Golden Kamuy, Vol. 1 by Satoru Noda

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I actually never heard of, or seen this series before reading it. It’s just one from the (always) giant pile of random books I recently picked without reading the synopsis from the library. And I have to say I’m glad I decided to pick up so many unheard of books this time around, because I’ve found a few gems I know I’d never have picked up to read if I’d know what it was about before hand.

Synopsis: A recent war veteran dubbed Saichi “Immortal” Sugimoto finds himself dishonourably discharged, and desperately searching the wild mountains of Hokkaido for gold in postwar gold rush 1904. Of course he finds nothing, except an old man with an interesting story: a ruthless man murdered a group of Ainu (Japanese First Nations), stole their giant pile of gold, and was caught and imprisoned. Of course once the secrete of the large gold mine got out, with all the people-government and otherwise- wanting a piece, escape became impossible. So what did this man do? In the hopes his friends with find them, he tattooed cryptic instructions of where he left the gold on all his prison mates with the promise to share with them. They stage a prison break, and succeed.

Now of course Sugimoto doesn’t believe a word, until a bear attack and dead body later, when he gets to see the unique tattoos himself. While protecting this body from said bear, help comes from an unexpected ally, an Ainu girl who’s father was a victim of the murdering thief. The two form an unlikely bond while surviving the bear attack and begin working together to hunt down the prisoners. One for the gold, the other for revenge.

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Rating: 8.5/10 Unicorn Horns

This was a very different story from what I’m used to reading, so I was surprised to find myself liking it so much. Despite the historical setting and mystery (two things I enjoy, just not together), the story line and where it’s heading were more than enough to make me change my mind. Things get a bit graphic here and there once they start hunting down prisoners, but things never felt needlessly gruesome. I gave it such a high rating for it’s uniqueness. The story may be similar to others, but incorporates a fair amount of original ideas- like the multitude of referenced info about Ainu people I loved learning. 

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I can’t say much about the setting since I know next to nothing about 1904 Japan, but I enjoyed the learning experience, especially when they took to the wilds. Noda gives tons of descriptions which made things feel more realistic. As for the characters, with the exception of one, I have no complaints. Sugimoto is a wonderfully complex ex-soldier who is decidedly unapologetic about taking lives if he’s threatened. Yet he’s also an intelligent, compassionate, and very capable fighter who shows hints of the recklessness and emotional instability born of surviving the horrors of war.

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Even one of the inmates and the hints of future antagonists, each having their own unique personalities, were fascinating to read/watch. Which all made the lack that is Asirpa, the young Ainu girl who becomes Sugimoto’s partner, pretty confusing. Though she’s clearly very intelligent and can hold her own in a fight, I found her fading to the background among Sugimoto and minor characters. I was pretty disappointed with her, but to be fair this is only the first volume. We get quite a bit of Sugimoto’s background, and learn about his motives and personality, so it’s my guess Asirpa, as the secondary main character, will be fleshed out as a character in a later volume.

Regardless this was a great read and I’m really looking forward to checking out the next volume. I actually have no idea who to recommend this to, seeing as how I would have never in my life picked this up. So I guess if anything I’ve said about his series in my review interests you, please give it a try! Thanks for reading =)downloadg.jpg 

 

 

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New Release: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

This Review is Spoiler Free

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

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I struggled for some time trying to think of the best way to form my thoughts on this book into something coherent, and not just a paragraph of gushing. Then I came across this gif:

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And this one:

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Both of which chronologically summarize my feelings about this book perfectly! But of course, I can’t actually leave my review at that…no matter how tempted I am. I will say that most of my love of this book comes from the fact that I honestly missed hearing about it. I’ve seen the cover pop up here and there, but otherwise have heard almost nothing, so was expecting nothing. I’ve been feeling a bit sick of teen fiction (not including manga) for awhile now, so it was only the title and coverlust that drew me into hesitantly picking this up.

Synopsis: Using second person narration with multiple POV’s, Maxwell begins this story with a small group of mageus, lead by Prof. Lachlan, working together against their ancient nemesis, the Order, in modern day New York. Things sound pretty rudimentary at first, a group of supernaturally gifted people fighting against a group of religious fanatics trying to wipe them out, but there are a few catches. The major one being the terror of a deadly trap called the Brink, and Esta, raised and trained by Prof. Lachlan to take down the Order. She is also an amazingly talented pick-pocketing, lock picking, time-travelling thief. And it is these skills that get her sent back to 1902 in New York on a lone mission to steal a book- the Ars Arcana- that may finally lead to their freedom.

