Castle Waiting Vol. 2: dark backstory, gentle narrative
I read the first volume of "Castle Waiting" a long while. I loved it, so I was anxious to find and read this story, a continuation of Linda Medley's comic book masterpiece about a castle full of refugees from various fairy tales coming together.
The tone of "Castle Waiting" is an interesting, as it is a largely light-hearted slice-of-life story, but it is obvious that many of the characters have incredibly dark backstories. The story is fairly simple-- it could be easily be summarized as the characters of Jain and Rackham deciding to move into the main keep of the castle, while the castle is visited by a pair of dwarves---or "Hammerlings" as they're called here--who decide to stick around in order to help with the move. However, the relatively simple story is leavened by plentiful flashbacks, revealing what the characters were up to before they got to the castle. The flashbacks are often brutally dark, showing how many of the characters were destroyed or damaged by brutal war and other catastrophes. Perhaps the saddest is the reveal of the story of Doctor, Fell a former plague doctor driven insane by his inability to find a cure, causing him to lose track of time and more often than not babble utter nonsense. Happier are the flashbacks of the main character Jain, which mostly deal with her growing to like the boy she's arrange to marry. However, there is a dark undercurrent, as the astute reader will remember Jain beginning of the first novel fleeing the house of her husband in terror. Something obviously has gone on between these two events.
However, as I said, the story is mostly a slice of life comedy, filled with vignettes involving the residents of the castle, which include horse-headed knight Chess, bearded nun Sister Peace, taciturn blacksmith Henry, bird-headed chamberlain Rackham, and many others. In this volume, they are also visited by two Hammerlings (what most other fantasy stories would call dwarves), an uncle and nephew named Dayne and Tolly who visit Henry (who was fostered by their family when he was a boy) on a small order of business who stick around. All of the characters are a delight, but I particularly enjoy the unflappable Jain, prissy Rackham, and just plain silly Sister Peace, who are all three well rounded as well as being charming and fascinating. Any scene involving one or more of those three is a joy to read.
Medley's art is also to be acclaimed. It is subtle and surprisingly realistic (enough so that it makes a man with a stork or horse's head look perfectly normal), with enough detail that you can pick out some quite subtle expressions on characters' faces. A scene late in the book wherein the fierce warrior Chess lose himself in the cuteness of Jain's son Pindar is worth the price of admission, for the ridiculous facial features he pulls.
All in all, a great book (although you should read the first volume before this one, of course). I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy, fairy tales, humor, or comics. Hope you enjoy!