From the stack: Nightschool vol. 2

December 29, 2009

Yen Press has been doing well in terms of series that sell well and by catching attention with adaptations of popular properties. For my money, they also made one of their smartest choices was hiring Svetlana Chmakova to create a new series, Nightschool, for their magazine, Yen Plus. It’s as poised a supernatural adventure as you’re likely to find on the manga shelves.

What immediately strikes me about the series is how sure-footed it is. Chmakova has assembled a crowded cast and a host of subplots, but nothing feels extraneous or self-indulgent. It’s indicative of just how memorable her characters are that I never felt the need to flip back through the first volume and remind myself of any particular details or developments while reading the second. She doesn’t burden the book with exposition or reminders, and things move at a clip, but Chmakova doesn’t leave readers behind in the process.

In spite of the crowd and the bustle, Chmakova has also managed to keep her protagonist front and center, at least in terms of reader perception. Alex, a young witch searching for her missing sister, is just right. She’s smart, resourceful and funny, and she’s also a little frightening. The second volume doesn’t go much further to revealing what her dark secret might be, but it reinforces just how formidable Alex is. As a nice bonus, Alex is such a force to reckon with because she’s worked hard to become so.

She’s not so formidable that she doesn’t seem at risk, though. Chmakova has arrayed a variety of forces in opposition to Alex, from snotty, secretive classmates to rival supernatural clans to self-appointed anti-monster vigilantes. Add that to the search for her missing sister and you have a young woman with a very full plate. Alex’s agenda doesn’t keep her from engaging with the world around her, though; there are some terrific, revealing scenes of Alex’s enrollment in the school where her sister taught that are sprinkled with comedy and menace, along with the introduction of even more new characters.

It’s just a very entertaining book, certainly for its skillful execution and partly for the pleasure of watching Chamkova juggle. Nightschool is drawn very well, and the dialogue is snappy, but the spectacle of Chamkova piling on this and that without ever letting things crush under the weight is as engaging as the story and presentation.