The Prestige by Christopher Priest
I don't know why I'd never heard of this World Fantasy Award-winner before I spotted it at Booktopia, because it is every bit as good as an awardee ought to be. The story of the vicious rivalry between two 19th-century stage magicians (and how it affects their families generations down the line), it's tasty with trivia tidbits on prestidigitation and glimpses into the itinerant lifestyle of the professional magician; and ends with the satisfactory resolution of the various intriguing mysteries that pepper the plot. For a semi-epistolary work, it refreshingly manages to maintain solid characterization, especially since it covers a number of decades and a pair of protagonists in the course of the tale. It's also a beautifully-designed book--and just this once, you really can judge it by its cover.
Ultra: Seven Days by the Luna Brothers
It feels like forever since I've read a new comic book I really, really liked; then this trade paperback came along. Pearl Penalosa is Ultra, a superheroine in a world where such heroes are rich and famous... provided that they're managed by the right corporation. But really, the only-somewhat-innovative milieu and even the superheroics themselves are merely peripheral to the real plot, in which Ultra's friends drag her to see a fortune teller, and she's told that she will find true love in seven days. Although Pearl doesn't quite believe this, things seem to fall into place... and fall apart again just as quickly. Clothed in (skimpy!) superhero dress, Seven Days is well-drawn and well-written; the magazine-style covers and features for each issue add to the fun and cleverly help establish the characters and setting. I was actually afraid that the Luna Brothers had dropped the ball towards the end, but they proved me wrong, wrapping things up with admirable truth and grace. (The occasional terrible misspelling is forgiveable in light of the spot-on portrayal of the friendship among Ultra, supermodel-turned-goddess Aphrodite, and rich-girl-turned-environmentalist Cowgirl.)
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
I actually just picked this up in the children's section of Powerbooks because Dean offered to buy me a book when we were out with Sage, and I was too lazy to go scour the racks elsewhere. So I guess it's my month for enjoying stuff I've never heard of before! ...Beauty is the story of Gemma Doyle, a sixteen-year-old British girl who is moved from India to a boarding school in England after the brutal and mysterious murder of her mother. Set in Victorian times, ...Beauty might well be mistaken for your run-of-the-mill girl's boarding school story, but aside from the murder mystery, there's also Gemma's discovery that she is the inheritor of powerful magic. It's a surprisingly sophisticated read: from the penetrating-but-not-preachy social commentary on the Victorian age and its treatment of young women to the insightful depiction of complex personalities and relationships. No one in this novel is purely good and hardly anyone is simply bad--everyone has her flaws, her virtues, and her reasons for both stupidity and heroism... you know, kind of like life. A great and chewy read.
And while we're reviewing things...
There's a reason Episode 3 of Star Wars is called "SW3: ROTS". Because man, did it rot!