Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Squire & Knight’

“Some men never listen and others never learn, but why this man did as he did only he will ever know”

Scott Chantler has made some excellent comics in the past (although, weirdly enough, his bio in this book doesn’t mention Northwest Passage, which is an amazing book), and now he’s back with Squire & Knight, which comes to us from First Second Books. What’s the deal with this one?

We begin with a knight, Sir Kelton of Eldergard, riding along with his squire and telling stories about his exploits. The squire is reading and doesn’t seem particularly impressed with Sir Kelton’s adventures, but all that becomes moot when they enter a town that appears deserted, with the bridge from which it takes its name destroyed. Hmmm. They meet a young boy who tells them that everyone is hiding inside because of the dragon that has destroyed the town, which the people claim is because they’ve been cursed. Of course, the knight rides off to fight the dragon, leaving his squire behind to figure out what’s going on … because you can be sure something is going on!

Chantler has fun turning the knight’s quest story on its head, something we’ve seen before, certainly, but when it’s done well, it’s always fun. The book is aimed at younger readers, so perhaps they’re not as cynical and jaded as you and I are, no sir! Obviously, Sir Kelton is far dumber than knights are supposed to be, and he’s a bit of a blowhard, so when he rides off to fight the dragon, we’re pretty sure he’s not going to succeed, but I won’t spoil anything else about that. The squire (Chantler deliberately does not give him a name, because, hilariously, Sir Kelton doesn’t even know it, so why should anyone else?) is very smart, of course, and he likes to read, so he cottons on pretty quickly that something strange is going on around the town. It was founded by a wizard who built a tower with no doors or windows and which the dragon has made its lair, and the people still admire him, although the squire isn’t so sure he didn’t put the curse on the town. Hmmm. Eventually, he meets the dragon, of course, and it turns out to not be exactly what he, the knight, or the people expect. We know that’s coming, but again, Chantler sets it up very well and it plays out very well, so it’s very fun to see.

For a kids’ book, Chantler does some nice things. Obviously, the goofy knight who isn’t what he seems is just for laughs, but the idea of a person who talks a good game but is still a paper tiger is an interesting one, as so many people in this world are braggarts who are simply interested in puffing themselves up, and it’s good to recognize them. The squire uses his brain instead of his brawn, and that’s also a nice thing to show, although Chantler also shows that sometimes, doing the “right” thing doesn’t always mean that you get the recognition you deserve. Chantler wants to do a series of these, so in this book, the squire doesn’t get the recognition for solving the problem of the town that he should (and, I guess it’s a spoiler, but Sir Kelton survives – I mean, it’s a YA book, so it doesn’t get too dark!). The townspeople are superstitious, of course, and Chantler implies that’s not a great thing, and the squire is able to point out that perhaps people shouldn’t repeat gossip, as many of the people have not actually seen what happened with the dragon and the town, and the squire is able to deflate some of their assumptions (although, of course, he has to learn that lesson himself, too). All of this are good lessons, and Chantler does a nice job bringing this stuff in while keeping the fun story going. That’s not the easiest thing to do, but Chantler does it well.

Chantler’s art is always good, and it works very nicely in a YA context, as he uses bold, strong lines, not a lot of hatching, and relatively simplistic faces (especially for the squire, who’s the main character). Not all of the characters are human, either, and it’s pretty neat that Chantler simply puts them into the story and doesn’t comment on it – they’re just folks, yo. His squire is a typical boy, and that helps, too, as he doesn’t seem extraordinarily special, just a good kid who works hard. Sir Kelton is a buffoonish kind of knight, which is fun, too, as Chantler gives him armor that makes him look a bit … puffed-up, as if he has ridiculous muscles even though it’s armor. It’s an interesting touch, as it looks realistic (because it’s armor) but also makes him look a bit silly. His landscapes and buildings are nicely done, and his dragon is terrific – all black and orange, as you can see, and Chantler does a wonderful job “humanizing” it with its gestures and facial expressions. Because Chantler uses a lot of chunk blacks, the earth tones of the standard coloring, with Chantler using a lot of oranges, complements the blacks and grays very nicely. It’s very charming artwork, but that’s because Chantler is a good artist!

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and as you might recall, just because something is “YA” shouldn’t keep you, a bitter old person, from getting it and digging it. Chantler knows how to make good comics, and this is one of those!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆


  1. Edo Bosnar

    Hmm, interesting. This is the second time you’ve basically said “It’s YA, but…”
    For me, it’s almost the opposite, i.e., YA is often a selling point. For example, I think some of the best fantasy is YA, like any number of things written by Ursula Le Guin or a bunch of more recent offerings from Nnedi Okorafor (Zahrah the Windseeker, Shadow Speaker, the Akata trilogy…).
    All that to say that Squire & Knight is definitely something I’d like to read (as is Danger & Other Unknown Risks).

    1. Greg Burgas

      Yeah, I do repeat myself sometimes! 🙂

      I don’t mean to imply I have any prejudice against YA books – I buy them, after all. I know most people, probably, can look beyond the labeling and figure out if a book is for them, but I also know that some see “YA” and immediately dismiss it, so I’m trying to make sure they understand that labeling something “YA” – or anything, really – doesn’t necessarily invalidate it if you’re not a YA. I agree with you that a lot of older fiction, especially fantasy, could easily be categorized as YA (if such a category existed back in the day), so for me, there’s not really a stigma against it. It’s just a note for some who might react negatively to something being YA. It might be too “young” for you, but it very well might not be!

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