Series Review: Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales by Melissa Marr
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.
There are some wonderfully conceived ideas here, too. I love the way the artist portrayed Keenan’s summer walk; the way trees and plants bloomed in his wake, and the way, in his first meeting with Rika, things like the earth and the weather reflected his whims and moods. There’s a particularly nice page in the third volume,
, that contrasts his powers with winter
(spoilery picture), one I wish could be a full-color spread or a poster or something, cause I would hang that shit on my wall if it were expanded on. Desert Tales
has some really nice spreads in general. I liked the ones that showed Rika’s history best – they managed to convey, without a word, what had occurred and what it meant to Rika, emotionally, in some really nice, literal examples of show-don’t-tell.
A few of the spreads were a little silly and over-dramatic, and I have to say, while the fae designs were nifty living embodiments of the desert, with their sand-skin and cactus needles, they were completely and utterly unintimidating. The fae in the Wicked Lovely
novels can be kind of terrifying, and while we don’t see any, say, dark fae, the desert solitaries don’t exactly inspire fear or trepidation, visually. They’re more bratty children, but I suppose that’s the point.
Character-wise, I liked all of the new protagonists. Rika was a sympathetic heroine, and it was nice that she not only had
a personality, but that we saw so many facets of it. She was cute, sad, fiery, protective, proactive, thoughtful, and brave, I very much enjoyed her arc over the course of the books, as she came into her own strength and found a new purpose for her life. You could see her broken-ness in the beginning (I liked the touch of her coming to the desert to escape the cold, it’s both kind of sad and fitting), and the fire that gets ignited in her once the story kicks off. Rika was a very worthwhile protagonist, and I’m actually really glad this story was about her, and not, say, Aislinn or Leslie.
Jayce was probably the most generic of the characters, though not unlikably so. He seemed to be another Seth in all but name – the mortal in love with the powerful faery girl, a hipster artist who’s so remarkably chill and supportive it’s almost unreal. Like Seth, his arc involves him being mildly worried about losing Rika to her fae companion, Shionnach, but they actually resolve this in a nice, character-developing way. Unfortunately, it’s more developing for Shy than it is Jayce, and while I’ll gladly take supportive and kind over entitled and dickish/~mysterious~ any day, I wish Jayce had gotten a chance to be more distinctive. Rika is the heroine of the story, and while Jayce is her inspiration, he’s not really given much to do. He’s there mostly for Rika’s moral support.
On the up side, it’s made clear that, while he could potentially be in danger from other faeries due to his importance to Rika, he’s not some damsel or plot device, to be kidnapped and used. In fact, he’s not
kidnapped, or even threatened all that much, which is a nice change. And his relationship with Rika was…well, pretty awesomely healthy. Both characters have their own lives apart from each other, and while they enjoy being together, they’re not driven by obsessive compulsion or neediness – just good, old-fashioned mutual attraction and respect. This is just one of the many things that put Marr’s stories a step above the rest.
Last but not least, we have Shionnach, Rika’s friend and fellow faery. He was one of my favorite things about the series, less because I liked him so much than for what he represented. His personality, character design, and mannerisms are very typically manga – he’s probably the most anime-inspired character in the series, with his liveliness, flippant attitude, somewhat lax moral compass, devilish smile, and of course, his habit of sprouting ears that reflect his mood. Yet he’s been worked nicely into a very YA story, setting, and world. He’s a great representative of Desert Tales
as a whole: a fun mash-up of manga and paranormal romance. Those are two of my favorite things, so for me, at least, it’s really cool to see.
Plot-wise, admittedly, there are aspects of Desert Tales
that don’t make much sense. The overall circumstances that lead to the series conflict felt very…artificial. Sure, the motivation is there on paper, but it doesn’t seem like something that would naturally occur. It seems like something that occurred because we needed a story. Likewise, the troublesome position Rika is put into by the third volume seems like it’s a problem less because it should be than because Marr was looking for a reason to include a Wicked Lovely
crossover. That character’s involvement, ultimately, doesn’t make sense, but it’s waved away with a shrug and an ‘eh’, because the solution fits so nicely in every other way. And honestly. that’s why it doesn’t bother me all that much in the end – it’s so goddamn fun to see. I liked
that Rika was forced into action, and I liked where the journey ultimately took us, so if a couple of conveniently-timed problems arose, I’m cool letting it slide.
Technically, my only issue is that, occasionally, Marr’s dialogue felt a bit stilted. At times it’s awkwardly exposition-y, at others it’s downright confusing and half-formed, as though we skipped the first part of the conversation. I read the entire series twice, and both times I had moments where I had to go back and see if I missed something (I hadn’t), because the line of dialogue that followed it was so out-of-nowhere.
Still, in the end, the pros and the pure enjoyment of the series outweighed the cons for me. I loved Desert Tales
. It’s a fast, easy read, but it’s still incredibly satisfying. It’s treat for Wicked Lovely
fans in general, to see the world expanded and visually realized, and I think it’s something that even those who aren’t familiar with the core series could take pleasure in as well.