Magical Readathon Wrapup (2019)

In July, I started a two month reading challenge created by Book Roast on Youtube called the Magical Readathon, a biannual Harry-Potter themed reading challenge in which participants take their O.W.L.S. and N.E.W.T.S., standardized wizarding tests in the world of Harry Potter, by reading books that correspond with each subject’s prompt. At the beginning of the month, I posted my TBR and as you can see here, I suck at keeping reading plans; many books were replaced by something I found more interesting within the moment or by books that were simply available.

The following is a shotgun summation of my results. Greyed out covers are books that I didn't finish.

O.W.L.S.

July 01 - July 30

I didn't quite complete all of the subjects, but I passed what was required for the careers I was most interested in: the ministry worker and aurologist.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Astronomy - A book with "star" in the title
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
I Liked It
A fantasy romance infused with Hindu mythology, The Star-Touched Queen is about a cursed girl who marries Death. Chokshi's prose is poetic, relying on metaphorical description to convey the protagonist's turbulent emotional journey, but it remains readable to its audience by avoiding complex sentences. The prose is by far my favorite aspect, because while it is a solidly good, well-plotted story with an interesting world and an effective protagonist arc, I was left wanting just a little more depth from the characters and setting.
Promise of Blood (Powder Mage #1) by Brian McClellan
Charms - An adult book
Title
Promise of Blood (Powder Mage #1) by Brian McClellan
Boring
An investigator, a general, and the general's son uncover an ancient secret after the king is overthrown. There are gods, there are magic systems ahoy, there are guns and while it's all technically good, it's also very boring. McClellan’s Sandersonian lineage is apparent in his clear-as-day pane glass prose; the plot, worldbuilding, and dialogue are the author’s primary concerns which unfortunately made his lacking characterization for the book’s most marginalized characters clearer.

I could see later entries in this series improving, but because this debut focused so heavily on the world and how its straight, white, cisgender male narrators of almost uniform privilege (within the world's context) manipulated it, I was completely uninterested about halfway through and I just wanted this behemoth to end already.
Runaways Vol. 1 by Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka
Defence Against the Dark Arts - A book starting with "R"
Title
Runaways Vol. 1 by Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka
I Liked It
Rowell and Anka pick up from past volumes, getting the original crew back together (mostly) as young adults choosing to return with their found family. This volume is fun and quirky while it reestablishes character relationships, much like the Hulu exclusive Marvel’s Runaways, but you could get its kind of quirk in more memorable works. So the reason to show up is primarily for Anka. His art is so incredibly cool and stylish that I delighted in turning every page to see how these characters were visually realized.

Comic introductions are infamously boring, so maybe as we become more invested the series will merit its sticker price, but judging solely on the first volume, I would say the draw here is Anka’s design and storytelling.
God Complex Vol. 1 by Paul Jenkins, Bryan Lie
Divination - A book set in the future
Title
God Complex Vol. 1 by Paul Jenkins and Hendry Prasetya
Boring
Cyberpunk Greek gods control a world comparable to Minority Report, but they’re having trouble with some pesky rebels that’ve been killing folks. Our hero, a young detective under the thumb of one such god, is tasked with investigating the mystery. We follow him into mythologically-inspired spaces that mix science fiction with the divine.

