- Posted by Johanna on April 13, 2010 at 8:13 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Mike Cavallaro
- PUBLISHER: First Second; $15.99 US
This oddly paced story of a girl discovering she’s intended for greater things is ultimately a prologue to a larger story yet to come. (A second volume is promised, to conclude the tale.)
The plot’s familiar but well-told, as would be expected by Jane Yolen, who has hundreds of fantasy titles under her belt. Aliera’s not well-off, so her mother bought her fencing foil used, which is why it’s got a ginormous jewel stuck on the end of it. She doesn’t have any friends, just her sport and her cousin Caroline — they play role-playing games together. Beautiful new boy Avery is her lab partner and first crush.
The narration can be a tad flowery, reiterating what we know about the heroine and her feelings. Often, the pictures take second place. They’re not necessary to understand the story, which is adequately carried through the text, but nicely illustrated all the same. Comfortable and approachable. For that reason, readers new to comics, perhaps attracted by the writer’s name, will find this easy to follow.
Yolen clearly knows her fencing; at her site, she talks about her time with it in college. Readers may enjoy feeling that they’ve learned the basics of the sport, providing an educational underpinning. The symbolism is obvious. Early on, Aliera’s coach reminds her that the key to fencing is protecting her heart, and then she meets her first crush.
I wish the story got further along in this volume. Some of the scenes seemed longer than they need to be, wallowing in emotional moments that were clear at first and then became slightly tedious. It reads quickly, if you’re just trying to find out what happens, but while we know something’s coming, it takes over half the book to finally get there. When it does, the art uses the classic trick of real world in greytone, fantasyland in glorious full color. However, the kids, running through Grand Central while trying to recover Aliera’s weapon, do some stupid things, like jumping down onto train tracks and running into subway tunnels. (Parents and librarians take note.) The bigger setup, full of fantasy conventions like a Defender, a Slayer, and a fairy queen who has too much exposition, comes rushed near the end. I liked it better when it was a coming-of-age romance instead of yet another RPG come to life. Michael May elaborates on that problem in his review, where he says:
… when I learned the truth I went, “Ahh. Of course!” Everything suddenly fit into place and it didn’t feel like a cheat. The problem was that learning the truth didn’t enhance my enjoyment of the story. Instead, I regretted the loss of the interestingly flawed romance I thought I’d been reading.
I suppose that attests to how much I enjoyed reading about Aliera and sharing her growing-up struggles, that I wanted more of her in the everyday. The publisher provided a review copy and has provided an online excerpt. They’ve also designed a promotional board game.