The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson & Jo Rioux, 208 pp, RL TEEN

The Daughters of Ys
Review Copy from FirstSecond
I dove into this gorgeous and enchanting graphic novel without knowing anything about The Daughters of Ys and was surprised (and thrilled) to reach the end and learn that it is based on an ancient Breton folktale, of which many different versions survive. Anderson, who shares the three sources he referenced to write his modern version, brings this medieval, magical kingdom on the coast to life while Rioux's palette of verdant greens give both land and sea a richness while warm reds and yellows bring the magic to life.

Beginning some years earlier, readers witness the moment the kingdom of Ys is born, with the meeting of Gradlon, King of Kerne and Lady Malgven, wife of Wizard Duke of Wened. Malgven promises Gradlon, mortally wounded in battle, a change in fortune for one thing in return - he must kill her husband. After the deed is done, Malgven makes one more promise to the king - if he marries her, she will rebuild Quimper, the capital of his lands, better than before. Using sorcery, she will make it "more beautiful than any city made by the hands of men." 

The story picks up years later, two young sisters, sisters Rozenn and Dahut, at their mother's funeral. Wandering the forest in grief, the sisters try to make sense of their mother's magic and come upon their father, satisfying his needs with two maidens. This pivotal moment sends the sisters on different paths. Dahut, the younger sister, takes up her mother's craft, teaching herself magic, while Rozenn, the heir to the kingdom, separates herself, spending much of her time in nature. As Dahut's skills grow, the kingdom of Ys thrives and her father continues to cruelly satisfy his avarice, often at her expense. Rozenn, in her solitary wanderings, meets a hermit with an interesting philosophical quandary, and a handsome fisherman who becomes her companion. The opposite paths of the sisters and the greed of their father make clear that this is a morality tale and a price will be paid.

There is nudity and sexual activity, as well as bloody beheadings, specters and monsters in The Daughters of Ys, none of which is explicit in words or images, this is why it has a TEEN rating. While Dahut makes her own selfish choices and pays the price, Anderson adds complexity to her character, making clear that, in attempting to fulfill her royal duties, especially in the absence of her sister, the heir, she is also paying the price evils that began with her parents. Anderson ends his story with four pages that show readers how this ancient folk tale lives on in Quimper and the surrounding coastline, with traditions, art and legends about King Gradlon and the mythical city of Ys that might have once existed there.

Human characters present as white.

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