatl-tzin isn’t a warrior, and his warrior brother despises him.

Acatl-tzin can do magic but needs blood sacrifices. Human sacrifice is talked about but isn’t shown. Acatl usually uses his own blood for minor spells, he cuts his earlobes open, but he also sacrifices small animals, like birds. The Aztec gods are very much alive and influencing things, but they demand constant sacrifices and rites.

The Wyrd and Wonder prompt for today is flying animals. I chose my favorites, Dragons!

Here are my current two favorite sentient dragons in books.

1, Kai in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

In this world, dragons can take human form, but they’re always very beautiful and striking. They’re creatures of order. In this series, there are many, many alternate worlds. Dragons claim some worlds, so they are more orderly. Other worlds are claimed by the Fae, and they’re far more chaotic. The dragons and the Fae battle over the worlds. The Invisible Library tries to maintain some balance.

The main character, and the main POV character, is Librarian Irene Winters, who is part spy and part thief. When we first meet Kai, he’s a junior Librarian, and Irene’s supervisor refuses to tell Irene why she’s been saddled with him. But Irene soon realizes that Kai is a dragon. He’s arrogant but very courteous. He’s also the first dragon who works for the Library and wants to keep it a secret.

2, Temeraire in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

In this series, dragons are sentient, but they can’t change form. They vary in size and color. The largest carry a regular crew about thirty soldiers but can easily carry more people. Some can breathe fire or acid. In England, most dragons serve in the military. Even though they can speak and even compose poetry, the English consider them animals who shouldn’t be paid for their service. In England, when a dragon hatches, he or she bonds with a human handler, his or her captain.

Temeraire himself is a very curious, and he enjoys learning mathematics as much as poetry. He’s quite practical, but when he sees how dragons are treated in other countries, he tries to better the position of the English dragons, too. He’s very protective of his human companion, his captain Will Lawrence.

They have a wonderful companionship. They both learn and grow during the series.

The series is set during Napoleonic wars. Many countries have dragons, but they tend to treat their dragons according to their own cultural traditions, although in many countries some dragons are drafted to the military. I found the differences fascinating and really enjoyed the books which explored other countries.

Collects the miniseries issues 1-8.

15719

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Artists: Andy Kubert, Richard Isanove

Publishing year: 2003

I read this originally when it first came out in 2003 and mostly liked it.

So, Marvel characters were born in 1602. Sir Nicholas Fury is the spymaster to the elderly and sick Queen Elizabeth I. Stephen Strange is the Queen’s head physician and sorcerer. The men don’t like each other but have a grudging respect for each other.

Matthew Murdoch is a blind minstrel who secretly works for Fury. Teenaged Peter Parquagh is Fury’s closest assistant. Murdoch sings about four intrepid explorers who died while investigating the new world. Fury’s secret ally is Carlos Javier, who has a school for mutants.

All over the world, mutants are called witchbreed and the people hate and fear them. In England they’re tolerated, but in Scotland King James persecutes them, and in Spain the Grand Inquisitor burns them at the stake.

Storms are getting stronger, and Dr. Strange senses that they’re supernatural. He tries to find out more about them with his magic. In a trance, he sees that a ship is coming from the New World and that the girl on it is responsible for the storms–which will destroy the world. Virginia Dare and her loyal blond and white-skinned Native American guard are sailing from Roanoke to beg help from the Queen. Virginia’s hair is white and when she’s scared, she can involuntarily turn to a white animal. The guard is… very stoic and speaks only a few words when necessary. Very stereotypically cringe worthy.

Meanwhile, in Spain the Grand Inquisitor is preparing to burn at the stake a young man who dares to impersonate an angel, by having wings. The Inquisitor’s young aides, Wanda and Petros, have powers of their own, so the old Inquisitor seems to play a deeper game. However, Javier’s young charges save the young man from death.

Also, an old man is secretly bringing a Templar treasure to England. A treasure that could destroy the world or save it. The Queen commands Fury to protect it and Fury sends Murdoch.

And in Latveria Count Otto von Doom, called the Handsome, is weaving his own plots.

So, the comic has lots of characters. However, for me at least they worked well, mostly anyway. Strange and Fury get the most page time in the first issue, but other characters get more time in later issues.

For the most part, I enjoyed this reimagining of the oldest Marvel characters in an Elizabethan fantasy world. Daredevil especially had a bigger role and was more effective than I expected. Javier and Fury’s relationship was very interesting, too. Jean has to pretend to be a boy, which was a nice touch. I recommend this only for people who are already familiar with Marvel’s comics.

