Review: Witchlight GN HC
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Witchlight is the first full-length graphic novel by Jessi Zabarsky and it's an impressive debut that highlights her skills as a storyteller. The story follows Sanja, a young villager who takes notice of a witch visiting her villages market. As the witch named Lelek is chased by angry villagers, Sanja follows her and unintentionally gets into a sword fight with Lelek.
Impressed with Sanja's fighting skills, Lelek kidnaps her and demands to be taught how to fight. Deep character revelations, adorable queer romance, and a small quest ensues.
Zabarsky's soft linework and curved forms combine with a warm and earthy color palette to create a very distinct and welcoming tone to the book. The naturalistic forms of her characters support a constant sense of body positivity and diversity throughout the book that takes a matter of fact stance in this world. We are continually presented with new characters that simply live their lives as who they are, their queerness, race, and age simply a part of them. The book is peppered with refreshing moments, such as when a shopkeeper flirts with Sanja and is afterwards then lovingly teased by her larger, darker skinned female lover. Soon after, Lelek engages in a witch fight with a much older witch who handedly defeats Lelek. There's a constant sense of respect for age throughout the book, highlighted but not heavy handed in its message.
The story follows a slow and gradual progression in the relationship between Sanja and Lelek that eventually builds into their mutual respect and love for each other. Throughout it they each deal with their own personal demons and motivations, Lelek's quest for the other part of her soul being a major pull for most of the story. Sanja deals with her sense of uselessness imparted to her by her family, and in aiding Lelek she holds onto and sharpens her fighting spirit and sense of self-worth.
The fantasy and magic elements of this world take a backseat to the character arcs and emotional developments, which feels purposeful as Zabarsky works through a range of issues from grief, self-doubt and loathing, acceptance of self, and much more. It's a story where world building comes second to character, and the crafting is strong enough to support that decision and leave you wanting more. There are social structures and different types of witchcraft at work, all imparting a lived-in quality to the lands these people inhabit.
A quick aside on the publishing, I believe this is one of the first four debut titles for RH Graphic, a new imprint from Random House Children’s Books. Their mission is to, "Put a graphic novel on the bookshelf of every child and YA reader." I can definitely get behind that, and this book is a pretty strong outing and I'm definitely looking forward to more. I picked up the hardcover edition, it's well worth the $24.99 especially considering the eye-catching spot gloss and design work.
If you want a story that focuses on genuine emotions and depicts strong and flawed real people, then I highly recommend Witchfire. That genuine quality is something I often find lacking in most mainstream releases these days from the big publishers, so this is the kind of storytelling that's been revitalizing my love for comics as of late.
You can find more by Jessi Zabarsky at: