Nine Tenths: The SIider is a slim, self-published volume that contains the promise of a story whose writer hopes it will one day become a film. As such, it can be read as a pitch: 42 of its 82 pages, a full half of the book, is dedicated to setting up the world it describes. The story even has a demo trailer, available on author Alex Anstey’s website. A graphic novel made for this purpose raises the question whether it can stand alone as a creative work or whether it is merely a vessel for the marketing needs of its creator(s). I believe the answer to be a little bit of both.
Anstey has put together a team of artists who work together to create a rich, cohesive vision of his world. The colors are deep and layered digitally in strokes reminiscent of David Hockney’s iPhone and iPad art. The characters are rendered with thick, decisive pencils, appearing both solidly realistic and a bit exaggerated in form—a good choice for a story about the worlds beyond and between reality as humans know it. Though the artistic team goes all out in their depiction of Anstey’s imaginative creations, the story they have to tell is 90 percent background and 10 percent action. Readers are more likely to wonder what is happening in this complicated universe than to feel suspense about what is going to happen as events unfold.
The story of The Slider is one that stems from the creation of the universe out of Chaos. Anstey establishes the line of succession: the children of Chaos, representing primordial forces of love, night, death, and life; the guardians of life and death, Diocletion and Solon; the Dreads, who ride the life threads of humans; the Warden of the Threads, Vaspasian; and finally, Vessels, beings who can interact with the threads of their own free will. When the earth becomes too crowded with the living and the dead, a city of death is created: Lundon, where the unknowing dead live, yearning to escape North. Things become complicated when a Dread does not do its job, which is severing the life thread of a boy who dies in a car crash. Instead, he is stuck between two worlds, while his Dread attacks his sister, Sarah, on Earth, and his shade wanders around Lundon, caught up in—and perhaps the cause of—the war between the armies of Diocletian and Solon.
Despite its extensive setup, once the war begins, the characters’ roles become muddled and the elements of the story no longer seem to follow the established rules. For instance, if the boy’s Dread fails by failing to sever all the threads of his charge, thus causing the war, why do there seem to be threads left in the rebels of Lundon? At the end of the story, the reader doesn’t even understand the role of the Slider (beyond his post as lighting maintenance man for Lundon), what Nine Tenths indicates, or what the processing of the Dead entails.
Midway through the book, Diocletion tells Solon that he must “find the darkness and do what should have been done at the beginning of creation. The mistake we both are responsible for is not mended.” If this doesn’t happen, everything will revert to chaos, but it is unclear why. For a book with such vivid representations of a fantasy world, it is disappointing that the hook remains so vague. However, for teens and adults who love creative fantasy, this set-up and tease could just be the tantalizing morsel they crave. Let’s hope that more of the story is revealed with time—be it in book or movie form.
Nine Tenths: The Slider
by Alex Anstey
Art by Cory Godbey, Courtney Godbey Wise, Thomas Boatwright, Louise van Baarle, Alex Anstey
Reality in Dreams, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: (T 13+)