The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

After hearing about the Sandman series for several years, I finally decided to visit my local library and pick up the first volume. The concept of a graphic novel as an intense storyline with stellar art was, to me, intriguing.

Although I used to read comics when I was younger – mostly Marvel and DC’s Star Trek line – I’d moved away from that medium shortly after high school. I’m glad I listened to the recommendation for Gaiman’s Sandman series – arguably Vertigo’s most popular publishing – as the book to bring me back to illustrated storytelling. The art in each novel is unbelievable, and Todd Klein’s lettering is fluid and beautiful!

The premise of the first volume is this: After being imprisoned by a power-hungry human for 70 years, Morpheus, commonly known as Dream, escapes captivity and sets out to recover the objects that give him his power, which were stolen from him. As he travels, he has dealings with Lucifer (a recurring character in the Sandman universe), John Constantine (a popular comic book character), and ultimately encounters a mad-man who uses one of Dream’s objects to wreak havoc on humanity.

The storylines range from surreal to absurd,  but that quirkiness is what makes this novel so interesting. Gaiman weaves in facets of ancient mythology and religion to create a multitude of worlds through which Dream travels.

Gaiman’s unique voice comes across in each tale, and each novel as a distinct story-telling style. The issues in this first volume contain DC-character crossovers, that while interesting, tends to detract from Gaiman’s established voice.

Dream is a gorgeous character, illustrated in dark violets, whites and blacks. The stark beauty of the Dream King is haunting, and the landscapes in which he moves are breathtaking.

The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes is great when simply judging it on writing alone, but when you add in the incredible artwork and detailed lettering, the novel becomes a stellar find and worthy of reading several times.

Readers should be warned the Sandman series often features graphic subject matter – sex, drugs and death being common themes – but it is never gratuitous and always serves to progress the story.

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Amsterdam

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

This book was a departure from my usual reading fare. It’s set in a modern times, whereas I usually prefer historical or fantasy genres, but it was a good change. As I delved deeper in the story, I barely even remembered I was reading a novel taking place in London. Ultimately, the setting wasn’t all that important. The events could have occurred almost anywhere and still carried the same weight.

The premise of Amsterdam is this: Clive, a prominent composer, and Vernon, a hard-hitting editor of a flagging paper, both come together at the death of Molly, a vivacious, former lover whose sudden illness and death robbed her of her outgoing personality. Upon reflection, both men make a pact to help the other end their life if they ever find themselves in the same position as Molly.

As various situations occur, Clive and Vernon find themselves in the midst of tough decisions. In the end, after choosing a self-serving agenda, both men ultimately destroy themselves and each other.

What drove this story was the fascinating tale of self-absorption and misguided moral piety the two main characters display. These are traits which are so prevalent in today’s society, and that’s the main reason this story resonated with me. It’s not a comfortable read. It makes the reader squirm as they’re confronted with unpleasant truths that might mirror their own life. However, that’s what makes this a fantastic novel.

Soulless

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Even though I voraciously devour The Dresden Files whenever a new books appears, I wasn’t quite sure a book dealing with vampires and werewolves, but no magic, would appeal to me. In the end, it was the cover that sold me. After realizing it was set in Victorian England, I was intrigued and decided to buy it.

Best decision ever. 

Soulless is a delightful mix of hilarity, romance and the supernatural, and never once did I find myself bored with what I was reading.

The premise of Soulless is this:  Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster who possesses the remarkable distinction of being born without a soul – hence the title. As such, she is able to nullify all traces of the supernatural by merely touching the skin of any vampire or werewolf. The caveat is that this unique ability only works while maintaining contact. If broken, the supernatural powers are restored.

When Alexia is attacked at a London ball by a rather disheveled vampire, she is forced to kill him. This event sets the story in motion as Alexia soon discovers vampires are appearing and disappearing all throughout London. The Vampire Hive thinks Alexia’s responsible. Lord Maccon, Alpha of the Woolsey werewolf pack and Head of BUR, knows she isn’t and tries to determine who is. To top it all off, a shady villain and frightening henchman have their sights set on Alexia.

What’s a girl to do? Drink more tea, of course.

Soulless is one of the wittiest and best-developed books with a strong heroine that I’ve read in quite a long time. Rather than rely on the traditional male hero to swoop in and save the day, Alexia embodies tenacity, critical thinking, stubbornness and independence – rare qualities not often found in the female leads of most books. That alone makes the book worth reading.

Add to that an intoxicating blend of alternative history where werewolves and vampires helped shaped the English Crown and British politics, and you end up with a brilliant book that moves at a quick pace and delivers a solid story. There was not a single moment this book didn’t captivate me, and I went out and bought the next book in the series as soon as I closed the back cover.

Soulless is exactly what it sells itself as: A comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking. How utterly charming!

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean

I originally got this to read to my five-year-old nephew when he spent the summer with us. However, like every picky reader, he wanted a different title read to him, specifically Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls.

After he left, I decided to read the book, and I was pleasantly surprised. Although I didn’t find it as engaging as The Wolves in the Walls, the story was quite entertaining.

The premise is this: A young boy, frustrated by his father who only wants to read the newspaper, decides to trade his boring dad for two exciting goldfish. However, when the boy’s mother learns what has happened, she demands the boy and his sister retrieve their father.

The ensuing tale results in hilarious moments as the siblings discover a chain-reaction of trading has occurred. The pair follow his trail from house to house and trade to trade until they eventually discover him crouched in a rabbit hutch, still reading his paper.

As always, Gaiman takes a far-fetched idea and creates a fantastic story that captures his reader’s attention. Having once been a child, I can vividly remember the frustration I felt when my parents were too engrossed in tasks I deemed boring. Had I been given the opportunity to trade them for something more exciting, I just might have done so.

There isn’t a morality lesson tucked within this children’s tale, but young readers will be fascinated by the idea of trading their parent for a pet and be dazzled by Dave McKean’s stunning artwork.