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‘Rat Queens’ #16 Shows You Can’t Go Home Again

RatQueens_16-CoverRat Queens #16
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler
Letters by Ed Brisson
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain

 

WARNING: SPOILERS

Rat Queens #16 brings our Rat Queens (minus Hannah) back home to Palisade, except the town has gone to hell in a handbag. The townies hide as groups of adventurer-mercenaries crowd the Testy Unicorn Inn, waiting for their chance to prove they’re the next big heroes, and getting into drunken brawls in the meantime. The Queens return to a puffed up reputation; they’re now the Heroes of Palisade, and everyone–from the traveling chronicler (not a bard!) to estranged family members–want a piece of them. Kurtis Wiebe presents a raucous romp as the women find that coming home brings no sense of comfort.

This issue gives the series a reset after the deep upheaval of the “Demons” arc. Hannah is absent, tucked away in the Mage U version of the Phantom Zone, and her friends have no idea how to rescue her. The Queens are attempting to move on by returning to Palisades to reconnect (for sex!) with those they left behind and perhaps find new direction. Reunion is the watchword, and the three seek out or are sought by the familiar and unexpected. The relocation of Violet’s brother to Palisade likely inspires the new arc’s title: “When Beards Collide.”

Read the rest of my review at PopOptiq.com.

Palisade


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‘Rat Queens’ #15 Asks Demon or Queen?

RatQueens_15-1Rat Queens #15
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler
Letters by Ed Brisson
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Cover by Stjephan Sejic

Rat Queens #15 finishes out the “Demons” arc with revelations and character rebirth, all driven by the question: demon or Queen? At the heart of this is a he said/she said retelling of how Hannah got kicked out of Mage University that ends with miscommunication and missteps. This final issue of the arc slams the reader in the best narrative ways and puts an emotional cap on what has been a stellar arc by Wiebe.

Hannah’s backstory has been at the forefront of the “Demons” arc, with the secondary story belonging to Dee. In both, the characters have grappled with their estranged families. In both, they’ve reunited with a family member and reevaluated the relationship based on the new encounter. And here those two private backstories collide with heavy consequences.

Read the rest of my review on PopOptiq!

RatQueens_15_04


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‘Rat Queens’ #14 Presents Backstory, Dragon Shenanigans

RatQueens_14-cvrRat Queens #14
Written by Kurtis J Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler
Cover by Stjepan Šejic
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Letters by Ed Brisson
Edits by Laura Tavishati
Published by Image Comics on December 30, 2015

This bravura issue is everything one has come to want and expect from the penultimate entry in a Rat Queens arc. All the pieces are now in place to have a truly climactic finale: backstories and secrets are revealed while new discoveries create ever rising action. The cliff-hanger and cover preview for January’s issue left me tied in knots.

The cover brilliantly presents the metafictional construct of this series. Our four Rat Queens, based on classic D&D character types, sit around an inn table playing a variation of D&D. They display a range of emotions–Hannah livid at a negative turn of events, Dee (here the DeeM–har!) apprehensively waiting to continue the narrative, Betty smiling casually and Violet heartily laughing at Hannah’s outburst. Similarly in the issue’s narrative, Dee and Hannah have the more serious parts while Betty and Violet supply the comic turns.

Read the rest of my review at PopOptiq.com!

http://www.popoptiq.com/rat-queens-14-review/

I don’t normally bother with spoiler warnings, but this is an issue you’ll want to enjoy the surprises of. Read it first.

RatQueens14_Gallery

 


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‘Rat Queens’ #13: Mage U is Candy-Coated with a Danger-Filled Center

RatQueens_13-coverRat Queens #13
Written by Kurtis J Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler
Cover by Stjepan Šejic
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Letters by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics

The “Demons” arc, of which this is part three, has been literally and figuratively exploring the demons tormenting the Rat Queens. The literal demons tear at their flesh. The metaphorical demons of the past tear at their minds and hearts. In part three, Hannah and Dee are reunited with loved ones while Violet and Betty’s R&R time lacks relaxation.

