Annex by Rich Larson

Annex Cover.jpg

Publication Date: Orbit

Australian Publication Date – 25 September 2018

World Publication Date – 24 July 2018

 

From exciting new author Rich Larson comes an absorbing young adult science fiction debut that makes use of creepy alien elements, excellent characters and fantastic LGBT inclusions to create a powerful and creative read.

When a gigantic alien ship arrives above Earth and isolates an entire city, all the children that are trapped with the aliens are kidnapped and infested with parasitic life forms, while the adults are clamped and inserted with mechanical devices that turn them into mindless drones.

For the small group of children that escape captivity, the disappearance of all the adults offers them a life of fun and adventure.  Falling under the leadership of the charismatic Wyatt, this group of survivors, the Lost Boys, are living the high life, with their newly attached parasites giving them the ability to vanish objects for brief periods of time.  While life is fun, they must continue to avoid the mechanical whirlybirds, the pod-like spaceships and the terrifying Othermothers hunting them in the streets.

For Violet, this new world allows her the opportunity to live the life she’s always wanted and to be the person she’s always wanted to be.  But Violet’s new life on of the city streets changes dramatically when she finds a new escapee, Bo, and takes him under her wing.  Bo has the most powerful parasite the group has ever seen and is capable of permanently vanishing larger objects.  It also appears the alien invaders want him back and are deploying hordes of their creatures to capture him.

Sensing an opportunity, the Lost Boys use Bo to fight back against the aliens while trying to uncover what plans they have for the rest of the planet.  Breaking into the massive hovering mother ship, Violet and Bo team up with the mysterious Mr Gloom to end this alien threat once and for all.  But these two young people will quickly find that the biggest threat to them may be far closer to home than they realise.

Annex is the first novel from Rich Larson and is the first book in The Violet Wars series, with the second book of this intriguing series, Cypher, already on its way.  This is a wonderful debut from Larson, which contains a surprisingly intense and at times dark story that will prove to be enjoyable to a wide range of readers.

There are a number of great features of Annex that readers will enjoy; however, one of the most noticeable features is the creepy and well-written descriptions of the aliens and events that the book’s main characters encounter.  There are a lot of inventive and twisted creatures, technology and even body modifications that can be found throughout this book, and Larson’s skilled writing helps brings them to life in the reader’s imagination.  I was particularly impressed, and a little freaked out, by Larson’s unique creation the Othermothers.  The Othermothers are unsettling clones of the escaped children’s mothers, perched upon long skeletal metal legs, who chirp out random phrases in the mothers’ voices in an attempt to lure the escaped children to them and then capture them.  Because of Larson’s descriptive writing, these creatures are horrifying and really stood out for me among the other alien antagonists the heroes encountered.  Special mention should also be made of the shadowy Mr Gloom, a strange adult they encounter whose appearance is not quite human and who has a range of powerful abilities.  I am not going to reveal too much about Mr Gloom because he appears about two-thirds into the book and I do not want to spoil too much about him.  I did find him to be quite a fun character.  Larson’s descriptions of Mr Gloom are fantastic, especially when it comes to exploring his shadow based abilities, which are a treat to read about.

In addition to the alien creatures and characters that are encountered through the book, readers should also keep an eye on the leader of the Lost Boys, Wyatt.  Wyatt is at first presented as a talented leader who has managed to bring the Lost Boys together and keep them alive.  However, there is much more to this character than he initially presents, and his real personality begins to be revealed to the heroes and the readers as the book progresses.  This is some incredible character work from Larson, and the revelation of Wyatt’s true motivations and persona is done perfectly, resulting in some excellent dramatic scenes and some really dark twists.  The author’s use of two separate point-of-view characters, Violet and Bo, works really well when it comes to viewing Wyatt, as the reader is able to observe his different manipulations, his moods and the cracks that appear in his outer façade.  This is a very intriguing character that dramatically changes the narrative of Annex in a number of ways, and the scenes exploring Wyatt are some of the best written in the entire book.

One of the key aspects of Annex that will prove to be an interesting addition for the reader is one of the main protagonists, Violet.  Violet is a tough–as-nails kicker of alien ass who is also a young transgender girl who has used the lack of adults following the invasion to finally live her life the way she always wanted to.  This is an amazing portrayal of a transgender character, as the author creates a stimulating backstory for Violet that examines her past and explores how she became her current self while also exploring the fears and people that stopped her from fully expressing her identity.  The book also explores how intrinsic this identity can be and how devastating attacks about identity can be, even during an alien apocalypse.  Violet is a well-rounded character, and Larson skilfully displays her other fears, her independence, her new friendship with Bo and her relationships with the other Lost Boys.  Violet helps to elevate this book to the next level and make it into a terrific piece of young adult fiction.

