I HATE zombies. And body horror creeps me out. And child-in-danger stories are usually annoying and manipulative. So I can’t believe I am actually recommending a child-in-danger zombie novel that is chock-full of disturbing body horror… but this one is really good.

It opens with a heartbreakingly charming narration by Melanie, a bright little girl who adores her teacher, who secretly slips her a book of Greek myths. Melanie loves the story of Pandora, the girl with all the gifts. But she doesn’t understand why her beloved teacher often seems so sad, or why she and the other kids have to be tied to chairs to attend school. Why is almost immediately clear to readers – it’s after the zombie apocalypse, and she’s the rare intelligent zombie that scientists are experimenting on in the hope of finding a vaccine or cure – but there are many other mysteries that are less obvious.

The first section and denouement of the novel are the best parts; the first because of Melanie’s narration, the last because it’s an absolutely perfect climax, satisfying on the all levels. In between is a more standard but well-done zombie novel. In particular, the mechanism of the zombie apocalypse is pleasingly clever and well-worked out. But the beginning and the end really make the book.

Right from the start, Melanie is explicitly compared to Pandora, so it's clear that in some way, she will unleash horrors upon humanity, but also hope. And all through the book, she does, in ways that change as she changes, learning more about the world and herself. It's beautifully done.

I don’t often like horror. When I do enjoy something marketed as horror, it’s often despite rather than because of the genre. For instance, I love the author’s voice (Stephen King) or prose style (Tanith Lee) or psychological insight (Melanie Tem) enough to get me past that horror is a genre of emotional atmosphere, and the specific emotions of horror – fear, dread, horror, disgust – aren’t ones I usually enjoy.

But there’s another emotional state that horror can evoke, which is something akin to Aristotle’s idea of catharsis. It’s horror as transcendence, where terror and horror are also beautiful and awe-inspiring. It’s probably not coincidental that the authors I mentioned above hit that mark for me – not always, and not in everything they write, but sometimes. C. L. Moore’s stories “Black God’s Kiss” and “Shambleau” are like that, too: creepy and disturbing, but also seductive and full of sense of wonder.

The Girl With All the Gifts hits that mark, off and on, until coming to a conclusion that’s viscerally horrifying but also beautiful and transcendent. The characters other than Melanie are sketched in, plausible types rather than three-dimensional characters, and a late reveal about the teacher’s past is reductionist rather than revelatory. But the beginning is brilliant, the middle is solid, and the ending is haunting in the very best way.

The Girl With All the Gifts
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Aug. 6th, 2011 11:03 am)
I'm getting an internal server error about every other time I try to upload a photo, so this is really laborious. As a result, I'm only pasting a few select shots rather than everything that looks cool.

The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, misc street shots, zombie with machete in his head.

Read more... )
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Aug. 6th, 2011 11:03 am)
I'm getting an internal server error about every other time I try to upload a photo, so this is really laborious. As a result, I'm only pasting a few select shots rather than everything that looks cool.

The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, misc street shots, zombie with machete in his head.

Read more... )
The latest from Kaori Yuki, queen of crack, and full of all the beautiful men, id-tastic author’s notes, parrots of doom, deadly dolls, zombies, and utter WTF that one might expect if one is familiar with her work. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and if you like any of her other her manga, you probably will too. It reminds me most of Godchild, but so far without the emotional intensity – but then, Godchild didn’t have that in early volumes either. It’s very funny, completely bizarre, and makes a lot more sense than Fairy Cube. Of course, everything ever makes a lot more sense than Fairy Cube.

The first few pages are fairly incoherent, and I periodically got lost until I figured out that there are at least three different characters who are tall beautiful men with long blonde hair. One of them is named Lucille, but that did not fool me. I immediately pegged him as a man. Probably due to his resemblance to Rosiel.

I cannot even begin to summarize this beyond saying that it’s about a traveling orchestra that slays zombies with music, so I will quote bits of dialogue instead:

“You’re a man-eating doll… a guignol!”

“How dare you speak that way to me, minstrel scum!”

“When father told me we’d have visitors from the palace, I was sure they were finally sending the soldiers we’d requested to wipe out the guignols… the diseased dolls that infest the outside world!”

[Author sidebar featuring a drawing of a governess in a sexy maid outfit, with the caption, “Yes, I like big breasts! I wish mine were big!”]

“Go ahead and eat me! At last, we’ll be together!”

[Author sidebar featuring a drawing of an adorable hedgehog, and the note, “When the hedgehog isn’t visible, he’s probably under Gwindel’s hat. Aren’t hedgehogs cute? I can’t resist them. Anyway, the story is supposed to be set in the Middle Ages (sort of) with a French air – not that you’d know it! That’s okay. I like an anything goes approach.”]

“Have a look. A bird cage, just for you. Now you will sing for me alone! My canary for life!”

“Maids! You come with me! [Spoiler character name!] You stay here and infect Lucille!”

What is amazing is that this barely scrapes the surface of the glorious WTF contained within this single volume of manga. I promise you, if this tempts you read it, you will not feel like I spoiled a thing.

