Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
This story is a web comic and can be read for free at http://novaecomic.com.
Born in Hindustan and raised in Arabia, Raziol Qamar is unlike his seventeenth century Parisian contemporaries. While those in his cohort are slyly snide and backhandedly bullying, Raziol takes it all in stride for the sake of continuing his celestial studies. Indeed, his mentor, Christiaan Huygens, found rather a wonderful student in Raziol. The young man is studious to a fault, working all hours of the day and night as he prepares to present his findings to his fellow scholars.
One day before Raziol makes his research public, a curious man and friend of Huygens’ arrives at the university; his name is Sulvain. In a sweeping cloak and shorn locks, Sulvain has a rarified quality to him. Raziol’s curiosity is instantly piqued when he learns Sulvain understands Raziol’s mother tongue. From his dress to his close friendship with Huygens, Raziol is sure Sulvain is a man of intelligence and quality. The reverse also proves true when Sulvain compliments Raziol on his planetary presentation…a topic which sends the two men to the rooftops to observe the stars.
Mutual interest turns into something more tender and Raziol cannot help but feel drawn to well-traveled Sulvain. Sulvain is not immune to the attraction—all the more startling for him because it has been far too long since he last felt a connection to someone. Before their attraction can grow, Sulvain is called upon by servants of the king. The powers Sulvain commands are unique and, to the uninitiated, seemingly fantastical. His abilities are about to be called into service as some unknown force visits death upon the city—but can Sulvain alone help find the killer?
Alright. First, this is a period piece; it’s set in France in the mid-to-late seventeenth century (1670s to be more exact). Second, this is a graphic novel; there is a lot that is communicated visually rather than verbally. I chose this title largely because the art was just so compellingly lush, I wanted to know more about what the authors, a team called KaiJu, had envisioned. It turns out that Novae works well as a new-to-me author for Joyfully Jay’s Reading Challenge Month as part of New-to-Author Week. In fact, works by multiple authors are interesting because I wonder if one author writes one character and the other writes another—or, especially in a graphic novel, one person is responsible for the lion’s share of what happens where the other would be in charge of illustration. I am not sure what (if) the duties are divided for Novae, but it’s something that I think about with multiple authors.
On to the content of the graphic novel…summarizing the action is actually a bit wonky. This is due to the fact that, well, not much happens in the first 190-odd pages of part 1. Not that anything in the novel disappoints, rather the reader is carefully and thoroughly introduced into the world in which Raziol lives: a French university during the 17th century. KaiJu also showcase the teacher/pupil relationship between Raziol and Huygens’ and it is charming. Raziol’s earnestness regarding his studies really shines and Huygens is the jovial, benevolent benefactor. While I am not sure how realistic this dynamic is, I enjoyed it all the more for Raziol having at least one genuinely happy relationship. Raziol’s classmates are rather more vicious and while Raziol seems to be either aloof to their cruel tricks or resigned to them, it’s clear Raziol is the odd-man out and not because he is academically superior to the others. I cannot say there is overt racism depicted, but I get the idea that the classmates are acting out of narrow mindedness.
When Sulvain first appears, I was surprised at how quickly he and Raziol move into friendship. I suppose I can understand the sort of instant kinship they feel because they have Raziol’s language in common—I, too, get excited when I learn someone else speaks Japanese after all. Once it’s established that they’re going to be friendly, we move pretty quickly into a lenghty scene where Raziol shows Sulvain the university telescope. What struck me most about this scene is how long it is, chock full of what are supposed to be covert glances from one character to another, tender expressions, and so on. That in and of itself is enjoyable, but at the same time, I found myself racing through to get to some dialogue or thought bubbles to confirm what I saw as growing attraction.
