Weekend Shorts: Circuses and Villains

If we were playing Smash Up, my husband’s favorite genre-mashing card game, today’s post would be holding its own with the Steampunk and Shapeshifter factions. It would probably lose to me playing the Tabletop faction with anything else (man, is that deck overpowered), but it would do all right. And you will do all right to read either of these lovely stories, whether you understood any part of those first two sentences or not!

Dream Eater’s Carnival, by Leslie Anderson and David T. Allen
Dream Eater's CarnivalI was thrilled by this pick for my online book club because a) it was tiny and b) it was on the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library so I could get it for free! I’m always a fan of free. I was hesitant about it because it’s a quasi-steampunk-fantasy-ish story and that’s just generally not my jam.

But you know what is my jam? Circuses, apparently. After a brief fantasy-grade backstory with, like, a church and an involuntary student and some amber that does stuff or whatever, said student, Leisl, runs off to join a travelling circus and it is the awesomest. This circus is, like, literally a travelling circus, in that all of the buildings are built on wheels and as it travels the members go to visit each other by hopping from one precarious perch to another. So cool! But behind that delightful circusy surface, of course, lies danger and intrigue, as the circus may not be exactly what it seems…

This story serves as a sort of prequel to a full-length novel coming out… soon?… from the same authors, so it ends up a bit packed full of tidbits that don’t make a lot of sense because I presume they’ll be explained later, but the atmosphere of the book is so fantastic that I will probably check out that novel whenever it arrives.

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
NimonaIf you run in the same internet circles I do, you have been bombarded by the exclamation “NIMONAAAA!” for the last approximately ever. I finally got the book into my library recently, checked it out, and read it on a quiet vacation Saturday. And it was wonderful.

Nimona is, unsurprisingly, about a girl called Nimona, who shows up at the lair of an evil villain and basically bullies her way into being his sidekick. He’s hesitant at first about her literal take-no-prisoners attitude and propensity for rushing headlong into danger without even a plan, but she wins him over with her awesome shapeshifter abilities and general adorableness. As the story progresses, you get to find out more about both Nimona’s and the villain’s backstories and the weird world that they live in that allows for things like evil villains in the first place. It’s alternately hilarious, depressing, and intriguing. Also, the art is amazing, with this neat sort of active line style that makes it seem like Nimona’s just constantly bathed in caffeine while everyone else is practically statuesque.

It was a super fun time and while I’m not quite shouting “NIMONAAAA!” from the rooftops, you should definitely check it out if you like neat, moderately subversive fantasy stories.

Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank (Girl Genius, Vol. 1), by Kaja and Phil Foglio

Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg ClankI’ve been meaning to read the Girl Genius series for probably a long while now. It keeps popping up in my real and internet lives as a Thing That People Love, but for some reason the series has kept itself on the “…but what if I don’t like it?” side rather than the “…so I should go read it right now!” side of that line. But when I went to pick up a recent book club selection at the library, this first volume was just sitting right there, out in the open, on my way to the shelf, so it was obviously fate.

Except that if it were really fate, the first two volumes would have been waiting for me, because I’m really not sure what to make of this one! (I could just go read it online, but then it’s not quite so shiny and pretty!)

The problem is that, like in a few other comic collections that I’ve read, this whole first volume is just a prelude to the actual story and action and whatnot. So even though this volume is called Agatha Heterodyne etc., our protagonist is called Agatha Clay and all the questions surrounding her are obviously going to be answered by this upcoming name change. So the fact that this volume doesn’t actually get that far in the story is disappointing.

Bu-ut, I think I’m willing to give the second volume a go, because the story so far is at least interesting. Our hero, Agatha, is a mousy little lab assistant in a steampunk world where magic is apparently real, though I’m not sure yet in what form. And Agatha is having a really bad day — early on in this volume she loses a locket necklace that is apparently of the utmost importance to everyone except her, then she goes to work and someone there gets exploded, and then at the end a “clank” (some sort of mechanical golum-type thing, maybe?) starts wandering her town and gets her in a bit of trouble.

After the story proper, I was like, okay, I guess I’ll have to go find the next volume to find out what happens, but then it turned out there was a sort of bonus issue like in my beloved The Unwritten (when oh when is that next trade coming out?). And in this tiny story, a name-changed Agatha who is apparently now well-known goes grave-digging and makes friends with some people who are apparently not people? This story is so much more intriguing than what came before it, and I am really hoping that Agatha’s future escapades are more like it! (If they’re not, please tell me so that I am not incredibly disappointed!)

Recommendation: For the steampunks and the magic lovers and the people who like drawings in their stories?

Rating: 7/10