However, the women characters had tiny roles, so I was disappointed in how little Gaiman used them. Wanda’s only relevant action in the whole comic is in the first issue. Also, I don’t think the complicated explanation in the last two issues wasn’t really necessary. But my biggest disagreement was with a character that was revealed right at the end. I just don’t think they could have thought and done what they did.

Kubert’s art is quite distinctive. Isanove changed it to a painting style which worked very well for this story.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today, the topic is Top Ten Most Recent Reads.

I’m changing the prompt to the one Wyrd and Wonder has: Top Ten Recent Fantasy Reads. I was shocked when I looked at my lists of recent reads and realized that I haven’t read much fantasy. About half of these are from this year and the rest from 2020, in order from the newest to the duology I read last summer.

1, Trish Heinrich: Fire&Ice

She’s now writing as T. L. Heinrich. This is a superhero book set in 1960s USA. The main character is a black woman so the story deals with racism and sexism, in addition to her difficulties with being the daughter of a mob boss and being attracted to a police officer and having to juggle a secret identity as a vigilante. This is the second book in the series. It can be read as a stand-alone but you’ll get more out of it if you read Fahrenheit’s Ghost first.

2, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Moon Maid

Technically, this is science fantasy or planetary romance. But it has people living in the inside of the Moon, so I consider it fantasy. If you liked Burroughs’ Barsoom books, I think you’ll like this short pulp read, too.

3, S. A. Chakraborty: Empire of Gold

The final book in the Daevabad trilogy. I loved the first two books which are heavily influenced by Middle Eastern mythos. They’re lush and very political fantasy books. The final book didn’t live up the others, but it was a good ending.

4, Kim Newman: Anno Dracula

This book has a very interesting premise: Queen Victoria has married Count Dracula and now vampires are taking over English society. It has a strong atmosphere and fascinating setting.

5, Kim Harrison, Melissa Marr, Jeanine Frost, Vicki Pettersson, Jocelynn Drake: Unbound

This is a collection of novellas and short stories set in these writers’ own worlds, except for Marr. If you enjoy the series, I think you’ll enjoy the short stories. But if you haven’t read any of these, it’s not a good place to start.

6, Nikki Haverstock: There’s no Business like Mage Business

The third book in the Casino Witch humorous fantasy cozy mysteries. About a year ago, Ella’s dad was murdered and she found out that she’s a mage. Her father’s death is still a mystery, and she has had to adjust to a different life. One of them is her cat familiar. Another is a lot of practicing with magic and third is solving murders.

7, Jacqueline Carey: Starless

A stand-alone epic fantasy which follows Khai from their early years as a warrior monk in training to their final destiny. It has a lush, rich history and deep characters. The writing style is also lush and beautiful.

8, Joseph Nassise: the Heretic

The first book in the Templar Chronicle urban fantasy series. Cade Williams in the Knight Commander of his own elite team of Knights Templar. The Echo team has a reputation for getting things done, but Cade himself is called the Heretic and many of the deeply religious knights fear him and think he’s damned. This is a very action-packed urban fantasy book.

9 and 10, T. Kingfisher: the Clockwork Boys and the Wonder Engine

This is a duology, or rather a very large book chopped in two. This was probably the funniest duology I read last year. A forger, a fallen paladin, an assassin, and a scholar are sent on pain of death to find out how to stop the mechanical enemies of their country. Hilarity ensues!

Wyrd & Wonder 2021 has started and the whole month will be full of fantasy goodness!

“You are welcome to join the party as we step through portals to explore other worlds, indulge in mythic retellings or freshly-imagined fairytales, cheer on superheroes (or supervillains; we won’t judge) and pay close attention to whether gifts from the Fae are offered freely and without obligation. We’ll be reading books, watching movies, playing games and sharing our thoughts online through blog posts, booktubes, bookstagrams, Twitch streams, Litsy posts and tweets galore.”

I’m very excited to read everyone’s posts. The daily prompts look great, and I’m looking forward to reading responses to them.

My reading list includes the Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman, Goblin Mirror from C. J. Cherryh, and the Compass Rose from Ursula Le Guin. However, I’m starting with Marvel 1602 which I will review in a few days.

Collects Uncanny X-Men (2018) issues 11-16.

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg

Artists: Salvador Larroca, John McCrea, Juanan Ramirez

At the end of Disassembled (vol. 1) of the UXM series in 2018, almost all of the X-Men vanished during a fight and they’re presumed to be dead.

Now, Scott Summers is back. Actually, how he came back to life was in UXM Annual which, strangely, isn’t part of this collection. He’s keeping a low profile but helping people, especially mutants, who need it. But when a group of mutants attack a Humanity for Humans rally, he decides to defend the bigots. Now, all of X-Men’s enemies know that Cyclops is back. He challenges them and calls all X-Men who are still left. Only Wolverine answers his call.

