Freely borrowing tropes and motifs from the world of traditional folklore, Leia Weathington has created a swash-buckling heroine to follow and admire. In this gathering of six separate tales about Princess Rilavashana SanParite, or Bold Riley, as she became known, the reader is enveloped in the fantastic and fantastical adventures of this restless adventurer, as illustrated and coloured by a variety of talented creators.
The prologue, written and illustrated by Weathington with bold strokes and strong colours, tells the origin story of Bold Riley: her royal birth, her training in martial arts and academia, and her need and desire to travel the globe seeking adventure. And, along the way, her sexual preference — which is presented as an essential but not explosive element of her character. The prologue effectively sets the stage for the subsequent adventures, introducing the reader to a vibrant world that is reminiscent of India, but with architectural overtones and echoes from other Eastern cultures as well.
In the following story, “The Blue God,” illustrated by Vanessa Gillings and coloured by Weathington, Bold Riley meets several folklore motifs: kindness rewarded, gods in disguise, dangerous satyr-like demons, and a cunning and resourceful heroine. At times the dense colour palate overwhelms the details in the illustrations, but the facial expressions of all the characters are well configured. Bold Riley’s proficient use and love of her sword is made evident in this transition tale. Bold Riley is definitely a force to be reckoned with and no longer a protected princess of the realm.
“The Serpent in the Belly,” illustrated by Jason Thompson and coloured by Vanessa Gillings, moves to a different location from the two proceeding tales, with a Mesoamerican aura and a tale of three women and the problems they are having with their respective husbands. Bold Riley soon discovers that they have all been deceived by the same man who has, unwittingly, been possessed by a supernatural character. Our heroine, still brave and clever, seems to have lost some of her clothing sense between this story and the one before it. Tenderness, ingenuity, violence, and quick sword-play all are displayed in this tale along with detailed backgrounds and a muddier, but effective, colour palate. Facial features are not as individual as previously, but the characters are not difficult to differentiate because of the clothing styles and status of the characters themselves. The folkloric echoes still resonate in this tale, though not as explicitly as before.
A shift in tone, mood, and setting permeates the fourth tale, a humorous episode that evokes a trickster element along with a ghost and some nudity. Marco Aidala’s “The Strange Bath,” coloured by Chloe Dalquist, is the shortest offering in the collection. The illustrations are less fluid and the colours very intense, working as another transition in Bold Riley’s continuous journey of discovery. The humorous interlude is necessary as the next tale, “The Wicked Temple” (illustrated with watercolours by Konstantin Pogorelov, with additional colour by Liz Conley) propels Bold Riley into a hectic and brutal expedition when she tries to get out of the rain. A supernatural helper aids her in an atmospheric and exotic stone temple, ostensibly deserted but, for Riley, filled with goddesses, dreams, passion, and damaging gluttony. Plenty of action, swordplay, bare breasts, and blood are energetically and vividly presented in a much less formal style of art. Backgrounds are essentially presented as splashes of colour, panel layout is dynamic, and the characters are less individualized than in the other offerings.
“The Golden Trumpet,” with art and colour by Kelly McKlellan, is the final tale, following directly on the footsteps of the previous story. Bold Riley’s wound, acquired in the battle with the evil deities, eventually brings her, literally, to her deathbed. She is rescued, nursed, and nurtured by Ghemuen, a young mysterious woman residing in a sacred grove. The two fall in love, but tragedy strikes in this touching tale of remorse, illumination, and self-realization. The artwork here is evocative and passionate and fills the large, irregular panels that are often wordless. The colour palate fluctuates from the bright greens of anticipation through to the murkier purples of sorrow, anger, and despair.
All of the tales in this collection celebrate the resourcefulness, courage, passion, intelligence, and loyalty of the main character, who happens to be female. There is a sense of equality in gender relationships of the characters that is welcome to this reader and is worthy of recognition as well.
The Legend of Bold Riley
by Leia Weathington
Art by Marco Aidala, Vanessa Gillings, Kelly McClellan, Konstantin Pogorelov, Jason Thompson
northwest press, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: adult