“The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There” by Catherynne M Valente

Before I get into this review, I just want to say that yes that is a colouring-in bookmark. I’m saving it for the end of the year. I think I’m going to need some relaxation after this semester. But moving on….

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland did something that not many books really can. Well, not for me anyway. It made me think. Not just about the story or the characters, but it made me think about life. Only the very best of novels can do this.

This instalment of the Fairyland  series mainly takes place in Fairyland-Below. All of the shadows are being stolen by Halloween, the Hollow Queen (genius, right?), and therefore leeching the magic from the Fairyland we met in the first book. Magic lives in the shadows, apparently. And so when the shadows disappear, so does the magic. This is what September goes back to fix.

Now how did this story make me think, you ask? Well, in this book we meet the shadow versions of our favourites: September, A-through-L, and Saturday. As well as the Marquess. The shadow versions of these characters were very similar to the characters we’d met previously. Only, every once in a while you’d see that one of their dominant traits had flipped to its reverse. A-through-L was timid, Saturday was assertive, and the Marquess was something akin to kind. And I’m going to let Valente take it from here:

“[September] did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colourful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvellous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvellous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms—and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too—end up in their shadow.”

What The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland  looked at was how the traits the we keep in the dark strengthen over time until something, maybe the theft of all of the shadows in a fantastical place, forces those traits into the light of day. Which got me thinking: which of my traits would my shadow have? Would she be bolder? More selfish? Would she be cruel? It is an incredibly perplexing thought because, well, who knows? I don’t know my dominant traits, so I don’t know which traits I hide. Does anyone? And that got me thinking a whole lot of things about myself that got very uncomfortable very quickly.

And all that from a story that is set in Fairyland.

The plot of this story is simply what September has to do to fix the magic in Fairyland. It progresses the same way as any other questing story, really. September has to find pieces of the puzzle that lead her to the final stage where there is, of course, one last twist. The thing is that Valente does this with such panache. Now there’s a word that I don’t use very often. The plot may be something that we’re all familiar with, but what happens in between plot points is what makes this story beautiful. Plus the ability to create a dark side to already fully developed characters is something I haven’t really seen done before. It’s impressive and, really, a little intimidating.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

★★★★★

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“Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales” edited by Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt [Part III]

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Unfortunately, I am writing this review/these impressions without the copy of Rags & Bones that I was reading. I had to give it back. And because I got a little busy in between finishing the book and writing this up, these reviews are quite … minimalistic. I hope you can forgive me!

The Soul Collector by Kami Garcia
One of my favourite things is when magic is placed into some of the worst places in our world. Gritty magic. Urban, I suppose is the wanky term. But this kind of magic lends a sense of hope and wonder into situations that are completely devoid of both.
This story follows a woman who worked her way from a dodgy foster home into the police force. She then is tasked to go undercover into her old neighbourhood and has to “prove her worth” by killing people for the crime boss. but she can’t do it. Instead this…man does it for her. You can probably guess what his price was by the name of this story.
I’m a massive Supernatural fan, even though I don’t really talk about it on here. So all I could think was “is this the story that created the amazing character of Crowley?”. It was like an origin story, or a prequel of sorts. I loved it.
This story had a wonderful romance, a twist ending, and flawed characters. God, I love me some flawed characters. This is a definite must read.

Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy by Saladin Ahmed
This story was off-putting. I think it was supposed to be this way. There’s repetition and verbose language that sets an unsettling scene. I often found this story hard to follow, but this was the fault of the unreliable narrator, not Ahmed. This story felt like a remix of an original story more so than a retelling. It felt like the folk stories of old, rather than a modernisation. This could also be why I felt so wrong-footed. Other stories in this collection have been set in the past but the language was modern. Not this story. This was archaic, and in the most delightful way possible.

