Return of the Dapper Men , a graphic novel by Jim McCann & Janet Lee
I've wanted to read this since I spotted the short teaser included in the Archaia Anthology, so when I saw Janet Lee at Dragon*Con a few months back, I decided to pick up a signed copy:
Janet's doodle on the title page.
As with the Archaia teaser (which was actually a bonus section not found in this book), I found the art of Return of the Dapper Men to be utterly captivating, and the writing to be...well, something of an enigma.
It's definitely a kind of whimsical, steampunk-ish fairy tale, but the story carries itself in a way that made me feel like I was always just missing something important. In the foreword Tim Gunn mentions you'll want to have a dictionary and Google handy to look up all the various "puzzles, riddles, and anagrams," which got me all excited, but then I couldn't figure out which puzzles he was referring to. Which made me feel like an idiot. I pored over every page, seeking out hidden Easter eggs or visual puns, but the only thing I spotted was a copy of Othello in a room with a black-and-white dotted rug:
You can just see the Othello book (spelled backwards) in the top frame. (Anyone else remember the game?)
Putting aside my dismal sleuthing skills, the story itself was still charming. In a world divided between children and robots (there are no adults), a human boy and a robot girl form a friendship, and then face the return of the Dapper Men: men who fall from the sky and set about reinstating time itself. The story kind of makes sense. The ending, less so.
This is a hefty book that you'll want to take your time with, but more for the visuals than the writing. Overall I think I'd recommend it more for art lovers than for those looking for a modern fairy tale.
Which is the perfect segue to our second book today:
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente (Phew! Is THAT a mouthful!)
I've seen this recommended many times since it debuted last May, but given its description as a "modern fairy tale" I didn't know quite what to expect. Having read it, I can honestly say nothing would have prepared me properly, anyway. Even now, it's a struggle to find words that can do this tale justice.
This story is...rich. It reads like poetry, but really interesting poetry. It's shocking. It's visceral and beautiful and painful at times. It will lull you into the false sense of security that only a fairy tale can offer, and then slap you with a modern slash of abandonment or nakedness or practicality. The heroine September isn't particularly lovable, and yet by the end you'll want to stand up and cheer her name. Her transformation is one of empowerment and sacrifice, and I hope you won't mind my telling you that the ending is a pretty darn good one.
There are two scenes I want to mention specifically, which in my mind are the best and most disturbing of the book, respectively. The first is when September prepares to actually circumnavigate Fairyland in a ship of her own making. [grin] She needs rope, so she cuts off her hair to make some. She needs a sail, so she removes her dress to use that. Then she stands on her little raft, head shorn, naked, and proudly facing into the wind as she sets off to rescue her friends. It's one of the most powerful visuals in the book, and probably the point at which I wanted to cheer the loudest. This is no shrinking Alice, running from flowers. This truly is a heroine for modern times.
The second scene is easily the most viscerally disturbing one I've read in recent memory, even though all it entails is September catching and eating a fish raw. The description is literally gut-wrenching, if you'll pardon the pun, and I was skimming past it in horror. The fact that September is sobbing and clearly as miserable at the task as we the readers are at reading it doesn't help. If you're ever on the verge of becoming a vegetarian, just read that passage a few times. [shudder]
Other than the fish scene, I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of The Girl Who, and highly recommend it to just about everyone. The book started as a free web novel, by the way, and you can still read the first eight chapters over at the author's website here. (Well, supposedly you can; for some reason I can't get the chapter links to work. Let me know if they work for you, won't you?)
And finally, is it weird to recommend someone else's recommendations? Because I'm about to. Author Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame) has a huge page of mini book reviews that's just fantastic. Most are young adult fiction - and several I've already reviewed here - but there are older titles and a few non-fiction picks sprinkled in as well. Plenty of these are going on my to-read list, so definitely go check it out!
I hope you enjoyed, and as always, I welcome your book suggestions in the comments! You can also click here to see a list of all the titles I've reviewed so far.