At the end of issue #12, the Rat Queens were nearly frozen in the middle of a wizard-induced snow storm, having just escaped a pack of Hell shades. Well, no worries. A deus ex machina in the form of Polle rescued them and brought them the rest of the way to candy-colored Mage University. The issue mostly offers the Queens a reprieve while also giving them new paths to conflict.

For the rest of the review, jump to PopOptiq.

http://www.popoptiq.com/rat-queens-13-review/

RatQueens13_Gallery


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‘Rat Queens’ #12 Raises Stakes, Tolkien Allusions

RatQueens_12-coverRat Queens #12
Written by Kurtis J Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Letters by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics

Kudos to Tess Fowler on her wonderful cover for issue #12, which acts as prelude for the issue with a single bit of apt imagery–Betty, in the place of Bilbo Baggins, stealing candy from a dragon she is unaware of. Similarly, this issue shows our ever confident Rat Queens questing towards Mage University and finding more in the shadows than they are prepared to face. While that sounds rather ominous, the humor remains and is foregrounded in a story of increasing gravitas.

Issue #12 continues the new narrative arc, opening with a drunk Violet adventuring to the potty. Her call to battle–“To the shitter, my Rat Queens!”–encompasses the crude humor Wiebe instills in these warrior women, and part of why they so delightfully break the gender stereotypes of most comics. Returning to her room, she finds the door locked. Kicking it down, she interrupts the attempted assassination of Betty. Violet flexes drunken warrior bravado, but finds her physical prowess somewhat diminished to comical effect–farce employed by a badly aimed dagger and a deadpan reaction of “Balls.” Still, the assassin realizes this isn’t her moment and makes an escape, putting the “ass” back in assassin by gassing our heroes.

My review and recap continues at PopOptiq–Just click through!

http://www.popoptiq.com/rat-queens-12-review/


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Comic Review: Rat Queens #11

Michael and I had been reading Rat Queens in TPB until now. This time, up-to-date with the narrative and back into buying single issues, Rat Queens is now on our pull list. Because, honestly, its one of the most fun and interesting comics out there, like if Jem and the Holograms is a little too slight for you but Bitch Planet’s too heavy. Get thee some Rat Queens.

For those of you oblivious to the conceit, Rat Queens follows the hack and slash exploits of a four-woman D&D-style adventuring party. There’s a dwarven fighter, a halfling rogue, a human cleric, and an elven mage. And if you haven’t caught up with issue #11, I suggest checking out our earlier reviews on Volumes 1 and 2 and coming back.

Spoilers ahead!

RatQueens 11 cover

First issues, whether of as series or merely a new arc, need to juggle a handful of requirements to keep readers coming back. First, the issue needs to grab a readers attention, often by establishing a new conflict in medias res. Here we see an elf named Gerard in front of a hooded council. We understand that they are opposed, the council and this man, each having an opinion on what is best for the arcane university. Gerard’s daughter (Hannah we later figure out!) apparently brought devastation on the university, and this is part of the recovery effort. Exposition aside, the issue kicks the action in the pants, with each side making an attack. The council tries to arrest Gerard while he pulls a wand from his sleeve and portals in a mob of students. An arcane battle breaks out full of the colors of the magical elements.

ratqueens 11 pg 1

Next, re-establish the characters. The issue jumps to a goblin settlement on a snowy mountain. Our Rat Queens are caged within, and Smidgeon (halfling) thief Betty is commenting on the quality prep work the goblin chef is doing in anticipation of cooking them. In the few panels that follow, the characters get brought back to focus for us. Betty especially gets shown to be the peppy rogue that she is, brilliantly hiding her poison amongst her candy (and drugs?) As these four thwart their captors, their relationship and commitment to each other gets re-established. The end of the issue has them verbalizing their support for Hannah’s quest to find out what happened to her dad, bringing a circular closure to the issue.

