FallWest_Spread

Being the daughter of the great Haggard West—super scientist, superhero, and scourge of the monsters of Arcopolis—ain’t easy. Aurora has had her work cut out for her since the day she was born, and things are only getting harder the older she becomes. Her home, Arcopolis, is a city thrown into darkness and fallen on dark times. One day, thuggish gangs of monsters appeared bent on causing chaos and kidnapping children for reasons unknown. The only thing that stands between this menace and the good people of the city is Haggard West, who uses his inventions and combat skills to protect Arcopolis.

And now that Aurora is 16, it’s time for her to take up her father’s mission.

Like many in Arcopolis, Aurora’s own family has been torn apart by the monsters who roam its streets at night: her mother was killed by a mysterious and since-unseen seven-toed demon when Aurora was just 4 years old. The West family has never recovered from her loss, and the guilt that Aurora feels over her mother’s death has defined her young life. You see, at the time, Aurora had an imaginary friend named Mr. Wurple—and as it turns out, Mr. Wurple was in fact a demon named Coil, who lured Aurora’s mother to her death. As Aurora grows in strength and skill with her combat training, she also uses her new independence to gather clues as to Coil’s whereabouts to finally make her mother’s killer pay for what he’s done…but in the process, Aurora learns an even more Earth-shattering truth about her mother’s death, her family, and herself.

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The follow-up to 2014’s very well-received The Rise of Aurora West, this second graphic novel in Aurora’s arc from Paul Pope examines the next steps in the life of the young crime fighter as she grapples with issues of guilt, personal responsibility, and the weight of expectation. In The Fall of the House of West, what’s most pressing on Aurora’s mind is the murder of her mother. What Haggard West doesn’t know—what Aurora hasn’t told anyone—is that she remembers just what happened the night her mother died, and that her Mr. Wurple was responsible for drawing her mother out and, ultimately, causing her death. After her mother’s death, Aurora’s father completely shut down and barely made it back from the brink of his deep grief. He pushed his daughter away, and then pushed her to become a hero like him no matter how hard or rough the road.

In this second book, Haggard and Aurora’s relationship is better than it was—but we also see Aurora struggling to live up to her family expectation, and that she will do anything for her father’s acceptance, approval, and attention.

Aurora pushes the boundaries in this book. She’s headstrong and doesn’t listen to anyone, and she assumes that she is right and that her elders are too stupid or stuck in their ways or are lying to themselves. This offhanded arrogance and bravado is Aurora’s downfall in this book—and it also makes her an utterly sympathetic, utterly flawed character (if at times one wishes to reach through the frames of the book to shake her and make her listen). In fact, I spent the first half of the graphic novel utterly frustrated with Aurora’s pigheadedness and her blinders-on thinking that only she, alone, can find the truth of her mother’s death, when in fact she endangers her family and her friends, and uncovers a truth that could destroy everything.

It’s this arrogance of youth that could lead to the fall of the House of West—and of Arcopolis—and by the book’s end, Aurora realizes that there are consequences for her actions. Consequences, as it turns out, that Aurora must face alone and whose weight she must bear alone.

This is not a happy story. It’s not an uplifting story about coming to terms with the past, and familial acceptance. Rather, it’s a heartbreaking look at grief and guilt, and the extent of secrets that people will keep to protect the ones they love.

And for those reasons, this second graphic novelis every bit as powerful, nuanced, and awesome—if not more so—as its predecessor.

The Fall of the House of West is kind of a beautiful, terrible parable for growing up.

In Book Smugglerish: 8 detonating monster-bombs out of 10.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.