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ARC Book Review – Tarkin (Star Wars) by James Luceno

Tarkin (Star Wars)

Tarkin (Star Wars) by James Luceno. November 4, 2014. Del Rey, 289p. $28.00 ISBN:9780345511522.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

Bestselling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing a legendary character from A New Hope to full, fascinating life.

He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly . . . and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel—by intimidation . . . or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin—whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy . . . and its enemies’ extinction.” — Publisher’s Description

Taking on one of the most intriguing characters in the Star Wars universe, James Luceno does an admirable job fleshing out the persona of Wilhuff Tarkin. Played perfectly by Peter Cushing in 1977, Tarkin has always been an enigma. How did this man become the commander of the Death Star and an equal to, or sometimes seemingly a superior of, Darth Vader himself? Luceno weaves a story filled with action surrounding a joint Tarkin-Vader mission for the Emperor and flashbacks to Tarkin’s childhood and adolescence.

Set five years after the events in Revenge of the Sith, we are treated to a triple threat here: the growth of Tarkin into the man we see in Star Wars: A New Hope, the continued development of Darth Vader as he grows in the Dark Side, and the seeds of the Rebellion that will reach its pinnacle 15 years into the future.

The action opens on the mysterious Sentinel Base where the newly promoted Moff Tarkin is overseeing a project of epic proportion for the Emperor.  The base is attacked by remnants of the Separatist Movement from the Clone Wars.  While he is able to deflect the ambush, Tarkin is recalled to Coruscant where he faces the Emperor and is tasked to lead a joint mission with Darth Vader to root out the Separatists and eliminate them completely.  While on this mission, the Moff’s cruiser, Carrion Spike, is hijacked and after being used by the Separatists to attack Imperial installations it is up to Tarkin and Vader to track the ship down before more damage can be done, all the while unraveling plots and conspiracies over two years in the making.

To say I had high hopes and expectations for thie book would be an understatement   As a life long Star Wars fan, I have always been intrigued by Grand Moff Tarkin ever since seeing him on the big screen.  What made this ruthless Imperial tick?  How did he get to such a prominent position in the Imperial pantheon, especially command of the Death Star?  When I saw that James Luceno was taking the reins and fleshing out this story, I was even more excited, and was not let down!

Tarkin reads more like an espionage thriller and psychological case study than a science fiction adventure, as with most other Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.  The pacing was deliberate and methodical, giving you a true sense not only of the way in which the main investigation in the story is handled, but also a look at the personality of Tarkin himself.  Luceno never lacks on the details, but the story does not get bogged down in them either.  By weaving in stories of Tarkin’s childhood and adolescence, as well as the trials he endured to shape him, we are treated to a wonderful character study that slowly reveals more complexity and layers to Wilhuff Tarkin than you would ever imagine existed.  Couple that with the asides and glimpses into characters such as Vader and the Emperor while interacting with Tarkin, and the entire triumvirate truly comes alive.

There are some points where the action seems to drag, but, much like Tarkin himself, the story is well metered, calculated, and focused on its desired end.  Readers looking for lots of action will be disappointed, but hopefully not for long as they get to know and understand the personality of one of the most calculating and fearless leaders of the Galactic Empire.

Many thanks to LucasBooksNetGalley, and James Luceno for the opportunity to read and review Tarkin early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version will be released on  November 4, 2014.

Four out of five stars.

Tarkin (Star Wars) on Amazon

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Posted by on November 2, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review — Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers by Mike Madrid

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics by Mike Madrid. October, 2014. Exterminating Angel Press, 240 p. $16.95 ISBN:9781935259275.

“Between the covers of Vixens, Vamps & Vipers, fans will rediscover the original bad girls of comics—as fierce and full of surprises as they were when the comic book industry was born. From murderous Madame Doom to He-She, dubbed by io9 as “the most unsung comic book villain ever,” Mike Madrid resurrects twenty-two glorious evildoers in fully reproduced comics and explores the ways they both transcend and become ensnared in a web of cultural stereotypes.

