And Then I Read: BIRDWING by Rafe Martin


Image © Rafe Martin, cover art by Matt Mahurin.

One thing storytelling is about is “What happened next?” A good story will leave you with that question, and sometimes you’ll continue thinking about the characters and what might become of them for a long time. Author Rafe Martin has taken that idea to great lengths in this novel, and very effectively. It’s based on the Brothers Grimm story, “The Six Swans,” in which six brothers are turned into swans by a witch, leaving one sister with the very difficult and years-long task of saving them. She succeeds, or almost. The youngest brother does not change completely back to human, he retains one swan’s wing. From this idea, Martin creates the world of Prince Ardwin, known derogatively as Birdwing. His wing is a great trial to him at times, but also a unique blessing, as it helps him remember the time when he could fly, and still allows him to understand and talk to animals. Ardwin’s life is often difficult, and many mock and scorn him, but he perseveres, learning to fight with bow and arrow, sword and spear, and making friends among those in the castle where he lives with his father.

Then emissaries arrive from a warlike neighboring king with a proposal and a gift. The proposal is to ally the two kingdoms through the marriage of Ardwin to their princess, and the gift is a mechanical golden arm. If the king were to accept this offer, Ardwin’s wing must be cut off. If the King refuses, war is likely. Horrified at the idea, Ardwin runs away with two friends, and later continues on his own. His first goal is the far northern lake where he and his brothers spent their summers when they were swans, and Ardwin has a very tough road there. What happens when he arrives is sad rather than comforting, and Ardwin is soon going south again, where he’s attacked by a snow lion, only the beginning of many more adventures. And, while the book at first seems a somewhat open-ended travel adventure, characters and plot threads weave together into a very satisfying story arc and resolution.

I thought this book was excellent in every way. It kept surprising me, the characters were terrific, and the creative imagination of the author in bringing this world to life is impressive. Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more books by Rafe Martin.



Image © DC Comics, Inc.

Before I discuss the contents of this anthology, some words on the cover. While it’s true that, in today’s market, cover appeal is not as important as it once was when readers needed to be enticed to buy off the newsstand, I still feel this design scheme for the QUARTERLY is misguided. First, it reveals nothing about what’s in the book. Second, it wastes prime space. Third, it’s an insider joke that, even as an insider myself, I find uninteresting. Perhaps the oddness of it might get a few folks to pick it up and look through it, but I don’t think that’s enough reason to go this route.

As for what’s inside, I’m afraid I didn’t find very much that appealed to me. The opening story by Rachel Deering and Matteo Scalera has nice art, but a violently unlikeable lead character. Rian Hughes’ “Magenta is not a Colour” is at least on theme, and the art is attractive and clever. The story did not do much for me, but that might be me. “Captives” by Moreci and Mutti has nice art, but again not much of a story, it’s more of a story fragment. “Gloves” by Lindsay and Edwards delivers a complete story, and not a bad one. The art is impressionistic and well done, though not really to my taste. Fabio Moon’s “Pink Slumber” is probably my favorite entry in the book. Clever writing, attractive art, a little light on content, but not bad. A few other stories didn’t work for me, and I have to say the lettering and/or the art was off-putting. Books like this are meant to give newcomers a chance to try things, and that’s great, but it doesn’t mean readers will want to read them.

Mildly recommended.



Image © DC Comics, Inc.

Aquaman and Wonder Woman team up to deal with a group of dangerous creatures recently released from an ancient Atlantean prison, as seen in AQUAMAN 29 & 30. Why Wonder Woman? They’re creatures connected to Greek mythology, perhaps in somewhat minor ways, but it works as a story with lots of action in a Ray Harryhausen tradition: heroes vs. monsters. The monsters themselves have individual personalities and talents, and they’ve used them to set up headquarters in a medieval castle in France, mind-controlling the locals to act as their servants and energy source. Diana and Arthur infiltrate, are discovered, and the battle is on.

A second story teams Wonder Woman with Mera, tracking down another group of the creatures on a remote island. I actually liked this better, and the art by Alvaro Martinez and Raul Fernandez is excellent. It’s all fun in a summer reading at the beach sort of way.


Silver Anniversary


Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the day I married my true love, Ellen. This is my favorite picture from the wedding. We’re still in love, and it sure doesn’t seem like that long ago!


Today Ellen had an appointment in downtown Philadelphia, and I went with her. We made it a short day-trip to celebrate our anniversary, starting with a delicious lunch at this restaurant in the historic district. While the building and interiors look authentically colonial, I learned today by reading the fine print on the cornerstone that it’s a recreation of the original built in the 1970s. No matter, it’s still great fun. The food is excellent, and so is the beer. I had the Porter mentioned in the sign above, delicious!


Afterwards we walked around the historic district enjoying the atmosphere. We considered going in to see the Liberty Bell, but the length of the line discouraged us. I spotted the Curtis Building and had to visit the Parrish/Tiffany mural in the lobby there, which I love. A huge art installation, it was designed by Maxfield Parrish and executed in many thousands of pieces of iridescent favrile glass by the Tiffany Studios. It’s quite amazing, and impossible to get in one photo. Unfortunately, it’s poorly lit, which probably helps preserve it, but makes the colors hard to see and appreciate. I enhanced them some on these photos.


In this closer shot you can see some of the small pieces of glass forming the mosaic picture. I’ve just looked up the details, it’s 15 feet high by 49 feet wide, and made of about 100,000 pieces of glass. If you’re ever in Philadelphia try to stop in and see it.

After that we stopped at a used book store, bought a few things, and headed home before rush hour made traffic too crazy. A nice break for both of us.

Sand Sculpting with Friends


It’s been a few years since my friend Tim and his son Gabe were able to visit us in the summer. When they do, we always create some unusual sand sculptures, and that’s what happened this past weekend. Tim had some new sand sculpting tools,  WillySpheres, which do but one thing: make large spherical shapes, and we used them for our carvings. Continue reading