Season 4 of HBO’s television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s epic (political) fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire began on an interesting note. The previous season had ended on a very grim note as yet another player in the War of the Five Kings was brutally murdered, and the reign of his family and its political prospects all came crashing down. Now, the Starks are no more and the Lannisters are preeminent since they have a King on the throne who is about to be married, they have a Master of the Coin and a King’s Hand of the family, and they are about to have their Regent-Queen married off as well to further secure their power. But that’s not all that’s happening in Westeros since there is still Stannis Baratheon and his armies, along with Houses Greyjoy and Bolton, and more players yet in the ultimate game of power.
Where the first episode of the new season was meant to touch base with many of these characters, the second episode this Sunday went further and turned out a pretty damn amazing story that saw an end to a character I’ve long hated. Very cathartic I tell you. At the same time, we finally touch base with what the Boltons are doing following their betrayals last season and what has become of their… prisoner. Plus we see Bran Stark and the Reeds again, in a rather scary sequence altogether. The new episode lacked some excitement in the first half, but the second half was pretty good, if strung out a little.
Last year in January we had the first Gotrek & Felix novel after a gap of several long years. The series started off as short stories by William King that were eventually collected into a novel and became a trilogy, then a double trilogy and so on. Eventually, when William King left, Nathan Long was brought in and he enjoyed a good long run as well. But then the series lapsed and all we had for a while were more short stories and even some novellas, although they were primarily written by a new incoming group of authors. It was good stuff. But what we really needed was a full novel, and that’s what Josh Reynolds’ Road of Skulls did.
The new Gotrek & Felix novels, whether those written by Josh Reynolds or David Guymer, are set out of continuity, which means that they are not part of the main series and are set somewhere in between those adventures already published. Road of Skulls, the first in his new set of novels, was an absolute fantastic read and reminded me of why I loved the series in the first place. And now we have the third novel, The Serpent Queen, and it is every bit as good. It features some more out-of-continuity adventures but sets them in the Southlands, in the homelands of the Lizardmen and we see a conflict between Tomb Kings and Vampires. Pretty superb right out of the gate.
Anton Strout is a name that comes up often when I’m moving through urban fantasy blogs at random every few days, looking for new authors to read and new books to try out. And the same goes for social media as well since I’ve seen his name crop up in certain circles every now and then. His Spellmason trilogy sounded interesting, especially since it was still in progress with a third book to come out later this year. Imagine my surprise then, when I was contacted by a publicist friend who was working with Anton and told me that she had a cover reveal to share with me for the third book itself!
Having gone through the covers for all three of the novels, I can definitely say that the cover for the new novel is definitely the best one, and I like the simplicity of the cover. The protagonist Alexandra Belarus is shown off rather nicely, without any sexualisation which is all too rare in the urban fantasy cover industry since most publishers and cover artists conflate urban fantasy with paranormal romance and that bleeds over into this final product. So nice to see that this is not the case with Incarnate, the third book. Given that the book comes out in late September, I now have some motivation to finally start reading this series, which I’ll hopefully be able to do soon. In the meantime, enjoy the cover, and enjoy the giveaway that follows as well!
In contrast to the previous week, I didn’t get to read as many comics as I wanted to because my iPad wasn’t working properly and I had to resort to reading comics on my computer, which didn’t work out so well. Especially when I have to travel, and I was rather counting on getting through at least 3-4 more comics.
Still, I did manage to read a fair few, and I am now done with my read-through of Forever Evil: Blight which proved to be a very interesting event indeed, far better than the main event or two of the tie-ins ARGUS and Arkham War and just on par with Rogues Rebellion. The ending was definitely unexpected and awesome too, I think, so that is something there. No other graphic novels, which is a shame, but since I’m landlocked for the next two weeks, I’m hoping to move through a few, so we shall see.
Dynamite seems to be doing lots of Red Sonja stuff once again. A few months ago we had the anthology-style Legends of Red Sonja mini-series and then a couple weeks back we had the Red Sonja: Berserker one-shot. Dynamite has a strong history of putting out one-shots and mini-series concurrent with an ongoing series, and this is all a part of that. For the most part, I’ve loved all of Dynamite’s Red Sonja comics that I’ve read, and the current ongoing by Gail Simone and Walter Geovani is pretty damn excellent in all respects.
This past week we had another one-shot, Red Sonja and Cub by Jim Zub and Jonathan Lau, which is another side-adventure featuring the She-Devil with a Sword as she gets drawn into a tribal conflict and ends up as a bodyguard for a chieftain’s daughter who is working to end an ages-long enmity between tribes. Jim Zub seems to be getting a lot of mileage these days and its pretty good time. He’s doing the excellent Samurai Jack comics for IDW and he recently did an Amanda Waller one-shot for DC which was fairly decent as well. He also did a kids-friendly Li’l Sonja one-shot with Art Baltasar which was pretty fun! This one-shot tells a really cool story with lots of action and drama, with the art by Lau and colourist Stefani Renee and letterer Simon Bowland being top-notch as well.
