Thursday, May 6, 2010

Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro

"The story I have to tell you is not about Avery.  It's about me, and fencing, and what I learned while masked.  It's about defense and defenders.  It's about power, and I don't mean electricity.  It's about family.

Most grownups will tell you things are revealed when you take off a mask.  But they're wrong, as they often are.  Everything was revealed when I put my fencing mask on in Grand Central Station.  Everything. "
Jane Yolen, wildly prolific and revered author of fantasy, fairy tale, poetry, myth, and picture book (Owl Moon, anyone? Or that fabulous How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight series?) has just published her debut graphic novel.  As one might expect, it's a gem. 

Foiled follows Aliera Carstairs, a young woman who has been fencing since childhood and draws great emotional strength and a sense of identity from the ancient sport.  A whiff of the mysterious follows her through school, as Avery, a strangely beautiful new boy whose looks contrast with his odd and sometimes cold behavior,  becomes her lab partner.  Crows seem to follow Aliera at a discreet distance. On weekends Aliera  fences and then visits her disabled cousin  Caroline to immerse herself in fantasy role-playing about an imagined kingdom.  "We play with more passion than it deserves.  Than either of us really understood."  One day Aliera's mother buys her a used foil at a garage sale, with a strange red jewel on the hilt.  And when Avery asks Aliera out on a date and she brings her mask and sword into Grand Central Station, she and Avery step into a fantasy world where Aliera is the Defender of the Seelie Court in the Kingdom of Helfdon, and Avery turns out to be a creature of darkness. 

Yolen is adept at hinting of fabulous worlds projecting into the ordinary, and showing  teens rising to otherworldly challenges. Hers is the ancient world of faerie, with courtly laws and and deceptive glamours.  Foiled maintains a tone of adventure rather than malevolence, however, making it perfect for a younger audience than, say, some of Gaiman's faerie-tinged graphic novels.

Cavallaro's art is very accessible and easy to read visually, but still quite dynamic and expressive.  I especially love how the real world is drawn in black and white, reflecting Aliera's colour blindness, and the world of faerie is in vivid, eye-popping colour.  It reminds me of the dichotomy between the gritty world of Kansas and the extraordinary world of Oz in The Wizard of Oz. And I like the tiny stars in Aliera's eyes on the book cover.  Nice detail. 

Foiled leaves lots of room for a sequel.  Aliera's story is clearly just beginning.  Here's hoping we see more of it soon.

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