Among the deadly femme fatales, ruthless jungle queens, devious secret agents, double-dealing criminal masterminds, and gender-bending con artists are some of the very first women of color in comics. These women may have been overlooked in the annals of history, but—like their superheroine counterparts in Divas, Dames & Daredevils—their influence, on popular culture and the archenemies that thrill us today, is unmistakable.” — Publisher’s Description

Women have not often been portrayed in comics in the most positive light, if even at all.  It is only in recent years that we have seen the emergence of strong female characters who were not spilling out of every stitch of  skintight leotard they put on.  Many times, they are shows as assistants, secretaries, or the damsels that need our hero’s saving.  Not so, in Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers!

Looking at comics published before the implementation of the Comics Code in 1954, Mike Mardid’s Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers shows us that while these Golden Age comics in no way promoted sexual equality, they did give us many strong characters, especially the baddies!  These women were cunning, ruthless, smart, seductive, independent, diverse, and very outspoken.  Everything we think women of the 1940s were not!  Mike Madrid’s brilliant and thoroughly researched commentary makes these characters come alive in the context of their times, but also how they relate to and helped influence today’s female villains and heroines.  In addition, stories referenced for each character are reproduced in full, giving the reader a wonderful insight into early comics, the 1940s, and brilliant stories they may have never seen otherwise.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in comics history, women’s studies, or mid 20th century history and culture.

Five out of five stars.

Many thanks to Exterminating Angel PressEdelweiss, and Mike Madrid for the opportunity to read and review In Real Life early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version was released on October 7, 2014.

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics on Amazon

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics on Barnes and Noble

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics on Goodreads

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics on LibraryThing

Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics on Shelfari

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted and illustrated by John Green. November, 2014. Dover Publications, 48 p. $3.99 ISBN: 9780486785073.

“The intrepid detective and his faithful assistant take on a supernatural challenge in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular mysteries. This graphic novel’s original illustrations accompany an easy-to-read account of Holmes and Watson’s investigation of a family curse. Readers will be irresistibly drawn into the search for a giant spectral hound that haunts the fog-shrouded moors.

This Dover Graphic Novel Classic offers readers ages 8 and up an exciting introduction to a time-honored tale. Expertly abridged and packed with dramatic illustrations, this version offers a streamlined narrative that retains all of the storytelling essentials.” — Publisher’s Description

Note: I took the approach of reviewing this title looking at it for what it is, an abridged graphic novel version of the classic Sherlock Holmes story meant for children.  As a result, I don’t address Doyle’s story, but rather the abridgment, artwork, layout, and effectiveness of this work as a graphic novel.

I wanted to like this one, I really did.  I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, and I have always loved Dover Publication’s approach to the classics and they way that they work to make them accessible and easy to read for children and young adults.  When I saw the opportunity to review a graphic novel version from Dover, I was naturally excited.  Unfortunately this was short lived.

By its nature, an abridged version of a novel or story is going to be missing subplots or chunks of action, or have them explained away in a simple narrative.  The same formula was followed here, but with the unique feature of keeping most, if not all of the original dialogue intact.  The resulting story was then choppy and did not flow well at all, switching between John Green’s simpler descriptive terms and Doyle’s more formal Victorian language.  Since the idea here is to get readers “ages 8 and up” interested in the story, I felt that it fell short.  This type of editing should be an all or nothing proposition.  The language should be geared to that age and reading level advertised for it to be an effective introduction.  I would like to see a book like this in a simple form, then refer those students who are able to and ready to handle the more complex original text to then read that after.  The other downfall of this adaptation is that it had tried to oversimplify a complex story.  The themes, character motivations, and actions are quite mature and difficult to tone down for the recommended age group to understand.  I am afraid that much of the story is lost on this age group because of that.

I would be remiss in a review of a graphic novel to not address the artwork as well.  Reading the cover description provided in my copy, stated that this is not your average graphic novel, but rather one that readers can color themselves.  Because of this, all the drawings are simple black line drawings.  The lack of color aside, and explained, I found the art to still be lacking.  Most characters were lacking any depth, showed no emotion to the point of rigidity, and unfortunately, looked too similar in appearance to make them distinguishable without color.  Even as a coloring book, this work is lacking, as several panels and pages are simply closeups of a character’s face with their word bubble, leaving little to the imagination for a child to color.

