From the stack: Nightschool

August 27, 2009

nightschool1Reading the first volume of Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool: The Weirn Books (Yen Press) is a bit like reading an interesting recipe that sounds like it will result in a tasty dish. I’m the kind of person who reads cookbooks for fun, so I mean that as a compliment. Chmakova lists a bunch of interesting ingredients and suggests promising ways they might be combined.

It’s abut a young witch (or “weirn”) named Alex. Her older sister, Sarah, works as a sort-of guidance counselor at a school for the demonically inclined. In these times of scant educational funding, the institution shares space with a garden-variety high school after the sun sets. Alex has opted for home-schooling for as-yet-undisclosed reasons, though Sarah hasn’t given up on persuading Alex to join the weirns, vampires and werewolves that form the school’s student body.

As Sarah deals with weird kids at the school, Alex encounters her own troubles on a self-directed field trip. Alex wants to practice a spell in the field, and brings her inky smudge of a demonic familiar along. They run into a group of trainee monster hunters who are more inclined to eliminate eligible night-school students than educate them. They have their own parallel subculture to the school, which itself is fraught with unexpected perils.

It’s a lot of set-up to juggle, and Chmakova does a very nice job. The sizeable cast and their respective castes get a sensible amount of introduction, and the concluding twist gives a good nudge towards forcing Alex to engage with the school. Alex herself seems reasonably formidable and a bit mysterious.

Not surprisingly, Nightschool is a great-looking book. Chmakova proved her drawing chops on Dramacon, one of a handful of hits that emerged from Tokyopop’s global manga push. I didn’t especially care for that book, but I did find the visual storytelling to be brimming with talent. Chmakova’s work stood out in the way she didn’t seem to be imitating some idea of “manga style.” She’d clearly been steeped in the stuff, but her work had a distinctive look of its own, along with plenty of energy and emotion.

Nightschool carries over the appealing illustrations while demonstrating a smarter, subtler storytelling sensibility than Dramacon. As I said, all of the ingredients are there, and I feel reasonably confident in predicting that Chmakova will whip them up into something appealing.