Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Good Neighbors (Book One): Kin

Holly Black & Ted Naifeh
The Good Neighbors is a story of the fairy world written by best-selling author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, Holly Black, and illustrated by the creator of Courtney Crumrin and Polly & the Pirates, Ted Naifeh. The story follows Rue, a feisty girl whose mother has recently disappeared, and whose professor father is being questioned for the murder of one of his students. Rue has recently started to see things: fairies and creatures from out of storybooks that other people aren't able to see, and she's slowly realizing that it has something to do with her mother's disappearance.
I'm a big fan of Ted Naifeh, and I have to say that his art has never looked better than it does here. While I miss the sarcastic, brooding nature of his creation Courtney Crumrin, Rue is a heroine worthy of his attentions. This is the type of dark fairy tale he does best, with his beautifully haunting, shadowy world of Gothic sensibilities. It's very atmospheric and paced perfectly. And while Naifeh's trademark claw hands are nowhere to be seen on the humans of this story, they are prevalent among the fairy folk. I really enjoy that the kids are dressed in really cute, hip clothes, and the mythological creatures are garbed either traditionally or fashionably, depending on their nature. Whether the scene is chilling (like the final shot) or emotional (Rue crying over a window ledge beside roses), Naifeh renders the images with beautiful backdrops in thoughtful illustrations.
A lot of research has been done for the sake of this story, and creatures of myth are blended seamlessly into a modern environment, something that Holly Black has had some prior experience with in The Spiderwick Chronicles. There are quite a few similarities between The Good Neighbors and Jamie McKelvie's recent comic, Suburban Glamour, but I feel that the latter worked the human side of the story wonderfully, but made for a jarring transition into the fairy world, while Black begins her story with fairies almost immediately and more expertly incorporates the magical elements into her world. It's much more organic, whereas McKelvie's seems a little forced. I love how the legends of the fairy folk are introduced in The Good Neighbors and how we get to see some of those stories paid off as they play out, with plenty of little asides that reward close readings. This is a great new fantasy title that has the makings of a modern classic.

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