Ever wanted to be a Fae? Crispin knows the way, but the knowledge… the truth at least doesn’t come free. Everything in Faerie comes at a price. Especially passage home, as our heroine Artemisia is about to find out. Sparrowhawk, the new five-issue limited series from acclaimed writer Delilah S. Dawson and rising star artist Matias Basla is the perfect marriage between fierce and enchanting. Dawson warns us (or maybe it’s an invitation): “You’ll meet a heroine who will spit her own blood in a fairy’s face to survive; her mentor who happens to be a flying jackalope who can’t lie… and yet still doesn’t quite tell the truth; an evil fairy who refuses to kill; and the monstrous twin of Pumbaa from The Lion King.” ~ Source BOOM! Studios
The story starts in 1851 in London, and moves to the mysterious realm of Faerie. Before the end of the first issue, we’ve already been introduced to a captivating cast of characters including a wicked stepmother, the Unseelie Queen, and a talking wolpertinger (think a jacklope with wings) with the personality of a malevolent Cheshire Cat. Yes, that Cheshire Cat.
In fact, there is a very Alice in Wonderland feel to this entire comic but it’s a dark Alice in Wonderland. Not as twisted as American McGee’s interpretation but more like what might happen if Tim Burton, Stephen King, and Guillermo del Toro teamed up. It’s this level of talent that writer Delilah S. Dawson and artist Matias Basla bring to this comic. It’s as if Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland made a story baby and that baby grew up fierce and fearless. This is a dark fantasy action comic but it is so much more.
Art & Storytelling
Delilah S. Dawson (author of Star Wars: Phasma) writes an unflinching heroine trapped in a savagely beautiful world where she must earn her wings to get home and save a world that has always seen her as an Other. Dawson writes both worlds well and, although the abuse Artemisia deals with in each world is different, there’s a feeling of parallel. It’s clear that although our heroine, Artemisia, was born into a world and a time that would rob her of agency and identity; she will not submit. If anything, I’d say that Artemisia will rule. She is not, however, written as a remorseless killer; if anything we see right from this first issue that the strength she has comes from her heart and her sense of right.
Matias Basla crafts striking visuals both of the real world and of the fearsome yet gorgeous realm of Faerie. Crispin’s design, for example, is stellar, evoking the Cheshire Cat and yet retaining a completely unique look. The color scheme change between the real world to the realm of Faerie works on so many levels. First, the cool shades really speak enchantment; second, they give you a sense of ethereal disquiet; and I feel like, whether intentional or not, it speaks to the changes in Artemisia’s outlook, moving from feeling trapped, to being trapped and feeling some sense of control.
Artemisia: Through the Looking Glass
Artemisia, the mixed-race daughter of a proud naval captain, trapped in the world of 1851’s British ultra-rich, is glorious in her practical wisdom, restless confidence, and clear-eyed view of society and her position in it. Pushed by her elder sister’s death and her stepmother’s hatred into a choice between marrying well or seeing her younger sister Caroline sold off, she pointedly notes that the wedding dress is “just more chains, like the ones my mother wore.” In that moment, Dawson encapsulates the complexity of Artemisia’s situation – as a woman in Victorian London, as an Other in her own home, as a loving older sister to the only person who’s treated her like family. It was at this moment I fell in love with this book.
While Artemisia is considering herself, the dress and her options; out of nowhere a hand reaches through the mirror. She has been targeted by the mysterious Faerie Queen and unceremoniously yanked into another realm as the Unseelie Queen steals her face and form with the intention to take over the world.
Artemisia is now trapped in a world existing beside her normal reality, and she’ll have to make sacrifices and face deadly threats to earn her wings and transform into the savior of a world that has always held her at arm’s length. Her first sacrifice is pretty significant and I have a feeling will come into play later (no spoilers) but it nets her Crispin as a guide, though whether that is even a good thing remains to be seen. Like the Cheshire Cat, Crispin is enigmatic and clever but there’s a mild malevolent air about him that makes one wonder if he can truly be trusted.
Artemisia is faced with the chilling brutality of an Unseelie and all I could do was smile as her transformation began.
This story has some very real moments and themes that are readily apparent. Right from the start we can see that the world fears those who are different. This animosity and mistrust make it hard for them to feel truly accepted, truly at home. In spite of this, Artemisia is one of those who work to make the world a better place – to save it – in spite of the way she’s been treated.
If you loved the movie Labyrinth and laughed when it turned out that faeries bite – Sparrowhawk is a story for you. If you enjoy stories about the difference one person can make, then this is for you. If you appreciate gripping tales that involve journeys to magical worlds where characters combat fantastic creatures with purpose, this is for you. I am pleased to say I can highly recommend this title. I’m already sold on it and I can’t wait for the next issue.