The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, by Catherynne Valente – I believe this is officially the last book in the Fairyland series, but who knows what the future will bring? Well, maybe the marids do. Anyway, the previous book ended with every single previous ruler of the land coming back to life, and this one involves a race to determine who will take the throne. It’s not so simple as just crossing a finish line either. Rather, the winner has to reach the Heart of Fairyland, and none of them actually know where that is. And when two competitors find themselves in the same place at the same time, there’s a duel, utilizing such weapons as Latin conjugation, insults, and biting. Saturday and her usual companions, A-Through-L and Saturday, are joined by Blunderbuss, the knitted wombat from the previous volume. The Wyverary and the wombat develop a relationship over the course of the story. There are also interludes featuring Saturday’s parents, who join her aunt in journeying to Fairyland to find her. During the course of the race, the characters visit the Great Library, the bottom of the ocean, and the Land of Wom. I’ve noticed some similarities with the Oz series in this one, and the pun-filled undersea world reminded me quite a bit of L. Frank Baum’s The Sea Fairies. But then, Valente’s Fairyland is a mixture of many different previous authors’ other-worlds, plus a large variety of folklore and mythology, and original ideas as well. It’s another one of those fantasy series where just about anything can fit. It’s bizarre and funny, but also bittersweet at times and always engaging. Valente adopts the old children’s book style of talking directly to the reader, which has largely fallen out of favor in recent years, but I think it works. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say it’s one that cleverly lets September get the best of both worlds, like Hannah Montana. (Okay, probably nothing like Hannah Montana; I just can’t hear that expression without thinking of Miley Cyrus.)
Snow White and the Seven Samurai, by Tom Holt – That’s a parody title I’ve come across several times in the past. I guess it’s pretty obvious if your mind works that way. Holt went farther with it than most uses of the joke do, although the samurai are by no means the most important part of the plot. Indeed, like a lot of Holt’s books, it tends to switch between characters quite frequently. The main premise is that the fairy tale world exists in a computer simulation operated through a magic mirror, but it’s been hacked multiple times, causing things to change. The dwarfs are replaced with the titular samurai, who talk in mock Zen koans and trick the youngest into doing all the work. The Magnificent Seven is also mixed in, with a dwarf assassin in a fantasy version of the Old West being hired by the Three Little Pigs to take out the Big Bad Wolf, and attempting to assemble a gang of seven. He recruits Rumpelstiltskin, but then has to settle for Tom Thumb (who is much smaller than a dwarf) and a mole. Meanwhile, the evil queen, one of the few people who knows how the world works, joins up with the sister of a child hacker to try to set things right. Her brother alternates between being Pinocchio and Frankenstein’s monster. The plot is complicated, and while there is somewhat of an explanation at the end, it can still be difficult to follow all the threads. Still, it’s pretty funny.
Valhalla, by Tom Holt – I was looking forward to this one, as I enjoy humorous works on classical mythology, but it was a little disappointing. It largely centers around Lin Kortright, an agent for supernatural beings, who had previously appeared in Paint Your Dragon. It’s an amusing idea, and I like the explanation of Kortright’s job and his conversations with various gods, but the main plot doesn’t go much of anywhere. One of the main themes is tailoring the afterlife to what people think they want or deserve, so is sort of like Wish You Were Here in that respect. Lin’s daughter, who works as a cocktail waitress, dies and has to do the same job in the afterlife. One man is caught in a constant war zone, basically a modernized version of the traditional Valhalla. An escape artist finds himself being forced to escape a succession of ever more ridiculous situations. And Attila the Hun, who had been stuck in a room where he was literally made to watch paint dry, comes back to life as a very small child and hates it. He also gets romantically involved with Joan of Arc. Then there’s Odin, who basically just messes with everybody, and is bitter at Kortright for getting him a terrible job. Despite enough good jokes to keep me reading, it seemed a bit pointless.
Nothing But Blue Skies, by Tom Holt – I believe this is one of Holt’s more popular books, or at least it’s the first one I received as a recommendation. Although it largely deals with themes and concepts Holt had addressed in other books, it seems much better organized than the others I’ve read recently. Based on rain-producing dragons from Chinese mythology, it has as its main protagonist a dragon who’s decided to live as a human named Karen. When she learns that her father has been kidnapped, she sets out to find him. While the actual kidnapper is a conspiracy-minded weatherman who thinks the dragons purposely set out to make fools of his profession, he and his co-worker soon get caught up in an international conspiracy run by a wealthy businessman in Australia, whose son Karen has a crush on. The strange connections continue with a scientist in the businessman’s employ, who just happens to be the ex-fiancee of one of the weathermen. Dragon society is pretty well-developed, and there are many observations on how they differ from humans.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson – I’d heard of this character before (she debuted back in the early nineties, I believe), but didn’t know much about her. I found this collection at the library, and thought it was worth checking out, partially because I know North’s work with the online Dinosaur Comics. The heroine begins this series starting her freshman year of college, and in addition to the normal difficulties with classes, also finds herself battling Whiplash and Galactus. The writing and art are cute and funny, and play with the characters of the Marvel Universe while never taking anything too seriously. Squirrel Girl finds out information on various heroes and villains with a series of trading cards released by Deadpool, which are amusing in their own right. I’ll definitely want to read more of this title.