Monday, February 13, 2012

Pandemonium (graphic novel) written by Chris Wooding, illustrated by Cassandra Diaz

This is one of the ARCs I got at ALA Midwinter. The book's release date was January 1, 2012, according to Amazon.

Synopsis:

Seifer Tombchewer is captain of his local skullball team (think Quidditch, except the players have wings instead of brooms and are trying to hit the ball with their heads). He's popular and the local girls love him. His father thinks he should be happy in their isolated little village, but Seifer can't help but want more. He wants to get out and see the world he only knows through his crazy grandfather's books.

Seifer gets his chance when he's knocked unconscious and brought to the palace. There, he is told that Prince Talon, Lord Defender of the Realm, has gone missing, and that he happens to look exactly like the prince. In order to draw the prince's kidnappers out of hiding, Seifer is supposed to pretend to be him. And if the prince is never found, Seifer may be stuck pretending to be Prince Talon for the rest of his life.

Prince Talon's job is to ensure the stability of the kingdom. His absence caused the kingdom's enemies to become bolder, and even Talon's apparent return isn't enough to quiet things down. While hiding his true identity, Seifer somehow has to deal with assassination and invasion attempts. Luckily, he befriends Lady Carcassa Malefica (Cassie), who protects him with her magika and even teaches him how to use it a little himself.

Review:

Maybe I didn't look in the right place, but I haven't been able to find any confirmation on Chris Wooding's site that Pandemonium is the first volume of a series. I hope it's not intended to be a standalone volume, because it really doesn't work as one. By the end of the volume, Prince Talon still hasn't been found, there are unanswered questions about Seifer's origins, there's more political unrest on the horizon, Seifer and Cassie's romance is still in its early stages, and Prince Talon's fiancee has just come home.

According to Amazon, Pandemonium is intended for readers ages 8 and up. I have a feeling this book would work better for readers who are closer to 8 years old than, say, their later teens or adulthood. As an adult, I found the humor to be a tad too goofy when mixed with all the political unrest. I would have liked it if the balance had tipped more in favor of seriousness, with the humor used to keep things from getting too dark. Instead, there was something over-the-top on almost every page: a giant house cat that wanted to eat Seifer, midgets that liked to cosh people, the Big-Face plague (it's exactly what it sounds like), knowledge of another culture demonstrated via loud burping, etc.

The story was extremely fast-paced. It felt like as soon as Seifer had dealt with one problem (or Cassie had dealt with it for him), he had another problem dumped on his lap. At first, it was an assassination attempt, but, by the end of the book, Seifer was leading thousands of people into battle. The romance with Cassie, too, was fast-paced. Cassie talked a bit about her past and spent some time showing Seifer how to use magika (I'm assuming the color art in the final version shows this better than the line art in my ARC), so I suppose Seifer had some time to get to know her, but the moments when he almost kissed her still felt a little rushed. Speaking of Cassie, I wish Wooding had spent more time developing her character - she had the potential to be awesome, but, after explaining her past and why she came to the palace, she became little more than Seifer's magical sidekick.

I know one of the ways a lot of readers, myself included, initially judge graphic novels is by their artwork. Unfortunately, since only the first 16 pages of my ARC are in color, and the finished work is supposed to be entirely in color, I can't really say too much about the artwork. Those first 16 pages look really excellent, with my primary criticism being that the action scenes could be a little better. Of course, part of my problem with the action scenes may be due to me being used to black-and-white manga and its copious motion lines. Amazon has a few pages available for preview (which appear to be bad quality, since my ARC pages look better than they do), so take a look and judge for yourself whether the artwork is to your taste.

Overall, I didn't dislike Pandemonium, and I'd love to see the full-color artwork in the finished book. However, I think I'd have liked the story more if either Seifer hadn't had to deal with impending war or the humor had been scaled back a bit. If this is the first volume in a series, I wouldn't mind reading future volumes – this book left me with lots of questions I'd like to know the answers to. Currently, I'm guessing that Seifer is Talon's twin, and the two were separated at birth.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Demon Diary (manhwa) story by Lee Chi Hyong, art by Jee-Hyung Lee (volumes 2+) - The mix of humor and seriousness reminded me a lot of this series. The main character is an innocent and naive boy who's trying to learn how to be a true Demon Lord.
  • Kyo Kara Maoh! (anime TV series) - I still haven't seen the end of this series. It starts off with tons of goofy humor and gradually becomes more serious. The main character is a Japanese high school student who gets flushed down a toilet into another world. In that new world, he is informed that his black hair and eyes mark him as the new Demon King.
  • Murder Princess (anime OVA) - Those who'd like lots of action and another main character who's forced to pretend to be royalty might want to try this. I have written about this.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (book) by Anthony Hope - Another series starring a character who's forced to pretend to be royalty. I have written about this book, as well as its sequel, Rupert of Hentzau.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender (non-Japanese animation, TV series) - Seifer seemed to me to be a lot like Zuko, only without all of Zuko's anger. Other things this series has that might appeal to fans of Pandemonium: lots of really excellent action scenes, female characters who don't need male characters to save them, humor, and the occasional story arc involving battles and/or political unrest. I have written about all three seasons of this series.

