Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review: Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting  is a wonderful set of re-imagined and nouveau fairy tales.  This graphic novel starts out with a sort of stand-alone Sleeping Beauty tale, titled The Curse of Brambly Hedge.  Instead of focusing on Sleeping Beauty, the story is seen mostly through the eyes of the secondary characters involved in her tale.  From there the story picks up many years after Sleeping Beauty's departure and focuses on the few remaining residents of the castle, which now serves as a sort of refuge for folks with troubled pasts.

After the story moves on from the Sleeping Beauty intro, we meet Lady Jain, who is pregnant and fleeing an abusive husband.  Her father, a well traveled tradesman, once told her of Castle Waiting, a place she could go if she needed a safe haven.  After a long journey, sometimes filled with peril, Jain eventually makes it to Castle Waiting and meets the not so numerous yet diverse group of characters who look after the place.  The castle is sort of unofficially run by a stork headed dapper lad by the name of Rackham, but there's plenty of other folks who live at the castle, including a bearded nun, a sort of half-man, half-horse knight, a jack of all trades who is definitely the strong, silent type, three maids in waiting, a reclusive doctor, and a susie-homemaker named Dinah, and her son.

As the story progresses writer/artist Linda Medley develops the characters who populate Castle Waiting through a series of vignettes, and then delves into a longer story arc that gives a detailed origin story of Sister Peace, the bearded nun, whose life has included being a bar maid, to working for the circus, to eventually joining a convent that is populated exclusively by bearded women.  While this book offers more of an in depth look at Sister Peace, all the other characters are equally amazing and fully developed.  I get the feeling that the remainder of the origin stories make up the second volume which has recently hit shelves.  Medley seems to really know her characters inside and out, and that comes across to the reader as they all come to life on the page. 

Medley's artwork is exquisitely detailed and beautiful to behold.  Each page is filled with rich ink-line illustrations and just by looking at one page you get a sense for the massive amount of time Medley must have spent on the art alone.  This collection is 457 pages long, and there is absolutely no sign of Medley ever cutting corners or slacking on the art.  It is all beautiful.  The consistency, which must have been hard to maintain, is one of the many virtues of this graphic novel. 

Castle Waiting is not only lovely to behold, but also lovely to hold, Fantagraphics Books really pulled out all the stops in making this a beautiful book.  It is printed on nice high quality paper hard bound and comes complete with a fancy built-in silk page marker.  I know I don't usually, ever rave about how nice a book is, but this is easily the nicest book I own.  I looks like the type of book that belongs on a mahogany bookshelf or something.

Castle Waiting definitely has a bit of a PG feel to it, as there isn't really a lot of tension or danger to the book, however, the stories inside definitely cover a wide range of adult themes, the book just happens to deal with them in a way that is quiet, well mannered and peaceful.  You wont get wild chases, vicious sword fights, or devious backstabbings, instead you get even headed adults handling things like, well, adults.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel, and despite its massive length, I was left wanting more.  While I loved learning more about Sister Peace and her life prior to Castle Waiting, I wanted the same treatment for the other characters.  I guess I'll just have to read the next volume.  Castle Waiting is one of those rare books that gave me the warm fuzzies as I read it.  I sort of wish I could live at that castle.  Definitely not my typical graphic novel read, but definitely worth the journey.

Grade: A-

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