Uncaged by Gene Wolf
Unfortunately, in short story collections, there is always one story that is weaker than the others. Uncaged is that story. The story was simply all over the place. One minute I was on a ship, then I was in Africa three weeks prior to the ship’s passage, then I was in the narrator’s house months after the voyage. Then there was the character of Marthe, who became Kay with no warning, and she became the narrator’s wife seemingly seconds after being made a widow in Africa. Marthe/Kay’s dialogical voice changed dramatically from the beginning of the story to the middle. I was never sure where I was, who was with me, or what was actually happening. And that’s bad for a story that’s as complicated as this. I loved the concept, but the story kept jumping in such a way that I could not keep the plot straight in my head. This was an unfortunate way to end this wonderful collection.

Illustrations by Charles Vess
I feel absolutely awful that I have not mentioned the beautiful illustrations that appeared sporadically throughout this collection. Vess gave us beautiful artwork coupled with a page long explanation of the story that inspired the art and why that story is important. Unfortunately, I no longer have the book in my possession, so I can’t show you examples. I mean, I could. I could Google the images and put them up here, but it’s not the same. To me, these pages belong on paper, not a screen. But feel free to Google them yourself. These pictures are splendid.

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“Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales” edited by Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt [Part II]

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Millcara by Holly Black

This story felt a little more familiar to me than the others. I was part of the Twilight generation, which spawned the vampires of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, as well as True BloodVampire Diaries, and probably a whole heap of others that I’m no thinking of. Vampires are even one of the major powers in the Shadowhunter Chronicles. I know vampires. I do not know vampires like this.

Millcara follows the story of twelve year old  Millcara (didn’t see that one coming, did you?), who has been twelve for decades. Her power is never spoken of but we know. We just know. Millcara finds a very powerful friend  (lover?) in the daughter of the family that she and her mother had been trying to con. I liked the idea of vampires running cons. That was fresh. I also liked the never naming vampiric tendencies or vampire hunters (there were vampire hunters in Millcara’s adoptive conned family). It was nice. Black took our over-familiarity with vampires and turned it on its head. I love that. And here I was thinking that there was no new way to present vampires.

Fun fact: this story was inspired by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Realising that, and the connection to the protagonist of this story was one of those delectable moments that we get every so often as readers.

When First We Were Gods by Rick Yancey

In all stories of the supernatural, humans are protected because we are the flame that burns too brightly and for too short a time. But what happens when humans take away that intergral part of themselves: their mortality?

In Yancey’s universe a rich, immortal man falls in love with his wife’s mortal servant. Yancey explored this world in such depth and detail that this felt a little like reading humanity’s future. Because death is what makes life beautiful. What happens when we have too much time? When we can outlive planets and stars? We stagnate. Yancey portrayed this beautifully. There’s no more progression, because we’ve already conquered what we need to. The nobility who actually go to work don’t do very much at all because, well, what’s there to do that machines can’t do? Yancey also tackles the idea of marriage and how it becomes meaningless when humans can live forever. You can agree with Yancey or not, but his narrative argument is quite compelling.

I can’t really explain this story very well. It feels as prophetic, for lack of a better work, as Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. We strive so hard to defeat death and ageing that I don’t know if we’ve realised that the inevitability of death is what makes life such a gift. And without death, everything we value becomes superfluous.

Sirocco by Margaret Stohl

Sirocco is my favourite kind of fantasy: where magic works its way into reality. Theo just thinks he’s working on another film with his dickhead dad, until things start to get weird. Like a trailer falling into the sea, with one of the film’s biggest stars inside. Or an elephant woman hanging around each dark corner that Theo turns down. Or even Isabella, the Bulgarian gangster’s daughter. But all of these things happen in a completely mundane setting.

I think, for me, when magic winds its way into our reality the magic seems both more fantastic and more plausible. Like, believable, I suppose. So, although the rest of the stories in these collections so far have been absolutely stunning, Sirocco is the only one I truly understand.
Which, funnily enough, means that I am much too under-qualified to critique this story. Suffice it to say that I loved it, and Stohl is amazing at putting ordinary characters into extraordinary situations.

