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Sarah Vaughn

Sleepless: Volume Two

I recently discovered the lush romantic fantasy series Sleepless and quickly read the duology. I just wish it had been a longer series, as I enjoyed the love story between Poppy and Cyrenic and think it could have at least been fleshed out into three volumes.

The second volume opens almost a year after the first, with Cyrenic awakening from his sleep after being released from his magical vow of eternal wakefulness. Poppy is being forced into a marriage of political convenience to Lord Helder, the very man she suspects of trying to kill her, but the king has blinders on and pushes her to go through with the wedding. Surprisingly the marriage ceremony does occur, but Poppy has her own reasons for going along with it. However, the wedding night spins out of control and Poppy and Cyrenic are on the run.

As Cyrenic is the first sleepless knight to be released from his vow, and deals with his recovery afterwards, there were some interesting perspectives from the other knights about if they too would like to be released. There were some thought provoking reasons as to why some of them would prefer to stay sleepless. The last half of the book is a long action sequence, and an additional villain is revealed, but the reasoning behind this second person wanting vengeance against Poppy felt ridiculous. During their escape Poppy and Cyrenic reaffirm their love, but it was rushed and could have been so much more.

The artwork was as lovely as ever, with the wedding scene being especially well done. The patterns and brocades of the clothing worn were exquisite. I felt the illustrations really lent to world building, for the interiors from the throne room to the kitchens combined into a believable kingdom. The coloring also added to the atmosphere with jewel tones for the courtly attire, decorations and poppy motif to earth tones for much of the action. Plus, Bini the fox was as adorbs as ever. An added bonus at the conclusion was alternative covers by other artists and some process pages that showed the evolution of the artwork throughout the story.

I do want to point out two glaring oddities. There was much made that Poppy’s mother is in her home country and can not return due to political issues and many letters are exchanged between the women. Although a wedding gift from her mother helps Poppy during a crisis,  we still do not meet her, even at the end when all has been resolved. And look at the picture above- these two are falling about 50 feet and land on a pile of bones. This would have killed them, instead they act as if it was a cushion, and then there is some throwaway conversation about the caverns and bones needing to be researched.

As a whole, this was an excellent short series. But there was definitely enough plot threads that could have been expanded upon that a third volume would have been very welcome. Author Sarah Vaughn created a beautiful fantasy world that artist Leila del Duca built upon, and I’m glad that I visited their magical realm!

-Nancy

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Sleepless

Sleepless is a lovely romantic fantasy story that transports you to a lush magical kingdom where intrigue abounds.

Written by Sarah Vaughn, the co-creator of Alex + Ada, this is another strong character driven narrative that quickly has you rooting for the the star crossed lovers Poppy and Cyrenic. Lady Pyppenia is the recently deceased king’s illegitimate daughter and struggles to know her place, as her mother has been called away to her home country. Sir Cyrenic is the knight who is bound to her by a magical oath, in which he never sleeps, as to better guard her. When Poppy’s uncle takes over the throne, Poppy’s place is uncertain as she has few allies, but needs to remain to avoid a political scandal. Attempts are made on Poppy’s life and there are a few candidates: Poppy’s cousin who will one day succeed the throne and worries Poppy could lay claim instead, as well as a pompous knight who is trying to curry favor with the new reining family.

The world building is strong, and despite the story dropping you into this magical realm, there is enough explanation to understand what is going on. I quickly compared it to the story arc of  Monstress, yet it is lighter and more enjoyable. While the romance angle is strong between Poppy and Cyrenic, there is more to the story with political intrigue and a dark aspect to magic.

The art by Leila del Duca is lovely. She creates a fully realized kingdom with detailed backgrounds that make looking at the panels a delight. The era has a Renaissance feel with deep jewel tones adding to the atmosphere. The kingdom’s inhabitants are drawn beautifully as is their courtly attire, and there is a welcome diversity. And, I have to give a shout out to Poppy’s pet companion Bini, the cutest animal ever! This fennec fox like creature is always by her side and gives her a clue that her food is poisoned at one point.

