Ursula Vernon MegaPost
Ursula is interesting because she does several contradictory things. She is probably most well known as the author of the Dragonbreath series, which is a middle grade, graphic intensive series. She has a brand new YA book called Castle Hangnail, and another graphic book coming out in August called Hamster Princess.(I got to read an ARC of it already, and it’s great!)
So, that is Ursula Vernon the children’s book author. But there is also Ursula Vernon that adult writer (writing under the pseudonym T. Kingfisher). These are not for kids! They are, however, pretty awesome. Many of these stories are spun out of the darker versions of fairytales or D&D games.
Then there is Ursula Vernon, Hugo Award winning comics writer/artist. Digger won the 2012 Hugo for best graphic story. The complete Digger omnibus weighs in at 823 pages. Digger is a wombat with attitude who finds herself in a very strange world indeed. If you can’t quite cope with an 823 page omnibus, Digger is available in six volumes from Sofawolf Press, or you can read it in its original webcomic format. (By the way, sofawolves are what the owners of the press call their huskies. I have decided that is the best thing ever and have begun to address my husky as such.)
Then, there is Ursula Vernon, podcaster. She and her husband have a podcast called Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap. As Kevin announces at the beginning of each podcast, this is not for kids. This podcast may not be for young adults. Or most adults. There is language, and content, and two (or more) grown people eating some of the weirdest and worst foods they can find to inflict upon themselves. (At episode 200 they have to eat a can of silk worm pupae!). Alert listeners can, and do, mail in tasty treats for consumption on the podcast. And Ursula occasionally curses their names. (Only a little bit.)
So, these are the many facets of Ursula Vernon. I found her initially through work. We got a promo poster for the Dragonbreath series and I decided that this was my kind of thing. I put the poster up, ordered five copies of the first book and then promptly failed to ever read the series. (It’s on book 10 now. I’m a little behind!)
Then, I found Ursula again when I listened to an episode of the SF Squeecast and Elizabeth Bear recommended Digger. (That happened to be the same episode where Lynne M. Thomas recommended Delia’s Shadow.) So, I picked up Digger and put it on my shelf for a while, but who has time to start an 823 page comic?
Then, I came across Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap. It is hilarious. I tune in mostly for the byplay between Kevin and Ursula, but a little bit to see what sort of terrible thing they’re eating this week. And that reminded me that I had all these books by Ursula waiting for me. And so, I started down the path…
Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew is Ursula’s oldest children’s book. I ordered a copy in from our distributor and ripped though it in one night. Nurk is a small shrew who has a very nice house under a willow tree. When the mailman brings him a letter addressed to his grandmother, the great adventuress, Surka, Nurk finds that he has no choice but to answer the desperate plea for help. His grandmother has not been heard from in many seasons and there is no one else.
So, using a snail shell as a boat he heads downstream hoping to find the people who sent the plea for help.
He encounters rapids, dragonflies (which are not at all the sort of flying insect we’re familiar with,) and a giant blind mole who is holding the prince of the dragonflies hostage. It is a very difficult quest for a not very brave shrew, but Nurk and the snailboat persevere. After all, there is the question of miss-delivery of mail to clear up!
Dragonbreath – I finished nine of the ten Dragonbreath books this week. (I’m waiting on #9 to come back in at the bookstore.)
Danny Dragonbreath is a dragon living in a world of non-mythical reptiles and amphibians. No one, except his best friend Wendell, believes he is actually a dragon. This is a source of great consternation to Danny. Danny, meanwhile, is a great source of consternation to pretty much everyone around him. He gets into one impossible scrape after another. The fire department is on a first name basis with his parents, and Wendell is never going to be quite the same as Danny drags him from the Sargasso Sea to Mythical Japan on the worlds best bus system. Which, of course, only seems to work when Danny is riding it.
These books will take a quick reader maybe an hour or two to read, but they’re well worth the time.
Last month, Ursula’s YA novel came out. Castle Hangnail. What can I say about Castle Hangnail?
I love it so much. I got an ARC from my awesome Penguin rep. Then I bought a hard copy when it came out. Then I got the audiobook, so I have now read Castle Hangnail multiple times.
The actual castle from which the book draws its name is on the smallish side. And, sadly, not located in a forbidding landscape. In fact, the view from the front door often includes sunshine, flowers, and frisking sheep. This is a source of great distress to the minions.
Castle Hangnail is also, disastrously, without a master at the moment. If a new wicked witch, evil sorcerer, mad scientist, or undead lord does not present themselves soon the castle will be decommissioned and the minions split up to find gainful employment elsewhere.
Then Molly shows up to take up the position as wicked witch. Molly is not quite what they were expecting. For one thing, she’s twelve. She’s short. She has frizzy hair. But, she does have very good boots. And she can turn invisible when she holds her breath, which is undeniably magical. However, in order to take full possession of the castle and save it from being decommissioned she must complete a list of tasks sent by the Board of Magic:
1) Take possession of the castle and surrounding grounds.
2) Secure and defend the castle.
3) Commit at least one (1) act of smiting and three (3) acts of blighting.
4) Win the hearts and minds of the townsfolk by any means necessary.
If she fails in any of these the Board will take the castle.
The only problem… Molly isn’t supposed to be there at all. She has magic, but it’s never been trained. And she stole the invitation. But she really, really loves the castle, the minions, and everything about being a wicked witch. Only time will tell if that’s enough.
It’s so good, you guys. Did I mention that it was good? And you don’t have to believe me! i09 had a very flattering write-up about it. Castle Hangnail is great for its intended audience of 8-12 year olds, but it’s got a ton to recommend it to older readers as well. The audio would not be my recommended version; I’d pick up the print version instead. A) the narrator is a little old sounding to make the perfect Molly, although she’s very good in all other respects. And B) with the audio version you miss out on all of Ursula’s fantastic illustrations.
But, however you choose to pick this one up, I strongly urge you to go out and get it!
Finally, there is Hamster Princess.
Let me first warn you that Hamster Princess doesn’t come out until August. This is very sad for you as it is amazing. Feel free to pre-order it and give those release day sales a boost though!
Harriet is not a typical princess. She doesn’t like wearing fancy dresses or going to parties. And she’s 100% not interested in marrying a handsome prince. Or even an ok looking prince.
Unfortunately, her father forgot to invite the evil rat fairy to her christening and so Harriet is going to be cursed on her twelfth birthday. She will prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall into a deep sleep. Forever!
There is nothing to be done. The curse will come true.
Harriet realizes that there is a loophole. For the curse to come true, she has to live until her twelfth birthday. Which means… she’s invincible!
She immediately sets out on her riding quail and makes a reputation for herself as the fiercest princess in all known lands. Monsters quake at her very name. But, all the fun and games has to end as her birthday approaches. Of course, Harriet isn’t a standard princess, so when the curse finally comes to call things get… wacky.
So, that is Ursula Vernon. You should go give her money. Which you can do by buying her books or becoming a patron at Patreon. This helps pay for the fancy antacids she has to take in conjunction with her podcast.