Rating: 9.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

This rich story-line, set primarily in 1902, was nothing to sneeze at. In addition to the gripping scenes of the magic welding mageus hiding, outwitting, and fighting the Order (who are at the beginning of forming a curious mix of alchemy and emerging technology), there was also the terror of the Brink to contend with. Many mageus travelled to New York due to rumours of a better life only to find that once they enter the city they cannot leave. Well, at least not without being stripped of their powers and dying in agony, or facing a lifetime of severe mental/emotional instability if they survived the mysterious force field surrounding the city. The effects the terror of this trap and the raids by the Order had on the mageus living in New York was amazingly well written, and just one of the many things that made me devour this book. 

It is this terror that the group main character Esta grew up in, and the street gang leader Dolph are fighting to destroy. Esta’s mission is to meet up with Dolph, the well-known leader of one of the bigger mageus gangs in New York’s 1902 underbelly, infiltrate his crew and prevent someone called The Magician from making the Ars Arcana disappear from history. It was the characters in 1902 that I fell in love with. Esta is a very strong young woman who’s resilient character I admired. Dolph, his crew, and The Magician himself are all complex characters with beautifully conflicting values and resulting contradictory actions. I loved that the gritty reality of the situation the mageus were faced with was actually reflected in the hard choices many of the characters struggled with. 

Though this book did still have some of the elements I’ve grown tired of in teen fiction, a few overly common troupes, those things weren’t so overbearing that they felt like they robbed the story of worth. I didn’t give this book a full 10/10 because in addition to that, part-way through the book things started feeling a bit dragged out. This wasn’t done enough to take off a full point, especially considering all those twists, turns, and bomb dropping towards the end.

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Maxwell took some of my most loved themes, a historical setting rife with realistic social problems and strong characterization, then wove it into a beautifully entertaining story. I definitely recommend this one to all!

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez

*This Review is Spoiler Free* 

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While at work one day about six months back I was desperately searching the Toronto Public Library e-catalogue for a novel to read. Absolutely nothing that I was interested in reading was available at the time which forced me to browse the selection of graphic novels that were on the site. I initially was not interested in reading a digital copy of a graphic novel because I had assumed it would be difficult to decipher the text. It actually was not a horrible reading experience and since then I have read a few other digital comics. 

After their father is killed, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode move to the family estate, Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts with their mother Nina. The Lovecraft family are still on edge after the brutal murder of Rendell, but have dull comfort in the fact that one of his killers, Sam is in prison. Now with miles between the place of such a tragic family disaster they attempt to adjust to life in Lovecraft with the help of Rendell’s younger brother Duncan. The youngest of the Lovecraft siblings, Bode comes across a key that unlocks a Ghost Door which separates the soul of the person who “walks” through from their body. Using the key Bode is able to explore Keyhouse undetected. In the nature of all good fiction the story is not easy sailing from then on and the family soon has much more to worry about than just healing and moving forward.

I had heard good things about these comics around the time of its initial release and I intended to read them, just not at that time because I didn’t want my expectations to be unrealistically high. I am so glad that I made that decision and by the time I did begin the series I had forgotten what it would be about. It is a wise decision to go into reading these graphic novels not knowing much about the premise so that you are able to discover and be captivated by all the going-ons in Keyhouse. The story is incredibly intriguing and entertaining. You are initially sprung into the story with violence and as the story progresses you are able to overcome the initial shock/gore and develop an actual connection to the characters. Too often in a horror story, whether that be a novel or comic, the characters can feel under developed as the author chooses to focus on the scare tactics that they employ to entertain the reader. In Locke & Key the characters are fleshed out and they continue to evolve as the story, and the series as a whole, unfolds. 

