“Between the salt water and the sea strands”
Neil Kleid is a good writer, so despite the fact that Savor is a young adult novel and despite my youthful mindset, I am far from a young adult, I figured I’d pick this up and give it a look. Plus, it’s about a “warrior chef,” and who wouldn’t want to read about that? Savor is illustrated by John Broglia and colored by Frank Reynoso. Dark Horse published this, which was awfully nice of them!
When I’m not exactly the audience for a book, it’s harder for me to review it, because I didn’t love Savor but I recognize that I’m a few decades too old to appreciate it. I will say that it’s entertaining, as Kleid has always known how to put a book together. Our hero, Savor Batonnet, lives on an island called “Earth’s Oven,” and her best friend, Coriander, tells her stories about the island’s founding by a sea goddess who was married to an “outlaw pirate” (pirates are already outlaws, so this seems redundant). The pirate got himself an enchanted knife that made him more evil than he (presumably) was, the sea goddess got her own enchanted knife to counter his, and the pieces of the knife were scattered. The island where Savor lives is populated with warrior chefs who can defend the world against the pirate if he ever shows up. Savor has to leave the island to learn about the world, and when she returns several years later, the pirate has come, the island is in trouble, and luckily, all the pieces of the knife are on the island (or so she thinks!!!!). So it’s time for a quest! Huzzah!
It’s a simple story, sure, but as I noted, Kleid knows what he’s doing, and he moves us along the story’s path quite nicely. Savor returns to the island, discovers things aren’t like they used to be, gets back together with Coriander, and goes on her quest. She has to go around the island in a specific order and eventually fight the “final boss,” the pirate. Along the way she experiences hardships and tragedy and learns more about herself and what she’s capable of and what she’s supposed to do with her knowledge. It’s not a surprise to say that she wins, because that’s just the kind of book this is, but Kleid does a nice job in not just making it a simple victory. We can see most of what’s coming, because we’ve read stories before, but Kleid still makes it clear that this is a bit deeper than a standard hero quest. Savor isn’t just a hero, she’s a friend, too, and that’s the more important aspect of her character.
Kleid has fun with the cooking aspect of things, too. Cooking stuff is trendy right now, so while the idea of “warrior chefs” might seem a bit goofy, Kleid has fun with the concept, as Savor uses quite a few cooking implements and ingredients in her quest. She flicks onions in the eyes of some bad guys, and she covers herself with oil to resist a flame at another stop. All of the places she visits are restaurants, so we find out about what they cook, as well. It’s not a bad metaphor, because cooking requires things that can easily be used as weapons, and it requires discipline, innovation, adaptability, and cooperation. So while Savor is on her quest, the cooking part of the story becomes about more than just cooking, which is why metaphors are always fun if they work.
Is this a good YA story? I don’t know. I’m not sure if my daughter, who’s about as YA as they come, would like it. For me, the biggest issue is Kleid’s world-building, as the world seems awfully simple. The island is isolated from the rest of the world, it seems, and there’s not really a sense of it, despite Savor leaving to head out into the wider world for six years. There don’t seem to be any towns on the island, or anything not geared toward the restaurant business. So where do the patrons come from? I know that’s a minor quibble, but it bugs me. I doubt if the target audience for the book would object to those sorts of things, but I could be wrong. However, in general, I think this is a pretty YA book. It’s not too simplistic, but it’s not too heavy, either. My daughter is mystified occasionally when my wife and I predict where a story is going, because we’ve seen so many and she is less experienced, so perhaps the “twists” in this story won’t be so apparent to a YA reader. I also like the fact that there are two main characters and neither is a boy and they’re not a couple. Savor and Coriander are friends, and they don’t need boys, but more than that, I like it because when writers write female protagonists these days, it seems like they feel the need to put a boy in the story who’s inept so that the girls look better. Stories don’t need that, and this one doesn’t employ that trope, which is nice. A boy shows up, and he’s perfectly competent, but he’s an ancillary character. This book just has two young women doing their thing for the most part, and that’s pretty keen. (We’re going to skip over the fact that “YA” these days seems to mean “girls,” because that’s a topic for another day!)
Broglia’s art and Reynoso’s colors make the book even more fun, because it’s really well done. Reynoso does a nice job keeping the book bright, and he uses violent reds in some of Savor’s dreams to foretell the future, which works nicely. He uses a lot of greens and blues to highlight the lushness of the island, with its impressive forests and vast ocean surrounding it. Reynoso’s colors always help remind us of the beauty of the setting, and that’s not a bad thing. Broglia, meanwhile, does a wonderful job bringing the island to life. His designs for the people, with their interesting clothing, feels post-apocalyptic without getting into any kind of, you know, apocalypse. It feels functional for both the “warrior” and “chef” parts of “warrior chef.” His demons are creepy, and his goddess impressive. He does a nice job showing the smaller moments of the quest, when Savor and Coriander are either just talking or making their way from one fight to the next, and his restaurant designs and his use of food in the scenes are well done. Despite the lack of island infrastructure, there’s a lot to draw, and Broglia’s details – from the layouts of restaurants to the various interesting hairstyles the characters sport – create a rich, full world. It’s a cool-looking book.
While I don’t love the comic, I did enjoy it and admire it, because it’s always neat to see a writer do unusual things with old plots. Yes, this is a hero’s quest or even a multi-level video game, but because Kleid adds cooking to the mix, it becomes a more interesting stew of ideas that help move the plot along. The art is lively and bright, the characters are enjoyable to spend time with, and the story has some nice change-ups so it doesn’t get too, too familiar. If you have a YA in your life, you could do a lot worse than get this for them. If my daughter reads this before I post this (I’m typing this on the 10th of May, so she has almost two months!), I’ll let you know what she thinks! And remember: if you use the link below to buy anything at all, we get a tiny piece of it, so we appreciate it!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