While a wonderful idea and a unique concept to find a way to introduce children to classic literature, The Hound of the Baskervilles here falls short.  It is not really a graphic novel, nor an abridged, simplified version.  I would not recommend this for reluctant readers because of the liberal use of the original text, nor for graphic novel fans as it is barely that as well.  Perhaps only the Holmes or Dover completest would find this book to be a perfect fit in their collection, but otherwise it missed the mark.

Two out of five stars.

Many thanks to Dover PublicationsNetGalley, and John Green for the opportunity to read and review The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version will be released on November 19, 2014.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) on Amazon

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) on Barnes and Noble

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) on Goodreads

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) on LibraryThing

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Dover Graphic Classics) on Shelfari

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review — In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

In Real Life

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, art by Jen Wang. October, 2014. First Second, 192 p. $17.99 ISBN:9781596436589.

“Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing. 

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer — a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake. 

From acclaimed teen author Cory Doctorow and rising star cartoonist Jen Wang, In Real Life is a sensitive, thoughtful look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture-clash.” — Publisher’s Description

“It is not gender, nor age, nor race, but your ability to work hard at what you love.”  This is the overall theme of In Real Life, the new graphic novel by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang that takes us into a virtual world with sixteen-year-old Anda, a bit of an outcast in the real world, but a fierce warrior and leader in her online gaming world.

Anda is your stereotypical teenage “gamer girl”.  She’s shown as a bit of an outcast, a little on the meek side, anerd, and a little chubby.  She is recruited one day in school to join a new MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), Coarsegold as a probationary member of an exclusive guild for girls only.  To the consternation of her mother, Anda is allowed to subscribe to the game on the condition that she only plays with other girls her age and has no contact with others, as mom fears online predators.  Soon, however, Anda discovers that there are people working illegally as “gold farmers” in the game.  They work to earn virtual money that they then sell to other players for real world cash.  Anda and her friend Lucy, who likes to be called “Sarge” are sent on missions to kill these gold farmers in return for payment into their PayPal accounts.

Things quickly change, however, when one day Anda meets Raymond, a Chinese gold farmer.  They begin talking in the game and Anda finds out that he is her age, but works 12 hours a day in what amounts to a sweatshop earning gold for his company.  when she learns that he has health problems and is often since, but cannot get medical treatment because of his company policy and nation’s laws, she tries to seek help.  She finds loopholes in the law, and encourages Raymond to take a job action, similar to a strike, to seek better treatment at the same time displaying a leadership and confidence she hasn’t expressed in real life yet.

A wrench is thrown into Anda’s plans, and she loses her online access to the game for a time.  At this juncture, she faces reality full force for the first time after meeting Raymond and learns that in most of the world, things are not fair nor what they seem to be and she works to find ways to right these wrongs.

In this graphic novel, Cory Doctorow brings together all those elements that make him such a wonderful teen author.  There is a lot to get excited about here. — online gaming, a female protagonist who learns to grow strong, realistic interpersonal relations, and a dash of world economics and activism.  Jen Wang’s artwork adds beautifully to the story and without it, the whole concept of In Real Life would fall flat.  The depictions of Anda are perfect, both in here real life self and that of her online avatar.  The real Anda is a little nerdy and is shown as a larger girl who tries to hide it under sweatshirts, but she is never seen as shamed or shameful and that’s brilliant.  Her online avatar is the opposite, thin, lithe, a warrior with flowing bright red hair who fears nothing.  In Real Life  shows us that you can be anyone online, but that these online personas and feelings and friends can “cross over” into the real world as well.  Anda’s growth as a young woman in real life through her actions and friendships in the game are very evident and refreshing.

The elements of world politics and economics, as well as class and culture addressed through the relationship of Anda and Raymond are well done.  This is a short read, and as such, there isn’t much background provided as to the working conditions in China, nor the healthcare and treatment of workers but Doctorow is able to give a nice snapshot and overview of this as a means of helping bring some awareness to the issues while at the same time, using it as the primary driving force for change in his story.  Anyone looking for a very strong statement or call to action may be disappointed with In Real Life, but there is an opportunity and plenty of information presented for readers to do as Anda did and research these topics on their own to spread awareness.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed In Real Life as a coming of age story with definite appeal to young adults who play online games, and especially girls who do so, as there are very few books that address them specifically and few role models for them to follow.  A very quick read at a little under 200 pages, most can finish this in one sitting, as the action is fast paced and you will get lost very quickly in both worlds shown In Real Life.

