Thursday 30 January 2020

Book Received in January 2020

Meso Volume 1: Rise of the Tzalekuhl written by Tyler Chin-Tanner - My thanks to the publicist who sent me a copy of this graphic novel for review. I enjoyed it and have posted my review here.

The rise of the Tzalekuhl Empire threatens to disrupt the peace that has lasted for generations across the land of Mezo. When the conquest begins, a young girl named Kyma witnesses the death of her father, Hegol, a tribal leader who refused to yield. As the solar eclipse nears, Kyma must unite the various tribes against an emperor determined to make them all kneel before his god or be sacrificed in his name.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Book Review: The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Pros: very thorough, lots of endnotes

Cons: not many photos 

This was a very interesting book about how peoples in the past thought about the concept of evil and how those philosophical musings and religious beliefs slowly morphed into the idea held by Christians that there is a single force that causes evil: the Devil.

After the preface the book consists of 7 chapters: The Question of Evil, In Search of the Devil, The Devil East and West, Evil in the Classical World, Hebrew Personifications of Evil, The Devil in the New Testament, and The Face of the Devil. There’s a select bibliography and an index.

The book starts with a discussion of what evil is. This book traces how ancient societies thought of ‘evil’, whether it was part of the gods, human nature, imposed from the outside or something within us. It examines both religious and philosophical beliefs from various cultures and periods whose peoples wanted to know why good things happened to bad people. Why, if there’s a god (or gods) who is good, who created a world of good, is there evil in the world?

We’re so used to categorizing things that it’s easy to forget just how interconnected the world really is. I tend to think of Greek mythology as independent from other religious practices, even though I know the Romans modified the beliefs to fit with their own pantheon of gods. So it was eye opening learning how the Greek gods were turned into evil spirits by early Christian thought, and how Pan was used as a template when artists started visualizing the devil as a personification of evil.

I only knew bits and pieces of other ancient religions so leaning more about them and how they intersected and built off of one another was fascinating. I also loved learning side information like why people with red hair were considered evil.

The most interesting section for me was on the Persian Zoroastrian religion, whose basic mythology is similar to the one Christianity ultimately settled on. I also enjoyed learning more about the apocalyptic Jewish writings and how they impacted the Gospels in the New Testament. 

There aren't that many photos, but the ones included help visualize how the devil gained certain attributes (like wings, horns, etc). 

This is an older book (it came out in 1977), but it’s still highly relevant to Christian and general religious studies.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Graphic Novel Review: Meso Volume 1: Rise of the Tzalekuhl written by Tyler Chin-Tanner

Illustrated by Josh Zingerman and Val Rodrigues
Pros: good artwork, interesting set-up, interesting characters

Cons: /

Still angry that as child refugees they received no aid from their neighbours, the now adult Children of Tzalekuhl go to war determined to make the Huax’kin submit to their rule - or wipe them out.

This is a fantasy graphic novel inspired by Mesoamerican history and mythology, in particular that of the Maya and Aztecs.

I loved the artwork and how the various tribes look distinctly different, with their own hairstyles, clothing and adornments (jewelry, piercings, body art), weaponry, etc.

This is an opening act, so there’s mostly some character introductions, set-up for the various conflicts, and some background on how the various groups ended up where they are. It starts with a battle, so that’s not to say there’s no action. I found the different protagonists compelling. I felt conflicted about Roden, who seemed like a decent guy doing things to protect his family and home. But some of those things are kind of horrible when seen from the other side.

I was curious how much of the story was based on actual history (if any) and so was overjoyed the author included a ‘historical notes’ section at the end going over this, including a few book recommendations for those wishing to learn more.

This is an era of history that isn’t often used for fantasy storytelling so I found it fascinating and would love to read more.

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Book Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes

Pros: interesting mythology, sympathetic protagonist


Yetu is the Historian of the wajinru, sea dwelling descendants of pregnant slave women cast overboard. The memories of the ancestors overwhelm and pain Yetu, so they conceive a plan to leave the memories behind.

The Afterward mentions that the idea behind the wajinru comes from the mythology written by the music group Drexciya (James Stinson and Gerald Donald). Another music group, Clipping (rapper Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes) wrote the song “The Deep” (nominated for a Hugo award in 2018) based on that mythology. The narrative of Basha, one of the ancestors whose story is told in this novella, incorporates the war with the two-legs that “The Deep” speaks of.

The mythology of the story is strangely poetic as it takes something horrifying and turns it into something beautiful. And while the story is fairly short, there’s a lot to take in. There’s a real weight to it, a depth that makes the underwater world feel real and lived in.

The idea of a singular memory keeper reminded me of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, but I much preferred the ultimate solution the protagonist comes up with here for how to deal with memories as a population that wishes to forget the past while having it accessible, without having a singular member of the group subsumed by those memories. I appreciated that Yetu had anxiety and this caused the memories to weigh on them even more than on past historians.

It’s a sad, touching, and ultimately hopeful story that’s definitely worth the read.