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Beauty & Avengers

Khatt: Egypt’s Calligraphic Landscape
Noha Zayed, photographer; Basma Hamdy, editor; various contributors
February 2019
Contemporary non-fiction

From prehistoric paintings on rocks and cave walls to the hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt to present-day graffiti, humans have felt compelled to decorate their environment with a durable record of their experiences, ideas, and beliefs. These symbols document the evolution of human history. Khatt’s specific focus on the progression of Arabic lettering calligraphy of Egypt is declared on page 4 in the foreword:

During the Pharaonic times, writing was considered the language of the gods, and writing in the Middle East still retains this spiritual connection to the invisible and divine world beyond… this book attempts to examine and underline the social and symbolic power of Arabic lettering… its integral role in the construction of contemporary Egyptian visual culture.

Captivating in arrangement, composition, scale, and texture, these images invite viewers’ eyes to linger. Contrasts in colors and textures, proportions and dimension project from each frame with the vibrancy of a diorama suspended in time; that motion might resume in one blink.

Each of the four sections begins with a word wall of phrases to introduce the context for the next area of study. Thoughtful exchanges with artists Eleiwa, eL Seed, and others add intellectual depth to a book that completely engrosses with its images alone. Passages about the science and art of written words as symbolic and interpretive in conveying meaning encourages readers to observe their surroundings with more deliberate attention.

Khatt: Egypt’s Calligraphic Landscape offers a gorgeous map legend that unlocks some of the mysteries in “the science of the secrets of letters” mentioned on page 120.  

Vagrant Queen
Magdalene Visaggio; Jason Smith, illus.; Harry Saxon, color; Zakk Saam, letter
Vault Comics
February 2019

In a recent string of tweets about the evolution of artistic ethos the Vagrant Queen creator says, “My goal is always… to toss the reader into the deep end and get on with the story. It worked for Star Trek, it worked for Star Wars, and that’s good enough for me.” This deep space adventure saga about idolatry, betrayal, and searching for home starts with a vessel named Lucy Maxson and an unnamed pilot. The complicated entanglements between the titular Vagrant Queen of Arriopa Elida Al-Feyr and the pilot unwind for readers in a timeline that slides forward and backward like the shuttle loom on a weaving machine until the full tapestry of their involvement is revealed. Dynamic illustrations rendered in a combination of backgrounds that resemble technically elevated crayon etching in contrast with structures and figures drawn in a mix of gray/green/blue scale and primary colors with some pastel accents clearly convey the narrative arc, almost making the crisp, succinct lettering obsolete. Switching backgrounds from black to white to indicate planetary shifts also aids comprehension and enjoyment.

Subtle spins on references to east of Eden in the Christian Bible, a truly reprehensible villain, threads about oligarchy, nepotism, and abuse of power, plus a snarky tit-for-tat repartee between unlikely cohorts create a reading experience consistent with Vault’s “it’s safe to be different” space. Looking forward to many more intergalactic adventures with Elida.   

Ambush (Sydney Parnell #3) by Barbara Nickless
March 19, 2019
Thomas & Mercer
Contemporary mystery

Semper Fi. Always loyal.
To what? To whom?

Retired U.S. Marine, now Colorado railroad officer Sydney Parnell is being haunted. “Three years earlier, something terrible had happened in Iraq. Something outside even the so-called normal atrocities of war.” [page 17]

That declaration combined with the ominous foreshadowing of the prologue, which vibrates with menace that essentially generates its own minor-key crescendo, warns readers that Ambush will bombard all their senses. It incorporates themes found in The Good Soldier, the Jason Bourne series, The Sixth Sense, and other complicated modern morality tales with a collision of painfully intimate character studies of the complex personalities of people who choose to serve and to protect others, especially in the ethical quagmire of war and its aftermath.

Messy soul-searching, macabre humor, multifaceted villains, tarnished heroes, a high body count, lots of violence that’s organic to the dire circumstances, and a surprisingly low frequency of profanity are only a few of the elements that make Ambush a one-sitting read. It’s the third installment of a series, but is coherent and entertains as a stand-alone. 


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