by Shaenon K. Garrity, Christopher J. Baldwin
Publisher: McElderry Books
Publication Date: July 20, 2021
Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Nimona meets Paper Girls with a literary twist in this wickedly funny graphic novel about a teenager who is swept up in a strange new universe and must save it from an all-consuming evil in order to return home.
One dark and stormy night, Haley sees a stranger drowning in the river. Since her greatest passion is Gothic romance novels, she knows her moment has come. But when Haley leaps into the water to rescue the stranger, she awakens in Willowweep. It certainly looks like the setting of one of her favorite books: A stately manor. A sinister housekeeper. Three brooding brothers. There’s even a ghost.
Except Willowweep is not what it seems. Its romantic exterior hides the workings of a pocket universe—the only protection our world has against a great force of penultimate evil, and its defenses are crumbling. Could cruel fate make Haley the heroine that Willowweep needs?
The absolutely ridiculous title is what first made me pick up this humorous take on a gothic romance novel. It’s over the top but ultimately a quick and fun read.
After attempting to rescue a stranger, Haley wakes up to find herself cast as the “maiden” in one of her beloved gothic romance novels. There’s a mansion with secret passages, a laconic housekeeper, three brothers and even a ghost! It’s a dream come true, except it’s quickly obvious that something is wrong (maybe it’s the creepy green-eyed rabbits that clued her in…). With Haley’s help, can the residents of Willowweep Manor hold back the forces of evil?
If you’re a fan of gothic romance novels – like Haley – I can’t see how you wouldn’t like this book. The author leans heavily into the tropes (lackwitted younger brother, stoic older brother, etc) with an absolute glee that brought a smile to my face. It’s a little bit cheesy and a lot over-the-top, but it works. The humor was very hit or miss for me, with a lot of repeating gags that didn’t quite hit the mark, but when it worked, it really worked.
Haley was absolutely delightful. Sure, she’s initially a bit confused by waking up in a freaking castle, but she adapts quickly and with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t help rooting for her. I loved that, without being too spoilery, it’s Haley’s love of gothic novels was what saved the day.
The art tends more towards the cartoonish than the beautiful, but I especially loved the expressive faces and attention to detail. For instance, Haley’s black, and at one point the book shows her wearing a (matching) bonnet in bed! The illustrations are perfect for the story, and honestly, what’s better praise than that?
I loved how many gothic tropes were tossed into the book, from the haunted manor to the phlegmatic housekeeper to the windswept moors. But despite all that, it took a bit for me to get into the story. It took about halfway through the book before I was really interested – when the scifi element was introduced – but from there I was sold. The pacing picks up rapidly and the story’s resolution (and lesson) was perfect.
Overall, a very enjoyable read. I’ll definitely be looking for more from this author and illustrator!