I enjoyed the artwork and premise, but the gruff detective schtick was too expected for such an inventive setting and while the plot events leading to the volume’s final revelations promises a new scale of sleuthing, I wasn’t convinced that future arcs would measure up to their inspirations’ philosophical depths.
Sub-Mariner: The Depths by Peter Milligan & Esad Ribic
History of Magic - A book published at least 10 years ago
Title
Sub-Mariner: The Depths by Peter Milligan and Esad Ribic
So Sweet, So Fine
Okay, so you don't need to know shit about superheroes for this mini-series. It's told in a canon-agnostic way that will allow complete DC newbs to read and enjoy this book, especially if possessing knowledge of the literary and mythological allusions that make this dark tale compelling. A rational scientist known for debunking falsities is hired to lead a submarine crew to find a missing scientist who claims to have found the mythical Atlantis. Milligan pits logic against the supernatural through the plot and characters and he ends with a bitter conclusion that damns elitist rationalism. The story is simple, following familiar plot beats for fans of sci-fi and horror, and the characters are unnuanced talking pieces due to the economy required, but the story's made by Esad Ribic's beautiful artwork that is textured, dark, well-rendered and completely unlike Marvel and DC's current house style.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Muggle Studies - A contemporary book
Title
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
So Sweet, So Fine
Though Irby's experience doesn't map totally to mine, I felt seen reading her hilarious and sometimes cringey anecdotes. Clean and sarcastic, the narrative voice feels as familiar as a friend’s, making every story like a play-by-play of last week’s most batshit horror over drinks. Through these stories, she relates her personal revelations without explicitly articulating the truisms in the specificities of her life. I think that one time when she ate spoiled McDonalds on a long, cramped drive from college will forever be my barometer for just how horrendous any particular embarrassment of mine truly is. Hint: nothing can be as bad as what she described, nothing.
Deadly Class Vol. 2 by Rick Remender, Wes Craig & Jordan Boyd
Potions - A sequel
Title
Deadly Class Vol. 2 by Rick Remender, Wes Craig & Jordan Boyd
Boring
That first hit is always sweetest. The second time around? The flavor’s novelty fades. Craig and Boyd’s artwork still astounds, is still incredibly funky fresh, and makes me mad jelly, but I’m already tired of Deadly Class’ persistent edge. While the first volume introduced us to the colorful world of teenaged assassins, this time we’re shown the (kinda shitty) protagonist’s backstory and work through its bloody resolution which culminates in our plucky teen assassins going up against proud rednecks.

Okay, so it isn’t just that the content is always reaching for ultra violence and prejudice in its characterization that has me down — though that certainly has a role in burning out my enthusiasm — it’s that it does so predictably. No, I haven’t seen this exact story before, but I’ve seen all the tropes: the depressed male that mostly wants to do the right thing but also treats the women in his life horribly is a time-tested literary and cinematic hero and his story is played the fuck out. I enjoyed this volume most when we followed secondary characters because I felt like I already knew the emotional beats that the main story would hit and I knew that I wouldn’t find them particularly resonant.
DIE Vol. 1 by Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans
Transfiguration - A book with sprayed edges or a red cover
Title
DIE Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans
So Sweet, So Fine
DIE is a deconstructionist litRPG fantasy that does away with the cumbersome, superficial aspects of its genre to sink into a set of characters carrying weighty emotional baggage into a Jumanji-like game that they’d barely survived the first time they were sucked into it. When they’re lured in again, they confront not only the consequences of their in-game actions from so many years ago, but the dour reality of their present lives as middle-aged adults versus where they were when they’d entered the game as teenagers and the expectations they’d had for themselves then.

Stephanie Hans kinda blows my mind. I can’t imagine attempting a rendered monthly comic, but the first volume is energetic from the first to last issue with fat, juicy, visible brushstrokes. And her designs are dope; her lens unifies the kitchen-sink genre mashup of the world. I’m super excited to continue reading and hope that this series eventually releases in hardcover editions, because this would be a nice one to have on my shelves.

N.E.W.T.S.

August 01 - August 30

While I was hoping to qualify for ministry work, I missed charms which nipped that dream in the bud. That left the aurologist which required an E in astronomy and divination, both of which I acquired. So, I read auras for for fat stacks now, bye.

Astronomy

Moon Knight Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey
(A) A book with a moon on the cover or in the title
Title
Moon Knight Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey
It's Fine
Moon Knight is a strange, fascinating Marvel superhero to play with and the team members are individually strong, but this volume was just fine. Well done, but nothing to keep on my shelf in large part because of the structure.

From the Dead is presented as a series of cases introduced and resolved in a single issue's length or approximately twenty-two pages for those unfamiliar with mainstream comics. Their uniting factor is that the victims of each crime story are considered travelers of the night.