Awakened by Melissa Marr

I haven’t read many stories about selkies (selchies, in this story). All I know about them is what Jamie tells Claire in Outlander. But this is a myth that I want to read more about, thanks to Marr. How do you produce such vivid characters in such a small amount of time? Portray the vulnerable strength of Eden the selchie? But, most impressive, was the conplexity of Leo. He wanted so badly to be different from his father, the wifebeater, that he chose a wife that he couldn’t beat, lest he lose her. But, in taking Eden’s selchie skin, he traps her, just like his father had done to Leo’s mother.

This story was more than a retold myth. It was a study  (for lack of a better word) into innate behaviour and how people will go to terrible lengths to make sure that they don’t do terrible things. Awakened was definitely one of the most philosophical myths I’ve ever read. And that’s why I’m adding the inspiration to this story, Kate Chopin’s The Awakened, to my TBR mountain.

New Chicago by Kelley Armstrong
I hate zombies. I don’t understand why zombies are (were?) the new craze. I just don’t get it. Creepy humanoid things that look like us but aren’t us, I mean, what’s the draw? Vampires and werewolves I get, but not zombies. So anything that is remotely zombie-like, I stay away from.
What I love is when creators (show runners, authors, etc) change up the zombie disease. Like in Dante Stack’s Solve the World podcast. Or, in Kelley Armstrong’s short story New Chicago. Zombies are gross and, to be honest I think the fact that I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy that corpses reanimated have the strength to do anything is why I hate them so much. They’re corpses. Everything should be falling off them. They shouldn’t be able to walk let alone run around and eat people.

I’m getting sidetracked. In this short story, there is an incredibly infectious disease that causes people to turn ferocious. The disease is transmitted through the bites of the infected. The story takes place in one of the last strongholds of the healthy, New Chicago (which, I had to keep reminding myself, was not Newcago from Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheartalthough there were marked similarities). This was a post-apocalyptic story with magic, but the magic in folklore. You know, “Magic always comes with a price, dearie”, and all that. Our protagonist, Cole, finds a monkey paw that grants three wishes. But in the most messed up way possible. I think it’s an allegory for not taking the easy way out, but Cole and his brother Tyler had been fighting to make enough money to move somewhere safer, so I think that’s mean.

I loved that the ending was left to interpretation. You can imagine Tyler and Cole living happily ever after if you wanted to. Or dead in a ditch after being bitten by the infected. But it’s all up to you.
What I didn’t love is that I kept getting the characters of Cole and Tyler mixed up. This could have been my fault for reading shallowly, but I feel like when characters are properly written and attributed, mix-ups actually can’t happen. The voices and actions of the characters are so unique that it’s impossible to mistake them for anyone else.
Bottom line, this story is great. Just some characterisation issues.

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“Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales” edited by Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt [Part I]

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Rags & Bones is a short-story collection that I found when I was helping the boyfriend move house about two weeks ago. This was my finders fee for helping him pack up his clothes. I mean, I’ll give it back…

*shifty eyes*

Anyway, all this means is that, to give each story its due, the ‘review’ will be broken down into parts. I’ll try and keep these short, but I make no promises.

That the Machine May Progress Eternally by Carrie Ryan
This was quite possibly the creepiest short story that I have ever read. The story follows Tavil and what happens after he ends up inside the Machine that he wanted so badly to investigate. What freaked me out the most was that Tavil’s beliefs changed so … extremely. He went from disdaining the people living inside the Machine  to loving the Machine so much that he would be willing to die for it. In such a small snippet of story, Ryan managed to convey the change convincingly. The story spans years, if not decades, and that time progression is written so well . I think the character of the woman with the long flowing hair is used as a way to mark important changes in Tavil’s mindset. Definitely not a cheap trick, it is a superb literary device that works on so many levels.
Finally, I would just like to say that when Ryan describes the physical appearance of the other residents of the machine, I envisioned the future humans from Wall-E. The big blobs of humanity on their floating chairs, with everything they need available with the push of a button. It made for a bit of incongruous reading, since Wall-E is a kids’ movie (but, you know, a brilliant one) and this story is more than a little frightening.