Things pick up when our two MCs quickly discover they both feel a deeper connection—and we get a delicious tease out of this fact because once they’ve sucked face, Sulvain “disappears” for a while. In truth, he’s been called on to try to help solve a murder. This is the first time we get an inkling as to what it is Sulvain can do…except in this scene, he can’t do whatever it is. Later on, there is another scene where he fares better and we learn he has some way of communicating with the dead. It may be a whole lot more and the cove art (covers for the various issues) indicates Sulvain has some paranormal abilities. Unfortunately, this is just being really laid out when the story “stops,” so interested readers have to wait until KaiJu is ready to release the next section to discover what these abilities fully mean (there seem to be regular releases every few months…which might seem interminably long, but is on par, at least, with Japanese manga when three or four months’ worth of weekly series are published in single volumes. Plus, I can’t imagine that KaiJu has the kind of resources an author/artists from a major publishing house would have…so three months between releases seems pretty damn good to me…except I really want to know more about how Sulvain’s abilities will affect his relationship with Raziol).
On a side note, there is certainly plenty to suggest (if not outright state) that Sulvain is something of an engimatic character. Even on his character bio, his age is ungiven. We have some flashbacks in the story that offer tantalizing clues as to where he’s been in his youth. But no clear cut answers as to what, exactly, he can do or why much less how he came to have these abilities. Raziol, though visibly different from his peers at the university, is pretty up front about how he came to be in France—his father was an interpreter (yay!) and brought Raziol with him to Europe to work as a servant, but Huygens took Raziol under his wing and the rest is history.
Moving onto the art itself…KaiJu painstakingly sets the scene visually with sumptuous and varied shots of the location and the characters. As I’ve mentioned, there is precious little dialogue in the book. Part of this is because Sulvain cannot speak but must write out what he wants to say (another part of his mystere). Part of the lack of dialogue may also be by design—the literal placement of the panels is extremely appealing to the eye. Rather than having individual boxes separates with white space, there is a lot of layering panels within panels. The effects can be pretty dramatic and I know I stopped at a few places to just admire the layout. One page had a long vertical panel on the left where we have a grid of windows that leads down to Raziol seated at a desk and working. Another showed a desert scene where one half was daytime and the other half faded into night. The coloring is often sumptuous with rich, earthy tones. The cover art for the individual issues are also lovely and laden with meaning. I usually just admire the beauty and move on, but they’re full of symbolism as well—if you read on line, the author(s) have comments that pique the reader’s curiosity. For example, Sulvain is depicted holding a bouquet of flowers on one cover. KaiJu pointed out that the palette of colors and the types of flowers are distinctly different from the ones Raziol held on an earlier color… and that these are different for a reason.
On the whole, I am excited to see where the story goes. This is very much still a work in progress. At this point, we are still being introduced to our main characters and having them bond. I do appreciate that the romance elements have been included early on, but while it’s clear Raziol is into men, it’s less clear what label (ugh) might fit Sulvain. He’s certainly not opposed to romance with another man, but he might not necessarily be straight up gay? It might be more due to the nature of his abilities, which are as yet still not concretely described to the readers. We have a hint at what the main conflict may be—a series of ghastly murders by something that may not be human or animal. All in all, the pages fly by with the focus largely on Raziol’s and Sulvain’s relationship to each other. There are huge hints that Sulvain’s got some pretty significant roadblocks to just going after Raziol and a bit of excitement with knowing Raziol’s classmates are vicious and these odd murders around town.
The only thing keeping me from rating this even higher is that the plot is unfolding slowly, so I cannot yet gauge the pacing—just that it’s been a couple hundred pages of beautiful artwork, nearly all of which feature our two MCs on page and having met each other, but I still have no idea what, exactly, Sulvain is/does nor what Raziol might bring to the table, let alone what the main threads are. This is not unexpected in the *serialized* graphic novels I have read…one of my old favorites has been running for probably two decades or so. The risk, I think, is knowing that this is an active series—a work in progress—and there are no guarantees we’ll see it finished, no matter how much I would like to!
A final note: this is an online webcomic, so it does not appear to be available at Amazon or through iBooks. However, that does mean that you can read the basic story for free at KaiJu’s website. They are hosted (or published?) through Patreon, which I gather means that if you’re willing to cough up some dough, you get to see the chapters sooner and the authors offer extra content—how much extra depends on how much you patronize them. To the best of my knowledge, aside from earlier access to the finished chapters, there is nothing *content wise* different from the free chapters.