Ulysse Malassagne's Kairos is the type of modern fantasy book that easily draws you in with its style and levity and then dropkicks your heart in its sombre messages about love and duty. It's also a bit of a dissapointment, but not due to any shortcomings of the story but because it's a done in one tale for a world that you'll wish to be expanded. So basically, it's really good, and now I'm bummed out.
The story follows Anaelle and Nills as they arrive at a rustic cabin for a peaceful vacation.
The set-up is paced well as we get some vague foreshadowing about Anaelle's past and a good initial sense of their characters, and then the fantasy happens and we get some pretty great dragon duders as the cabin's fireplace is, you guessed it, a portal to another dimension.
The awkward and meek Nills actually puts up more of a fight as you would assume at this point, but it's not enough as he's quickly overcome and almost killed until:
The solicit for this book takes a bit of pride in stating, "Malassagne turns the typical damsel-in-distress narrative on its head." The only negative I'll say for this book is that it telegraphs quite a bit of its turns, so there weren't too many surprises. And saying they turn anything on its head is a little bit of a stretch, but it's possible I've read enough Damsel-Ain't-In-No-Goddamn-Distress books that you gotta do a lot more to surprise me. Still, I very much enjoyed the structure and storytelling, predictable as some of it may have been.
Anaelle is overwhelmed by the dragon's magics and is taken through the portal, forcing Nills to take a leap of faith and follow. As he slowly makes his way to the castle where Anaelle was taken, he comes across new companions and must navigate his way through the kingdom while also undergoing physical changes.
Nills does seem to get more 'screen time', and while we do see Anaelle work through her misgivings about her family (yes they be dragons) and her familial duties, by default the story does feel like it's more about Nills. However, it's interesting as due to his physical and temperamental changes, he's not quite the straight hero of the piece. As he gets closer and closer, he becomes more single minded and much more violent.
While Anaelle is increasingly focused on the path of her life that she can't seem to escape, and what possible changes for good she can enact in her kingdom.
Malassagne's art really drew me in, his mixture of simple lines and sketchier and more kinetic work really bringing characters to life. At times you could feel a little Miyazaki influence, while at others times a bit of Lewis Trondheim. There's a great subtle infusion of humor to balance the more violent moments, and it helps to infer a little humanity (or dragonity?) in even the minor characters.
One super quick note. While I would say this is a YA title that could be aimed at even younger readers, there is a mild amount of nudity (like 2 panels overall). Still, that might be enough for some parents to fret about it so I guess it needs to be mentioned. But seriously, considering there's some straight up decapitation at the climax of the story, if the ever so slight nudity is more of a problem for you then you got some issues.
Considering this is Malassagne's debut graphic novel it's a pretty damn impressive outing. The concept and plot are concise, the characters well crafted, and the world he created was engaging without being overwhelming. I would highly recommend this if you are looking for a solid done in one fantasy story. Plus, the hardcover package is beautifully bound with some nice gold embossing, so you're getting a good package deal for the $19.99 price tag.