Castle Waiting by Linda Medley is a graphic novel in two volumes that depicts a world where horses walk upright and wield swords. A world of ghosts and amulets and curses. And yet, a world of everyday life that deals with such things as the logistics of cooking for a crowd, doing the laundry, and whether it’s more important for underwear to be functional or interesting.
And through it all, one plucky heroine named Jain travels in search of the legendary Castle Waiting, a sanctuary for anyone who needs it. The characters are wonderful and no one bats an eye at any being, no matter how different: talking storks, annoying sprites, bearded ladies, the mentally unstable, the warriors are all taken in stride and regarded with compassion and a touch of humor.
A small demon patrols the neighborhood around Castle Waiting looking for souls to corrupt. Sprites infest the castle walls. A lion with wings watches silently and mysteriously, sometimes from the roof and sometimes from the nearby woods. And Jain, who has spent months on the road, arrives just in time for the birth of her baby, whose father is as much of a mystery as everything else in the castle.
Meticulously drawn and by turns touching, hilarious, and heartbreaking, this story sucked me right in. With a deft hand, Medley strews literary references throughout the story and skewers old fairy tales. One reading simply is not sufficient. Only through multiple readings will you be able to catch all the allusions and details. Each panel not only features the major characters but a wealth of of background action. (Watch for the sprites stealing things while no one notices.) The architectural detail of the castle made my wanna-be architect heart beat faster.
This is not a utopian story. People die. There are thieves, baby-nappers, and violence. Jain starts her journey by escaping from an abusive husband. Yet, in a way, Castle Waiting is a utopia. Bickering happens and personalities clash, but underneath it all there is an unquestioning acceptance of everyone.
It seems like a wonderful place to be. It is just quirky enough for my taste and there are enough adventures to keep boredom at bay. The characters bowl in the castle halls. They eat Turkish Delight. They dye their hair red and hold impromptu tea parties. And each one has a story that is slowly revealed though the (so far) two volumes.
Did I mention that Castle Waiting has a library complete with a ghost? I want to go live there.