Happy Friday the 13th, all! I hope everyone is avoiding bad luck so far today. If you have, you’re luckier than me, because the most unfortunate thing happened when I sat down to read the graphic novel trilogy The Good Neighbors: I discovered a Holly Black series that I simply did not like.
The Good Neighbors is made up of the three volumes Kin, Kith, and Kind, and is (as most Holly Black stories are) about the fae. The story follows Rue Silver, who discovers that her mother is a faerie. Her father had won her mother away from her own father, a powerful lord of Faerie, in a game and had taken her back to the human world when he was young. But when her father has an affair, her mother disappears, and strange things start happening around Rue. It turns out that her mother was only bound as long as her father was faithful, and with the breaking of the bond, the separation — and the peace — between the human and faerie worlds starts to fall apart. Rue discovers that her fae grandfather has taken the slight against her mother to heart and is seeking the most drastic method of revenge: he wants to cut off their city from the rest of the human world, to take it off the map and trap its human population there forever. It’s up to Rue to save the humans she loves from this plot even after she learns that she herself was never one of them.
I’m not sure what I expected from this series when I started it, but I finished it feeling rather unsatisfied. Rue’s character feels flat, and so much of her personality is tied to her relationships with others — especially her relationships with men — rather than her own wants and interests. She doesn’t feel like a person with any kind of interiority — it’s not clear what her personal interests or motivations are, or who she is as a person outside her circumstances — and this extends to most of the other characters. The one character who does feel like she has some meat to her is Amanda, the woman Rue’s father cheated with and the only Black woman in the book; but she still feels like she’s there most of the time to provide exposition. Add this to the fact that she’s the only human character of color in the book (there are a few brown fae), and that really makes it feel off that she’s a kind of morally grey character who ends up doing the bulk of the emotional work in the story.
But my dissatisfaction felt deeper than that, and I wonder if a large part of this is just that it feels like retrod territory for Holly Black. While this isn’t set in her larger Modern Faerie Tale ‘verse, at least in no way that was obvious to me, it feels to me like Tithe already told a similar story, and told it better than this. I know what a story about a girl who discovers that she’s a faerie and must use all her wits in order to save her human friends and family from a larger fae plot looks like already, and this just doesn’t compare.
Yet the biggest problem with this series is the art. As I write this, I’m still wondering if the story might have been more compelling if it had been paired with a different artist than Ted Naifeh. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s bad, but it’s… certainly not great. The interiors are black and white, but plenty of fantastic comics are in black and white, so it’s not the lack of color that hurts it. Rather, it’s a variety of issues. The characters’ faces are inconsistently drawn and a bit too similar; sometimes I was left depending on clothing and context to tell who was who. At the same time, there was never a sense of motion or fluidity on the page, making it hard to follow the action and leaving me wondering how the story got from point A to point B. I had to read one page three or four times before I realized that the transition from one panel to the next was supposed to be a bunch of fae suddenly Apparating into the scene.
Overall, I just had a hard time connecting to the characters, I never felt wowed by any of the scenes or developments, and I’m not sure whether to lay those issues at the feet of the author or the artist or both. I know that the likelihood that I’ll love every book an author writes is low, but up until this point I’ve had a pretty solid run with Holly Black. It’s a real bummer to run into something that feels derivative and uninteresting, especially since I’ve been meaning to read these for quite some time. But at least now I know, and the one lucky upside is that once I get rid of these, I’ll have more room on my graphic novel shelf for new stuff.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!