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Fleen Book Corner: The Daughters Of Ys

There are places in this world that are constituents of nations, yet apart; they end up traded between empires and yet somehow remain unchanged. In North America, the best example is New Orleans; New Orleans stands on its own, not part of America any more than it was part of New France or New Spain. It is older than America, wilder, and stays a part of America only out of a sense of bemused sufferance.

Across the ocean, there was a people that occupied great swathes of the continent and the islands to the west, its people living with the sure knowledge of the fae folk and the way they interfere with the lives of humans. The great empires came to displace them — although the empires were sometimes kept at bay by a hero or two and the help of a magic potion — and the people were displaced, pushed to rocky places, hard by the hazardous sea: Scotland, Ireland, Brittany.

The stories are old, in these pushed-to places, and the promise no easy morals. There are punishments for being wicked, but also for turning your face away from the wickedness and pretending it doesn’t happen or isn’t your problem. The Daughters Of Ys is based on one of those old stories, and it has a new graphic novel adaptation from :01 Books, who were kind enough to send me an advanced review copy¹. There’s almost nothing we’re going to say here that isn’t on the back cover or the first five pages, but you may still consider there to be mild spoilers.

It’s written by MT Anderson², who has a fine ear for dialogue. The words that come from his characters sound just a little bardic, a little musical, a little fairy tale-formal, but at the same time natural feeling. It’s easy to imagine them being told around the fire, with just a touch extra dramatic emphasis and the promise this what my grandmother said she saw and heard.

The art is by Jo Rioux (past winner of the Joe Shuster Dragon Award for Cat’s Cradle, her debut graphic novel), and it is a marvel, combining the effects of pencils and pigments, and looking just a little like a cross between ancient vellum illuminations and tapestry embroidery. All of her characters look just a little bit haunted nearly all the time, except for the times that they look like there’s a hunt going on. Of course, sometimes they are hunting, and sometimes they are hunted.

Nobody in the book comes off entirely well, and only one character seems to have a full understanding of what his life actually is — that a blessing that keeps him fed each day is actually a curse. The story is set in what sounds like a made-up place, but is eventually revealed to be real; the now-ancient city of Quimper, the cathedral, the bishop, King Gradlon of Kerne all are or were part of the Brittany landscape. In a country whose names persist to this day (and across the Channel in Cornwall as well), who’s to say if the submerged city of Ys is legend, or a long-repeated object lesson for kings and princesses³ to learn how their forbears failed.

My copy of The Daughters Of Ys by MT Anderson and Jo Rioux says that it releases tomorrow, 12 May, but the website lists the release date as 11 August; I got the book in the Spring 2020 collection of advanced review copies about three weeks back, so it may have been pushed back for pandemic reasons. If you have to wait another three months to read it, let that fuel your anticipation, because it is very, very good. Consider it a top choice of gift for yourself of the reader in your life, let’s say age 12 and up.

Spam of the day:

File has been corrupted

No, see, you have your tenses wrong. If I click on your link then my files will become corrupted. Future, not past.

¹ As it’s not the final version released to shops and libraries, the usual disclaimers apply: there may be differences between my copy and yours, but this story feels complete. I didn’t find any issues in production that required correction.

² Whose The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing you may recall took the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2006, the year that American Born Chinese was nominated; no shade, Octavian Nothing is an astonishingly good book, and Anderson followed up with a graphic novel finalist of his own in 2018: The Assassination Of Brangwain Spurge. Dude comes up with the best names.

³ In the legends, the daughter, Dahut, is immodest, immoral, and consorting with otherwordly powers; she’s clearly the villain of the tale. Anderson gives her a sister, Rozenn, to spread the consequences around. If Dahut falls because her hands are bloody, Rozenn is too concerned with keeping hers clean by intentional avoidance. Their father has a temperament that mixes both daughters, feigning innocence of crimes while demanding the spoils.

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