Four out of five stars.

Many thanks to First SecondNetGalley, and Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang for the opportunity to read and review In Real Life early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version will be released on  October 14, 2014.

In Real Life on Amazon

In Real Life on Barnes and Noble

In Real Life on Goodreads

In Real Life on LibraryThing

In Real Life on Shelfari

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review – The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman, Alice Cooper, Michael Zulli, and Dave McKean

Neil Gaiman’s The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition 

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe edition by Neil Gaiman and Alice Cooper; art by Michael Zulli and Dave McKean. October 21, 2014. Dynamite Entertainment, 168 p. $39.99 ISBN:9781606905364.

“Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Coraline, American Gods) brings shock rocker Alice Cooper’s concept album to life in a surreal sideshow of the soul! Join a young boy named Steven on a surreal journey of the soul, as an enigmatic and potentially dangerous Showman seduces him into joining his carnival. Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of this seminal Gaiman work, returned to print for the first time in over a decade. Fully remastered in color, this Deluxe Edition incorporates complete scripts to all three chapters, black-and-white thumbnail art of pre-colored pages, an original outline of the project by Neil Gaiman, and a collection of letters between shock rocker Alice Cooper and the author! “I’m really happy that The Last Temptation is coming out for a new generation of readers, who have not seen Michael Zulli’s glorious drawings, or know of the Showman and his wicked ways,” says Neil Gaiman. “I wrote this a long time ago, driven by love of Ray Bradbury’s dark carnivals and of Alice Cooper’s own pandemonium shadow show. It’s time for it to shuffle out onto a leaf-covered street and meet the people who don’t know about Stephen and Mercy and show what’s coming to town.”” — Publisher’s Description

Imagine if you will the collaboration between a rock and roll icon and an up and coming gothic, macabre author and you have the brilliant result in The Last Temptation.  Both the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, and the concept album by Alice Cooper tell the story of a young boy, Steven, who is tempted by the mysterious, supernatural Showman (depicted as Alice Cooper) to join his “Theater of the Real” in exchange for eternal youth.  All is not what it seems, however, as Steven grapples with the Showman’s twisted morality plays and his own fears about growing up and growing old.

Only Steven can see and enter the Theater, as he was selected by the Showman as “this year’s model” for entry into the cast.  Steven will grapple with the morbid presentations of the Showman to convince him that his life would better be spent with the Theater than in his small town American life.  The book is divided into three acts where we see Steven first enter the Theater and receive his offer from the Showman, a second where he spends a day living his life as a normal tween on Halloween, and the third where he returns to the Theater to meet the Showman and make his final decision.

Set around Halloween, this book draws on the themes of the seasonal change and the symbolic death we see in the Autumn.  It also pulls on the fears that most children have around the end of October.   The artwork is key to getting the feel for this horror and the outright fear Steven feels at times.  It is an older style than most modern comics I have seen (I mean, this is a 20 year old book), but younger or newer audiences will definitely appreciate it and the emotions it conveys clearly throughout the story.  You come to fear and almost loathe the Showman for what he is trying to do, while at the same time rooting for Steven to make the right choices when he needs to.

It wouldn’t be fair to not include in the review here, the definitive elements of the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Last Temptation.  While the art has been fully remastered in brilliant color, the most interesting additions are the reprinted correspondence between Gaiman and Cooper and the original outlines and scripts of the book by Gaiman.  It was wonderful to see how this collaboration was born, and solidified by such diverse artists half a world away.  You can truly see the passion both had for this work and the love and creativity flowing off the pages as it all came together.

I would highly recommend this book along any other coming of age stories for tweens and teens.  The horror and macabre elements will turn some off, but will open up the lessons of the story to a whole new audience that might usually avoid these themes as well.  The wonderful thing about The Last Temptation is that this release is times perfectly with Halloween, making it the perfect gift or story at the end of the month!

Five out of five stars.