Grand Guignol Orchestra, Vol. 1
In Mary's world, there are simple truths.
The Sisterhood always knows best.
The Guardians will protect and serve.
The Unconsecrated will never relent.
And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village....


The enormously misleading cover copy for this YA novel makes it sound like a certain stinker of an M. Night Shyamalan film, in which tons of portentous build-up lead to the totally unsurprising shock ending reveal that There Are No Monsters Outside The Village. Actually, there are monsters outside the village. Zombies! Tons of ‘em! They first appear on page two, so this is not a spoiler.

Mary lives in a post-apocalyptic fenced village surrounded by "the Unconsecrated." Unlike anyone else in her village, she longs for some other life, which to her is symbolized by the ocean she saw once in a faded photograph. A mysterious religious organization called the Sisterhood calls the shots in this otherwise sexist society. Needless to say, the Sisterhood is keeping (very predictable) secrets.

When Mary’s mother is bitten and becomes an Unconsecrated, her brother Jed blames Mary, and local boy Henry doesn’t propose, Mary is forced to become a Sister. She is soon entangled in a complicated love quadrangle between her best friend and the two brothers who both love Mary, and is too curious for her own good about the possibility of life outside.

The first chapter is gorgeously evocative, there’s a number of arresting images and set-piece scenes, and the whole book is a gripping read. Ryan pays a lot of attention to imagery patterns and thematic linkages, such as between real and symbolic zombies, and this is generally done well. Mary’s desperate desire for Henry’s brother Travis is vividly written even though Travis is a non-entity.

But except for Mary, the characterization is barely even two-dimensional. Several significant characters have about one recognizable trait each. This is a big flaw in a zombie story, as we ought to care when people are munched by zombies. It also made the central character relationships fall completely flat. The culture of the village is barely indicated, but what little we see of it seems to be small-town every-America that’s far more generic than any real town. I’m assuming the Sisters are Christian, but we never get any details about their religion. All this adds to an overall sense of blandness.

Additionally, several crucial explanations about what’s going on make no sense at all. (A prisoner who could be killed without penalty or released at some risk is instead deliberately transformed into a crazed killing machine and then released to see what will happen. That never goes wrong!) And when the story takes a new direction half-way through, it is way too coincidental that the characters who end up with Mary are, with one exception, the only ones she already cared about.

I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth thinking that it was better-suited to film. (I wasn’t the only one who thought so: a film adaptation will appear in 2011.) A good movie would make excellent use of the zombies and zombie action scenes, and could flesh out the skimpy characterization with vibrant performances. Though I wouldn’t re-read the book, I’d see the movie.

Still, the writing is accomplished and the ideas are ambitious enough that I'd definitely read Ryan's next book, even though I didn't think this one was completely successful.

View on Amazon: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
In Mary's world, there are simple truths.
The Sisterhood always knows best.
The Guardians will protect and serve.
The Unconsecrated will never relent.
And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village....


The enormously misleading cover copy for this YA novel makes it sound like a certain stinker of an M. Night Shyamalan film, in which tons of portentous build-up lead to the totally unsurprising shock ending reveal that There Are No Monsters Outside The Village. Actually, there are monsters outside the village. Zombies! Tons of ‘em! They first appear on page two, so this is not a spoiler.

Mary lives in a post-apocalyptic fenced village surrounded by "the Unconsecrated." Unlike anyone else in her village, she longs for some other life, which to her is symbolized by the ocean she saw once in a faded photograph. A mysterious religious organization called the Sisterhood calls the shots in this otherwise sexist society. Needless to say, the Sisterhood is keeping (very predictable) secrets.

When Mary’s mother is bitten and becomes an Unconsecrated, her brother Jed blames Mary, and local boy Henry doesn’t propose, Mary is forced to become a Sister. She is soon entangled in a complicated love quadrangle between her best friend and the two brothers who both love Mary, and is too curious for her own good about the possibility of life outside.

The first chapter is gorgeously evocative, there’s a number of arresting images and set-piece scenes, and the whole book is a gripping read. Ryan pays a lot of attention to imagery patterns and thematic linkages, such as between real and symbolic zombies, and this is generally done well. Mary’s desperate desire for Henry’s brother Travis is vividly written even though Travis is a non-entity.

But except for Mary, the characterization is barely even two-dimensional. Several significant characters have about one recognizable trait each. This is a big flaw in a zombie story, as we ought to care when people are munched by zombies. It also made the central character relationships fall completely flat. The culture of the village is barely indicated, but what little we see of it seems to be small-town every-America that’s far more generic than any real town. I’m assuming the Sisters are Christian, but we never get any details about their religion. All this adds to an overall sense of blandness.

Additionally, several crucial explanations about what’s going on make no sense at all. (A prisoner who could be killed without penalty or released at some risk is instead deliberately transformed into a crazed killing machine and then released to see what will happen. That never goes wrong!) And when the story takes a new direction half-way through, it is way too coincidental that the characters who end up with Mary are, with one exception, the only ones she already cared about.