In addition to the well executed storyline this graphic novel has exceptional artwork. Gabriel Rodríguez’s illustrations in this series is mind-blowing and his art style lends itself so well to the story. The illustrations themselves add an element of darkness and mystery to the story and facilitate the more grim elements of the plot so very well. I absolutely recommend this graphic novel to all comic lovers who are able to enjoy stories that have elements of horror. What Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez have been able top create within the pages of this graphic novel is truly great and has absolutely become one of my favorite “darker” graphic novels. I give Locke and Key a well deserved 7.25 Unicorn Horns out of a possible 10 when I consider that this review is supposed to be only on Volume 1 and not the subsequent books as well. 

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

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I Hunt Killers in the first book in the Jasper Dent Trilogy by Barry Lyga. The novel’s main protagonist is Jasper “Jazz” Dent who’s father is a notorious serial killer who is now in Prison. When a serial killer emerges in Lobo’s Nod, where Jazz lives, suspicions rise because “The Impressionist” is fashioning their kills after those that Jazz’s “Dear Old Dad”, Billy Dent, committed in the past. Being raised by a serial killer couldn’t possibly be easy, but it was the norm for Jazz growing up and through Billy he experienced horrors up-close and personal. Although the knowledge that Jazz has about his father’s crimes frightens him and causes him to worry about ending up like his father, Jazz decides to use that information and his experiences to help catch a killer.

I Hunt Killers was the second novel that I had read by Barry Lyga, with Boy Toy having been my first. So, I already knew that I liked Barry Lyga’s writing style and approach to story telling. I had previously experienced that the author could write a novel that makes you think about things that are sometimes viewed as uncomfortable and taboo. As soon as I read the synopsis of the story I had no doubt in my mind that I would enjoy the Jasper Dent series because it would make me feel conflicted and keep me intrigued. This novel did not fall short of my expectations and *surprise* I ended up thoroughly enjoying my reading experience.  

Jasper Dent is a very well thought-out and executed character. He has understandably conflicting and dark thoughts about women and people in general. He is an absolutely tortured and damaged soul. In certain portions of the novel it becomes increasingly difficult not feel empathy towards Jazz and sad for former child-Jazz. The supporting/side characters were a welcomed addition to the story and did not feel unnecessary or arbitrary. The secondary characters added to the overall story, actually benefitted the story and had pivotal moments in some of the novels more memorable plot points.

The storyline is easy to follow, yet complex and keeps the reader engaged throughout the entire novel. There were definitely a few situations that arise that take the reader by surprise. I was able to guess a bit of what was going to happen, in terms of being able to predict the general direction the story was going to go in, but I was never bored or disinterested. The story is suspenseful, mysterious and has components of  a thriller that is for a more mature audience (not in a bad way). Lyga doesn’t underestimate the target age group’s level of comprehension and includes thought processes, flashbacks and circumstances that could have been targeted to an adult reader.

I would recommend this novel to readers that enjoy mystery, thrillers, and crime novels. There is also the less obvious group of readers that I would recommend this series to and that would be fans of dystopian and fantasy novels. I give I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga a rating of 8-out of a possible-10 Unicorn Horns!

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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I am absolutely in love with this series! 9/10 Unicorn Horns!

Long ago, Namid gave birth to all kinds of life, including the beings known as humans…They bred and spread throughout their pieces of the world until they pushed into the wild places. That’s when they discovered that Namid’s other offspring already claimed the rest of the world. The Others looked at humans and did not see conquerors. They saw a new kind of meat.

The above quote is something a took from the first page of Written in Red- accurately titled “A Brief History of the World”gives readers an idea of the type of world Bishop has set for the characters of this amazing story. Set in a fantasy world that mirror’s our world, but with the addition of creatures known as Others, these Others (shapeshifters, vampires, and a few new/remodeled creatures from common fables), are the dominate species of the world and more or less control how much land and resources they use and produce. Getting to know these new and remodeled creatures is one thing I enjoy so much about this series, including the addition of a different type of human called blood prophets or cassandra sangue. It is the presents of these cassandra sangue, one in particular, that ends up bringing about huge changes in their world.  

This multi-perspective story starts off with a mysterious girl named Meg, also known as cs759, being chased by a group of dangerous humans. This chase brings here straight to a place most humans rightfully fear, a Courtyard. In Thiasia (what I assume is the equivalent of America) Courtyards are known as the place the Others have set up in order to keep a watchful eye on the humans near their territory, and as a place where Others can enjoy some of the goods made by these humans. Simon Wolfgard, a werewolf and the leader of the North East Courtyard in Thiasia, is the the owner of Howling Reads bookstore and just happens to be the first Other Meg ‘sees’ when inquiring about a “Help Wanted” sign posted on the store window. This unlikely encounter is the trigger for a series of events that left me on edge after each installment (I’ve read the 1st four in this 5 book series-the last installment set for release in a couple weeks).

