Fifty souls of diverse race and gender gather to witness the passing of great chief Matarka, and one of them will be her successor—if that person can win the cruelly arbitrary contest governed by the sorceress Niope.
As “a good chief should know the land,” she magically scatters the attendants, telling them that only those that come back “before the light of the next dawn touches the castle door” can advance to the next phase. Deacon’s signature soft-lined, muted-palette illustrations set into neat panels follow several characters plunked down across this medieval-ish fantasy land as they have strange, sometimes frightening adventures. As they meet, some help one another while others oppose; two make it back to learn a previously unexpressed rule: anyone who does not return before dawn will die—but they cannot speak this truth aloud. Small moments of humor and human decency lighten what could be a grim tale. The protagonist is the Kite Lord’s daughter, a blonde, white girl in a white-trimmed blue dress who visually recalls Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, she feels trapped in a world ruled by nonsense; unlike Alice, she takes action to right it. Scenes switch among the players with cinematic authority, offering both unforgettable images and unanswered questions aplenty.
Readers will give themselves over to the dreamlike, immersive narrative, trusting that Volume 2, A Game Without Rules will be along soon. (Graphic fantasy. 12 & up)