While I like this book conceptually, I found myself wishing for a serialized aspect if not a serialized story; this feels like it was filler between a preceding arc and the team swap following this volume. The titular hero is the only constant and his character isn't deeply explored. There are crumbs to snatch up in a line here or a panel there, most alluding to unseen hardships but there's no change in his character, laterally, vertically or otherwise. Rather, the book's focus is on the crimes within his domain. It presents the case, solves it, then exits, leaving only a faint impression as to the point of each story because while economical enough to communicate a slim idea, there simply isn't enough space for the reader to digest the material in the context of Moon Knight's world or in theirs.
X-Factor Vol. 1: The Longest Night by Peter David, Dennis Calero & Ryan Sook
(E) A word with night in the title or series name
Title
X-Factor Vol. 1: The Longest Night by Peter David, Dennis Calero & Ryan Sook
Kinda Boring
Art good, story — ugh. That’s my basic review of like 80% of the superhero comics I read and The Longest Night sticks with the majority by being of its time insofar as culturally insensitive material and a mediocre noirish plot. The Longest Night introduces us to a mutant detective agency led by the wise-cracking Multiple Man who faces a personal identity crisis while also swiftly putting out a dozen metaphorical fires after the Decimation, a Marvel event in which most mutants lose their powers, making them particularly vulnerable to their aggressors who — no way — still hate them, even though they’re now plain ol’ humans.

Identity and othering are the thematic pillars of any X-Men story and this one is much the same, weaving mutant struggles through the agency’s various cases. The art telling this story was amazing and communicated the tone that the team was striving for. The mutants chosen to fill out the X-Factor’s team were also very interesting, but they ultimately fit a cookie-cutter line-up of a brute, caretaker, suave leader, a beautiful socialite and her less fussy, but still very beautiful counterpart. So, overall I felt I could get this same story more artfully told elsewhere.
Black Science Vol. 1 by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera & Dean White
(O) A science fiction book or a book with stars on the cover
Title
Black Science Vol. 1 by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera & Dean White
So Sweet, So Fine
Wow, this was a surprise hit for me and one that shares thematic heartstrings from Milligan and Ribic's Sub-Mariner series. It's about a team of scientists that have successfully created a dimension-hopping device. The problem: it was sabotaged so that they can't return home. Scalera and White's art on pencils and colors respectively is highly stylized and colorful, recalling 70s pulp covers.

Because my enjoyment was due primarily to the artwork, I peeked at future volumes to see if the artists changed (which is common in comics) and to my great distress, more of the issues are done by the colorist Moreno Dinisio than Dean White and Scalero's style loosens, moving towards cartoonish expression as the series continues. While a huge part of my attraction was in the tension between the pulpy exaggeration and the realistic rendering, it's too soon to judge how the artistic direction would affect my reading experience. I do plan on continuing in this series because I was so impressed by Black Science as an awe-inspiring tour of galactic imagination that mixes science fiction with a survival narrative by pitting a small cast of characters against one another as they try to navigate the often hostile dimensions that they intrude upon.

Charms

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
(A) A book with a gorgeous cover
Title
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
DNF
According to the synopsis, this should be my shit being set in a post-war Paris with fallen angels forming one of the most powerful magic Houses within the city. It, however, had the misfortune of being the last book chosen and of being one with a slow start. The first three chapters couldn’t entice me to read further because their characterization and worldbuilding were neither dynamic or novel enough to pull me into (what I assume will be) a meatier middle and since that's all that's offered in those opening chapters, it quickly lost me.

Defense Against the Dark Arts

Space Opera by Catherynne Valente
(A) A book that's black under the dust jacket
Title
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
So Sweet, So Fine
Mirroring terrestrial history, the galaxy’s major powers started a singing contest to settle squabbles and determine a race’s sentience when it seemed they’d advanced to the point of requiring the galactic community’s acknowledgement. This year, humanity is the newcomer singing their little heart out to prove their sentience and — oh! To avoid planetary annihilation. And it turns out that alien tastes differ considerably from the majority of human’s, because it’s a washed out glam rocker that gets picked as Earth’s representative talent.

