10 March 2012

Recent Reading

Cathy's Ring by Jordan Weisman & Sean Stewart, illustrated by Cathy Brigg
This is the third in a series of inventive teenage thrillers about a young artist, set in and around San Francisco.
At this point it is very hard not a spoil the events of the previous books (especially the first). I highly recommend the series to anyone interested in Young Adult fiction. It's an especially good example of the interesting ways of text, art and digital content can be merged. Cathy's Book is the first in the series, more info can be found at http://www.cathysbook.com/.

Each book in the series takes of form a journal and each page is filled with sketches and doodles that support and play with the story being told. The first two books have full-colour photo plates in the middle showing the clues found by the irrepressible Cathy and her tech-savvy friend Emma. Further info about their investigations -including voicemail messages and a website apparently set up by one of the characters- are available online.
I've been waiting for the third and (looks like) final installment in this series for some time. The final book doesn't have as much investigation as the first two, there isn't a jumble of photos, letters and other clues in the centre of this book. The story is more about Cathy reacting to the dangerous events of the first two books and trying to escape her problems, before realising that is not the answer. The humour of Cathy's words and illustrations is still there. There's an amusing bit where two characters, who share a mutual distrust, must disguise themselves as clowns using only what they can find in their handbags, and the pictures really make the scene come alive.

Empire State by Adam Christopher
Two superheroes fight in the skies above prohibition-era New York, as bootlegger Rex escapes the cops and a mob boss in the allies of Manhattan. In the Empire State private detective Rad Bradley is assaulted by men in gas masks before being hired to find a missing woman. Rad's journalist friend Kane is investigating the mysterious return of a warship, the first to come back from the lands of the Enemy since Wartime began. Their enquiries lead Rad to the eccentric Captain Carson and his impossible photographs, and it's clear the the PI is mixed up in something very strange.

The setting felt realistic, even the bits set in another world. The tone worked well, there was a bleak, oppressive greyness that suited the events of the book. There were parts that felt a little disconnected, but that fit with the tone and the setting, as the reader is aware from early on that something isn't right.
Empire State is a good book, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Expectation is a funny thing. It can be easy to get excited by something, even if you don't know much about it (that's how advertising works after all). I think I was expecting something a bit different and that created a disconnect in my mind. There were a couple of sections early on -mostly involving female characters- which I thought were really great, but they weren't the focus of the plot. About half way through I found myself drawing favourable comparisons with Dark City, there's a similar sense of darkness and unease in both. The end made me feel a little confused, though it has since occurred to me that I am not particularly well-versed in the noir genre. This book is more an SF noir than it is anything else, and that might be part of what threw me off.

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