This book is an interesting addition to the young adult genre that definitely highlights the empowerment of young people.  The human characters of this book are all quite youthful and yet manage to thrive in a hostile alien landscape that has incapacitated all of the adults.  Watching these young people come together as a tight-knit group is an intriguing part of this book, and it is interesting to see the subtle techniques Wyatt uses to turn them into his own little army, such as with initiation rites, slogans and other forms of manipulation.  Overall, watching this group overcome without adult help the obstacles of being among the aliens oppressing them is a great part of the book.  This makes it an interesting read for the young adult audience, especially for those who love to see transgender characters in fiction.

Annex by Rich Larson is an excellent debut and is recommended for those younger readers looking for a science fiction adventure that they can relate to.  With some creepy aliens, intriguing characters and a deep look at transgender issues among today’s youth, this is an exhilarating read from a promising new author.

My Rating:

Four stars

Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Volume 3 – The Burning Seas

Darth Vader - The Burning Seas Cover

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Writer: Charles Soule

Artists: Giuseppe Camuncoli

              Daniele Orlandini

              David Curiel

              Java Tartaglia

Publication Date – 11 September 2018

 

I have previously reviewed the second volume of this series here:

https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/09/12/star-wars-darth-vader-dark-lord-of-the-sith-volume-2-legacys-end/

Darth_Vader_Dark_Lord_of_the_Sith_13.jpg

The creative team behind the amazing Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series return with their third volume, The Burning Seas, which continues to follow the early adventures of one of fiction’s greatest villains, Darth Vader.  This third volume contains issues #13-18 of what has to be one of my favourite current ongoing series.

This new volume is set one year after the formation of the Empire, and the Emperor is determined to show off the full military power he now commands.  To that end, he dispatches Vader to the aquatic planet of Mon Cala, which has been resisting attempts to be completely incorporated into the growing Empire, and whose King appears to be receiving advice from a Jedi.  However, this will not be Vader’s first journey to Mon Cala.  Years ago, during the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi saved the planet from a Separatist invasion and supported the young Mon Calamari king’s ascent to the throne.

DarthVader-DLotS-14-no.jpg

Leading a force of his Inquisitors to Mon Cala, Vader attempts to investigate the potential Jedi influencer, but the situation quickly devolves into all-out war.  With Governor Wilhuff Tarkin leading the Imperial invasion, Vader and his forces attempt to locate the Jedi behind the unfolding events.  How will Vader’s return impact the planet of Mon Cala, and what events will the mysterious Jedi’s actions have for the future of the galaxy?

In additional adventures, Governor Tarkin finds himself in the unenviable position of owing Darth Vader a favour.  Vader’s request is a hunt with a twist: the hunter will be Tarkin, while the hunted will be Vader himself.  Bored by a lack of challenges, Vader has tasked Tarkin to provide him with some worthy competition.  Will Tarkin earn Vader’s respect, or will he and his team of mercenaries be the next victims of Vader’s rage?  In addition, Vader has been tasked to investigate sabotage around the construction of the Death Star on Geonosis.  As Vader encounters the creators of the Death Star, Commander Krenik and Galen Erso, he uncovers not only the saboteurs but also the full potential of the Death Star and the impact it could have on Vader’s position.