An alternating story is told through a frenetic, wise-cracking broadcaster whose speech recalls A Clockwork Orange’s high-energy Nadsat. Throughout the first half, the galaxy’s history and its relevant aliens are described between chapters of Decibel Jones coming to terms with his abduction and his sudden role as Earth’s savior alongside his former bandmate. The second half consists of the journey, the festivities preceding the competition, and then finally the competition (which is very brief).

The expository chapters were satirical, broadly criticizing humanity and its follies, while specific anxieties towards Brexit and the prejudice fueling it are expressed within Decibel Jones’ passages because he and his bandmates are all queer Britons of color that were directly impacted by a new definition of British citizenship. Xenophobia is touched upon throughout and while the singing contest is considered an imperfect solution to such a matter, it is one imbued with hope, for it celebrates art’s ability to elicit empathy.

So, there was basically no way I couldn’t have loved the fuck out of this.

Divination

Sharaz-de: Tales from the Arabian Nights by Sergio Toppi
(A) A book with a white cover
Title
Sharaz-de: Tales from the Arabian Nights by Sergio Toppi
Damn Good
Master draftsman, Sergio Toppi, tells several brutal stories concerning the cruelty of petty kings within his Arabian fantasy that are framed by the tale of a woman who spins stories nightly to stop such a king from murdering the young women of his kingdom. Though the original One Thousand and One Nights has a great variety to its tales, Toppi chose those that were united by their subjects’ depraved natures and while that gave this album a cohesiveness, it also became monotonous. The artwork, however, still feels fresh after four decades and contains the emotional range that was missing in the written text. So, while Sharaz-de is impressive within its own right, for me it better served as a teaser to Toppi’s original works which I hope will be more balanced.
"The Tale of the Costume Maker" by Steve Carr
(E) A short story or collection of short stories
Title
Wilde Stories 2017: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction ed. by Steve Berman
Boring
The first story within an anthology should be one of the strongest, but “The Tale of the Costume Maker” from Wilde Stories 2017 didn’t hook me. It set a good tone, but there wasn’t enough content nor was there anything particularly exquisite to make up for the otherwise drab story being told. That said, I plan to continue reading this anthology because I’ve read past collections of Wilde Stories and enjoyed them. Unfortunately, this anthology series is no longer published, so 2018 is the last edition available.
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
(O) The last book purchased or borrowed
Title
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
I Really Liked It
Upon seeing the slim size of the hardcover, I knew to expect the narrow focus of a novella and An Enchantment of Ravens aligns with that expectation.

Isabel is a popular portrait artist commissioned by the fey that is recommended to the Autumn Prince, a fey royal who hasn't appeared in the human world for hundreds of years. They fall in love, a forbidden act, and due to her familiarity, interest, and skill, she paints an observed suffering into the prince's eyes which scandalizes the fey court. To save his honor, he kidnaps Isabel to put her on trial. From there, they have a brief romp through fey woods, coming upon a danger here or there.

Don’t get it twisted, though, Rogerson is focused on unpacking character drama within a pretty setting; the sections in which the world and its politics come to the forefront are less compelling because the thrust of this novel is exclusively the couple’s relationship.

On a whole, the story is interested in change versus stasis and it explores that theme across two character arcs and one or two sub-plots to buff out the small cast and the well-chosen issues they each cover, but it’s not making a grand statement nor is it being novel in content or form. This is just a simple romance with some unique worldbuilding elements.

History of Magic

Middlegame by Seanan Mcguire
(A) A fantasy book
Middlegame by Seanan Mcguire
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
So Sweet, So Fine
An alchemist creates a pair of siblings that hold the Doctrine of Ethos, one of them embodying mathematics and the other embodying language. Over five hundred pages, readers follow the pair through three decades of tangled history, unraveling their very beings while the two repeatedly meet and separate until finally they embrace the totality of their incredible gifts.

