Manga Review: THE PROMISED NEVERLAND Vol. 1-3 by Kaiu Shirai

Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2017-2018
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

As with most things, this blog is a work in progress. I’ve decided that instead of spamming with multiple blog entries if I read a whole bunch of chapters at once, I’m going to do a compilation post instead. The star rating reflects overall opinion of the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Child murder, gaslighting

What an idyllic start to a dark fantasy. Kids with serial numbers on their necks live in harmony at an orphanage with a Mom who takes care of them, a daily test, and entire afternoons spent playing. Things are a little strange, with the gate, the smooth wall, and lack of other humans around, but it’s fine (for now).

When one of them is picked to be adopted, the children are elated. Emma and Norman notice that the child left behind her beloved bunny. They go to the gate. Instead of a loving family, there are demons waiting to eat the child. The kids are not to be adopted at all; they are meant for a feast.

The tone shifts with a snap and instills immediate dread. If things seem too good to be true, they likely are, and this manga so far leans into that energy spectacularly. The kids start planning an escape, but it seems futile. I’m very invested in what tricks and secrets are revealed to get these kids out this nightmare.


Content warnings: Child murder, gaslighting, caricature of a Black person

In Volume 2, the children continue planning their escape. This one was a bit of a struggle for me on a few fronts.

The first being the introduction of Sister Krone. Her design and depiction were certainly a choice, in that she is a Black character with exaggerated features reminiscent of caricatures of African-Americans. It is pretty uncomfortable to look, but in terms of her characterization, it was interesting to see someone who’s also interested in taking down Mom, but not for the benefit of the children. This execution of a third party conflict really works, but it’s really difficult to appreciate it with the depiction on-page.

The second point of struggle is the pacing. This volume gets interpersonal between Ray, Emma, and Norman with some fascinating reveals. I just wished that things moved along a little bit more quickly. It feels at times as if Shirai does not trust readers to keep the facts in their heads.


Content warnings: Child murder, gaslighting, caricature of a Black person, death of a Black character

Finally, there is plot movement as the kids get closer and closer to escape they. But Mom knows all and uses her influence to both literally cut the escape plan at the knees and eliminate Sister Krone. The tension amps up, and I am so relieved that it is less dialogue-heavy. It seems that Shirai is finally trusting the reader more, and I hope that momentum continues

The ending ends on an explosive note, but wow do these kids need to get out as soon as possible, for all our sakes.

ARC Review: THE MEMORY THEATER by Karin Tidbeck

Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: February 2021
Buy Links: Bookshop.org| Unabridged Books | Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an ARC from NetGalley
Content warning: violence against children

Intricately weaving together three parallel plot threads in one neat package, The Memory Theater is an inventive little package about a sister protecting her brother, that brother trying to get his name back, and a frightening noblewoman who discovered time.

Creepy and gorgeously atmospheric, this is a must-read for fans of Scandinavian fairy tales and folklore with darker tones.

Author Karin Tidbeck will be featured in a blog interview on release day, February 16th, 2021.

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Manga Review: REQUIEM OF THE ROSE KING Vol. 1 by Aya Kanno

Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2015
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Transphobia, misgendering, medieval violence

The premise of this manga is that it is Richard III but instead of having a hump, Richard is intersex, with elements of Henry VI woven throughout. This cover kept coming up on recommendations and feeds, so I had to dive in.

Dear readers, this is going to ruin my life and I am excited.

We’re introduced to the conflict of the Lancaster and York families which has lasted for a while. It looks like the Yorks are winning, but things take a turn for the worst when York retreats. I love the relationship King Richard has with his son. His death is completely telegraphed, but its depiction on the last page pulled me right in. It’s moving, it’s brutal, and I went two days before I caved and got the last volume.

Richard’s mother, Cecily, is a piece of work. She hates her son for being intersex, even though everyone around him otherwise accepts him. The other character who’s an asshole is the ghost of Joan of Arc, whose sole function seems to be to terrorize Richard. I’m invested enough that I definitely want to know more about her and the context for why she has latched onto this goth prince.

Manga Review: CHAINSAW MAN Vol. 3 by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2020
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Blood, gore, monsters, vomiting

This volume gets a bit gross on several fronts. Tensions are high as the eternity devil goes specifically after Denji. Half the gang wants to feed Denj to it. And he learns the taste of devil’s blood. Fujimoto does a great job introducing new rules and mechanics of this world through action sequences. This segment, however, also features moving flashbacks from Himeno, and dives deeper into possibly Denji’s psyche. It’s direct and moves the plot nicely along.

The drinks scene gets a little uncomfortable, with boundaries all the way down. Himeno comes onto Denji and promptly vomits on him. They go home together and nothing comes of it. Instead, they establish a mutual understanding of romantic goals. It’s quieter and less dire than Denji’s conversations with Makima and Aki. I can’t wait to see this friendship deepens.