DarthVader-DLotS-15.jpg

Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith returns with another fantastic and captivating volume that not only furthers the adventures of Darth Vader but also ties the series into the wider Star Wars universe while fleshing out backstories and lore not explored in the movies.  In this volume alone several minor characters’ pasts are shown, the history between Vader and Tarkin is explored and there is a particular focus on the events leading up to the Rogue One movie.  Dedicated Star Wars fans will love that the main story of this volume is set on the planet of Mon Cala and introduces several key Mon Calamari characters.  The readers are gifted with new origin stories for Admiral Raddus, who leads the Rebel fleet in Rogue One, and a young Commander Ackbar, famous for the line ‘It’s a trap’, which highlight their early abilities and show why they were so determined to fight the Empire.  Fans of the Clone Wars television show also get an intriguing conclusion to the three-part Water War arc of the show’s fourth season.  During this television arc, Anakin Skywalker and his allies helped save the planet from an invasion and helped the young Mon Calamari King Lee-Char ascend to the throne.  Now, in a reversal of this arc, Vader returns as an invader and his main target is the Mon Calamari king he once protected with his life.  It is a compelling switch that creates some terrific drama and emotion during this comic book arc.  Surprisingly enough, there is also a focus on the Mon Calamari cruisers, the large imposing ships that become a fixture of Rebel Alliance and the subsequent Resistance.  Several of the plans underway involve the future of these ships, and the twisted priorities of a Jedi regarding them are quite chilling to behold.  In addition to the main story of this volume, one of the issues is heavily involved in the construction of the Death Star.  As a result, Vader interacts with several characters who feature in the Rogue One movie, and the creative team are able to suggest he had a lot more to do with the events of Rogue One than shown in the movie.  This issue also sees Vader return to Geonosis, the main setting for the latter half of the Attack of the Clones movie, and it is very cool to see him return to this important location in his previous life.

On top of the above insertions into the Star Wars universe, the creative team also spend a significant amount of time in this volume exploring the relationship between Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin.  When both characters are introduced in A New Hope, Tarkin always appeared to be in command of Vader and appeared to be someone that Vader respected.  It was an unusual relationship, considering Vader’s personality and his role as the Emperor’s apprentice.  This volume creates a fascinating new narrative that shows when Tarkin was put in charge and why Vader allowed it to happen.  This is first shown during the main story of this volume, when Governor Tarkin, who is leading the invasion of Mon Cala, requests Vader’s assistance to end the war quickly.  Vader is shown in these issues to independent from Tarkin, who still shows the ability to get what he wants from Vader, even if it may cost him down the line.  The creative team spend a good amount of time during the four issues that focus on the invasion of Mon Cala highlighting Tarkin’s tactical ability and ruthlessness, reminding the reader what a great villain Tarkin is in his own right.

DVDLOTS-16

The rivalry between Vader and Tarkin comes to a head in the sixth issue of this volume, when the two of them hunt each other on a wild planet.  This is one of my favourite stories in the whole Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series so far, as the two Imperial heavyweights go head to head in a true battle of the villains.  This issue does an amazing job of highlighting the attributes of both characters.  Tarkin’s cunning, intelligence and determination to win are in full display, while Vader is shown to be not only a destructive force but also a creative opponent who is able to surprise even Tarkin.  The conclusion of this story is very clever and helps define the relationship these two characters have in the movie.  The final issue of this volume finds Vader officially under Tarkin’s command, but shows that Vader is not as subservient as Tarkin would wish.  The main focus of their rivalry in this volume is the Death Star, especially as Tarkin is convinced that his creation will make Vader obsolete.  Soule laces some suggestions during this final issue that many readers will find extremely intriguing and puts a whole new light on Vader and Tarkin’s relationship, especially in the final exchange between the two, where Vader presents a prediction to Tarkin: ‘If you invest too much of yourself in this battle station – – it may end up your tomb.’  The exploration of the relationship between these two dynamic and iconic Star Wars villains is an exceptional part of this new addition to the fantastic series and a really cool feature for Star Wars fans.

For the first time in this series, the creative team tackle a large-scale Star Wars battle as the forces of the Empire attempt to invade or subdue the entire planet of Mon Cala.  The battle sequences that are produced are breathtaking in their scope and execution, as the reader is treated to land battles, space fights, orbital bombardments, battles above, below and on the planet’s ocean surface and even a weaponised tidal wave which sweeps away masses of Imperial forces.  The artwork of these battle scenes is really exceptional; especially the sequences set underwater, which offers an unique scenery backdrop not typically seen in other Star Wars comics.  The creative team do a fantastic job showcasing the massive military capacities of the Empire and the pure devastation their newly created military machine can do.  I also loved the clever and very entertaining way that the rogue Jedi Ferren Barr manages to use certain Imperial forces against Vader’s Inquisitors, in what has to be one of best examples of karma in the entire history of Star Wars.

