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.
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.