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Castle Waiting: The Lucky Road
Written and Drawn by Linda Medley
Published by Cartoon Books; $16.95 USD

The Lucky Road introduces readers to the series protagonist, Jain, a mother-to-be, who, for reasons unknown, seeks to escape her past and travel to Castle Waiting, a place filled with the fantastic. Her journey serves to introduce readers to the magical world she inhabits, one where bears can talk and pigs have their own inns; you learn fairly quickly to accept the unacceptable.

The story is very soft-spoken, and focuses on some of life’s more mundane things. For the people of Castle Waiting the day is not very exciting, but you get the feeling that no one comes to the castle for excitement. It’s a place of refuge, a place where no one asks questions, no one cares what’s in you past, where they accept you for your traits and not for your deeds. It’s a paradise in medieval form.

Medley does a fantastic job of juggling quite a large cast, giving each one a very distinct personality. No character ever feels like background, and rather than give everyone proper introductions, we're thrown into this world and forced to become attached to them based on what little background we're given. It’s not a process that works often, but here it’s brilliantly utilized.

The book does lack anything in the way of real dramatic tension, and rarely tries to even fake it, which can be somewhat jarring given the nature of the story. The few times the plot attempts to be dramatic are, however, extremely successful, despite the immediate “see-it-was-nothing” conclusions. You begin to genuinely care about the well-being of these creatures, so much so that those false dramatics are severely alarming. And, for the first few chapters, every page seems to hold the promise of a revelation about Jain and her mysterious past. But, in the end we're forced to make due with the simple clues we're given, which adds something of a cliffhanger to the story.

The art is a joy as well. Medley’s simple line work speaks volumes and draws you in without ever needing a single panel of exposition. You could remove the dialogue from the first three pages of the book and never miss a single thing. In fact, the first full look at Jain, as she rides from her home, bruised and beaten, is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I've ever seen in a graphic novel.

Each setting feels new, yet somehow familiar, and every character introduced has an air of mystery about them. It feels like everything and everyone inhabiting this world has their own story, and if you gave them a chance, they just might tell it to you.

It has an all-ages appeal, yet it never feels patronizing or dumbed down. The warm and witty narrative helps the book address things like death, domestic abuse, and even adultery, without sounding preachy or condescending.

Perhaps the book’s greatest achievement is that it makes the routine tasks of these character’s lives almost enviable. A two-day trip to the local market to get the season’s supplies seems like an outing to Disney World. Add to that the most well written cast of characters you're likely to ever find in a graphic novel, and this book stands as a landmark of everything a graphic novel can, and should, be. Grade: 5/5

--Logan Polk -- Logan Polk



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