DarthVader2017-17.jpg

As they have in the previous volumes, the creative team behind the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series go out of their way to showcase how much of a badass their titular character can be.  In addition to the issue in which he powers through all that Tarkin can throw at him, Vader spends the rest of this volume cutting through opponents like they are nothing, including hordes of Mon Calamari and Geonosians.  In addition to these fairly standard actions (standard, that is, for an all-powerful Sith Lord), Vader does some other extraordinary actions, whether it’s surviving explosive rock falls, attempting and nearly succeeding to push back a tidal wave, surviving at the bottom of the ocean and then subsequently taming and eventually killing a massive sea monster he encounters there using only the force, Vader appears like an absolute boss.  He also has a fun reaction when his Inquisitors abandon their mission and attempt to save him from the bottom of an ocean, instead of being grateful, he calls them fools and makes it very clear that ‘I never need…RESCUE’.  It is again captivating to watch how far Vader continues to move further and further away from the Jedi way, as even at the start of this series he had the potential to come back from the dark side.  However, his actions in this book, such as the utter destruction of something significant and good that he previously created, re-imagining his previous battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi with devastating new details, and his slaughter of a whole brood of Geonosians that he compares to animals just like he previously did with the Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, once again show how far he has fallen.  I must also highlight the great artwork in this series when it comes to Vader.  Not only are his exploits shown in full and exquisite detail but the artwork presents him in such a sinister light in every single scene he is in.  This is another masterful portrayal of an exceptional fiction villain.

The third volume of the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, The Burning Seas, is another outstanding addition to one of this year’s most consistent and entertaining comic book series.  This specific volume features massive and intense battles, an intense fight for supremacy between Vader and the ruthless Tarkin, and the continued outrageous and destructive adventures of one of the greatest villains of all time.  This entire run of Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith is definitely worth getting into, and The Burning Seas is easily the best volume of this entire series so far.  A must read that comes highly recommended.

Darth_Vader_Dark_Lord_of_the_Sith_18.jpg

My Rating:

Five Stars.PNG

If you enjoy Star Wars fiction, check out some of my previous reviews:

https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/08/12/star-wars-thrawn-alliances-by-timothy-zahn/

https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/05/30/star-wars-last-shot-by-daniel-jose-older/

Skyward, Volume 1: My Low G Life by Joe Henderson and Lee Garbett

Skyward Volume 1 Cover.png

Publisher: Image Comics

Publication Date – 25 September 2018

 

Those looking for the next amazing comic book adventure they can get addicted to should look no further than Skyward, one of 2018’s breakout hits, which takes away a fundamental force and replaces it with a sensational story.

One day, around the planet, gravity all but disappeared, and the one thing that was previously holding everything to Earth’s surface all of a sudden became a fraction of what it previously was.  In the resultant chaos, huge swathes of the population simply floated away into the atmosphere.  Those that remained were forced to adjust to a new world with different rules.
Skyworld_01-1.png

Twenty years later, humanity has adapted to its new low-gravity reality.  For some, such as Willa Fowler, it’s the only way of life they have ever known, and Willa excels at navigating the skies above Chicago.  Living with her father, Nathan, a brilliant scientist traumatised by the events that sent his wife tumbling into the skies, Willa scrapes a living as a high-speed delivery girl with a number of risky and dangerous tricks up her sleeve.  But when her father reveals he has a way to bring gravity back, Willa doesn’t believe him and instead plans a meeting with Roger Barrow, her father’s rich former research partner, who has created much of the technology that allows the world to survive its new situation.  Descending to ‘The Streets’ of Chicago, the lowest level, inhabited by its richest citizens, Willa quickly discovers that Barrow is not the saviour she thought he would be.  Instead he is determined to keep gravity from returning, and will go to extreme lengths to stop Willa and her father.

Skyward_02-1.png

This is one of the first comic book works from Henderson, whose main claim to fame is as showrunner for the Lucifer television show.  The artist, Garbett, is probably best known for his work on the comic Loki: Agent of Asgard.  Together, this new team has created an incredible new comic book series that has already been picked up by Sony for a potential feature film, and it will be intriguing to see how this challenging and creative series will be adapted to the screen.  This first volume contains issues #1-5 of this new series.

Skyward contains an excellent story that examines life in a different and catastrophically affected version of Earth while also presenting an action-packed adventure with a wild protagonist.  The central idea of this series, the removal of gravity, is a crazy concept that allows for an exceptional overall package that combines great storytelling with incredible and unique artwork.  Throughout this first volume, there is a great combination of humour, action, character development and powerful emotional moments, all set within a fascinating new world shown in great artistic detail.