Seanan McGuire is an extraordinary wordsmith; her prose, regardless of genre, is always beautiful and here that is no exception, but here more than other books, I feel the subject matter particularly benefits from her lavish treatment because alchemy is described as the combination of the metaphysical with science, or the joining of the physical and spiritual. She transcribes the emotional quality of alchemy rather than its specific practices, preferring a conceptual scale that’s on par with the characters’ concerns.

For that reason, analytical readers may have trouble enjoying this; it’s essentially a character study with some fantastical elements and the focus is upon its main characters, which it knows and works to put before every other story element. It matters more what characters felt than what they did in any particular scene and thus many facets outside of the characters are left vague, as shells for the readers to fill in if they so please.

Though it’s lampshaded, I’m not overlooking the fact that this book’s only non-white character of note is plot fodder. What makes me okay with this is McGuire’s track record. This book has a small cast and the characters within it are mainly white and conventionally attractive, but throughout McGuire’s work you’ll find a wide spectrum of people. Perhaps as I read further I’ll find a troubling pattern, but as of speaking, I accept that the cast reflects the consequences of the world she built.
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
(E) A book that includes a map
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
So Sweet, So Fine
A literary fantasy written in the second person about Eolo, a young trans-male soldier who, loyal to the throne’s rightful heir, unravels the political conspiracy that he and his lord have arrived to in a country in which a living god requires regular sacrifice. Alongside Eolo’s investigation unfurls a god’s recollection of the past. Through these passages we learn of the world, its mechanics, and how the past has led to the pivotal moment that Eolo has unwittingly become a part of.

Second person POV is oft abused by those looking to give airs of lofty writing when their work otherwise wouldn’t draw attention, but here the second person serves a narrative purpose that further develops our understanding of the setting and its main actors. Through careful diction, Leckie has managed to straddle form and function with beautiful lines that read at a quick clip.

I had some minor quibbles with particular character decisions, but I was so entranced that even these sticking points were glossed over. In two days flat, this chunky bey converted me into a Leckie fan. I’m patiently waiting for the next installment.
Winter Birds by Jim Grimsley
(O) Reread a favorite book
Title
Winter Birds by Jim Grimsley
So Sweet, So Fine
Though I didn't get around to rereading this book, I feel comfortable giving a quick overview of it since I have read it. Winter Birds is Grimsley's debut and is chronologically the second part of the unofficial Crell Trilogy which is preceded by My Drowning and followed by Comfort & Joy, the latter of which I have read and enjoyed immensely. Winter Birds, written in second person, recalls Dan's experiences growing up in the South with a family terrorized by their violent patriarch. Plot isn't what you come to this book for. It's a slow, experiential and emotional journey that fully draws a group of characters anchored by the specificities of their time and place through beautiful, descriptive prose of the Southern gothic tradition.

Muggle Studies

The Black God's Drum by P. Djéli Clark
(A) A book with a photo element on the cover
Title
The Black God's Drumbs by P. Djèlí Clark
I Liked It
Packed tight into this novella is a vibrant depiction of New Orleans, at once cool and deeply historied as the story is narrated through a native’s thick tongue. The way in which the city and its residents were depicted was my favorite part, though everything else — the Orishas and their involvement within the world and within the protagonist’s personal life, the relationships between women, and the alternate history — is worthwhile.

The complexity of the world benefitted from simple plot and characters, but because there wasn’t enough room for any particular element beyond the world to be well-drawn, I was left with a dozen intoxicating ideas that remained vague, hazy images in my mind.
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
(E) A book set in the real world
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
Damn Good
The reason why I’m personally so excited about young adult books is because authentic, diverse narratives such as this consistently debut within the age range and they offer a uniquely in-depth representation of characters, their state of mind, and their situation. I Wish You All the Best is about Ben, an enby teen that comes out to their parents and is thrown out. The book is then about the early process of healing from that rejection which takes place during their senior year at a new school where an enthusiastic peer warmly welcomes them.

