I’m a sucker for a Western. My grandmother, who lived with us when I was growing up, loved Westerns and would watch them on the weekends, so I suppose some of her affection for the genre rubbed off on me. Now, take a Western and twist it on its head, add in some allegorical fairy tales, fantastical elements, or bent toward science fiction, and I’m hooked.
Enter Pretty Deadly: Volume 1 from Kelly Sue DeConnick (Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel) and Emma Rios (Dr. Strange, Osborn). The story is dense, the artwork ridiculously rich, and it presents a world full of interesting characters and thought-provoking elements.
The point of view characters are unusual, to say the least. We have Bunny—who is the skeleton of a rabbit—and Butterfly. These two are telling the story to the readers. We begin with Beauty who is imprisoned by her lover in a stone tower, the first of many fairy-tale elements that get played with throughout the book. Locked away, Beauty calls on Death to release her, but Death falls in love with her. Their child is born, named Ginny, who is raised to be a Reaper and travel the world to punish men who have sinned. If you’ve been wronged, you need only call to her, sing her song, and she will ride for you, for vengeance.
Though she looks human, Ginny is marked as Death’s daughter by skull-like lines and features on her face.
Along with Ginny, we have Fox, an old, blind man, and Sissy, the child he keeps with him, protecting her. Sissy wears a cloak of dark feathers and has eyes of different colors. When a strange man in a town they visit approaches her, Sissy picks his pocket for a piece of paper, and inadvertently sets in motion a series of events that lead to someone named Alice hunting them for something called The Binder. Who is Alice? I have absolutely no idea, but she was sent by Death to bring his daughter home. There’s a battle between Alice and Ginny fairly early on that is epic.
Other characters appear throughout the book, and the author weaves them in and out seamlessly to move the narrative forward. Since you jump right in, a lot of questions pop up immediately. Who is Fox? What’s his relationship to Sissy? Is he really blind? Why is Ginny (apparently) running/hiding from her father, Death? Why is he so desperate to get her back? Who, and what, is Alice? And then there’s Johnny, the man who “let” Sissy pick his pocket and take The Binder in order to “learn the truth.”
Answers do come, mostly. But they are doled out slowly and methodically.
DeConnick is an amazing writer with a fantastic sense of pacing and worldbuilding. Rios’ art is incredibly detailed and leaps off the page.
I don’t even know why you’re still reading this. Seriously, just go pick up this book. It’s incredible. Definitely rated R, so probably not for the younger readers in your house.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.