8 comments:

  1. I agree on a lot of subjects here. Unfortunately, Wooding has apparently always wanted to write children's books(though with as macabre as they can be I think their good for anyone with a sick sense of humor and a silly streak)really, it was fast-paced, and that kind of detracted from the book in many places, and enhanced in all the appropriate ones(battle scenes etc) But sometimes there were too many panels(like the scene where Seifer and Grandpa Tombchewer are eating)

    The art is definitely passable, and often enjoyable(I do have the full-color version), but as with any up-and coming artist, it still needs practice. Yet, it fits the story fairly well that way. I also noticed that the humor became a little less forced towards the end. Like Wooding had found the niche that humor fit into.

    Of course, it's obvious where and how our opinions differ, because I loved the cosh-loving Assassins. And I found the belching well-played out. The panels flowed well there.

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    1. I didn't necessarily dislike the assassins and the belching (in fact, the belching scene made me laugh) - those things were just examples of all the jokes the book was crammed with. I just didn't feel that the balance between the serious stuff and the humor was very good overall, although, now that I think about it, I agree with you that the humor came off as less forced near the end. That makes me hope even more that there's a second volume.

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  2. I felt that the art could be better, but that just may be because I'm more used to black-and-white. I did get the sense that it was rather rushed, but it wasn't so bad. I hope very, very much that there will be a continuation, because everything was kind of muddled together and it feels like nothing REALLY important happened. Yeah, Seifer did progress to become the head of an army, but right at the very begining he suddenly becomes Prince, defeats a giant cat-*ahem* a rock-monster (sorry, forgot what they're called), saves a kid and becomes incredibly popular (again). There's almost no sense of closure.

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    1. Yeah, even though I didn't find anything that confirmed this was only the start of the series, it definitely reads like it is. If it's not, I'd have to downgrade my opinion of this volume a lot, because it absolutely doesn't work as a single volume - you're right, there's no closure.

      I liked what little I got to see of the full-color artwork, although the more action-oriented bit (the skullball game was the only example available to me) looked a bit stiff. I try to keep in mind that opinions of graphic novel and manga artwork are very subjective, though, so artwork that works for me might not work for other people, and vice versa.

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  3. If you look up Chris Wooding he says that originally it was intended to be the first in a series, but Scholastic is holding back on releasing more because of the cost in creating and distributing a graphic novel. So, yeah it was intended to be a series but whether subsequent volumes will ever see the light of day is another question entirely. :/

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    1. I just spotted the comment you're referring to. Aww, that sucks. This really needs to be more than one volume for the story to work - as it is, it's like having the first few chapters of a book. I wonder if Scholastic would be more likely to publish future volumes if Wooding moved to black-and-white artwork (I'm assuming this would be less costly to produce)? But then the later volumes wouldn't match the first... Oh, icky all around. :(

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  4. Did anyone else notice the footnote on the last page saying "The End - For Now!"
    Or was that just me?...
    Also, I agree with everyone that the artwork does seem a little rushed, but I like it. (Personally) It reminds me a lot of the artwork for "Malice" and "Havoc." HHowever, it doesn't seem to me that they would be doing the whole trapped-inside-a-comic plot.
    I Also seem to notice, that the biggest corporations and companies - Or at least the ones that Cared at first - no longer seem to care at All!! Media in general is going to crap because of the Big-Wigs and Focus-Groups and whatnot. And where does that leave us?
    I apologize. I rant at times, and tend to get off topic.
    Bottom line, I think the story is neat, and it needs to continue - As it Promised!

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    1. "Bottom line, I think the story is neat, and it needs to continue - As it Promised!"

      Judging by my Blogger stats on search keywords that brought people here, you're not the only one that thinks this. Quite a few people really want a second volume (and a movie version of Mara, Daughter of the Nile, but that's another story). Based on things I've read, Wooding planned for this to be a series and would be on board with doing another volume, but getting it published is up to Scholastic.

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