Oh, and Scott meets with a young mutant who can see the future, Blindfold. I haven’t seen her before. She warns Scott that anything he does is futile but urges Logan to help him.

Oh yes. Wolverine is back as well. His return was in the ”Return of Wolverine” miniseries.

Logan and Scott team-up. They look for other surviving mutants. They find Havok (without the facial scars) and a group of New Mutants. Magik is her normal self, not as acidic as when she was in Scott’s X-Men team. Wolfsbane, Karma, and Mirage have been infected by the techno-organic virus so they talk like Warmachine. They also find the Multiple Man and a couple of other mutants.

Scott plans to take care of all of the X-Men’s dangerous enemies so that humans wouldn’t have to deal with them. The others are a bit skeptical but join his crusade.

This is quite a dark comic. With most of their friends and family dead, the X-Men aren’t a happy bunch. They know that their mission is most likely an impossible one and that some, or all, of them will die.

I quite enjoyed the banter between Logan and Scott. That’s pretty much the only banter in the collection. I also really enjoyed the first issue where they ended up trusting and supporting each other. Alex and Scott aren’t very close despite being brothers, but they have their moments. When Scott starts taking prisoners, the others have mixed feelings about it, and about the prisoners.

While this is darker than I like, at least right now, I enjoyed most of it. The comic brings back many elements of the X-Men when I first fell in love with them, namely Claremont’s long run in the 1980s. In addition to the classic villains, like Marauders, or sort-of-allies like Val Cooper, also the mutant hatred is, again, very high and the X-Men are a small band of misfits rather than a horde of experienced teachers and an even larger group of students with various powers.

So, overall I liked it, but none of my favorite mutants are in this comic (Storm, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler…). I’ll definitely continue to see just how they will come back.

(And of course, they will be back, with Hickman’s run starting soon after this storyline.) And yes, I’ll also dive into the Age of X-Man to see what my favorite mutants are doing.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today, the topic is Top Ten Animals in Books.

I haven’t read many books with animals recently so these are some of my favorite animals:

1, The jhereg from Steven Brust’s Jhereg and the others in the series

Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series has a variety of fantasy animals. Vlad’s familiar is Loiosh. I don’t think you can call Loiosh an animal because he’s intelligent. In general, the jhereg are flying lizards and scavengers.

2, Meeka from Shawn McGuire Whispering Pines cozy mystery series

Jayne O’Shea is a former detective who is drawn into solving cozy mysteries in the small and quirky Whispering Pine town. Her service animal is the West Highland White Terrier Meeka. Meeka is a former cadaver and drug dog, but she has been trained to assist with Jayne’s emotional problems. They go almost everywhere together.

3, Pantalaimon from Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass

Pantalaimon is Lyra’s daemon in the series. Every human has their own animal daemon in the series.

4, Talat from Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown

Talat is a retired warhorse. The main character is a headstrong girl, Aerin, whose father owns Talat. Aerin manages to befriend the proud horse.

5, Tim from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five

Tim is a large mix-breed dog who adores his owner, the tomboy George(tte).

6, Temeraire from Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series

This series has lots of gigantic dragons who can easily carry a whole company of soldiers. Temeraire is the main character and, yes, a dragon.

7, Woola by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Barsoom, Mars, is full of strange creatures. Perhaps one of the most endearing is Woola, a six-legged Barsoomian dog who becomes very loyal to John.

8, The Black Stallion from Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series

This was one of my favorite series when I was growing up.

9, Patagonia by Nikki Haverstock

Patagonia is a gigantic cat who is the familiar to Ella who has just become a witch at the beginning of “Of Mages and Murders”, the first book in a humorous cozy fantasy mystery series.

10. Willie Garwin’s elephants in the Modesty Blaise comic

I can’t end the list without mentioning these. Willie is a part owner in a circus and he loves and cares for the three elephants there. They’re also involved in a couple of Modesty and Willie’s adventures.

My newest short story is available on Amazon! I wrote this one, too, for the Dereclict anthology. It turned out to be a spy story:

A secret mission in the Alps. Inexperienced MI6 agent Iz Carter and her new partner.

Freezing wind whipping Iz’s face when she hang glides between snow-covered mountains. Below her, homes lighted like jewels. She must land on one of them. To the stronghold of a chemical weapons dealer.

She must focus on the mission. Or she dies.

A fast-paced short story full of unpredictable turns, Wreck of the Armitage follows the traditions of the best spy stories.

The third book in the alternate history/SF Lady Astronaut series. Technically it’s a stand-alone but I recommend reading at least the first book, the Calculating Stars, first.