RatQueens_11_05

Third, build on to our understanding of the characters. The main focus for this issue is Hannah. We find out more about her time at arcane university, get a glimpse of her relationships to other students, and meet her dad. Secondary focus goes to Betty who gets to be the hero of the goblin escape and also gets ambushed in the surprise cliff-hanger. The assassin, another Smidgeon, calls her Petunia, last of the Five Monkeys. As a cliff-hanger, its meant to leave us with anxiety and questions. It succeeds.

This leads directly into the final requirement–get the reader to buy the next issue. Will I want to know more about the arcane university Hannah’s dad led a rebellion in? Absolutely. Do I want to know how Betty dispatches her assassin and who the Five Monkeys are? Totally.

This issue, besides starting a new narrative arch, introduces a new artist, Tess Fowler. Fowler is the third artist on Rat Queens, and each change has required an adjustment period for me. Fowler’s version of the characters doesn’t make any drastic changes, but there’s something slightly less edgy about their rendering. I found this especially true with Hannah, who appears softer and more traditionally beautiful. Previously she’d been more angular and awkward in her height. However, there are panels I just adore that show Fowler’s got the right idea. After the Queens get to the tavern to celebrate their escape, Violet talks briefly about Dave, her orc beau. A bluebird appears in her beard, a direct reference to Orc Dave’s frequently birded appearance. Speaking of Violet’s beard, it’s a nice touch to show the time the women have been away by the unkemptness of Violet’s beard.


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Everyday Cosplay, or Wishing I Was 20 Again

I’m not frequently jealous of today’s youth. They have plenty of rotten stuff to deal with thanks to the mobile and social technology that has taken over since I was their age–you know, in the 90’s. The bullying on social media? Sexting? No thanks. I’ll pass.

TNG-EDC-SherlockBut every once in a while, some new thingamabob comes along that makes me mourn for the youth that might have been. If I had been cooler at the time, or more geeky–you say tomato. And everyday cosplay is one of them.

Now, cosplay in general is something I’ve dabbled in and wished I was more adept at. Sometimes at Halloween–when I put together Dana Scully, Bad Witch Willow, and Adult Buttercup (of Powerpuff Girls) costumes. At the Serenity premiere when I went as Kaylee. But I’m a rank amateur compared to many cosplayers.

But even that is special occasion stuff. Everyday cosplay is a translation of character costumes into everyday (generally semi-casual) wear. So geeky fanaticism + fashion know-how = everyday cosplay. I love the idea of fashion-talented people re-imagining their favorite characters. While I’ve never been fashion-talented, the 20-year-old I once was wishes she could participate in the wearing.

This was never more true than when I saw Nerdy Ninja Platypus’s outfits inspired by Rat Queens. Because these are things of beauty, boss. Check these out. Then visit the full blog post on these masterpieces to get the goods on where to get the goods.

HannahEC

BettyECDeeECVioletEC


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Rat Queens Not Widows, Representation in Numbers

RatQueensV2_CoverRat Queens is written and illustrated by men–Kurtis Wiebe and Stjepan Sejic. For this reason, it perhaps shouldn’t be a feminist tentpole for contemporary comics. But the simple fact is its foursome of female leads, and the handful of ancillary female and gender-bending characters, make writing a fun, kick ass, but also feminist comic look easy. What seems to make the difference here is numbers.

In the bruhaha that spun up around the developments in Black Widow’s character in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there was wide discussion of whether making her a love interest to Hulk or giving her a tragic backstory involving forced infertility strengthened or weakened her character. It ended up being a kind of stalemate. On the one hand, the romance with Bruce Banner illuminated deep truths about her character. And certainly women world over deal with the psychological trauma that can come with the loss of fertility. To deny her either the character insight that she too identifies with being a monster or the authentic experience of many women dealing with barrenness also seems to be at a cost. But by making her a love interest or a woman deeply traumatized by her infertility, Black Widow took on the cliches of women in film.

johanssenruffaloThe wise Mark Ruffalo pointed out in an interview on the topic:

I think that what people might really be upset about is the fact that we need more superhuman women. The guys can do anything, they can have love affairs, they can be weak or strong and nobody raises an eyebrow. But when we do that with a woman, because there are so few storylines for women, we become hyper-critical of every single move that we make because there’s not much else to compare it to.

