Saturday, December 6, 2008

The War At Ellsmere

the War at Ellsmere - Faith Erin Hicks (SLG, $12.95)

I think it is important that before you read anything else here, that you watch this.

You kind of adore Faith Erin Hicks now, don't you? If you say no, I won't really believe you, but I promise that if you go read 'the War at Ellsmere' (and 'Zombies Calling') you will. If you didn't just click on the link to her site and find this yourself, here is an 11 page preview from the author's site that absolutely captures the awesomeness of the book.

Now that I have that out of the way, Here's my actual review:

The War at Ellsmere centers on Juniper, a new scholarship student at the ultra-prestigious boarding school Ellsmere Academy. Juniper is well aware of her intelligence without being vain. She decided to pursue an education at the school because she is certain that it will give her the best education, and will best prepare her for her college and career aspirations. Her intelligence and drive are not things she lords over others, though. She is down to earth and a good person at heart. That being said, she is not above challenging the status quo, or pointing out wrongs when she sees them.

Juniper is paired with her roommate Cassie who is the poster girl for meek and friendly optimism. After a mildly bumpy first meeting, the two quickly become the closest of friends and allies. They are able to each contribute greatly to one another, filling in where the other may be weak.

If you read the preview that I linked to above, you will see the first meeting between Juniper and Emily. Emily is the Evil Genius of Ellsmere, complete with her own henchgirls to help execute her evil plans. Juniper is not just a threat by daring to defy Emily and directly confront her about her cruelty and underlying weakness, she is competition. Emily is very comfortable in her position as a top student. She respects Juniper's intelligence and sees her as a sort of sporting competition. This all sets the tone for the book. There is a lot more to it, with themes of friendship and elements of fantasy that work naturally into and through the plot of boarding school student from the wrong side of the economy versus the overly privileged and powerful.

There is a great deal of charm to this book. It is beautifully drawn, and perfectly written. I have nothing negative to say regarding any aspect of it. It is fun and funny, as well as touching and compelling. There is a lot to it. It is a very familiar theme in a fairly familiar setting. The author mentions as much in the video above. It is influenced by the books she read as a girl, and it shows. This is a great book for girls (although I think it is a great book for everyone, really). I will pass this along to my 14 year old now. She enjoyed Zombies Calling, and I am certain she will enjoy this every bit as much.

The book opens with a very nice introduction by Hope Larson, and ends with an illustrated overview of the 'artistic process' drawn by Hicks. I love the extra stuff she includes in her works. This is only one page, printed on the back cover, but it is extremely funny and contains the single cutest panel I have ever seen. It's worth picking up just to read the back cover, but I think you should probably read the actual graphic novel while you are at it. I am seriously looking forward to whatever her next project may be.


caanantheartboy said...

I bought this yesterday! Haven't read it yet, but I enjoyed Zombies Calling.

witwar said...

A great review of a very good GN. I picked this up the day it hit shelves (it was actually the first book I've ever PRE-ordered from my local comic shop) and enjoyed it more than any twentysomething guy should ever admit to in public. The fantasy elements seemed a bit out of place to me, though. I felt like she should have either removed them entirely or added more to make them not quite so incongruous when they do appear (I don't remember where I heard it, but I swear I heard that there would be "The Craft"-esque witches at some point in the story.)

Faith Erin Hicks is pretty gosh-darn adorable, though. does anyone know if she'll be at NYCC this year?

Talkin Bout Comics said...

Thanks! I haven't seen anything about her being at NYCC. I am hoping she will be at at least one Con I go to in the next year.

I kind of liked the twist with the fantasy. The fact that it was so out of place with the rest of the book is part of what I like about it in retrospect. While it runs counter to the general tone, and seems to clash with the feel of characters like Juniper and Emily, the fantasy element is sort of the heart and soul of Cassie. To me, it sort of validates her. It also puts her in a position previously reserved for the big brains. She has a sort of wisdom and weight to her when you get to the reveal. I will paraphrase, but 'It was NEVER a white deer' to me makes you view her a little differently than perhaps you did through the rest of the story.