Hidden beneath the subways that snake their way through the city lies a kingdom of wonders. Crystals and veins of moonlight wind across the ceilings, wonders and marvels — with the occasional monster — adorn rooms and caverns. Vaulted ceilings are carved with art no mortal eye will ever see, and here, in the world of the fay, lives a nameless boy. He is a knight, a prince, and a child stolen away from his true family at the whim of the fay king and queen.
Above this underworld lives a boy who is not quite human. Birds speak to him, and so too do cats. He paints visions of a world he’s never seen, dreams of dragons and wizards and impossible things. He is loved by his parents and his sister, and he loves them in turn. But he knows what he is, and what he isn’t. What he isn’t is their son; what he is is a changeling.
The Childe Knight is being celebrated. He has killed a monster and gained a sword and given the court another reason for another glittering party. However, someone not on the guest list has come to visit, bringing her army with her. It’s up to the nameless boy to find the true prince and to bring him back so that he might defeat the usurper, free the king and queen, and claim his rightful place … and give a nameless boy the chance to be human once again.
Edmund is the name the changeling has claimed as his own. It’s the name his mortal parents gave their son, and now it’s his. He has always known he is different; unlike humans, he remembers everything. He remembers being a fay infant. He remembers being given away. He wasn’t … special enough. Not lovely enough, not fashionable enough. His parents traded him away as though he was nothing, and he has absolutely no reason to want to go back and save them. The only reason he does is because the nameless boy threatens to reveal himself to his true birth parents, exposing Edmund for who, and what, he truly is.
The nameless boy was never important enough to be given a name. He’s “the human” or “the boy.” He’s more a pet or a trophy than a person to the creatures who brought him into their house. And, like Edmund, he can’t help but live knowing, every second, that he doesn’t belong. He has no magic; his skin is soft and easily cut, his lifespan is brief, and he can’t help but dreaming — do the fay dream? — of what might have been. That doesn’t mean he’ll abandon his fay parents and his people when evil invades, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make the changeling save the kingdom.
I’m a big web comic reader. I always have been. As much as I love books, there’s a special appeal to seeing a story unfold in front of you, which is why, for me, the artwork and the pacing are always so important. If the artwork doesn’t appeal, if the character designs aren’t distinct enough, if the story’s pacing is too slow, it makes me uninterested in keeping up with the comic. Fortunately, Estranged has none of those problems. The artwork is a perfect mix of fantasy and familiar. The fay aren’t just pointy eared, slender, pretty people. Their character designs are unique and alien. Edmund and the nameless boy are — by their nature — identical, but between costumes and facial expressions, they each stand on their own.
The lettering is clean and evenly spaced and the thick borders between panels keep the focus where it needs to be, which is on the story. Even so, the backgrounds are interesting enough for a second look and there are some stunning visuals that hint at a complex world building (and you know I’m a sucker for world building.) We meet Whick, the candle golem who is the Childe Knight’s guardian and companion, and a leggy, monstrous wolf man with disembodied gloved hands over his eyes — a motif returned to with various of the big baddies beastly bullies, all of whom seem to have some hand design over their eyes. The sculpture garden, the city designs, even the shape of the dragon’s head feel unique. Visually, it’s stunning.
The story is interesting because, unlike a book, so much more is left up to the reader’s interpretation. We don’t get to see into the character’s thoughts; everything has to come out through their actions and their dialogue. With the emphasis on the story, as opposed to the character building — though the author manages to squeeze that in, too — the pacing becomes critical. The pages are set up in a variety of spacings, which makes for a more dynamic reading experience, and most pages end on a strong image so you’re always encouraged on to the next one.
All in all, this was a fun book to read and I’m glad I was given the chance to review it. I’m looking forward to the chance to review the sequel.