Northlanders. Book one: Sven the returned/ Brian Wood

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[Graphic violence; nudity]


This is one heck of a work of realistic heroic Historical Fiction.

To quote the blurb: “An epic story that takes a deep look at this pivotal time in history, when Christianity was replacing paganism, and the tim-honored roles of the warrior, free will, love, money, power and the afterlife were in flux.”

In terms of storytelling, depth of character development, and intellectual entertainment, this ranks among one of the top graphic novels I’ve come across so far.

The title itself already suggests this is a kick-ass sort of work. I mean, consider the title. Not “people from the north” or “Vikings” or “stories from the lands in the north” but “Northlanders”. Plus illustrations of grim and tough looking sword-wielding men on the cover. You know you’ve got a promising story on your hands.

Book One is set in the Orkney Islands, A.D. 980. It tells the story of Sven the Returned. Basically, he returns to claim his land and titles that his uncle has usurped. While he has the strength and wits about him, he is greatly outnumbered by his uncle’s men and beaten. So Sven does the equivalent of Rambo and slowly wages a one-man war against his uncle. But it is not easy, especially with one his uncle’s henchman, Hakkar, vowing to take Sven down.

There are twists and subplots in the story, one of which was the revelation of how Sven came to abandon his lands as a child, how he made good and learned his skills.

Near the end, Sven manages to form a small army of this own. Sven meets his uncle and men, led by Hakkar, for a final showdown. There is a battle, but the twist is that there is yet another more pressing enemy.

OK, with that last line, I’ve just about said what I can say without spoiling the story for you.


I’m now a fan of Brian Wood.


Northlanders. Book two: The cross and the hammer/ Brain Wood

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[Graphic violence]


Like the previous one, this is another Viking story but it takes place in A.D. 1014 during the Norse occupation of Ireland (I didn’t know the Vikings ruled Ireland for a while).

It’s a story that, at first read, appears like a straightforward telling of a loyalist (one man with his young daughter) battling against the occupiers. He is pursued by a Viking lord.

But it gets slightly more complex than that, character-wise.

From the book blurb: “One man, dedicated to killing his way to an end to tyranny. Another man, just as dedicated to stopping him. But in the eleventh hour, a dark secret from Magnus’s past threatens to unravel both his mission and his relationship with Brigid.”

The twist at the end is a bit more subtle compared to Book One, I thought. Certainly has gotten me very interested in the history of the Vikings and their expansion into modern day United Kingdom.

Lobster Johnson. [1], Iron prometheus/ Mike Mignola; Jason Armstrong

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Lobster Johnson Volume 1: Iron Prometheus (v. 1)
ISBN: 9781593079758

Thought this was a Hellboy series but it wasn’t.

The setting is related though: there are monsters, the Nazis, powers from beyond human realm, Good Vs Evil struggle. And of course the Good Guys.

Lobster Johnson isn’t a lobster per se, nor does he have lobster-like powers (is there such a thing?) He appears more like Batman, solving crime and mysteries, armed with a mask and devices. And his wits to get out of scraps and danger.

The difference with Lobster Johnson and the Gotham City hero is that the former has absolutely no qualms about killing the bad guys. And he leaves his signature lobster claw mark on the dead.

In this story, the Nazis are after something called the Vril Energy Suit. So is a leader of a mysterious and evil cult.

This novel also contains a backstory, speculating on the origins of Lobster Johnson.

The man with the iron heart/ Harry Turtledove

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The Man with the Iron Heart
ISBN: 9780345504357

Turtledove should be a familiar name with readers of alternate history WWII novels.

This one doesn’t disappoint.

In this novel, WWII Nazi Germany has surrendered to the US and Russians. But not all its troops have given up arms. There is a band who call themselves the German Freedom Front — fanatics, suicide bombers and saboteurs — the SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich (he was assassinated in real life in 1942). They harass the occupiers through random acts of terrorism, very much like how the russian partisan fought against the German occupiers for a while.

The Russians react with typical (stereotypical?) directness and brutality, while the US forces are portrayed as inefficient and ineffective in dealing with the terrorists. Both sides, adopting conventional and unconventional means, are unable to root out or stop the saboteurs.

On the US political front, president Truman faces mounting political pressure to withdraw the troops. Diana McGraw — mother of a dead soldier — became one such activist and her campaign against Truman’s military policy gains momentum.

I’ll not give any more of the plot away. You’ll have to read if Heydrich’s guerrilla movement succeeds or not.

Interestingly, Turtledove clarifies that there really was a German resistance movement after their surrender. But it never became an effective force, due to lack of leadership among the Nazi and German military.

I think boys and men who have played computer games like Call Of Duty, Medal of Honor (the originals Set in WWII) would probably be interested in reading this as well.

Macbeth: The graphic novel, plain text version/ William Shakespeare; script adaptation, John McDonald

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Macbeth the Graphic Novel: Plain Text (Classical Comics)
ISBN: 9781906332044

Complete play, in full colour, translated into modern English (like titles in the Classical Comics series, there are the ‘Original text’ and ‘Quick text’ versions).

End section – interesting factual info on William Shakespeare, the real Macbeth (Mac Bethad; “Son of Life”), Macbeth and the Kings of Scotland, the history of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (possible reasons for writing it, and why the script may have developed in that manner), how the graphic novel pages were created, about the Globe theatre, and organisations and initiatives carrying on the Shakespeare tradition.

Marvel 1602/ Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, Richard Isanove, Todd Klein

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Marvel 1602
ISBN: 0785123113

Bet you couldn’t imagine a world where Marvel supers — Spider-man, the X-men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Nick Fury — coexist with their respective nemesis, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

I think you have to be British, like Neil Gaiman, to pull this off.

This alternate universe starts with a sombre meeting between Sir Nicholas Fury, an aged Queen Elizabeth I, and Dr. Stephen Strange. Their world is apparently dying and they obviously would like to find the cause and stop it.

The breakthrough comes when they eventually meet Virginia Dare. She is a young girl from the far colony in America, back to seek an audience with the queen. Her bodyguard, a huge blond-haired Indian native named Rojhaz, has good reason to be overly protective of Virginia. Because Virginia has the ability to turn into animal forms, but it was a power she could not control.

Initially, the signs seem to point to Virginia as the cause of the strangeness in the world. But the real cause was the presence of a super from a later time, whose very existence in this current universe is tearing the world apart. I won’t spoil your enjoyment by revealing this super. I’ll just say “O Captain, My Captain” and leave it as that.

Other familiar characters, in subtle character guises, include: Peter Parquagh and Count Otto von Doom.

Ups and downs of life in the Indies/ P. A. Daum.

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Book blurb: “This is one of the most realistic, no-holds-barred novels ever written about Dutch colonial life in Indonesia during the nineteenth century.”

Ups & Downs of Life in the Indies (Library of Indies)
ISBN: 9625935126

The prose reminded me of Joseph Conrad. Maybe it was the flavour of writing.

Parts of the speech was familiar for readers in this region. E.g. “sudah”, “sudah”, “kongsi” (the glossary explains the meanings of several terms).

Interesting, in that I can imagine this might have also been the similar perspectives and common speech used during Singapore colonial days.

The Preface and Introduction read like a concise history of Dutch colonisation of Indonesia, as well as the then prevailing customs and practices. E.g. p15. In 1880, it was customary for a Dutchman to employ a female housekeeper (“njai”) to be the liaison with the locals, taking care of daily administrative and household sundry affairs. Even for a Dutchman bachelor to look towards the njai for “fulfillment of his sexual needs”.

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