Series Review: Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales by Melissa Marr

Desert Tales covers

Thank God for Melissa Marr, seriously. In an ocean full of been there-done that – or, as our friend Gwen would say, “Same Shit, Different Author” – Marr’s stories have formed an oasis of sorts for us. They’re beautiful, tragic, unique, and captivating – Wicked Lovely is one of the best contemporary series out there, not to mention one of our favorites. Which is why we were so very EXCITE to find out that Marr had done a Wicked Lovely manga.

Well, that and because manga is AWESOME.

The best part is that, where a lot of other YA authors have had their stores adapted into graphic novel format, Marr has gone the extra mile here and penned a whole new tale set in the Wicked Lovely universe for her manga. So not only do we get to see some of our favorite characters in action, but we don’t have to read the same story over again to do so. We get some new mythology, new characters, and new developments, in addition to a gorgeous rendition of the world we’ve come to enjoy so much.

Desert Tales is the story of Rika, a former Winter Girl who has fled to the desert to escape the memories of her years carrying the winter chill. When the story opens, she’s been in seclusion for somewhere around a century, from both the faery world and the mortal. She has no court, few friends, and has lately taken up “spending time with” a human named Jayce. Which is to say, when he comes out to the desert to sketch, she paints nearby in invisi-faery mode she he can’t see her.

The first volume is mostly set-up, obviously. It establishes the characters and their relationships, but the plot is mostly concerned with the development of Jayce and Rika’s. We see their meeting, their disastrous “first date”, and the events that lead to Rika revealing her true nature. It closes on the two of them admitting their mutual attraction for one another, and I have to admit, I thought that might be it. That Desert Tales might be all about the romance between a faery and her mortal lover, which is okay I guess, but, well, I was hoping for more from Marr.

Oh, ye of little faith.

Volume two of Desert Tales, Challenge, introduces the series conflict, and that’s when things get really interesting. The best part of the Wicked Lovely series has always been the faery politics, so I was glad to see that it, not romance, would be the focus of Desert Tales. Rika is unwillingly sucked into a power struggle in the desert that she’s spent her entire post-Winter Girl life trying to avoid, and it’s rather fascinating to see how she deals with it, to see the choices that she has to make because of it. Choice and freedom have been common themes throughout the Wicked Lovely series, and Desert Tales is no exception.

For once I’m not going to spoil the rest of plot, because part of Desert Tales’ fun is the surprising turns it takes. The story takes place sometime between the events of Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity, I believe, and there are cameos from other familiar characters besides Keenan. But the spoilers for the series proper are kept to a minimum, and it’s not completely incomprehensible if you haven’t read Wicked Lovely at all.

The art, done by Xian Nu Studio, is a worthy stand-in for Melissa Marr’s elegant prose. It’s clean and professional, and the character designs are uniformly, well, cool. My single favorite thing, aesthetically, about Desert Tales has to be Rika’s hair. I love it, it’s awesome, I would steal it if I could.

I’m sure some people will have complaints about Keenan, and admittedly I didn’t quite picture him as a tall, lanky bishounen, either, but you know what? It works. Marr’s the writer so of course he acts like Keenan, and his expressions are so arrogant and absurdly perfect that after a while, the long golden mane, willowy frame, and sweater-duster (wut?) didn’t bother me. Actually, all of the characters are a bit willowy, but it sort of works with the heroine-chic runway/runaway look they have going for them. I liked the unique touches that fit in with Marr’s more urban character types, like Jayce’s dreads and Rika’s piercings, and Shy’s ragged, pinned-together clothes.