While many of the creatures known as Others are well known to many urban fantasy readers (vampires, werewolves, and other animal based shifters) most have unique twist or blend to make them feel like new. This isn’t an adult series that’s big on romance (a nice but very subtle thing that takes the background to character development and plot) despite things seeming like it will quickly go that way in the very beginning. Either way this has quickly become one of my favorite reads, and I recommend it to any urban fantasy fan!

All Hallows’ Reads- Ajin by Tsuina Miura & Gamon Sakurai

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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Much like Pandora Hearts and Vinland Saga I actually have my local public library to thank for this one as I came across this wonderful series while browsing the adult manga shelf section. I’d never heard of it before hand, but as someone who grew up watching  shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer I took one look at the cover and fell in love. I tried to resist getting into it after looking it up and noticing it was an on-going series (I’ve mentioned before the madness that plagues me when waiting for a good series to be released), but after a couple months of the premise and cover haunting me every time I thought of what to read next I finally caved. Even with the insanity inducing cliffhanger of the latest volume I read I don’t regret it.

I won’t give away anything beyond the first 25pgs (about halfway through the 1st chapter) as the less you know going in the better. Ajin is set in an alternative universe where the existence of immortal humans called Ajin or Demi-humans were only recently discovered. These very rare people, said to have additional powers and not considered human by the Japanese government and general population where the story takes place, are systematically rounded up by the government as soon as their existence becomes known. What becomes of these humans under the government’s care is not well known, though recent rumors hint at a horrifying existence: extreme and cruel human experimentation. Though hunting Demi-humans is a very difficult task given the fact that the only way to find one is to watch as they come back to life. Unfortunately for the main character of this story Kei Nagai, an intelligent high schooler well on his way to a medical profession, this shocking event is exactly what happens to him in on the way home from school with the eyes of dozens of onlookers. Nagai quickly realizes the position he’s in and takes off, leaving family and false friends behind, but not before reaching out to the one person he believes may still be on his side.

Though they are both different stories in their own rights it’s contrasting premise to another series I recently reviewed, Immortal Hounds, has really added to my interest in both (though I read Ajin long before Immortal Hounds was published).

So far Ajin is a pretty condensed story with plenty of action and progression in each chapter, and unique characters to go along with it. The story itself has been amazing with quite a few unexpected and surprising events (sometimes horrifying and a bit bloody) with enough to hook you within the first 30 pages, but in addition to that this story has a great antagonist and a very unusual protagonist. I knew from the beginning that something seemed a bit off about Nagai (the protagonist), but it took me awhile to put my finger on it. Though I won’t come right out and say it I will, however, say that this aspect or characteristic makes Nagai an anti-hero and is something (which the 2015 anime adaptation unfortunately fails to convey) that feels central to the story and that I really love about this series. I also really enjoyed how even though we get to see the POV of other characters central to the story (the antagonists, the police force chasing Nagai, and a few others), the focus remains on the main character. I can’t wait to see how this story progresses between the bad-ass antagonist (seriously, I am often in awe of his tactics…which leaves me feeling morally conflicted lol), protagonists, and the additional characters in between.

Ajin is something I wouldn’t recommend to everyone, namely those who steer clear of anything involving blood, horror, or murder, but would recommend to anyone who is looking for a good story (without fillers), and unique characters that make lasting impressions. 8/10 Unicorn Horns

Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki

*This review is SPOILER FREE*

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Those who come to the Abyss are all the same. They’re all desperate to get something back. But everyone goes mad partway…

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See, I really, really don’t understand how an author, mangaka, f-ing story writing genius, can immerse readers in something so gloriously messed up, beautiful, emo, crazy, funny, deep, and downright strange like it’s nothing. More than just a few times I laughed out loud and shook my head thinking: psshh, that’s absolutely ridiculous and stupid, then turned the page only to stop just short of curling up into a ball in a dark corner, gently caressing the book and whispering softly to it, while crying myself to sleep. How the heck can a person accomplish not looking like a mad person while reading this series? It’s not that I’m actually just crazy…honest. This is just one of those books where you WILL get people whispering about you and strange, slightly fearful, glances if you read it in public, cause incomprehensible outbursts of emotion are a thing throughout this series.

