28 April, 2009

Book 9 - Rapunzel's Revenge, or: Punzie, your Mum's a total bi- witch.

Not particularly related link of the day: The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Carnival. Read, enjoy, join in!

And now, to business: I know I said I was trying to keep this place manga- and comics-free, but this book is a graphic novel, which is technically different. Possibly. Anyway, I don't really care, because it was too awesome to not blog about.

Title: Rapunzel's Revenge (2008)

Authors: Shannon and Dean Hale

Illustrator: Nathan Hale

Why this book? I was looking for Wonder Women comics in my local bookstore and found this instead.

What's it all about anyway? Rapunzel lives in a grand villa with her mother, and her mother's servants. Surrounding her mother's villa is a wall so high it's impossible for Rapunzel to climb - which is just as well, as she has an adventurous spirit her mother clearly doesn't approve of. Rapunzel knows there's some kind of mystery surrounding her, and is sure that if she could just see over the wall she'd know what it was. But when she finally manages make her way to the other side of the wall, she realises her whole world is based on a lie - and her so-called mother's punishment is severe. Rapunzel gets hidden away in the middle of a magical forest, unable to escape from the high-up, empty tree trunk she is trapped in.

...Until the magic of the forest causes her hair to grow alarmingly long. Rapunzel begins to braid it, to use it to keep herself entertained - it can be a jump-rope, a swing, a lasso - and eventually, it's long enough for her to use it to escape. She makes her way to the nearest village, and instantly finds herself in a spot of trouble when she helps a cross-dressing barmaid out during a fight. The barmaid turns out to be a boy named Jack, who's hiding a secret or two as well as his real gender - like why, exactly he's travelling across the land with a goose named Goldy, and why he has - of all things! - a lucky bean.

With Jack as her guide, Rapunzel starts to make her way back towards her false mother's villa, and discovers that her name - Mother Gothel - is known and hated far and wide. Mother Gothel has become the number one cause of deforestation, tearing up the land in order to increase the size of her own empire. Rapunzel becomes intent on revenge, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of every other family that Mother Gothel has destroyed.

The Good and the Bad
This isn't just a retelling of a fairytale; this is the retelling of a fairytale as a Western! So there's tavern brawls, sheriffs, posses, quick-drawing, desert hermits, travelling thespians and unironic use of the "tarnation". I mean, I'm not exactly a huge Western fan, but what isn't there to love about turning possibly the most passive fairytale heroine of all time into a wandering, cowgirl adventurer? (Now, if only the same could be done to Cinderella, preferably without Drew Barrymore's involvement).

Rapunzel herself is wonderful: naive, but quick-witted and clever. Jack is a perfect sidekick; loyal, charming, knowledgeable where Rapunzel is not, not quite as good at scheming as she is - in fact, he's better described as a partner than a sidekick, because although Rapunzel is undoubtedly the leader of the two they have a lovely, equitable relationship. Jack is no all-conquering Prince Charming, but the Hales didn't go the other way and turn him into a damsel in distress, either. And yes, in case you need it spelled out for you, he is the Jack of beanstalk fame, out looking for gold to rebuild his house after he ran into some, er, trouble with a few giants.

The art is lovely. It's not overly stylised and it's not too cartoonish. There's still the right amount of the fantastical in it to remind you that yes, this is still a fairytale, without it becoming whimsical. I hate it when artists essentially just draw the same character over and over, with slightly different hairstyles and clothes so you can tell them apart; but Hale doesn't do that - each individual character actually has their very own facial features, which is, you know, how people actually look.

On the downside? Once or twice you're hit by an authorial message so blatantly that you might as well have had a brick thrown at your head. Particularly obvious is Rapunzel saying, after she's averted a would-be murderer:

"I was noticing how without guns in their hands most people around here turned pale."

It doesn't seem so bad out of context, but in context this line sticks out like a sore thumb - particularly since this is a Western. People are going to have guns. Yes, I'm pleased that neither Rapunzel nor Jack carry one, but I can tell when someone is not-very-subtly trying to tell me that Guns Are Bad and it really irritates the hell out of me.

So should I read it or what?
I loved it, and it's readable enough that even if you're not usually into graphic novels you'd probably enjoy it. Here's hoping the Hales team up to make another one!

Incidentally, Shannon Hale is a fairly-well established writer of young adult fantasy - check out her site here.


outpostroad said...

This book looks so cute! I love reworkings of fairy tales. Thanks for the review! I probably never would have heard of it otherwise and I'm probably going to have to get it now.

Sadako said...

Wow, this looks fun! I'm going to check it out. Don't normally like comic/graphic novels, but I love new takes on fairy tales!