Mary Capelle Frantz’s debut graphic novel, The Chancellor and the Citadel, creates a fantasy world in which middle grade readers encounter the moral quandary of hurting others to protect the ones you love. The story also explores how fear can turn to anger, and anger can lead to poor decisions.
In this fantasy world, spirit beings are safely ensconced in a fortress, protected from the humans who want to harm them. They are protected both by city guards and by the Chancellor, a hooded, mysterious guardian. When a group of humans approaches the city gate, the Chancellor goes out to meet them. She tries to reason with them, but they attack her, and she is forced to kill the would-be intruders to keep her city safe. One boy survives, and the Chancellor sneaks him into the citadel to get him to a healer. When the city finds out that the Chancellor killed so many people, some fear that she has too much power, while others are grateful for her protection. However, the Chancellor doesn’t know if she’s done the right thing. She is plagued by guilt and seeks answers from a higher power, who tells her that “There are no bad guys. There are no good guys, either. But there are those who do bad things.” The story plays out as the spirits discover the presence of the human the Chancellor rescued, and many doubt the Chancellor even more. Ultimately, the cycle of fear turning to anger and anger leading to death must be broken.
The art and style of the spirit world reminded me strongly of Girl in the Himalayas by David Jesus Vignolli. Both artists have a similar style for illustrating spirits and sprites as charming little puffs with eyes. Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona also came to mind due to the a strong female lead and similar graphic style–especially in the faces–for the characters. Speaking of faces, by hiding the face of the Chancellor in the shadows of a cloak, the reader gets to imagine whether the Chancellor is a male or female (or neither) and if the Chancellor is more human or spirit. This tactic opens up the character to all kinds of possibilities. While the ARC I reviewed was mostly in black and white, the previews of full color made the comic come to life with light and warmth.
The storyline is a good balance of containing a driving plot while also hinting at a much larger world with further back stories to explore. You can read the book and be satisfied by the story without having too many questions. However, if your interest is piqued, you’ll want to know more about how the humans and spirits came to hate each other and who the Chancellor really is and why she covers her face. Frantz also explores gender roles in this story, with the sweet healer boy, Olive, contrasted against the stoic and brooding Chancellor. Early on, the Chancellor reminds Olive, “Soft doesn’t mean weak; gentle doesn’t mean frail,” a message that makes the book worth keeping on the shelf.
Ultimately, it’s a great addition to a middle grade collection for its playful art, its handling of morality and gender roles, and its world building. I recommend it, and I hope to read more about the Chancellor someday.
The Chancellor and the Citadel
By Mary Capelle Frantz
Iron Circus Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Middle Grade