I was smiling throughout this book because while it starts in a dark place and continually touches upon Ben’s trauma, it is overwhelmingly a kind, gentle narrative by a thoughtful Ownvoices author that at once informed and made this cold, dead heart so warm. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they think this book will save lives or that they wish this book had been around for them as teenagers and I too believe this is a great book to recommend to teens, queer or otherwise, to broaden their understanding and offer them hope.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
(O) A book written by an author of color
Title
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Boring
In late 19th century Paris, a team of criminal teens must find an ancient artifact. With racially and neurodiverse characters, an interesting premise, a magical alternative history, and my good will towards Chokshi's embellished writing style, this was a shoe-in for the whole five, but right from the jump it had the disadvantage of direct comparisons to Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo because there were a bunch of snarky and too-clever teenaged friends pulling a heist in a setting that alluded to difficult and pertinent social issues. While Chokshi's iteration was good, it was still decidedly second.

The characters are more diverse, inhabiting a greater swathe of the human experience, but they're never quite as well-drawn, funny, or easy to connect with as the Crows. The plot is confounding and quickly lost me when it came time to solve a puzzle. Chokshi brought readers through her puzzles by quite literally putting the puzzle on the page and having the characters work through combination math/historical puzzles together. The intention was appreciated, but this sort of problem-solving is best left to interactive mediums. Better to give us an impression rather than have us see a textbook step-by-step, especially when the book is already crowded with weighty worldbuilding. The magic system is most interesting as a superficial marvel, but once we start to learn more about it, my interest and experience is more or less like the puzzles: it's too much.

I'm sad I found this so unenjoyable because I can see the love and care written into every line, but the story is belabored by clumsy implementation of these efforts. In addition, the male narrator of the audiobook has a commercial stiffness to the prose that negatively impacted my listening experience. Those interested in The Gilded Wolves should check it out in physical or digital formats rather than audio.

Potions

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
(A) Your friend's favorite book
Title
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Worst
I'm not fond of pre-20th century literature. The popular styles are bloated with superfluous descriptions that slow their works to an unbearable pace. Their social commentary often falls short of identifying the bigoted foundations of their society and therefore I can't help but think such enlightened individuals are full of shit. While I recognize the unique differences between historical and modern mindsets, I also disagree with neglecting criticism of such mindsets because it's hurtful to continually uphold bigoted works as untouchable "classics" when the people that placed those works in the upper echelons are primarily of the desired audience: white readers.

This is why I read Jane Eyre and saw an introduction to White Feminism 101. Jane is a woman that continuously fights against society to create a space for herself in which she isn't subjugated by another, primarily by the male suitors who deceive and/or coddle delusions of circumstances that would (and in their minds, should) benefit them, but not their wives. Great. Sweet. Awesome. I'd read that. Except Jane's hyperbolic narration too often dips into, "but I'm not like other girls" sentiments and the few moments in which I find her tolerable are almost always ruined by another reminder that she and her beau are casual racists, unquestioning of their attitude but pushed by the author as superiorly intelligent.

Mr. Rochester is at once charming and the epitome of well-dressed hipsterism. My guy most definitely pretended to be a Roma fortune-teller, he definitely used a woman to make the heroine jealous, and he definitely lied about having a mentally ill wife -- MY GUY, am I supposed to root for you? All this is on form for Victorian literature, but it still sucks and I hate it. No amount of approval from his downstairs legion will recover the pitcher of spoiled milk that is Mr. Rochester.

All that said, Jane Eyre's core is likable, but it's a story that I'd rather see in updated forms by authors of more sensitive and nuanced sensibilities.

Transfiguration

Motor Crush by Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart & Babs Tarr
(A) A book with LGBT+ representation
Title
Motor Crush Vol. 1 by Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart & Babs Tarr
I Liked It
Babs Tarr upped her game for her creator-owned title; Motor Crush depicts a beautifully drawn and colored futuristic west coast where tricked out rides and motor racing are lauded sports events. Dom, our heroine, her father, and her ex-girlfriend find themselves entangled in several thrilling plots. The draw here is predominantly the art because all of the story elements, while well-crafted, held fast to comfortable tropes for their structural integrity, making everything good, but somewhat predictable even if the specifics of every twist couldn't be guessed due to setting-specific entities and mechanics.