“I did it, but the devil didn’t make me, I did it for the suckers who tried to shake and bake me”
One of the biggest issues I have with Humanoids, which is otherwise a fine publishing house, is that their stuff often feels a bit overpriced. I know the content is probably stuff that cost them a bit to get, so they’re just trying to recoup something, but it still bugs me. So I don’t buy as much from them as I might, but I do always check out what they have, and if something is slightly cheaper, I’ll pick it up. Such is the case with Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, which is a nice-sized graphic novel for not a lot of money (in the link I provided below, you can get it for under 12 dollars, although the price tag on the back reads $17.99). The book is written by Helen Mullane, drawn by Dom Reardon, colored by Lee Loughridge, and lettered by Robin Jones, while Matthew Dow Smith is credited with the layouts for about half of the book. Let’s take a look at it!
First of all, that’s a great title. The main character is named Nicnevin, but she’s called Nissy throughout, even though Nicnevin is a cool-ass name. Plus, the “Bloody Queen”? Yeah, that’s a great title. But we’re not here for titles, we’re here for interiors! Let’s start with the art, because I usually don’t. The art on the book is quite good. Reardon has a scratchy, angular style, much like Jock (who provides some illustrations in the back of the book), and as the book is set in the gloomy north of England, where things are fierce and wild, his style suits the tone of the story. Nissy spends a lot of the book outside, and despite the fact that it’s summer, Reardon draws gnarled and leafless trees that dominate the landscape, while making the ground full of brambles and thorns, even in more cultivated areas. This links to the idea of the fairy queen in the book, the “bloody queen,” who wears a crown of thorns and, in the stories, doesn’t seem to be too nice a person. It’s still summer, though, and Loughridge does his usual amazing work with colors, so during the day there’s a beautiful suffusion of sunlight, which implies the summer without giving too much warmth. Only in a few idyllic scenes does Loughridge make the bright colors more solid, showing a brief time when Nissy can enjoy the outdoors without worry. Reardon’s style serves him well when the tone of the book gets dark, because his harsher lines make the brutality that rears its ugly head more than once in the book more a part of the natural world, and even makes it feel less horrible, which is twisted but works to make Nissy seem a bit more complicit. It’s a weird undermining of what we usually expect from a book like this, and Reardon does good work with it.
The story is about someone trying to bring the queen of the fairies back to Earth, and committing ritual murders to do so (she needs the blood, yo!). Nicnevin is a grouchy teenager from London who goes to Northumberland for the summer with her mother and younger brother (her father, for some reason, stays in London). While there, she meets and develops a crush on a neighbor, which is probably not a good thing to do. People get killed, and Nissy seems to be connected to the murders somehow. In the end, she has to stand against the murderer, which is not terribly surprising. I don’t want to give too much away, but that’s general plot. It’s not a bad plot, and Mullane makes it reasonably suspenseful, and she adds some nice local history to make it more realistic that someone would come up with this idea (plus, it’s a comic, so it’s not like it wouldn’t happen because fairies don’t exist). But the book doesn’t work as well as it could, unfortunately, and it’s really all about Nissy. She’s a thoroughly unpleasant character, so there’s no reason to care what happens to her. We’re meant to care about her and her mother (her brother just wants to play football with the local lads, so he’s happy), who might be descended from witches and/or fairies, but her mother never gets much development, so toward the end, when bad things start happening, we can’t really care all that much about her. Nissy, on the other hand, is actively hateable, so when the bad things start happening, her pain feels false, which undercuts the tone Mullane is going for. We never really get why she’s so unpleasant, either, except that she’s a teenager, which is a bad reason. She seems to hate her mother, who rarely does anything all that bad to her (that we know of), she never takes her earphones off or puts her phone down except when she’s hanging out with the dude she has a crush on, who’s not old but is an adult, so she can’t be stupid enough to think he’s going to do anything with her (I mean, I guess he might be a creep, but Nissy seems to think they’ll be in real love). For someone as cynical as she is, she’s dumb about her crush, and that makes her unlikeable and pitiable. It’s an odd book, because I get that Nissy is supposed to grow up when she realizes what’s going on and she needs to be strong, but even her catharsis as the end doesn’t feel like it’s all that earned – she makes a choice that seems to imply she’s grown, but the option she doesn’t choose never seems like a real option. Maybe I’m just sick of fiction with grouchy teenagers who are grouchy simply because they’re teenagers. My 14-year-old gets grouchy, but there’s always a reason. Mullane wants us to accept that Nissy is just going through being a teen, but the book would have been stronger if we knew more about her grouchiness – she seems to favor her father, so why is she going away with her mother? Why are they going away for the summer anyway? Why does she quickly crush on this guy when she doesn’t appear to be that stupid? These are unanswered questions that would seem, to me, to make the book more interesting than it is.
The comic isn’t bad, just not as good as it feels like it could be. The idea of fairies coming back to wreck our unnatural world (or something) is not a bad one, nor is the idea that certain families are connected to them. Even making a grouchy teenager the center of the book could work. The art is nice, and the bits of local history scattered throughout the book give us a good sense of the kind of place Nissy is thrust into. It’s just a bit disappointing that the central character isn’t better, someone who we actually want to read about and care about. In a book like this, the main character has to be someone we care about (that’s not always the case, of course, but here it is), but she really isn’t. It hurts the book when we finally reach a climax, and that’s too bad. Still, it’s an entertaining book, but it seems like it could be great.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