Losing Her Divinity by Garth Nix
Garth Nix pulled off something in this story that I’ve always wanted to do. And that is tell the story as if your narrator is, quite literally, telling it to someone else. Sure there are books that try to do that, but they adhere too much to the novel/story archetypes of quotation marks and he said/she said. What Nix has done is made it so we can see both stories that are happening: the story that our narrator is telling and the story of how he’s telling the story. We get the impression that our narrator is being threatened into telling everything that he ends up revealing. Not only this, but these asides let us know that our narrator’s captors get impatient with his rambling. We get characterisation for characters we never see or hear. It is brilliant and I love it.
I have such a thing for structure, and this is one of the more flawless structures that I have ever seen. The story is fantastic, but it’s the structure that makes this work of fantasy phenomenal. Read it. Read it now.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman never once uses names in this story. But you know who the characters are. And I love that. The raven haired beauty with pale skin and blood red lips, with dwarves for companions is, of course, Snow White. But Sleeping Beauty, now there was a twist. I don’t want to give away the ending because it is too delicious. Suffice it to say that Gaiman takes the stories that you know, entwines them and then sharply twists the ending. That ending though…geeze. You must read this story. but, if you do, I highly suggest reading the illustrated version. You can check that out here.

My favourite line in this story is:

“She was herself, and the name she had been born with had been eaten by time and lack of use.”

I feel like this line speaks to all fairytales, in a way. We know them so well and yet, the characters are caricatures. Princesses are virginal maidens and princes are heroes and witches are evil and haggard. What Gaiman has done in this story is to take away the names of our beloved fairytale characters but given them back their personality. And I love him for it.

The Cold Corner by Tim Pratt

OK…what the hell did I just read? This story just overtook That the Machine May Progress Eternally as the creepiest story ever. This line from the author’s notes about the story basically sums up the entire premise:

“It seemed to me that, if it were possible to meet the ghosts of our possible lives, there wouldn’t be just one ghost – there would be dozens, scores, maybe hundreds, sharing some essential qualities, but radically different in other respects.

This story is about a young man who comes back to his hometown after avoiding it for five years, and then constantly runs into different versions of himself. It’s terrifying. Imagine going back to your hometown and instead of seeing all of your high school mates who never left, you just kept seeing yourself, but a version of you that’s always just a little bit different. It’s way too deep a story for me to have read on a Saturday morning. Because this story forces you to think about what the versions of you would look like if you’d never left that job, that guy/girl, never gone to university, never pursued that dream. It’s unsettling.

I’ll just leave you with this quote:

‘Are … any of us … happy?’

‘Happy?’ he said. ‘Sure, off and on, anyway. And some of us are miserable. About like anybody, I guess … But every one of our lives is just a life, man.’

I mean … geeze, Pratt. Maybe give us some hope?

 

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“The Grownup” by Gillian Flynn

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A little while ago, I took part in that viral Facebook status that was all about generating book sales. You probably saw it: the status about #savetheculture (I think that was the hashtag) where if you were one of the first six people to like it, you got a really long message about sending a book to someone you didn’t know. BUT, if you did that, you got six books in return. This was a no brainer for me. The publishing industry needs as much help as it can get, so I joined in. I bought my person Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. I put my status up, sent out the six messages, and waited.

I got one book. One out of six. Don’t get me wrong, whoever sent me that book is amazing, and I know it’s weird buying strangers things, but I feel like the people who read the status didn’t get what the whole thing was about.

