Written by Chris Wooding, Art by Cassandra Diaz
Scholastic Graphix, 160 pages, 12.99 (softcover)/$22.99 (hardcover)
Chris Wooding is a successful young adult writer who has been carefully dipping his toe into the graphic novel world. In 2009, he blended words with illustrations in the largely successful Malice and is back this month with his first full-fledged graphic novel, Pandemonium. Clearly the first in a series of stories, the book creates an all-too-familiar fantasy world, populates it with stereotypes and tries to have some fun along the way. Instead, it all feels creaky and done better before.
First of all, the premise is straight out of The Prince & The Pauper but has done far better as the movie Dave. Here, teenage Seifer Tombchewer is plucked from his backwoods village and summarily brought to the castle so he could impersonate the missing Prince Talon and keep the kingdom of the Darkling Realm safe until he has been returned. Of course, in their royal arrogance, they never bothered to explain his absence to the worried family, nor did they take the time to properly instruct Seifer before his first public appearance. While intended for comic relief, it just shows how poorly thought through much of the story has been.
It’s hard to take the story and characters seriously when they have absurd names like Lumbago or Snaggleface, from the land of Fang. Really.
Seifer has to play Talon and in so doing, proves to one and all how his simple village ways make him a better ruler and heir to the throne than the prince himself. Ho hum. Where the story really gets interesting is the relationship he forges with Talon’s younger sisters, especially when they learn the truth. Additionally, he falls for Carcassa, daughter of gambling addict Baron Canasta Malefica, come to court to beg for help and gets it with interest. Meantime, the prince’s fiancée is due back soon which will only complicate things but first he has to survive the machinations of those who kidnapped the prince and scheme to bring down the government.
Wooding makes things somewhat interesting by giving the people bat-wings and some have the natural born ability to conjure magika. But he then goes and spoils it with anachronisms so Seifer worries about being a “wuss” and Cassie sends a letter “economy”.
He is not well served by Cassandra Diaz, making her professional debut. Her Manga-inspired art is stiff and simplistic with no real style of her own coming through. Like the story itself, we’ve seen this art before and done better. The advance reading copy from Scholastic only has the first 16 pages in color and she uses a nice subdued palette which helps differentiate the characters far better than her line art does.
While some may like the humor and tongue-in-cheek approach, I merely wish that the 8-12 year olds this is aimed at actually were given better material.