Three years ago, HBO changed the course of science fiction and fantasy programming with its television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, bringing A Game of Thrones to people’s screens. The books had long enjoyed a decent popularity but with the television adaptation, things suddenly kicked into high gear. For a series that had been called unfilmable, HBO seems to have done alright, and now the show is in its fourth season as of this past Sunday evening, bringing the ostensibly second half of the third book to the screen, and it exemplifies both the best and the worst of the show (and the books).
I’ve never read any of the books, nor do I have any inclination to. They are simply too humongous, and when I tried to read the first book, I lost interest somewhere before the half-mark. Plus it takes Martin 4-6 years to write a book, and I just don’t have that kind of patience. So the television show it is, which I’ve been watching since it premiered. The new season and its premiere take us back to Westeros, but a changed Westeros, where the Starks as a family are no more and the Lannisters are ascendant. The deadly dance for ultimate power continues and we touch base with a significant number of characters, to learn what they have been up to, and how they’ve all changed.
Last week I talked about getting back into Conan comics with King Conan: The Conqueror #1, a mini-series that tied into the previous mini-series King Conan: The Hour of The Dragon, all of it an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s own The Hour of The Dragon novel featuring the world-famous Cimmerian warrior. Dark Horse is well-known for its comics adaptations of Howard’s various novels and short stories and they’ve done many of them over the years. The few that I’ve been reading, I’ve been mixed about, but overall I’ve loved reading them for the fun of it.
In The Conqueror #1, we see Conan as not a king but as a pauper, his kingdom stripped away from him and the man himself reduced to hunting for a jewel stolen from him. And in that hunt he returns to Messantia in Argos, one of his old haunts. Betrayals and treachery follow and soon, as we see in this issue, he finds himself in the open sea, desperately hunting for the next clue. As with the first issue, the second issue is amazingly well-told and the art once again is gloriously bloody and visceral, hitting all the right spots for a Conan story, embodying that classic feel.
Gail Simone and Walter Geovani’s current arc on Red Sonja is quite an interesting one. Red Sonja is on a quest to bring together six masters of their craft for a great festival that a King in a foreign land wants to organise. Her reward is the lives of a thousand slaves in thrall to said king. As such stories go, it plays on Sonja’s character very well and it provides some great hooks for the story as well. Gail and Walter’s first arc on the rebooted series was excellent and with the new one they seem to repeating that excellence.
In the new issue, Sonja travels to secure the services of a Beast Lord who puts on arena games involving animals and tells a tale of blood and violence. She has already secured the services of the world’s greatest cook and now it is the turn of this animal tamer. But things are not as smooth as before since she has a history with the man. With Gail’s trademark awesome humour and with Walter’s excellent pencils and Adriano Lucas’ perfect colours, this issue is one of the best the team has turned out thus far.
If last week was an incredible week, then I don’t know what this week was! Probably the most comics I’ve read in a single week, to date. And pretty much across all genres too, so that’s something. I love a good reading week like this, especially when I manage to review as much as I did as well. Which is pretty freaking great.
At the moment, I’m working on catching up to Star Wars: Legacy II by Corinna Bechko and Garbriel Hardman while also finishing up my read-through of the entire Forever Evil: Blight event, which should be sometime tonight. And then after that, still lots of comics to catch up on, a hell of a lot. The lists keep getting longer and longer each week!
Dynamite rebooted their Red Sonja title last year with writer Gail Simone and artist Walter Geovani at the helm. Both are some of the most prolific and top-notch creators in the industry and under their pen and pencil, the new series has covered a lot of new ground and has become a monthly must-have on my pull-list. That hasn’t stopped Dynamite from putting out one-shots however, or a mini-series. We’ve had the Peter Brett 5-issue series Red Sonja: Unchained, and the anthology series helmed by Gail and featuring a number of other female writers, Legends of Red Sonja. Now it is time for another one.
Nancy A. Collins is a horror author of long standing and over the years she has worked on several comics properties as well. She was also one of the writers Gail tapped last year for Legends of Red Sonja and her contribution to the anthology was a fairly good one. Now she returns for a one-shot featuring the all-time fantasy favourite redhead, and she tells a story that is emotional and yet visceral in a way that Red Sonja stories usually are. Fritz Casas’ art isn’t spectacular, but it gets the job done and there are quite a few good moments packed into it.
Of late, I’ve read a fair few Conan comics from Dark Horse, and it bears saying that the experience has been fifty-fifty. The first six-issue arc of Brian Wood’s run on Conan the Barbarian was excellent, but Fred Van Lente’s Conan and the People of the Black Circle was anything but. Still, Conan is a character that I find very fascinating, partly due to the cheesy movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I can never tire of those movies, even though they are very problematic in and of themselves, especially the second one. But, as with Red Sonja, that is part of the charm itself, so I won’t complain really.
King Conan: The Conqueror is apparently the second part of a longer story, the first half of which was told last year in King Conan: Hour of the Dragon. When I read that on the credits page of this issue, I was a bit apprehensive about not being able to understand the story, but Timothy Truman gave a quick summation on the first couple pages and then launched straight into a visceral, action-packed story that I really liked. And the artwork by Tomás Giorello and José Villarrubia was excellent as well, very old-school and entirely fitting for a title like this.