Anyway, that was my longwinded way of saying that this Facebook status was how I ended up with The Grownup. I wouldn’t have bought it myself, to be completely honest. Gone Girl never really seemed like my thing. I’m not one for psychological thrillers. I don’t like feeling unsafe in my own mind. Which is:
a. why I will never watch Shutter Island again, and
b. why I study psychology.
So from everything I heard from both the book and the movie, I figured that Gillian Flynn was just one of those authors I would never experience.

Oh well. Looks like I have to add Gone Girl to the TBR mountain.

The Grownup was amazing. From the very first sentence. Most first sentences I read draw you in slowly, kind of like a hypnotist counting to five until you are completely under their control. Not in this book. The first sentence is a steel trap that seizes your attention so forcefully that it’s nearly painful.

I didn’t stop giving  hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it.

And then the second sentence…

I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.

I forgive you if you abandon this post now and go find this story.

My copy of The Grownup was only 79 pages long, so this book will not take you long. Every single page has been artfully crafted in all things. Plot? Mood?  Mystery? An awesome ending? Hell yes. The plot twisted and turned so much that I definitely didn’t see the ending coming. Even though I should have. But that’s only what hindsight is telling me. Flynn did an amazing job of throwing me off the ending’s scent.

What I will say is that  I think the only fully fleshed out character was the narrator. She had everything: a back story, idiosyncrasies, a very distinctive voice, and a physicality on the page that not many authors can pull off. However, the rest of the cast felt a little like acquaintances who you see everyday, but only for five minutes. You get an impression of these people, but you always miss the most important details. I feel like this could have been a kind of characterisation for the main character, suggesting that she’s selfish enough to only notice people on a superficial level. But, it is very likely that by writing the rest of the characters like this, Flynn was better able to pull off her ending.

But what do I know? This story won the Edgar Award for Best Short Story back in 2015.

Read this story now. Especially if Gillian Flynn isn’t your cup of tea. It’ll take you half an hour and you might find yourself drawn to a whole new side of your local bookshop as a result.

★★★★

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“The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” by Catherynne M. Valente

I’ve been putting off writing this review for the past few days purely for the fact that it means that the magic of this book is over.

This book reminds me a lot of the first Harry Potter book in terms of mood. There’s magic and adventure, but there’s also darkness and danger and some pretty gruesome things that people of the tender age of twelve (eleven, in Harry’s case) just should not have to deal with. But, much in the same way as Harry Potter, Valente doen’t shy away from these horrific moments. She never once talks down to the reader, which means that this series coan be enjoyed by all ages. Not even the vocabulary is reined in. I had flashes of a young me reading this book and having to look up words every now and again, because that’s what I used to do. Hell, I still do it. I only learned was ‘verdigris’ was a few years ago.

The plot of Fairyland (please don’t make me type out that whole title every time!) follows September, a twelve year old girl, and what happens when the Green Wind takes her to Fairyland. There, she meets a Wyverary (wyvern/library hybrid), a Marid named Saturday, a lantern named Gleam, and a whole host of other characters.
What’s interesting is how Valente portrays the antagonist, the Marquess. She’s not inherently evil, but she tries to take Fairyland’s uniqueness, and therefore its soul, and that’s just … wrong. Valente makes the Marquess relatable, but you can’t really take her side. Villains you can understand are always amazing to me, and to have one of these complex characters show up in what is essentially a child’s book (but the genius of this book can be recognised on so many other levels) was just breathtaking.

Most books can be categorised as either character driven or plot driven. But Fairyland is one of the rare cases where both are just as equally important, and given just as much stage time. The plot spurs character development but at the same time the character development spurs plot and it’s all such a delicious cycle that I kind of want to read it again right now. You can see September grow up before your eyes and become a more grounded and selfless young girl. And, as a matter of fact, the same can be said for Ell, the Wyverary. And, well, everyone really.

I cannot wait to read the next book in this series. But, at the same time, all I can think is “where was this book when was twelve?”