And then the assassins show up with what looks like a new villain, and I am appropriately eager for how this unfolds.

Manga Review: CHAINSAW MAN Vol. 2 by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2020
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Blood, gore, monsters

In Volume 2, we pick up with the bat devil fight. It’s fast-paced, but when Fujimoto decided to pause, it stayed with me. The way he contrasts Denji as a devil-man against the other devils and against the other devil hunters really works. He seems kinder than both parties, but really Denji’s a beast of his own. He just wants to do whatever will help him comfortable. And you know what, I support it.

Many secondary characters were introduced, and I found myself drawn to Himeno. Her flashbacks add touch of seriousness that felt a little absent. Being a devil hunter is hard, and she has a trail of partners behind her. It really works to show her relationship with Aki, but then also hints towards her interest in Denji.

Everyone seems to be into the young devil-man, and the cliffhanger this volume ends on is a bit stressful, and I’m hype for it.

Manga Review: CHAINSAW MAN Vol. 1 by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Note: Starting in 2021, I’ll be reviewing the manga I’m reading. It takes up a bunch of my reading and totally counts. I definitely want to share my favorites.

Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2020
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Blood, gore, monsters

Monster transformations in anime/manga have got to me my favorite things. This one is something that has come back on my radar with the MAPPA adaptation coming, so I wanted to dive into the source material.

With the hyperviolence and “killing things like yourself” of Toyko Ghoul and a humorous tome reminiscent of Kill la Kill, I am super on board for this journey of a young man who merges with his dog to fight the devils terrorizing the world.

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ARC Review: THE DARK TIDE by Alicia Jasinka (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Dark Fantasy
Year Release: August 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read my NetGalley eARC

Every year in Caldella, a boy is taken to be sacrificed by the witches to prevent the dark tide from rising and swallowing the city. When Lina realizes her brother, Finley, and her crush, Thomas, are potential targets, she offers herself up.

The language throughout has the whimsy and atmosphere like a classical fairy tale. The atmosphere is just perfect and the reverence towards legends makes the world feel lived in. Every scene uncovers a new, dark secret about the world of witches and serpents, with some wonderful gray morality throughout.

Throughout, the book focuses on sibling relationships and takes a very deep dive into selfishness, grief, and what heroics mean. The tensions are very individual, but it never lets off the focus on saving the city. I wish we had gotten to spend more time in Thomas’s head to get to know him better, but perhaps that will be further explored in the next tome.

A fabulous tale that’s queer and dark, perfect for fans of Alexandra Cristo’s To Kill a Kingdom.

 

ARC Review: INK IN THE BLOOD by Kim Smejkal (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: February 2020
Source: Edelweiss eARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Not to sound like SNL’s Stefon, but this book had everything: queernorm, a four-faced god with six eyes, blood magic, art as propoganda, a traveling theater troupe, Italian-esque city- and country-design, disaster bisexuals, killing gods.

Celia and Anya are best friends who are inklings, devotees of the religion of Profeta, which worships a Divine who can only communicate via tattoos. Fed up with their church’s abuses, the two see a chance to escape when they audition for the Rabble Mob of Minos. But their performance proves more subversive than Profeta would like and it turns out that the Divine isn’t just a religious figment of mythology.

There was so much to like here. The highlight for me was the friendship between Celia and Anya. They are very close, both queer, and love each other, but that does not mean they are together. Overall, the queerness in this novel is so casual. Celia has two moms, multiple characters use “they” pronouns, the tenors which indicate a person’s gender identity aren’t binary. I crave this kind of queernorm world-building. It made me squee with each new detail.

In addition, I really enjoyed that Profeta itself proved a character in the novel. The religion takes on a life of its own throughout the novel. Smejkal deftly drops details both about Celia’s past and the machinations of the religion throughout the narrative in ways that feel like they add context instead of an information dump. Keeping the novel structured in three acts with interludes really fits the theater aesthetic as well.

After all, this dark fantasy is about the performance and interpretation of art, just with some disaster queers, and I want to throw it at everyone I know.

 

Q&A with Emily A. Duncan (WICKED SAINTS Blog Tour)

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When I found out there was a dark YA fantasy partially inspired by Poland, I knew I had to get on that hype train asap. Thank you Wednesday Books for an ARC of Wicked Saints, Emily A. Duncan’s debut about blood magic, religion, pious girls, alcoholic princes, and monster boys. Dark and gothic in aesthetic, this book is not for the faint of heart and I loved so much about the conflict and dynamics among our three protagonists, Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiasz. Emily took time to answer some questions about Nadya’s holy relationships and books to read once the book hangover wears off. Continue reading