The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Jo Rioux

 The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Jo Rioux, First Second, 9781626728783, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover Graphic novel

Genre: Folklore/ Legend

What did you like about the book?  This is a graphic novel treatment of an ancient Breton legend, updated with two feisty female characters and a dire warning about rising seas. Rozenn and Dahut are the daughters of a magical queen and a mortal king. The queen uses her powers to raise the beautiful and mighty Atlantis-like city of Ys, protected by magic from the water. But when Queen Malgven dies, the two sisters’ lives diverge, with Rozenn fleeing to a life free of regal trappings and Dahut enticing men to her lair for an evening tumble and then murdering them to preserve the city’s magic.  The art is truly magical. I’m guessing that Rioux has spent some time looking at medieval art, because her moody illustrations (created digitally but resembling watercolor and pen-and-ink) recall tapestries and altarpieces. The panels are easy to follow and the many wordless sections are the most striking, with headless young men rising from the sea, dark monsters thrashing in an underwater cell, or Rozenn fighting the forces of evil. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I would have liked to have more back matter, explaining the origins of the story and how Anderson’s version differs from the traditional tale. Even something personal would have been helpful; why did Anderson settle on this story to retell? Also, a bit about the Breton region and how to pronounce “Ys”, please!

As is so often the case with folklore, characters’ motivations can be hard to understand. Why does Malgven ask King Gradlon to kill her first husband, the Wizard Duke of Wened? I certainly had no idea, and neither does Rozenn, who also wonders and gets no satisfaction. Who is the evil merchant who arrives at the end of the book, destroying the city? No information on that, either.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Who should buy this book? Adults or older teen readers looking for female-centered ballads.

Where would you shelve it? Public libraries – as the frank encounters and gruesome beheadings seem most suited to adult audiences. Despite the sister’s vague resemblance to Elsa and Anna, this is no Disney fairy tale; sex and violence are both vivdly rendered.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: October 2, 2020


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