Book Review: The Shepherd’s Crown

I will confess to feeling a quiet thrum of joy when I heard, after Terry Pratchett’s passing, that there would be a final Discworld book, and it would be about Tiffany Aching.  (It is now no secret to Droids’ readership that she’s kind of my fave.)

shepherds-crown-coverWhile I Shall Wear Midnight serves as a nice way to end things for Tiffany – she faces her greatest challenge yet, takes on her own steading at the Chalk, and the Feegles remain as boisterous as ever – it did end a little on the open side.  Tiffany remains a Witch of the Chalk, but a witch’s work is never done.  There will always be more challenges, more adventures, more people in need of help that others cannot provide.  So news of another Tiffany Aching book didn’t feel forced.

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Fangirl Friday: Tiffany Aching

tiffany aching 2I love Tiffany Aching. She’s brave, but not boastful. She’s considerate, but never a doormat.  She has defeated fairies with a frying pan, she has kissed the Winter, and she commands a brash, violent gang of pixies known as the Nac Mac Feegles. She does the work that others will not do. She is the witch for the region of Discworld known as The Chalk, and she is my favorite character of the late Terry Pratchett.  Lastly, she is the subject of the final Discworld book, The Shepherd’s Crown, released earlier this month on September 1.

Tiffany Aching is no Chosen One. She can’t do amazing magic on raw talent alone. What power she possesses, comes with great concentration and cost. Her influence is won through her constant hard work and occasional improvisation. Even if you read about her as an adult, you feel like Tiffany was beside you when you were growing up because you went through the same stupid growing pains (even if hers are a little more fantastic). Tiffany is a teenage girl who falters and can do stupid things (she causes a super winter by joining a dance), and she always works to clean up after herself. This is Tiffany’s greatest strength, and what makes her a wonderful character is that it’s also her biggest flaw: Tiffany believes that her messes are her responsibility, and that she must clean them up on her own.

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The Dark Arts of Blood Lacks Both Clarity & Complexity

The Dark Arts of Blood is the fourth installment of Freda Warrington’sBlood Wine Sequence. Released on June 30, it is the first addition to the series since The Dark Blood of Poppies in 1995. While it presents a fast paced story with notes of romance and mystery, it felt burdened by its legacy, and attempts to catch up new readers like me made the story go “clunk” when it’s normally a smooth ride.

Our heroes are a small cadre of vampires from the earlier Blood Wine books: Karl, our hero from A Taste of Blood Wine; his immortal scientifically-minded lover, Charlotte; Violette, prima ballerina and avatar of Lilith; and the mischievous Stefan and his mute doppelganger Niklas. Most of the action takes place in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1928.

…The little bursts of exposition from previous books gum up the first few chapters, and with details the reader doesn’t necessarily need, like how exactly Charlotte and Karl became lovers, or countless reminders that Violette is the Avatar of Lilith. While the latter detail does serve as a plot point, I didn’t need to know Charlotte & Karl’s backstory to believe their relationship. In
versely, the relationship between Stefan and Niklas is skirted around, regarded as common knowledge to the reader and, once the two of them have a crisis in the final act, I had little grasp of its significance. Two other characters from previous books, Pierre and Ilona, appear early in the story with the sole purpose of informing the reader that they would not appear in the book at any other time. While that may have been a nice visit for a returning reader, it kept me hoping for a cavalry that would never arrive.

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Two Comics Panels from Special Edition: NYC

“Representation Beyond Characters: How Diversity Bleeds into Work” was moderated by NPR’s Daisy Rosario.  The panelists spoke about the significance of going beyond a simple “palette swap” on a character: creating a character that feels authentic, especially when the characters’ world so closely resembles our own.

Three of the panelists (Alitha Martinez, Amy Chu and Edgardo Rodriguez), have worked on Darryll McDaniels’ comic DMC and spoke about the importance of creating a believable representation of 1980s New York, including people of all races and genders.   They stressed the importance of creating characters who felt authentic to that world, and a world that would accurately represent the challenges and triumphs these characters would face.Valentine DeLandro spoke (exactly once) about his experience with Kelly Sue DeConnick on Image’s Bitch Planet, a title known for tackling both race and gender. Unlike the DMC crew creating authentic characters in a world readers recognize, they had to create a new world that would work against their characters.

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No Mercy tells the story of fifteen American teenagers and their supervisors involved in  image from Image Comicsa fatal bus crash.  They find themselves stranded in the desert of the fictional Central American country Mataguey.  The teens spend the first two issues struggling to survive the night after the crash. Half the passengers are dead, the coyotes are hungry, and the sun has yet to rise.

Writer Alex de Campi (Valentine, Archie vs. Predator) pushes the story forward, piling on complications and plot twists in a manner that could be called ruthless, or at the very least, relentless.  We spend very little time with the overachieving teens before they are thrust into peril, and once there, de Campi makes sure they never stay comfortable.  Artist Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), at once plays into this pacing and works against it.  A page of jumbled layout and overlapping panels first appears in the aftermath of the bus crash and gets a reprise in the second issue when coyotes attack the camp.  McNeil also works against the chaos of the dang image from Image Comicsers befalling the characters and the dense storyline with two-page spreads, applied with such care that they don’t feel like an affect, but serve as periods of reflection or respite from the pandemonium.

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