I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth thinking that it was better-suited to film. (I wasn’t the only one who thought so: a film adaptation will appear in 2011.) A good movie would make excellent use of the zombies and zombie action scenes, and could flesh out the skimpy characterization with vibrant performances. Though I wouldn’t re-read the book, I’d see the movie.

Still, the writing is accomplished and the ideas are ambitious enough that I'd definitely read Ryan's next book, even though I didn't think this one was completely successful.

View on Amazon: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
These are preliminary notes. I have only read the first three volumes, so please do not spoil me.

Gorgeous, gorgeous art and bishounen Cesare Borgia would probably be enough to addict me to this awesome quasi-historical manga; however, it also has accurate historical details interspersed with actual historical myths presented as facts, or at least I think it was a real legend that Cesare Borgia's father sold his son's soul to Satan so he (Borgia Senior) could become Pope. Oh, and it has an evil Pope! And Niccolo Machiavelli as a talking moth with a human head, or, as I like to call him, Mothiavelli.

And that's not all! There is incestuous longing between Cesare and his angelic blonde sister Lucrezia! (Yes, that Lucrezia Borgia.) Cesare's blood is a deadly poison! He has an extremely slashy relationship with the extremely pretty and surprisingly sweet boy Chiaro, who has a possibly magic mask which turns him into the deadly assassin Michelotto! Double-crossing, poisons, assassinations, and demonic magic abounds!

And by the end of volume 3...!!! )

Really, there are not enough exclamation points for this series. And I'm told that it gets even better.

Click here to buy it from Amazon: Cantarella Volume 1 (Cantarella (Graphic Novel)) (v. 1)
These are preliminary notes. I have only read the first three volumes, so please do not spoil me.

Gorgeous, gorgeous art and bishounen Cesare Borgia would probably be enough to addict me to this awesome quasi-historical manga; however, it also has accurate historical details interspersed with actual historical myths presented as facts, or at least I think it was a real legend that Cesare Borgia's father sold his son's soul to Satan so he (Borgia Senior) could become Pope. Oh, and it has an evil Pope! And Niccolo Machiavelli as a talking moth with a human head, or, as I like to call him, Mothiavelli.

And that's not all! There is incestuous longing between Cesare and his angelic blonde sister Lucrezia! (Yes, that Lucrezia Borgia.) Cesare's blood is a deadly poison! He has an extremely slashy relationship with the extremely pretty and surprisingly sweet boy Chiaro, who has a possibly magic mask which turns him into the deadly assassin Michelotto! Double-crossing, poisons, assassinations, and demonic magic abounds!

And by the end of volume 3...!!! )

Really, there are not enough exclamation points for this series. And I'm told that it gets even better.

Click here to buy it from Amazon: Cantarella Volume 1 (Cantarella (Graphic Novel)) (v. 1)
This is the sort of story where one can quite honestly write, "I forgot to mention that Heaven and Hell collided some volumes back."

It also features this exchange, which I believe can be appreciated out of context, and is probably the only time in the entire series when I liked Rosiel:

Sandalphon (creepy): Once I have my own body... I will devour you! I'll devour you all!

Rosiel (deadpan): Well, I'll look forward to that, Sandalphon.

You think that lump of flesh clinging to life in that tub is my true form?! )
This is the sort of story where one can quite honestly write, "I forgot to mention that Heaven and Hell collided some volumes back."

It also features this exchange, which I believe can be appreciated out of context, and is probably the only time in the entire series when I liked Rosiel:

Sandalphon (creepy): Once I have my own body... I will devour you! I'll devour you all!

Rosiel (deadpan): Well, I'll look forward to that, Sandalphon.

You think that lump of flesh clinging to life in that tub is my true form?! )
I finished this series a while ago, but was unable to write it up because every time I attempted a thoughtful, coherent analysis, the content I was trying to analyze was so deliciously demented, so carefully foreshadowed yet totally insane, that my head exploded.

So I will not analyze. Perhaps someone else can analyze in comments. I will merely provide a highlight reel. And, in case this persuades others to persevere beyond the awful and incoherent first volume, this is the kind of series where it's not all that spoilery to mention that a fleet of flying cannibal zombie angel embryos is sent out to destroy the universe. Also, the art is jaw-droppingly beautiful, especially on the covers.

Setsuna escapes on the back of a flying whale. )
I finished this series a while ago, but was unable to write it up because every time I attempted a thoughtful, coherent analysis, the content I was trying to analyze was so deliciously demented, so carefully foreshadowed yet totally insane, that my head exploded.

So I will not analyze. Perhaps someone else can analyze in comments. I will merely provide a highlight reel. And, in case this persuades others to persevere beyond the awful and incoherent first volume, this is the kind of series where it's not all that spoilery to mention that a fleet of flying cannibal zombie angel embryos is sent out to destroy the universe. Also, the art is jaw-droppingly beautiful, especially on the covers.

Setsuna escapes on the back of a flying whale. )
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