I’ve only known about Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Saga volumes for about a year, but even after seeing great reviews I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if I hadn’t needed a graphic novel for my 2017 reading challenge. I think technically Saga is a comic, but I won’t even pretend that I understand the distinctions between all the forms of image-based stories. I have a lot of respect for artists who tell stories this way, but with graphic novels, etc. I don’t feel like I’m reading in the usual way that I enjoy reading, so I don’t pick them up very often. But I am grateful to my 2017 reading challenge for pushing me to pick this one up, because I loved it.
About the book: Marko and Alana were fighters on opposite sides of a galactic war. Now they’re new parents, and both sides call them traitors and offer rewards for their deaths. The baby, Hazel, is the narrator of the story, from a future perspective that gives the plot just enough foreshadowing to keep things interesting and the writing just enough insight to seem meaningful even at its weirdest moments. (It’s rated M for Mature, and rightly so, but it’s not a cheesy or vulgar romance.) The key players hunting Marko and Alana have lives of their own, things to win and lose and find along the way as they’re hunting the fugitive family. They’re all just fighting for their own survival, on whichever side of the war they happen to fall, with some surprising alliances. But it is a war, so it can’t end well for everyone.
About the format: In this edition, the first three volumes of Saga are compiled in one book, with bonus material at the end that describes the writing process of the comic from the points of view of each of its contributors. There are six chapters in each volume, but this book is set up so that it reads as 18 continuous chapters from a larger story. Each chapter has its own themes and ideas, and each volume is a set of chapters that are linked with underlying points, but beginning in the very first chapter the story moves smoothly forward, expertly connected with characters whose lives intertwine despite their own unique subplots.
The book starts with the combined narration of Hazel’s parents talking through her birth, and Hazel’s commentary from later on. Hazel is talking about the conception of ideas, and the process of bringing them out into the world into tangible things. It’s an apt comparison to have these two lines of thought going on simultaneously, and amusingly meta: Hazel’s commentary feels a lot like an explanation concerning the creation of Saga. It’s definitely a unique and intriguing start to the book, which draws the reader in.
“Ideas are fragile things. Most don’t live long enough outside of the ether from which they were pulled, kicking and screaming.”
It’s the characters who really make the story though, and keep the reader engaged through chapter after chapter. The art is beautiful (although admittedly I have little experience with graphic novels) and functional, and the writing is apt; it’s all carried out perfectly to keep the reader interested in setting and character switches. Sometimes the reader sees into the lives of the hunters, the government agents and freelancers third-party allies. These are the “bad guys,” and the reader may be surprised (or not) to end up liking some of these as much as our family on the run. Some of them are less likable (every story needs a villain), many of them are unexpected, some of their motives have yet to be revealed, but every one of them is a distinct, fully-formed person with his/her own background and morals. None of them are human. There’s a ghost, a cat (possibly my favorite), a cyclops, etc. Saga connects them all. And the main character is an infant– that’s new, even before you consider that the baby is horned and winged.
You never know who (or what) will be on the next page.
It seems obvious that this series is moving toward an argument for equality and acceptance, which is an honorable message in itself (though it’s the most predictable aspect of the whole story), but so many other great morals are woven in. The women are strong, the truth always comes out, no one is perfect (I love characters who make mistakes and try to learn from them), and anything is possible if you fight for it. Beneath the plot, it’s an uplifting and inspiring read. If I didn’t loathe cliffhangers so much (only when the next book is not yet available), I would wish for this series to go on forever.
“No one makes worst first impressions than writers.”
Except in their books. These writers have made a great first impression with Saga: Book One.
My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I will read more Saga, but I’m not newly addicted to graphic novels or anything. I’ll read as much of Saga as is published, but it’ll probably be a while before I pick up another comic. I love the story, but I just don’t feel like I’m reading it. It’s the same reason I don’t listen to audiobooks. I know there are great specimens out there, but I don’t find the same enjoyment in them that I find with traditional novels. In this case, the enjoyment I did find was worth venturing into an unusual (for me) medium, and I will try to keep a more open mind about my reading material as a result. I’m definitely looking forward to more Saga.
- Pierce Brown’s Red Rising (and its two sequels) is a great space narrative about fighting inequality. It also sports a wide and surprising cast of characters whom the reader learns to love and loathe fiercely. Brown’s books are the usual fiction type with no images, but if you like the story of Saga, you may also enjoy this one.
- If your favorite aspect of Saga is choosing characters from both sides of the war to root for, you may want to try George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It takes much longer to read than Saga, but it’s a character-driven political conflict mixed with fantasy elements that allows the reader to choose his/her own favorite side in the dispute and support different characters as their personalities develop. Again, no pictures beyond a map, but the characters are irresistible.
Coming up Next: I’m just finishing up my Halloween read, Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs. It’s very detailed as far as the criminal investigation (they’re hunting a serial killer), but it’s easy to read and there are a lot of horrifying little surprises in there that don’t feel too fictional to disturb the reader. It’s a (frighteningly) engrossing read, and I should have a review up in a couple of days.
Which graphic novels / comics / manga do you like best? Any suggestions for me?