By Svetlana Chmakova
Yen Press, 192 pp.
As the last of the city’s high school students leave their classes and after school activities, school officials make way for the school’s night students—witches, vampires, and other supernaturally inclined teens who arrive nightly for their own education. Sarah Treveney is the school’s new “Night Keeper” who takes care of the school and its students through the dark hours. She lives with her younger sister, Alex, a young witch (known as a Weirn) who refuses to attend the school due to a mysterious past incident. Sarah teaches her at home but it’s hard to keep tabs on her when she’s working all night, and Alex takes the opportunity to wander outside despite the threat of Hunters—a group of demon trackers who are always on the prowl. Much is left untold in this first volume, but there are strong hints that Alex is more powerful than she knows and perhaps is even possessed by something truly formidable, capable of taking out a full team of Hunters single-handedly. After Sarah disappears during her night shift—so thoroughly that she is erased from all known record—Alex will have to go to the school she so fears in order to get her back.
There are more questions raised than answered in Nightschool‘s first volume, but that is actually one of the series’ best qualities. Information is revealed slowly, organically, and with the kind of sure hand that lets the reader know that all will be revealed in due time. Sarah and Alex’s relationship is nicely established, as are the basic rules of the Nightschool universe, though there is so much to introduce, these 192 pages read like one long introductory chapter. That’s not to suggest that the volume is full of boring exposition. There is plenty going on from the start and each of the story’s main characters and groups of characters possesses real personality from the moment they appear on the page—students, teachers, vampires, Hunters—each deftly introduced amidst the action.
One might even suggest that they are too deftly introduced, or perhaps too carefully so. Though the volume flows very well from moment to moment, there is a sense of something reminiscent of a good Disney film, in which the characters always say just the right words to each other (or aloud to themselves) in order to introduce themselves to the audience. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though it does make the setup feel almost too pat, with Alex cast as the perfect animated heroine—smart, restless, and rebelliously brave with a special inner strength of which even she is not fully aware.
Though Alex is at the center of all the mystery, it is Sarah who is easiest to warm up to in this volume. Her gentle compassion for her students, her obvious love for her little sister, and even her chronic lateness for work are all so endearing, it is honestly devastating when she is snatched out of the world so early in the story. This is brilliant characterization on the author’s part, of course, as the audience is now just as determined to get her back as Alex is. This entire volume, in fact, is perfectly crafted to make the reader desperate for the next one. With a beloved character in peril and so many questions yet unanswered, the second volume can’t appear soon enough.
Truthfully, most of the characters in the story are presented in a sympathetic light so far, including the Hunters so feared by our heroine and her ilk. That the series does not have an obvious villain at this time is definitely a strong point, though considering the way Sarah is removed from the story it seems likely there will be one eventually, perhaps even very soon. Who the Hunters really are is definitely a burning question, along with what or who Alex has lurking inside her. That Alex herself may turn out to be a villain of sorts seems very possible and adds an extra dimension of interest to the proceedings. The lines between good and evil are nicely blurred in Nightschool, creating a compelling, morally gray world that is bursting with potential.
Svetlana Chmakova’s art is as well crafted as her story, particularly in the way she uses her panel layouts. Action moves from one panel to the next seamlessly and with an artful feel, creating powerful action that is easy to follow alongside magical sequences that are often quite beautiful. Her character designs have a sameness about the face—especially the adult women—but they are drawn expressively enough that it doesn’t hinder the storytelling.
Readers who like to have things thoroughly explained as they go will have a rough time with this series but for those of us who enjoy just being swept up in the ride, Nightschool promises to be an eventful one indeed.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at PopCultureShock.
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