And this is where I get back to talking about Rat Queens. Because each of the Rat Queens is both flawed and wonderful in her own ways. There is diversity in their body types, sexualities, gender-expressions, motivations, fears, weaknesses, and strengths. And because there are four of them (plus the side characters who are being developed as well through Wiebe’s writing), none of them becomes a Widow, holding the depiction of all womankind on their shoulders, playing to or subverting cliches alone.

I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but there is a big reveal about one of the characters’s choice of hairstyle late in Rat Queens Vol. 2 trade paperback collection. If this reveal had been given to a Widow, a sole woman bearing the load of having to be awesome, it would have played pretty directly and damningly into a female stereotype. But because the character involved is surrounded by other dynamic and round female characters, her story doesn’t get flattened by the load it carries. Consider this gem of a thought from Linda Holmes on the difference with Black Widow:

To be honest, I can’t think of another Avenger whose story Natasha could have swapped with who wouldn’t, in some way, raise questions of whether the story was influenced by gender stereotypes. If she had Tony’s story, she’d be the one who messed up and wouldn’t listen, who created the need for a rescue. If she had Cap’s story, she’d be the one who tries to keep everyone from being vulgar – the behavior cop. If she had the Hulk’s story, she’d be the one whose superpower is being carried away by her uncontrollable emotions. If she had Thor’s story, she’d be the one who doesn’t have very much to do and is omitted from a large stretch of the movie. If she had Hawkeye’s story, she’d be the one who just wanted to go home and be with the kids.

post-60212-Unbreakable-Kimmy-Schmidt-Dong-4JLzSo ultimately, doing right by women on screen and in comics comes down to multiple portrayals of heft and depth. This is true of nearly every underrepresented group–consider the mixed responses to Dong on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Dong’s character has plenty of stereotypes attached to him, but he’s also full of heart and sincerity. He’s easily one of the most likable of the characters on the show. But because there are so few depictions of Asians on television, the show’s reputation of race depiction rests in large part on his shoulders. Then consider Jacqueline Voorhees, Kimmy’s rich boss. She’s likewise a mess of stereotypes (with a couple of curveballs thrown in), but she’s also only one of multiple women who are developed on the show. She’s more offensive as a character but less responsible for being anything else.

But lets not pretend that Kurtis Wiebe doesn’t also have a gift for writing whip-smart, audacious, funny, and strong as hell female characters. Because that is also true. He just didn’t see a reason to stop with one. And that’s what makes Rat Queens an absolute joy to read and a game-changing comic for diversity of representation.


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Review – Rat Queens Volume Two: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth

Rat Queens Volume Two: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth

by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Stjepan Šejić

Rat Queens Vol 2

This booze-soaked second volume of RAT QUEENS reveals a growing menace within the very walls of Palisade. And while Dee may have run from her past, the bloated, blood-feasting sky god N’rygoth never really lets his children stray too far.

Collects RAT QUEENS #6-10

I should probably do a short recap for folks not familiar with Rat Queens. It’s an American comic book detailing the adventures, in the Dungeons and Dragons sense, of four foul mouthed heroines. Hannah’s more or less an elf mage; Dee’s a human cleric; Violet’s a dwarf warrior; and Betty’s an hilarious take on the halfling thief. We reviewed volume one after our friends compelled us to read it.

Between the last volume and this one, Rat Queens won a GLAAD Media award for Outstanding Comic Book and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It’s also being developed for television. This new volume made the New York Times Bestseller list. That might help explain why it’s sold out on Amazon of all places as I write this.

The Dinglehopper was fortunate to receive a copy, but the new addition to our family delayed our review. This second arc is framed by the incursion of cthonic horrors from Dee’s hometown and provides some background on threMyconid Monster Manuale of the Queens. Unlike a lot of paint by numbers origin stories, though, these glimpses into the past reverberate with relationships already established in the first volume and encourage further interest.

It’s not all trips down memory lane. though. There’s plenty of the intertextual referencing fans have come to love. For example, there’s a pitched battle with myconids straight out of the Monster Manual.