★★★★ 1/2

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Fangirl in the Real World

Last night, I dreamed of a parallel universe. I dreamed that I met the incredible Tom Hiddleston after the Brisbane stretch of Thor: Ragnarok wrapped. Got the selfie and made him laugh by pulling out my copy of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris and having him sign it. And then walked away as he moved onto the next fan, glowing with the knowledge that I had been in the presence of true greatness.

Unfortunately, I had to wake up.

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Chris Hemsworth with the QPS, in the hoodie that conjured a whole lot of revenue for the Australian mental health charity, Livin. Picture from the QPS Facebook page.

See, I live in Brisbane. And all this week I have had my newsfeed blow up with pictures of the golden Asgardian trio: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hiddleston. It’s been incredible. Seeing pictures of celebrities I admire in among things I see everyday, like the Lady Cilento, and the front cover of the Courier Mail. I saw the letter that was sent out to the local businesses that would be affected by filming and recognised the street names. It’s been surreal.

 

Then, of course, there were the photos of my friends who met the golden trio. It was indeed true that Hemsworth bought pizza for the fans who had waited to see them. I walked past the Domino’s that most likely supplied the pizza as well! These photos stung.  A lot.

I am a huge Tom Hiddleston fan, as many of my friends can attest. For example, I saw Crimson Peak, despite being barely able to tolerate the suspense and horror of a Weeping Angels episode of Doctor Who, simply because Tom Hiddleston was in it. And even some of you, depending on how long you’ve followed me, would have seen this post. I simply think Hiddleston is one of the most talented and genuinely nice guys in Hollywood. And in a world full of hate, Tom Hiddleston is the kind of celebrity we all need.

The thing is, though. I no longer live the semi-spontaneous life I lived a few years ago. If I

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Tom Hiddleston with the QPS after the final day of filming. That smile, though! Picture also from the QPS Facebook page

need a day off work, I have to ask for it two weeks in advance. I can’t just call in sick, because I need a doctor’s certificate. I also have uni responsibilities that I have to attend to. I am incredibly jealous of all of my friends who were able to be in the CBD, waiting for the Asgardians for hours on end. I wish, wholeheartedly, that I could have been there with them.

To be clear, I do not begrudge these guys their meeting Hiddleston or Hemsworth or Hopkins. I think it’s amazing. I just am now a permanent slight greenish colour with jealousy.

I did make it to the set, just the once. It was yesterday, the last day of filming. The boyfriend and I managed to get to the set at about 5 o’clock. We walked past the make-up trailer, where we saw pictures of Hiddleston and Hemsworth tacked to the wall for reference. We saw the catering tent and a-frames (A-Frames?) emblazoned with the words ‘Asgardian Productions’. We also saw filming equipment, the camera man, and saw how those massive filming lights get moved (a sort of cherry-picker). We were there in the crowd, which was an experience in and of itself.

But we had to leave. My midsemester exam for statistics closed the following morning at 10am. And because I had to work, I was restricted to doing my exam outside of work hours.

Later that night, when I crawled into bed at around midnight, I checked FB. From what I could see, filming wrapped at around 8.30-9pm and that was when the one and only Tom Hiddleston emerged, de-Loki’d, and took photos with and gave autographs to the crowd.

There is no way I could have been there.

This has probably been a bit of a whingy post, and I apologise. The reason this post is going online and not in my journal – yes, I have one – is because I bet there are many of you out there in the same boat. Your favourite celebrities have been in your city, and you’ve known exactly where they are, but because of the set-in-stone responsibilities of life, you’ve missed out.

So let’s commiserate together!

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This is quite possibly my favourite photo of the Thor:Ragnarok campaign, for lack of a better word. These guys went to the Lady Cilento hospital in Brisbane and spent time with the kids, and brought Mjolnir! An actual Hollywood prop. And they’re both still in costume. Well, their super-powered civvies. This just completely blew my mind. 

 

 

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