Skyward_03-1.png

It was quite intriguing to see the various ways in which a lack of gravity could affect the world that we live in.  Henderson and Garbett have come up with a range of different ways for the characters in this book to navigate around the skyline, and it is interesting to see the range of tools that are shown in the artwork.  The creative team has done an amazing job highlighting the various ways that the lack of gravity has affected the world, from food production to water gathering to human mobility.  One of the more intriguing aspects of the new world is the way in which guns have become obsolete due to the recoil pushing shooters back through the air, making it an ineffective weapon and more dangerous to the user than the target.  That said, the protagonist, Willa, has some more extreme and effective uses for the gun she carries around with her.  Perhaps the most intriguing idea presented in Skyward is the location known as The Streets, the lowest street level of Chicago, where the city’s richest inhabitants live in a state of denial at the changes that have happened and are trying to live like there is still gravity.  This includes wearing grav-boots to keep them stuck to the ground and forcing a man with no legs to sit in a wheelchair rather than floating in the air as he would prefer.  There are also some crazy inventions, like a magnetised hem to keep a dress from rising up.  These inhabitants of The Streets are absolutely terrified of the sky and have a very different lifestyle from the people living in Chicago’s skyline, who have embraced the new world.  One funny scene involves Willa traumatising an obnoxious bouncer by wrecking his grav-boots and making him float up into the sky a little.  Overall, this is a fun new world to set this great story in and has a lot of potential for future volumes of this series, where additional changes to day-to-day life are no doubt going to be revealed.

Skyward_04-1.png

The artwork in Skyward is just gorgeous and is definitely a key highlight of this incredible book.  The creative team have done an outstanding job showing off the low-gravity concept in art form, creating some fantastic scenes and drawings.  Most of the characters are shown floating around and navigating the air, which creates some amazing panoramas of the city from high above for the reader to enjoy.  All the characters, even those rich individuals trying to ignore the lack of gravity, are shown with their hair floating up in the sky, and multiple scenes have various liquids floating in the air around the characters attempting to have drinks.  It also means that fight scenes are constantly surrounded by droplets of blood that float around the characters and add a whole new sense of realism and brutality to the story.  The artistic highlight of this book has to be the incredible and exceptional drawings of the storm in low gravity that becomes such a massive part of the background in the later part of the volume.  Due to the effects of the low gravity, the storm manifests itself as a gigantic ball of water in the sky, surrounding several high-rise buildings.  The first drawing of this is amazing, and the following scenes which show the main characters navigating around this bubble and creating massive pockets of air are just fantastic, and represent some exceptional comic book art.  I was also suitably terrified by several of the drawings in this volume, from the opening scenes which show multiple people being lifted away by the low gravity, to the horrifying shot of the planet Earth and its new artificial ring, made up of planes, cars, ships, other debris and of course multiple dead animals and humans that have not decayed in their 20 years in orbit.  Lee Garbett and the creative team have outdone themselves in Skyward and I cannot speak highly enough of the artwork in this book.

Skyward Picture 1.jpg

The main character, Willa, is an excellent protagonist for this series.  As a character who has never known what it’s like to live in a world with gravity, Willa’s antics through the air are pretty crazy and she does some amazing and unpredictable things throughout the book.  Whether it’s using a gun to gain rapid altitude and to come down again, or blowing out a window underwater in a low-gravity storm of water after creating an air pocket with her oxygen tank.  The constant incredulity of the other characters as she does these things is very amusing and makes it quite clear that these actions are not the social norm in the new world.  My favourite quote of the books is when the antagonist, realising that Willa is about to blow open a window with her gun says ‘She wouldn’t…’ while Willa’s friend who is being held hostage responds with ‘Oh, she would.’ I must again return to the artwork of Skyward when it comes to showing off this main character.  The artists do a fantastic job highlighting the joy on Willa’s face as she flies around in the upper city; she looks like she was born to float.  I also loved the drawings that show off her crazy antics, from the early sequence which shows her using a gun to blast off away from people attacking her, to that fantastic scene where she blows open the underwater window.  The drawings themselves are incredible and really show off the action, while the looks of shock and amazement on the faces of onlookers tell a whole new story.  Henderson and Garbett have created a perfect main character and protagonist in Willa, and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to in future volumes of this series.
Skyward_05-1.png

Skyward is an incredible new series from the fantastic team of Henderson and Garbett.  I really enjoyed the central concept of a lack of gravity, as it allowed the creative team to present a bold and exceptional new setting for this exciting and powerful story.  I really cannot hype up the artwork of this series enough, and I love the various ways that the artists show off what impacts these gravitational changes would have to everyday life on the planet.  An outstanding five-star start to a series with incredible potential, this is the perfect read for current comic book readers and a great starting point for those trying to break into the medium.

My Rating:

Five Stars