Whenever I see disappointing heroines in fantasy tales, from books to films to comics, I’m usually irritated by the fact that, whether they be magicians or knights, rarely do these supposedly powerful women stand on their own. Too often they’re objects of fantasy (ack, no pun intended) for the male audience, given just enough magic or strength to pretend they’re all girl power when in fact the men always save them. If they are strong and independent, they tend to swing the other way, coming across as unsubtle warrior women clones who show no tenderness nor femininity. Where, oh where, are the actual women? When I settled down to read Jane Irwin’s Vögelein, I suspected I was in for a treat, and boy was I right. Vögelein, the title character, is a true heroine: independent, strong-willed, but also at times naive, uncertain, and afraid without being any less strong. Like a great fantasy hero of any sort, she braves danger, learns from her mistakes, and is just human enough to take us all along for the emotional ride as well as the physical journey. The fact that Vögelein is a clockwork faerie, living through a magical combination of metal and spirit, doesn’t matter one whit. Vögelein must, like a fine pocketwatch, be wound every day but through an unintentional flaw in her design, she is unable to turn the winding key herself. When her latest in a long line of guardians dies, Vögelein must brave the city streets solo in search of a new guardian. Through her character’s journey, Ms. Irwin explores the qualities of bravery, empathy, and the shades of grey within all of us. Most poignantly, Vögelein’s dependance on others is explored, showing that it can be both a boon of constant company and a curse of responsiblity and a barrier to free affection. Encountering both a potential guardian who is less noble than he appears and an embittered real member of the fair folk, Vögelein learns quickly the harshness and glimpses of hope the world can offer her, especially if she dares to stand on her own. The artwork is all grayscale, and the somber quality of the solid and fluid art perfectly fits the tale. This volume acts more as an introduction to Vögelein and her world, and I can only beg for more!

Vögelein: Clockwork Faerie
ISBN: 0974311006
by Jane Irwin and Jeff Berndt
Fiery Studios Press 2003

  • Robin B.

    | She/Her Teen Librarian, Public Library of Brookline

    Editor in Chief

    Robin E. Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. She has chaired the American Library Association Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee, the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee, and served on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She is currently the President of the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table for ALA. She was a judge for the 2007 Eisner awards, helped judge the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards in 2011, and contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. She regularly gives lectures and workshops on graphic novels, manga, and anime at comics conventions including New York and San Diego Comic-Con and at the American Library Association’s conferences. Her guide, Understanding Manga and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.

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