- Posted by Ed Sizemore on October 30, 2008 at 7:37 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: story by Holly Black; art by Ted Naifeh
- PUBLISHER: Graphix/Scholastic; $16.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Rue Silver’s mother walked out three weeks ago. Her father has sat near comatose on the living room couch since his wife left. To compound Rue’s worries, she is now seeing strange beings/people/creatures walking around town. Worst yet, she’s the only one that can see them. Things continue to spiral down for Rue when her father is accused of murdering one of his students. Then her maternal grandfather shows up, petitioning to become her guardian in the midst of this turmoil. Rue didn’t know her mother had any living relatives. Her new sight tells her that Grandfather and his entourage aren’t human.
I love faerie stories. Although I enjoy the Grimm Brothers, I’m talking about the people and creatures primarily gleaned from Celtic legend; the fair folk, the sidhe, the fey, etc. (Although most modern faerie stories include creatures from other mythoi like Greek and Norse.) They hold a fascination for me since they were created to express simultaneously our fear and wonder of nature. There’s a primal honesty about human nature and imagination in the original myths that sits latent even in the modern tales.
The Good Neighbors is a solid addition to the modern faerie tale genre. Black creates a dual layered story. The larger story focuses on Rue learning about her maternal family, the sidhe world, and discovering who she really is, all at the same time. This forms the emotional center of not just the book, but also the series. It’s on this level that we connect with Rue as we’re learning about this hidden world alongside her. There is a lot of new information for Rue and the reader to take in. Black paces the revelations so that neither we nor Rue are overwhelmed with too much at any one time.
This dimension of the story also sets the dramatic tension for the series. Rue’s grandfather has returned with a larger agenda than simply reconnecting with his granddaughter. He wants her to renounce her human heritage and become fey. He hints that his true ambitions are to restore the fair folk to their former power and glory. Black and Naifeh show great skill by painting him as a menacing figure just by his presence and manner.
The second layer of the story is what gives momentum to his particular book. While Rue is coming to grips with her sidhe heritage and the faerie realm, she’s looking for some solid ground in her life. She wants her father to be that safe harbor. This means that she has to prove him innocent of the murder charges. Unexpectedly, her investigation leads to further insights about the faerie realm. She also uncovers the reason for her mother leaving. (I’m not telling you whether Rue’s father is innocent or not, you’ll have to read the book for that.)
I’m a huge fan of Ted Naifeh’s art. The Courtney Crumrin series is one of the few non-manga books that I collect. He’s the perfect choice for this project, given his own proven track record creating faerie stories. That being said, I was disappointed with the art in this book. Just like Astral Project, this book has the overdrawn look of art school still lives in charcoal.
My biggest complaint is with the lack of negative space on any page in the book. Everything is shaded in grey hues, including the backgrounds, which gives the book a muddy look. It also mutes the visual storytelling. All shock value and most of the dramatic tension is undermined. Nothing stands out in stark contrast to anything else; everything blends together in a sea of grey. The art is meant to give the book a moody feel. Instead, it comes off feeling depressed. I didn’t dislike everything about the art. Naifeh’s character designs are top notch. He does an amazing job of making the fair folk look both exotic and realistic. He has incredible eye for detail, not just in the character designs, but in the backgrounds too. I just wish the art had a crisper, higher contrast look.
The Good Neighbors is a very good book and an excellent start to a new series. The art may not have been my cup of tea, but it was only a minor gripe. Scholastic did a wonderful job with the binding. It’s a nice, solid hardcover book with a beautiful dust jacket. This would make an excellent gift for either Halloween or Christmas. I’ll definitely be picking up the next book.