I was recently at my local bookstore (the localest of my local bookstores, just a couple miles away), and I saw Ladycastle sitting on an end cap display. I love feminist fantasy fiction, and I hadn’t read a graphic novel in a few months, so of course I brought it home with me.
Ladycastle tells the story of a castle that loses all but one of its men to a dragon attack. The women of the castle, from the lowest peasant to the king’s eldest daughter, must band together to protect their home from monsters. Why monsters? Because there’s a curse, that’s why. The same curse is the reason why the king and his other men were killed. There’s actually a couple of curses floating around in this story.
There’s a few surprising twists. Instead of the eldest princess Aeve taking over the castle, the town blacksmith Merinor becomes the king. She cuts a dashing figure with her strong shoulders and faux-hawk haircut. Aeve becomes her champion, and the younger princess Gwyneff serves as a squire. But everyone finds a way to chip in to defending the castle and keeping things running smoothly between monster attacks.
This is a short stand-alone graphic novel story, which originally ran as four issues of a comic book. As such, the story feels a little rushed. There’s not a lot of room for plot or character development. It’s enjoyable to watch the women find clever ways to defeat their enemies, but otherwise there’s not a whole lot to it. And the artwork is not particularly good, but then again, I usually read Saga and Monstress, so I’m spoiled.
Ladycastle is written by Delilah S. Dawson. You may recall that she’s the co-author of Kill the Farm Boy, and you can see some similar themes in this story. Ladycastle fortunately lacks the number of dick jokes that were present in that other book, and in fact feels pretty family-friendly. But there’s a definite thumbing of the nose at the genre tropes. Lots of great representation, too. The King is a woman of color, the librarian is in a wheelchair, and Gwyneff shows some hints of being genderqueer. There’s no overt lesbianism, but it’s a town full of women with only one old man. We all know what’s going on between the pages, right?
While Ladycastle is far from the best graphic novel I’ve ever read, it makes for an enjoyable read on a quiet summer evening. I suspect that young readers will enjoy it, especially young female readers who have had about enough of farm boys, and princesses who need rescuing. I would have liked to see a bit more depth to it, or at least have the story stretch out for 5 or 6 issues. I think that would have resulted in a stronger over-all story.
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