Dee’s story is filled out mostly in the present. We already knew she’d left her family and her cult, or religion, or whatever depending on whom you ask. But N’Rygoth has come to Palisade and so has another figure out of her past. Like almost everything in Rat Queens, this is something of a trope subversion. Typically, Dee’s past would come back to haunt her. And in a literal way, it does. However, Dee’s too much her own woman for that to shake her.

You’re here with me now. Just… Don’t be afraid.

We learn a more about Hannah and Violet through flashbacks woven into the narrative with a little memorable magic. Violet’s story is the rebellious girl misunderstood by her family and her society. You know, the one where the girl dons the mask and proves she’s every bit as good as the boys? Not here. She does find her inspiration, though; and we learn why she named the party.

Don’t you know your mythology, girl? Rats are harbingers of impending destruction.

And there’s a touching moment between mother and daughter that just… here.

Violet

Issue eight was the last drawn by former artist Roc Upchurch. He was replaced after an arrest on a domestic violence charge. You can read writer Kurtis J. Wiebe’s statement here.

I am committed to Rat Queens, to stand by what it has always been praised for and to prove to the fans that they weren’t wrong in loving it.

Artist Stjepan Šejić took Hannah and Tizzieover with issue nine. For longtime fans and binge readers both, the shift is a little jarring. The cartoonish gaiety of the first volume gives way to more realistic portrayals and a greater panel depth. It’s a perfect fit as Hannah’s backstory is, predictably, grittier and edgier than the rest. We learn why she’s angry, but also why she’s loyal. We see her first meeting with Tizzie and we get to see them work together when the chips are down. And we learn why she wears her hair that way.

I’m just gonna gush. I love the new art. There’s an incredible range of expression that tells the story as much as the dialogue. The stuff happening behind the focal characters is as or more entertaining than what’s up front. It’s clear, obvious, and in character. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong when you pull a lightning storm right out of a video game.

Rat Queens has weathered the transition. Šejić’s art is perfect for the series and Wiebe’s storytelling is as compelling as ever. The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth is a solid entry that once again leaves the reader wanting more.

Recommended for fans of Bitch Planet, Dungeons & Dragons, and Mean Girls.


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Top 5 Favorite Things of 2014

Michael: I wanted to do a “Top 5 Books” post, but realized I might want to include some things that weren’t books. And I really didn’t want to make a long post even longer or run several listicles. So we decided to have a faux chat about our favorite things from this year.

Number 5

Erin: Late last winter I was desperate for a way to get my face some moisture. I crowd-sourced my problem on Facebook, as you do, and was told to check out the Oil Cleansing Method. It was a miraculous change from dry to beautifully balanced after just a few weeks, and I recommend it for anyone. Here’s a good place to start: Crunchy Betty’s Nitty Gritty on the Oil Cleansing Method.

rat-queens-02-covA-webMichael: I don’t know anything about that, other than our toddler telling me I need beard oil. My number five is kind of a cheat, since it technically started in 2013, but Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery was published in 2014. This all female Dungeons & Dragons adventuring party is rife with metacommentary, humor, and heart. Rat Queens might have made my number one but for the original artist’s domestic abuse charge. Fortunately, he was replaced by someone with an even better hand with non traditional female forms.

Erin: Oh, yeah! Rat Queens is pretty much better than face cleansing methods. You win this list, Michael. Also, I considered this list as things we discovered in 2014, not necessarily things that were created/published in 2014, so cheat away!

Number 4

flashErin: People have preferences when it comes to superheroes–Marvel or DC, comic book-y or gritty, sincere or sassy. With the onslaught of films and television bringing to life the most mainstream (Captain America) to the obscure (Guardians of the Galaxy), I’d become a bit apathetic. We enjoyed Guardians but waited months to see Captain America: Winter Soldier even though we adored the original film. But when The Flash hit the CW this past fall, my apathy dissipated. Now The Flash is the weekly show I look forward to the most. It’s sincere, heart-felt, funny, geeky, and fun.

jem.and_.the_.holograms.cast_Michael: I mostly enjoy The Flash because the show will make an odd choice for, uh, reasons, I guess and I can say, “You know who was a good Flash?” And Erin will say, “Wally West?” She was a huge Justice League fan and that show handled him pretty well. Well enough that I wasn’t constantly thinking the speed force was wasted on the character. My number four is the announcement, casting, and cross marketing of the upcoming Jem and the Holograms. I used to come home from school and watch GI-Joe like any red blooded male youth, but Jem was truly outrageous. It’s showtime, Synergy.

