Jo Wilson is a repair technician for the Interior, a subterranean organization that maintains the planet and where rules and order… well… rule. When she botches a repair job and learns that the supplies for the job won’t come anytime soon, Jo runs away to Topside—the forbidden surface—in order to get the equipment she needs to finish the job. With the help of criminals and bounty hunters, Jo goes on a quest for a legendary cache while being pursued by Interior agents.
Topside is a compelling adventure with a strong character arc for its protagonist. Jo begins the story as a loner who wants to be an independent repair technician, and her difficult journey—which includes learning to navigate the surface and slip past the agents—teaches her to welcome help and form bonds. Her team is an entertaining blend of grifters and bounty hunters, which frequently leads to humorous bantering and infighting. In addition to plenty of action, Topside also has plenty of humor; the antagonists are bureaucrats, which means they frequently delay their own pursuit. The result is a compelling story with plenty of humor and charm.
What might be the most intriguing aspect of the story is Jo and her companions’ exploration of the world. The world of Topside is an imaginative blend of science fiction and fantasy with plenty of secrets that is brought to life with bright, colorful illustrations. Jo’s home blends high-tech science fiction with post-apocalyptic fantasy with Wild West elements, if the Wild West were populated by alien creatures just trying to carve out a life alongside sapient, moving towns. Most of Jo’s companions are not human—one is a bipedal shark, the other a walking light bulb—and their character designs convey their non-human status, but still capture distinct personalities. The humans themselves come in various shades, and Jo herself is a character of color. Over the course of the story, Jo and her companions come to learn a lot about their world, and the reader gets the pleasure of learning alongside them.
Topside is a charming high-tech fantasy adventure that should appeal to teen and adult readers who are looking for some fun, light fantasy or science fiction. With its rich setting and engaging adventure, fans of Amulet and similar works will likely enjoy Topside. Libraries looking to expand the fantasy offerings in their graphic novel collections—particularly ones that feature characters of color—would do well to procure this one.
By J.N Monk
Art by Harry Bogosian
Graphic Universe, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult
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Character Traits: Black
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator