Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Please, sir, perhaps you should stop drinking..."
Pick a page, any page, and I promise you will lap this up.
A tonic for tired eyes, it is a sublime fusion of European science fiction settling into steampunk in places, with plenty to please more mature manga readers too in the form of the Chinese protagonists, antagonists and subaquatic, aerial and upper-atmosphere dogfights.
The architecture is exquisite, from Zaya's countryside getaway - an ornate, gabled mansion with white wooden and stone features overshadowed by trees - to the early morning marina with its Venetian towers and baroque clocks in what is evidently a very rich quarter of a very rich city. You should see Zaya's hotel room - and just wait until you book into the saltwater resort of Estrella del Mar whose hotels, each competing to outdo the others in opulence and originality, sit right on the immaculate beaches, their balustraded stone steps rising from the sands.
However the art is actually composed, it looks like good old-fashioned pencil and wash with exquisite figure work and a fine eye for fashion. Zaya's black waistcoats, miniskirts and cocktail dresses could not be more chic; her hair, blouses and battlesuit too.
The palette, for the most part, is pure Arthur Rackham: sepia, creams and muted greens which makes the rich blue skies of Estrella del Mar all the fresher and the minimally deployed reds stand out a mile.
As to the steampunk aspect, there is a charming mix of the antique, antiquated and futuristic from Zaya's mail box, country house and classic car pimped with rocket pipes to the giant floating liners, airships and spaceships and Zaya's spaceship bathroom with its pumps, plumbing and small generator only partially hidden by chain-linked metal mesh! Also, coming back to the architecture, we're not on Earth but a colonised planet so everything has been built afresh. When we do reach Earth you'll discover the modern sits atop ground-level conurbations far more familiar. I love that either the writer or artist has thought of that.
This isn't created in shorthand, either, so you won't feel short-changed: plenty of extended scenes so you can soak in the eye-candy.
It's opening night at Zaya Oblidine's holosculpture exhibition. The centre piece looks like some tumour-ridden mammoth to me, but it's being very well received. An over-entitled nitwit being pleaded with by the waiter is getting drunk and obnoxious. Zaya steps in. The drunkard "steps out".
Meanwhile, a family car is being targeted by a top-heavy mutant of a man or machine that looks like it could have been designed by Zaya herself. With gigantic jetpacks armoured and weaponised to the max, she/he/it prefers an aerial assault and it's devastating. The first strike takes out most of the mother's face and only the father manages to crawl from the wreckage and scramble for cover. Pursued to a dead end, the man cuts off his own hand with a circular saw and jettisons it into a garbage chute so its signet ring can transmit into space, there to be detected by Spiral. Oh, and space has another useful property too
It transpires that he's not been the first former agent of Spiral to be tracked down. It also transpires that sculpture wasn't Zaya's first occupation. After twenty years working for the top secret agency called Spiral (she joined very young, as you'll discover) she retired six years ago when she fell pregnant and has since raised the two daughters she dotes on as a more than capable single parent. Her younger sister Carmen visits often. This is not irrelevant.
Now Zaya's being reactivated for what Spiral claims will be such a low-risk, safe and simple assignment that she won't even need a gun: she's to work for one day as a hostess on a yacht moored at Estrella del Mar. But if it's such a low-level mission, why are there 341 other Spiral agents acting as crew members too?
So there you go: a summary of Act One. As you might infer Act Two goes postal with the most monumental all-out action you can imagine before Act Three takes a completely unexpected turn at the transdimensional traffic lights leaving Zaya confounded, distraught then devastated. Readers will be tearing their hair out under a deluge of dramatic irony. You know what's happening: Zaya hasn't a clue.
A final note on Estrella del Mar that made me laugh:
"Many beaches of the central island are clearly separated for naturists and other groups of religious thought, so that everyone can relax without having to face the gaze of others."
""Sorry" is really the last thing you should say to a woman after sex."
My friend Cath found "Thanks for that" pretty shoddy too.