Publisher: TOR
Publication year: 2020
Format: print
Page count: 542

Elma York and the others are on their way to Mars. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Earth First terrorist group is doing their best to get the International Space Coalition and especially the various nations around the world to cancel the space program. They don’t believe that the meteorite strick damaged Earth so much that human habitation will become impossible. Instead, they try to funnel the funds toward rebuilding the US. They use religious rhetoric to turn people to their side.

Meanwhile, IAC is already training colonists to go to the Moon station.

Nicole Wargin is one the first female astronauts, ”astronettes”. She also the wife of the Governor of Kansas, which is the current US capitol. Earth Firsters arrange demonstrations, try to poison the lead rocket scientist, and sabotage a rocket. The FBI and IAC suspect that one or more of the crew or colonists on the Artemis Base are Earth Firsters. During the war, Nicole was a spy. Now, IAC boss Clemens wants her to spy on her fellow astronauts and the colonists. She knows just how crucial the information will be, so she agrees. Even though she hates spying on her friends.

Her husband is thinking of running for president. Nicole is already a very public person and is used to supporting her husband. But being the wife of a presidential candidate would make it even worse. She’s not thrilled but supports him. He’s not thrilled that she’s on the Moon for months at a time, but supports her. I loved their dynamic, as much as I loved Elma and Nathaniel.

Nicole is the first-person POV character. She’s extremely competent. A pilot, a spy, an astronaut, a diplomat. She’s also very human. She hates her paranoid spy -side but uses it when she must. She has anorexia. She has been getting better, but when she’s stressed she forgets to eat. When she feels that things are out of her control, the only thing she can do to have a semblance of control is by starving herself. That’s not good in space when you need to be at your best. She also has arthritis on her feet, which she hasn’t told IAC doctors.

This was a wonderful continuation of the series and I enjoyed it a lot. Nicole isn’t Elma. Her damage is different from Elma’s. Just like Elma, she’s a very human character. I also loved her close friendships with the other astronauts. The only flaw for me was in the epilogue: I don’t think one of the things in it would be possible then. I enjoyed it, but it felt out of place.

This book is similar to the first one because it has lots of politics. The main focus is firmly on Nicole and her friends, especially in the latter half of the book. The latter half also has a somewhat claustrophobic feel because Nicole is hunting for terrorists on the Moonbase.

Apparently, the series will get at least one more book. I’m looking forward to it!

Collects Batman/Superman issues 16-20, Batman/Superman Annual 2, and Batman/Superman: Future’s End 1.

Writer: Greg Pak

Artist: Adrian Syaf, Tom Derenick, Tyler Kirkham, Ian Churchill, Emanuela Lupacchino, Cliff Richards, Jack Herbert, Vicente Cifuentes

Publisher: DC

Publishing year: 2015

The main storyline takes up most of the collection. Someone shoots Supergirl, Steele, and Krypto without a trace. Even Superman can’t see who did it. Worse, an innocent man wearing a Superman costume is killed. Then people Superman has saved in the past are killed. Clark must find out who is doing this. Bruce thinks it’s “Superman’s Joker”: a psychopath with an obsession with Superman. Bruce and Clark must find out who is behind it, and quickly.

This was quite an entertaining mystery and adventure story. I’m not a huge fan of psychopath villains, but this time it worked. I didn’t see where the story was going and enjoyed it. It was personal for Clark to begin with and became even more personal. I also really enjoyed Lois and Bruce working together, even if briefly.

In the annual, the previous story’s mastermind can influence the minds of others. He sends a compulsion to some of Batman’s enemies to kill Clark Kent.

Meanwhile, Clark is in Bahamas investigating the damage that Doomsday did to the local ecology and people. As a reporter. Bruce is trying to convince him to switch to Superman’s outfit. When Clark arrives, something triggers an explosion, and he decides to use his new “solar flare” ability, which allows him to clean up the explosion safely, but leaves him powerless for 24 hours. He falls to Earth near town. Locals are raiding the buildings for food and medicine. Clark tries to convince them that he’s there to help, when ManBats attack.

In this story, Clark must fight and run from enemies because he’s powerless. He still wants to help and defend the local people. The story shows his personality well. When Batman shows up, he’s convinced that without his powers, Clark can’t make it. The story has a couple of nice scenes between Bruce and Clark.

The final issue is set five years in the future. Apparently, JLA has fought off an invasion from space. During it, Bruce forced Clark to do something so terrible that Clark faked his own death and abandoned Earth and his friends. Bruce is trying to fight Clark’s enemies in power armor and waiting for Clark to return. A really dark and pessimistic story, which was very different from the others.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this collection, except for the last story.