Okay, now that I’m done with my rant, on with the review:

I honestly never expected to really like this series and wasn’t expecting much from it. I tried to watch the anime adaptation a couple years ago, but couldn’t really get into it (never made it past the first part of the 1st episode). After the first volume I figured I’d enjoy it, but it probably wouldn’t be a favorite. Once I got to the 4th volume I figured I’d really like it, but might not buy it-in my poor defense I’ve got a pretty extensive list of manga to buy so I’m really reluctant to add to it. But past that…I stopped caring about the total price of the series, food, and sleep. The last couple arcs almost killed me with all the FEELS.

Finally I saw… A world so bright I almost wanted to cry… It was then, that my consciousness was engulfed in darkness. 

 

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I actually had to put the book down a few times and walk away in an attempt to take it all in, especially since I was usually still trying to deal with the aftermath of a few events/feels in previous arcs. Wait, my bad, I’m ranting again lol. Okay…

The Story -A well-deserved 9.5/10: So if you don’t already know (it’s a pretty popular series for good reason), Pandora Hearts centers around a young Lord named Oz, his valet named Gil, and the chain (a demon-like creature) named Alice the B-Rabbit from The Abyss (an alternate world). After Oz is sentenced to the Abyss on his coming of age ceremony for the “sin of existing” by a group called the Baskervilles, he meets Alice the B-Rabbit and makes a contract with her in order to return to his world, taking Alice (who wishes to retrieve her lost memories) with him. You’ll have to read it to find out more, but the story has an Alice in Wonderland type thing going on and explores pretty complex themes, primarily identity and existence and how things like the presence/absence of memory, human (or otherwise) bonds/connections, and the past can shape one’s identity and sense of self.

Although I’m weak and full of flaws, I will never stop moving forward. No matter who I am, no one other than myself will create my own existence. No matter what others may think or feel, I will still move forward as myself.

The story is riddled with mysteries that Mochizuki skillfully reveals bits of in each arc like puzzle pieces that don’t become a clear, coherent picture until the last arc. Only after completing the series did I understand that there was actual meaning behind some of the seemingly unimportant details I glanced over volumes ago. This is honestly one of those stories that you could re-read multiple times before being able to take in how carefully put together the story is. I even really enjoyed the side stories at the end of most chapters/volumes that I admittedly tend to skip over the first time I read a manga series.

The Characters (9/10): Most of the main characters are made up of the typical shonen (young male) anime/manga archetypes which made me think of them as shallow at first, but they all have quite a bit of their own depth. Through their ventures they experience past and present grief, love, despair, and even deep emotional/ psychological challenges. Character development is a thing almost all the characters go through, even a lot of minor characters.

…I came to understand how cruel and despicable people can be. But that also allowed me to appreciate true beauty. All you have to do is appreciate things from a different perspective. Once I realized the things we take for granted are really miracles, I came to see everything in it’s precious, ephemeral beauty… I love this world.

The only issue I had was with Alice. Despite being such a central figure I was left feeling like she had much less depth and development, especially when compared to Oz, Gil, and even a few less central characters like Xerxes. Even so, none of the other characters felt like cookie cutter versions straight out of other works (even the minor ones), and I loved, or at least liked, pretty much all of them.

And, though I’m no expert, The Art-8.5/10: It’s clean, easy to follow, and Mochizuki draws the expressions of characters in a way that conveys a wide and complex range of emotions, from emotional agony (she’s pretty good at this one), surprise, downright insanity, joy, anger, and everything in-between. You can tell she put a lot of work and detail into each panel including the backgrounds. I personally really like Mochizuki’s style (the darker, creepy scenes are done and arranged very well) though, at least from what I read so far, it’s a pretty typical one.

Anyone looking for a good fantasy, and/or mystery, should definitely give this one a shot.

Overall: 9/10 Unicorn Horns!

Someone once said it was a dark place that swallowed everything up. Even if that were true, an enveloping darkness like that…in this world that holds every color possible…also contains the light of hope.