Number 3

BitchPlanet_01-1_300_462Erin: This year I read three truly mentally engaging pieces of science fiction. It started with finally tackling some Philip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Then it continued with introducing Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go into my AP Literature curriculum. But the culmination came with a friend’s loan of issue #1 of Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Bitch Planet. I blogged at length about Androids but easily tripled that writing about Bitch Planet. Bitch Planet, a women-in-prison narrative with clear sci-fi elements, is intriguing, horrifying, insightful, and highly entertaining with a structural presentation that packs surprises and gut-punches. Its continuation is one of the things I look forward to in 2015.

beowulfMichael: I never did get around to reading Never Let Me Go this year. Bitch Planet was practically assigned. My number three is Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien. Almost everyone will tell you Seamus Heaney’s translation is the best whether they’ve read others or not. It’s good, to be sure, but there’s more magic and heroism in Tolkien. And the notes his son included are a master class on the epic and a look behind the scenes of The Lord of the Rings. I reread six versions leading up to this release, but this is the one I want handy.

Number 2

Shafer_Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2).JPGErin: Much of our year has been shaped by a single act–joining NetGalley and creating this blog to post reviews of NetGalley books. Last January I had created a GoodReads goal of reading 15 books, a goal that in previous years was completely untenable with my teacherly duties and subsequent reading burnout. Thanks to NetGalley, I blew that goal out of the water and started writing regularly again to boot (but am also frequently up late blogging for the next morning’s deadline). Without NetGalley, I wouldn’t have found these gems: David Shafer’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Stephan Eirik Clark’s Sweetness #9, M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, and The Bust DIY Guide to Life.

elsa setMichael: While it didn’t significantly impact the number of books I read, NetGalley did allow me opportunities to read outside my comfort zone. I have a feeling Erin’s going to cover my number 2, so I won’t go on too long about Once Upon a Time. Shortly after we started the blog, season three ended with a bombshell: Elsa was coming to Storybrooke. Our toddler loves Frozen, so I pretty much love Frozen, too. I woke up on the first day of the new year to, “The sky’s awake, Dada!” Having never watched Once, we caught up over the summer and became super fans.

Number 1

0107a-136839_3211_preErin: Most people saw Frozen in 2013, but we didn’t encounter it until our toddler turned two and we started seeing if he could sit through movies. Frozen was one of the earlier tests and easily the most successful. His enthusiasm stoked our enthusiasm, but I dare say we love it on more levels than he. For instance, I love the reversal of the true-love-at-first-sight trope so popular in fairy tales and especially Disney princess stories. A little detail I just recently discovered I loved is that Kristoff, the male hero, asks consent for a kiss from Anna, the female hero, at the end of the film. Frozen led us to Once Upon a Time, which became a big deal for Michael and I as we worked our way through the back seasons on Netflix in anticipation of the season 4 Frozen story-arc. Once is our only appointment television–Michael purchased us an antenna just for the show (we don’t have cable anymore, just Netflix and Hulu+). Once further warmed my frozen shipper’s heart that had been dormant for at least two years.

TheMirrorEmpire-144dpiMichael: I’m pretty fond of all that other stuff, but there’s one book I read this year that stands out beyond everything else. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley was so full of weird wonderful ideas that it changed my expectations for science fiction and fantasy. Hurley’s feminist SFF leaves no notion uninterrogated. With multiple viewpoints from distinct interrelated cultures, gender trinaries and quinaries, and protogynous assassins, all anchored in familiar epic fantasy tropes, this isn’t just my favorite book of the year, it’s one of my favorite books period.