Review: ‘Sleepless’ Volume 1
Written by Sarah Vaughn, Illustrated by Leila Del Duca
Image Comics, $16.99
Rated for Teens (ages 13+)
It’s no surprise that fantasy stories become more popular when the real world is so uncertain and troubled. Vaughn and Del Duca do more than just tell another tale of knights and princesses, though; Sleepless is a very modern fantasy in many ways.
Pyppenia, called Poppy, is coping with her father’s recent death. Since he was king, this is more complicated than normal: Her place in the kingdom is now in question, with shifting alliances, and her presence is unwelcome to some. She’s a political marker, asked to accompany the new princess, a bitter, untrusting woman, and show her the ways of the land.
Poppy is guarded by Cyrenic, a sleepless knight, part of a guild that takes a vow and is enchanted to never need sleep. There’s a cost to that, of course, with its members eventually breaking down and hallucinating. In the meantime, though, he’s attempting to find out who is trying to kill Poppy.
Although Sleepless is billed as a fantasy romance, Poppy and Cyrenic’s growing realization of the depth of their feelings for each other takes second place to keeping Poppy alive. That’s realistic; love is not always the be-all end-all of life, and that helps keep Poppy, although a princess, grounded in realism the reader can be empathetic towards. Her awareness of the various schemes and machinations makes her all the more substantial a character. Her decisions have real consequences; she’s not a prize but a politician.
Everything has dual meanings. A tournament is more than a competition, but a sign of who has whose favor. Poppy’s pet, in addition to providing emotional support, helps guide her away from potentially poisoned meals.
Del Duca’s art is clear, straightforward, and easy to read. It’s expression-driven, calling the reader to think about what these characters are feeling or refusing to show. Telling, for example, are the shadows under Cyrenic’s eyes, a constant visual reminder of his unique role. Seeing people of color in the traditional fantasy roles is also a welcome acknowledgement of their world’s complexity.
This is only an introduction to the deep, rich world Vaughn and Del Duca have created. There’s so much hinted at and still to learn. Particularly fascinating are the ways of Poppy’s mother’s people. The kingdom Poppy dwells in swears by time, while her mother’s land is about the stars. What brought the two together? Perhaps a story for the next installment, eagerly awaited. Even more so is finding out what will happen now that Poppy has made a fateful decision.
Sleepless demonstrates just how deep and powerful familiar genres can be when recast with skill. And the story is gripping, with the reader eagerly wondering what will happen next.
Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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