This odd little book could appeal to many of the various readers that make up the comic audience: It’s manga-sized (although fewer pages and in color) with bizarre talking animals. The style is European-influenced, and the art crowd will appreciate the dream logic and symbolism. Unholy Kinship is ambitious in its themes, and it’s a debut work from a young Swedish woman, Naomi Nowak.
Sadly, this boundary crossing means that it’s likely that few readers will give the book a try, because it’s not comfortably situated within an easily defined category, and the overall impression is one of confusion. That’s on purpose — it’s an unsettling book.
Luca’s father is dead, and her mother is committed to an asylum. Her older sister Gae is becoming like mom, and Luca’s life revolves around taking care of her. There are hints of a conspiracy against the parents because of their research, but that element of the story is like hearing rumors at work about something happening in another department on another floor.
Beyond the two girls, the other characters are thinly developed. There’s a seemingly nice but boring guy who tries to date Luca, and who she deals with by avoidance. There’s the scary looking nurse who drives a wedge between the sisters. She’s religious, which is apparently bad, but the more the reader is familiar with similar figures like Nurse Ratched, the more weight the character will have.
The most appealing element of the book for me was the striking images. Nowak blends linework and color to establish significant emotional moods, and her often fragmented pages support her story of broken relationships and dissolving mental states.
At its end, this is a frightening tale of losing touch with reality, well illustrated by a promising talent. There are preview pages at the publisher’s website, or visit the artist’s website to see more. (The publisher provided a review copy.)