Knowing full well that I had to be at work at 9:00 the next morning, I nonetheless stayed up past 2:00 with Castle Waiting. And when I got to that last page, bleary-eyed and struggling to stay awake, all I wanted was more. I wanted the story to keep going.
Maybe I was being greedy. Linda Medley gave me a lot of stories in her graphic novel, lots of things to think about that would keep my mind occupied well after I closed the covers. She didn’t leave any subplots unresolved, despite an abundance of loosely-related short stories. Really, the book was pretty much perfect as it was.
But I did not have the grace to be content. Faced with such a lovely novel, how could I not want the story to carry on?
As happens every time I read a truly enjoyable book, I find myself struggling to do it justice in a review. Describing the basic plot does not convey the magic of the reading experience: Sleeping Beauty has just run off with her prince, and now the castle’s inhabitants are left to carry on without her. It’s a neat premise, but it barely hints at the depth and scope of the adventures that will be shared by the castle’s denizens, who include a nun, three elderly ladies-in-waiting, a handyman who wants to learn to read—and just lately, a pregnant young woman named Jain on the run from an abusive husband.
It is with Jain that Medley departs from the familiar tale of Sleeping Beauty. Though she includes cameo appearances by a few well-known folklore figures, Medley tells new stories of her own devising. We learn of a young girl with an unusual feature who finds true love in a circus, of a demon who wagers a bet, of a plot to free two serfs from their bondage.
The stories are captivating and exciting and surprisingly deep. She is never heavy-handed about it, but Medley explores some weighty topics, including domestic violence, religious conversion, and sacrifice. There is a keen feminist tone throughout, though it is not the sort of feminism that will alienate readers; Medley’s brand of feminism is about strong women and independent thinking, not man-hating or lesbianism. (I tried really hard to detect a lesbian theme. I tried really, really hard. It is just not there.)
I laughed frequently as I read the book, and cried once—not because I was sad, but because I was moved by the story. There are rich undercurrents here that will appeal to adults, though the stories could be easily digested by children. There is very little violence depicted, and it is done subtly; and, except for one scene of unorthodox religious imagery, I think it would be appropriate and entertaining for children of age eight or so. (Parents, flip ahead to see what I mean about the religious imagery, and decide for yourselves.)
A final note: Medley is both the author and illustrator of this black-and-white graphic novel. I very much enjoyed her drawing style. It is clean and engaging, reminiscent of Alison Bechdel.
Check the WRL catalog for Castle Waiting