Lady Pyppenia, or Poppy, is the daughter of a king but is not a princess. If that did not cause enough tension in her court, her father has died and his brother (her uncle) is now king, making her place in court tenuous at best. Her close friend and Sleepless Knight, Cyrenic, does what he can to protect her from physical threats such as the assassin that attacked recently, but can’t save her from her own anxieties or his own problems. This is a court poised on the brink of something dark, and it’s quickly getting dangerous to be Poppy.
The art is what first drew me to this graphic novel; anything art nouveau-inspired is likely to pull me in, and the art in Sleepless is absolutely lush. The paneling isn’t necessarily mind-blowing or experimental, but it is effective and keeps the story moving, working well as a contrast to the high detail of the art. The intricacy of patterns and tiny details on the characters and setting is amazing, really inviting the reader to stop and spend time soaking them in.
Sleepless is strongly thematic, with the most obvious theme of sleep, which includes our protagonist’s nickname. Poppies have been connected to sleeping or a sleep-like state, at least, for a long time by several cultures. And of course, there’s her Sleepless Knight, part of an order sworn to keep an eternal watch by magically removing their ability to sleep. The other strong theme is duty; Poppy struggles with her duty to her court and family, and with her desire to get away, and Cyrenic struggles with his priorities and who he owes loyalty to first. It’s hard to avoid comparison to Hamlet, what with the transfer of power between brothers and a child caught in the crosshairs, but I don’t believe it was a conscious decision or inspiration.
There’s no nudity, curse words that exist in the real world, alcohol, or drug use, and the violence we see is often surprisingly graceful or brief, with only a few panels showing wounds or blood, making it a very solid choice for a teen graphic novel collection. The story pulls the reader along, building a sense of dread that preys on the vulnerability and natural paranoia people have around sleeping. We get just enough explanation of the workings of the court and Poppy’s place in it to feel her own trepidation without becoming an omnipotent observer of the story.
It’s wonderful to see such a diverse cast of characters, as well as a more multi-ethnic approach to clothing and cultures in a genre that is traditionally very white and European. It turns the genre into something new using the framework of the old in a fantastic way. The first volume shows the reader there’s much to learn, not just about the members of the court, but about the Order Cyrenic belongs to, the unusual magic system involving time, and the cultures that make up this world. I would recommend this to readers who loved Monstress for its beautiful world building and fresh take on the fantasy genre, and anyone who enjoys court intrigue plots.
Sleepless, Vol. 1
By Sarah Vaughn
Art by Leila del Luca Alissa Sallah
Image Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: T