Many thanks to Dynamite EntertainmentNetGalley, and Neil Gaiman, Alice Cooper, Michael Zulli, and Dave McKean for the opportunity to read and review The Last Temptation early in exchange for an honest review.  The final version will be released on October 21, 2014.

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on Amazon

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on Barnes and Noble

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on Goodreads

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on LibraryThing

The Last Temptation 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on Shelfari

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Reviews

 

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ARC Review — White Death by Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard

White Death

White Death written by Robbie Morrison with art by Charlie Adlard. September, 2014. Image Comics, 104 p. $14.99 ISBN:9781632151421.

“For four years, The Great War, World War One, raged across the planet. Millions were sent to their deaths in pointless battles. The Italian Front stretched along the borders of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empires, in treacherous mountain regions. In the last months of 1916, a private in the Italian Bersaglieri returns to his childhood home in the Trentino mountain range to find it no longer a place of adventure and wonder as it was in his youth, but a place of death and despair. Amongst the weapons of both armies, none is more feared than the White Death: thundering avalanches deliberately caused by cannon fire… which, like war itself, consume everything in their path...” — Publisher’s Description

This is one of those rare times when I am a little lost for words about a book.  Honestly, I’ve been sitting here for a while thinking about how I wanted to approach this review.  White Death was a wonderfully drawn book, with an intriguing story, but I feel that there was something missing — something more I needed, but I cannot put my finger on it.

White Death was written by Robbie Morrison after the discovery of two bodies in the Italian Alps that were identified as young Austro-Hungarian soldiers from the First World War.  This is one of the few graphic novels that I know of that deal with World War I, and to my knowledge very few books at all cover this theater of the conflict.  In 1915-1916, over the course of five grueling battles, approximately 60,000-100,000 soldiers were killed in the Italian Alps by avalanches caused by enemy shells — The White Death. This is the story of those battles.

Morrison vividly brings to life the despair, heartbreak, and tragedy of war — using the avalanche itself as a metaphor in the sense that it is a terrifying force that consumes everything in front of it without mercy.  The raw storytelling, both in the trenches and in the towns and hospitals behind the lines remind us that war, no matter where or when is indeed hell.  There is a brother against brother element that you do not generally associate with World War I, but in retrospect, I see how this is true of any war.  Also very poignant is the way in which PTSD, or as it was then called – “Shell Shock” was dealt with.  Quite terrifying.

What really stood out to me, however, about White Death was the artwork of Charlie Adlard.  I am relatively new to graphic novels so this is my first time seeing Adlard’s work, even though I have a huge compendium of The Walking Dead waiting on my bookshelf!  As a result I came in unbiased to what he describes in his introduction as nothing less than a landmark book in his career.  The artwork was stunning and masterfully done in a way that was able to capture the intensity and horror of war that Morrison put into words.  The “charcoal and chalk dust” Adlard mentions in the same introduction to White Death seemed to jump off the pages, even through my e-reader, to make you feel dirty, cold, and sweaty with the troops all at the same time.  No other graphic novel has had that effect on me.

My only real criticisms of White Death, and those parts that seemed to have me wanting more were in the fact that I was having difficulty about half way through the book keeping some characters straight in my head, and therefore fully understanding the action and motivations and feelings being expressed.  This could be from my own lack of experience with the genre, but I feel that more detail in the story and the art was needed here.  Also, there seems to be so much potential to have provided more build up and more continuation of the story. I feel as though we were dropped right into the middle of an epic novel and  pulled back out before it was over.  This comes from my not knowing anything about this aspect of World War I, and because of White Death wanting to know so much more!  In a way then, I suppose it served a purpose.

All in all this was an excellent book, and one that makes it easy to see why it has been listed on a few “essential” graphic novel lists.  I highly recommend it to mature young adult and adult readers for the intense story, graphic nature or the art, and the brief nudity and adult themes in a few scenes and panels.

Four out of five stars.

Many thanks to Image ComicsNetGalley, and Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard for the opportunity to read White Death in exchange for an honest review.

White Death on Amazon

White Death  on Barnes and Noble

White Death  on Goodreads

White Death  on LibraryThing

White Death  on Shelfari

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Reviews

 

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