book review: sir cumference and the viking’s map

I have a couple of friends who are getting their education degrees right now and one of them asked if I’d read any of these Sir Cumference books. I hadn’t, but now I have.

Sir Cumference and the Viking’s Map is a story that goes over the basics of the Cartesian plane. There are two kids who get a map that’s supposed to lead to treasure and they have to figure out how the coordinate system works, while being chased by enemies.

I like the concept but thought there weren’t enough plausible mistakes in it. They just read the clues and knew what the negative numbers meant and that you’re supposed to read the X axis first. There are probably sound pedagogical reasons for that, but it made it feel overly simplistic as a story. It felt too obviously like a lesson and not like a story you could happen to learn something from – for my taste at least.

Now I’m looking for more math/story books to see if I can find some I really like and will let you know if I find any.

book review: the cross and the hammer (northlanders vol. 2)

The Cross and the Hammer is a self-contained Viking story that is less about a Viking and more about an Irishman who’s murdering his way through the countryside trying to kill off all the occupying Norsemen he can find to save his daughter and his homeland. It’s really violent. The Norseman who’s tracking him is well-educated and sends lots of letters back to his king who is fighting a war while he looks for this killer. There’s a very interesting father-daughter relationship going on, which is different from the Bonnie and Clyde stuff from Metal. It isn’t my favourite Northlanders book but there’s nothing wrong with it.

book review: metal (northlanders vol. 5)

Metal is the fifth volume of Brian Wood’s excellent Northlanders series. As per usual, it’s got multiple stories in the book, each one with a different illustrator. I wasn’t such a huge fan of the story about the merchant captain who took his boat on a voyage of exploration instead of trade. I mean, it wasn’t bad or anything; it just didn’t grab me the way the big story, Metal, did.

Metal was about a crappy blacksmith who’s chosen by one of the old gods (while he’s tripping out on hallucinogens) to stop his village from bowing down and letting the Christians have their way with them just because they’ve got sacks of money. He rescues a woman the Christians are holding and then burns everything down. The two of them head off like an ancient day Bonnie and Clyde. They’re pursued by a hired sword who takes his job very seriously, and it’s violently excellent.

One thing I love about this series is how it is not tied to any sort of chronology. There are hundreds of years separating different stories, but they’re all Viking tales. It also means they’re easy books to recommend since you don’t need to read them in any really specific order.

book review: blood in the snow (northlanders vol 3)

Blood in the Snow is part of Brian Wood’s Viking comic series, Northlanders. It’s a collection of short stories set in different time frames. One is about three women fighting a pillaging horde, one is about a Saxon boy who hates his father and his Nailed God religion, and one is about a duel.

All three of the stories are good, but the duel one is my favourite, probably because it doesn’t show the story, just this fight. The coolness is all about the narrator’s background and context for how these two clan champions are fighting. It oozes research, but also a wry modern tone (with images of the old ultra-violence). So good. Brian Wood just writes awesome stuff and all his artists in here work really well.

book review: the sea of trolls

The Sea of Trolls was my first book I’ve read by Nancy Farmer and it was really good. It’s about a Saxon boy named Jack who is becoming a bard and is kidnapped by Vikings (Northmen) with his sister and then he has to go to Jotunheim on a quest after he makes the vikings’ half-troll queen’s hair fall out. He does this accompanied by an unbearably bratty sister (who is mercifully struck mute and left in the Northmen village for the trek to Jotunheim) a one-legged crow and Thorgil, a young female wannabe berserker.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Jack’s quest is suitably epic and he has talent even before he becomes able to wield magic. The entire trip to Jotunheim is where it becomes much more fantastical, which I appreciated. In Middle Earth everything could be explained away by a rational sciencey 21st century observer, but when they cross worlds the magic becomes closer to the surface and it really takes off. The integration of different belief systems (Jack’s father is a Christian, but his mother believes very different things and hides them so as not to be constantly told she’s going to hell) works probably not realistically, but very evocatively for the story.

I don’t know tonnes about Vikings and Norse mythology but Jack’s first mentor is the bard who documented Beowulf’s tale. I love the idea that a kid reading this would later know Beowulf’s story when she has to read it for a first year college English class. This Jotunheim and the trolls and the whole story really are a way better (and by that I mean more faithful) introduction to Norse mythology than anything Stan Lee ever put together. It’s also got a different, less fairy-tale and more epic feel than something like Odd and the Frost Giants. We don’t actually meet any gods, not even in animal form.

book review: lars the last viking goes to the end of the world

Matt Taylor’s comic Lars the Last Viking Goes to the End of the World is about a Viking named Lars in the year 1065. He is not the most realistic of comic book Vikings – he has horns on his helmet, a talking pig as his foil, uses a Nokia and does death-metal jams with Norwegian pines – but not the most unrealistic either. The story is told in rhyming couplets as all Norse epics should be, right? That’s a thing isn’t it?

Anyway the story is about the end of a youth bulge, and having everyone you know grow up and settle down. If that’s tough for 21st century round-about-30-year-olds, imagine how crappy it would be when your lifestyle was based on unsustainable partying(/raping/pillaging) as Lars’ was. The story kind of comes full circle though and while it doesn’t really resolve Lars’ tensions with the world around him, does give him an outlet for the future that doesn’t involve babies and Ikea.

I got to see Matt Wilson perform a live reading of the book at Graphic 2011 at the Sydney Opera House. The live reading included a practically unrehearsed heavy metal guitar accompaniment performed by a friend of Taylor’s who’d just flown in from Sweden(?). It was an excellent performance. I can’t get the rhythm of the couplets right when I try to perform it at home.

book review: sven the returned (northlanders vol 1)

Brian Wood writes good comics. His book DMZ is one of my favourites. I knew he wrote a Viking book too but I don’t really have a huge hankering in my heart for Vikings. On the cover of Sven the Returned there’s a quote saying “Finally, Vikings done right!” I have never really felt the lack, nor have I seen Vikings done poorly, so yeah. But I like Wood’s characters and reading it from the library required little from me. If I was going to read Viking comics Northlanders would be the ones I’d read.

This book is about a guy Sven from the Orkney islands returning home to claim his inheritance from his scheming uncle who stole it. There’s a lot of killing people with swords and arrows and shit. It covers a lot more time than I would have expected, and I gather that the later story arcs aren’t Sven’s further adventures.

Reading it though, I couldn’t put the roots of comics in pulp fiction out of my head. I suppose it’s the Watchmen effect, like how in that world they had Pirate comics instead of superheroes. And I read Old West comics. I don’t know. I just felt like I was in some other world where Viking comics were the norm for tales of people being badass.

Man, I haven’t been able to write a coherent review or anything else in months. I’m sorry.