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Afar s/c


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Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton

Price: 
13.99

Page 45 Review by Stephen

If ever you need reminding of the joyous, unburdening relief in sharing a secret - after days, weeks, months or years of awful isolation and crippling fear lest you be found out - then this original Young Adult graphic novel should do the trick. It won't always go well, but that's a whole lot of mental energy eaten up by the effort to continuously conceal that you can more profitably expend elsewhere.

Additionally, if you're in the market for some gorgeous anatomy, beautifully delineated body language, carefully considered and exceptionally realised, localised costume plus a startlingly wide array of aliens as exotic as the most mythical of beasts, you're unlikely to be disappointed, either.

Hold on, hold on, although this is emphatically a fantasy rather than historical fiction, most of this takes place in an environment akin to East Africa and, later on, ancient Egypt. There Kit Seaton conjures up a city surrounded by lush, irrigated agriculture, with palatial buildings, clean, spacious and orderly thoroughfares between marketplaces bustling not just with commerce but theatrical entertainments and leisurely pastimes. All of this in stark contrast to where we kick off: an arid costal town where even fresh water is a much sought-after commodity, then another inland which is high-walled, inhospitable and surrounded by a shanty of shacks. I love the angle there, the weight at the summit, dangling over the edge, contrasted with the faded colouring in the distance down below for maximum vicarious vertigo.

In addition there are foreboding deserts between them, littered with dangerous relics of a more technological past which has been long left behind and forgotten.

Each of these will have to be navigated by the far from wealthy fifteen-year-old Boetema and her younger brother Inotu if they are to survive when abandoned in each other's care by their parents for much-needed itinerant work as salt shepherds.

But the siblings have further troubles to contend with. Although picking up a new friend in the form of a feral monkey with whom he develops a vital bond, thirteen-year-old Inotu falls foul both of the local lads when he defends the cornered and cowering animal, then of the long arm of the law which appears to be surprisingly metallic.

Boetema, meanwhile, has been having strange dreams which become increasingly vivid to her and in which she becomes more and more emotionally involved. Oh, it's not just that they take place underwater or in jungle terrain above which hover luminous, ringed moons.... it's that she is no longer herself but, for example, a green, four-eyed tiger, mother to a cluster of cubs she could not possibly have sired.

Gradually she realises that she's not actually dreaming but projecting, travelling and inhabiting these bodies, however temporarily, and it terrifies her. Worse still, in one such manifestation she makes a hasty miscalculation which has fatal ramifications then finds she cannot go back to rectify or atone for her mistake.

The killer is this: the sister and brother aren't confiding in each other. For fear of scaring the other, each is going through their alienation alone.

And I'm afraid it may prove the death of them.

I wish I could end this review with a bombshell like that because this book made me smile in so many ways - I've fallen in love with another artist new to me - but honesty dictates that I have to put my hand up in order to declare one major problem: in this self-contained graphic novel one gigantic plot thread dangled above us so enticingly - and repeatedly in order to catalyse two narrative trajectories - is never resolved, that of Inotu's encounter with the cyborg. It's not resolved in any sense at all: not in his existence, his nature, his intention nor his success or failure in whatever scheme(s) he might have had in mind.

This is an editorial oversight. I don't normally go casting stones in that direction except that - uniquely as far as I can recall - the editor is credited on the cover.

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