Author: Delilah S. Dawson & Matias Basla
Genre: Graphic Novel/Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 128
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Notable Notables: Biracial main character, a brutal Faerie world
Recommended Readers: Anyone looking for grimdark to go with their fairytale
Thank you, NetGalley and the Publisher, for granting this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Uh, well, hmm. I really didn’t like this one, which is very surprising to me. The five issues that make up Sparrowhawk, written by Delilah S. Dawson and illustrated by Matias Basla, seem like they would contain plenty of elements that I love: a diverse woman protagonist, a brutal world of faeries, and gorgeous art. The graphic novel certainly has some of these things, but the execution is definitely not to my tastes.
Artemisia Grey is born of a British naval captain and an African slave, and despite coming to live with her father’s family, she is treated with shame and disgust by everyone except her half-sister, Elizabeth. On the eve of being married off so she’ll “have some use” to her family, Art is pulled through a mirror by an evil faerie queen, effectively switching places with her. To survive in Faerie against the Unseelie, Art makes a bond with a mischievous fae who cannot lie to her but certainly has his own agenda. If she wants to return home and defeat the faerie queen that’s taken her place, Art must kill any evil faerie that stands in her way and absorb their power, but as she does, she starts to undergo her own strange metamorphosis.
Doesn’t this sound awesome? Why don’t I feel any kind of satisfaction or gladness upon reading it?
Let’s examine it a bit.
First off, I love the cover and all the title pages for each issue. They are stunning. Unfortunately, that quality does not transfer to the contents of the graphic novel. As the story is told, the illustrations are incredibly rough and basic despite the complicated character designs, often focusing more on the bizarre landscapes around the characters than the features of the characters themselves.
I won’t say the illustrations are bad, but this style just isn’t one I enjoy when I’m reading a comic. I want vividness. I want to be able to discern what characters look like and how they’re feeling by being able to see their faces in detail. So much goes untold by reading body language, and this style ensures you don’t get much of it. Also, shading goes a long way, and this comic doesn’t use much of that either, making characters and surroundings look flat on the page.
That said, I thought the color choices were interesting. They’re bright but are somewhat off-kilter, and they grow even more so as Art descends into Faerie. While they’re not what I would have chosen, they fit this strange world and its strange inhabitants. I only wish there had been different color choices made for Art’s world, to show how different the two are.
As for the characters themselves, I like Crispin, the Wolpertinger that Art makes a bond with. He’s my kind of trickster character for sure. Beyond that, though, there’s little to speak of. I like Art at first but my interest in her wanes as more of her story becomes as predictable as her choices are ridiculous. (And yep, I predicted the ending as early as the second issue’s beginning, which is a shame because nothing else happens to surprise me and make up for it. Everything just feels futile and inevitable as a result.)
Part of my disinterest comes from how much the story feels half-formed. Unfortunately, Dawson confirms in the Afterword that this story fizzled out after writing 16,000 words when she first conceived it, and even with pictures added to it, you can still tell that.
Art’s experience as a biracial, illegitimate daughter and how it affects her life is also dropped in favor of her going on killing sprees in Faerie for reasons that become more and more half-baked. In truth, Dawson doesn’t seem like the kind of person who should have tried to tackle a slave origin narrative, no matter how slight, especially given how it is treated and what Art becomes, but that’s really all I can say about that.
There is also an Unseelie prince love interest for some reason? Featuring probably the worst character design, he’s nice and doesn’t want to kill anyone, especially innocents, and Art ignores his advice at every turn to listen to Crispin instead. In fact, they barely talk yet somehow they fall in love with each other for reasons that simply don’t exist in the narrative. Don’t even get me started on that last scene/confrontation between them. It is laughably bad.
The other thing that works against Sparrowhawk rather than for it is the cyclical nature of its scenes. As Art continues changing, she has the same type of dream over and over again, except it’s with different characters and contains mirroring dialogue with what’s come before. It’s supposed to be clever but it comes across as tedious given how undeveloped this entire story feels. Dawson really didn’t have many ideas for it, whereas another writer could have truly made this concept shine—and it still could have been brutal and grimdark, but maybe I’d actually feel like I accomplished something by reading it.
I think there’s definitely people who will like this short graphic novel, but I don’t know who they are. Usually, I can recommend things I don’t like to someone in my circle because taste is so subjective, but I’m drawing a blank here. Sparrowhawk just is not my type of story, but it easily could have been with a different execution, and sometimes, knowing that is worse than just not liking something. The lost potential here is real.