I read this book quickly and have enjoyed looking back at the illustrations throughout the week. I found out there is a volume two that wraps up the story and I have it ordered already! I now await for how Poppy’s and Cyrenic’s story will conclude…

-Nancy

Alex + Ada: Volumes 2 & 3

Alex + Ada 2
Luna, Jonathan & Sarah Luna. Alex + Ada. 2015.

I tire of books going on endlessly, for I enjoy the series and anticipate the next volume, but then I eventually reach a point of lessening interest.  But  how can I stop when I’ve invested so much time in the series?! Here’s looking at you, TWD! This three volume series is a welcome change.

Volume 2: Definitely the bridge book of the series, it picks up where we left off in Volume 1– Ada is now sentient. So, what does it mean to be “human”? Ada experiments with her senses, tasting food and touching different textures to find out what she truly likes. Alex enjoys seeing how Ada experiences what he takes for granted. Alex courts her as he would a regular girlfriend, and later with Ada’s full consent, she participates in a full on sensory experience with him. Yeah, you know what I’m saying!  Unfortunately, all of this needs to remain hidden as turning androids into sentient beings is against the law. Alex and Ada try to hide Ada’s new intelligence from outsiders, but that turns out to be harder than expected. People’s scared, judgmental or deviant stereotypes of androids start to take their toll on them. Together in isolation they are happy, but that won’t work long term.

Volume 3: Living in seclusion is untenable, and Alex and Ada must go out in public more often. This leads to complications, as family and friends start to clue in about Ada’s abilities. Not only is their situation risky, there is growing danger in the larger world, as society struggles with what to do about sentient rights. Someone close to Alex betrays him and the FBI wants to make Alex an example to the community. Alex and Ada make a run for it, hoping to find sanctuary elsewhere. As not to spoil the ending, all I can say is- OMG the FEELS at the end!

The artwork is simple and clean, leaving the story to take center stage. As stated above, I was glad for the shortened arc and definite ending of the series, but the story could have been fleshed out a bit more. Maybe one more volume??  This thought provoking series made it onto my must buy list for the library!

-Nancy

Alex + Ada 3

Alex + Ada: Volume 1

Set in the near future, Alex receives a gift of a realistic android from his grandma as a birthday gift. As Alex is still reeling from the breakup with his fiancé a few months ago, his grandma feels that the android will cheer him up and bring him fulfillment, as a male android has done for her. At first Alex is freaked out by this beautiful female robot, and considers returning her, but ultimately keeps her. The year anniversary of a massacre between humans and androids that had become sentient looms throughout the narrative, and new stringent rules are in place to block any androids from gaining real emotions. As Alex becomes attached to the android he names Ada, he longs for a more “human” connection with her and he eventually seeks an underground group of androids that have gained sentience. Through an illegal download she gains self awareness, but as this is against the law, she needs to mask her new abilities in public. The two of them face a very uncertain future, and this sci-fi romance has strong connections to the movies Blade Runner and Her. As this story feels current in time, it did make me think of the imminence of artificial intelligence, and what rights and laws will be appropriate if this story’s technology become feasible in our future.

The cover of this graphic novel stands out, as the wrapping that Ada was packaged in is draped over her head, and with her white clothing, it is an obvious symbol of a woman being offered as a bride. The art is very sparse, with an earth tones color palette. Black borders surround a standard layout, with some full page panels. However, the simplicity of the art lets the complexity of the human emotions shine through. Nothing distracts from the character-centric narrative, and the story is able to breathe.

The story continues for two more volumes, with a definite conclusion in Volume 3. I have read Volume 2 and have Volume 3 on hold. I look forward to seeing how the story will wrap up, and wonder what the future holds for Alex +Ada!

-Nancy

Luna, Jonathan & Sarah Vaughn. Alex + Ada. 2014.

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