Be wary on Imbolc Day, when the witch, Cailleach, roams the woods, looking for children to feast upon. At least, that is the legend told in Saoirse’s village, warning anyone who dares to venture to the witch’s tower. Eager to prove herself, Saoirse, along with her brother, Brahm, goes to see if there is any truth to the old stories, only to fall right into the Cailleach’s clutches. From that point on, everything Saoirse knows and loves will change forever, as she discovers the meaning behind a mysterious mark on her shoulder, a dire threat to the world of apocalyptic proportions, and her own latent magic that may be more than she is ready to master. In this first installment of a new, action-packed fantasy series, The Last Witch: Fear & Fire begins a tale steeped in Irish lore and history, one that examines the responsibility of having power and the dangers of its corrupting influence.
When taking in the comic’s immaculate and engaging artwork, it would be difficult to imagine this story told through any other style. V.V. Glass’ illustrations perfectly match each tone and setting, such as the dark and foreboding witch’s tower in the wintery woods, the dynamic expressions of the characters as they endure both great hardships and welcoming moments of mirth, or the truly epic displays of Saoirse’s magic. The full-page panels that capture the might of these powers are consistently stunning and excel in showcasing both the great beauty and dangers of the magic in this world. Glass’ character designs also assist in highlighting the more gruesome aspects of the comic, particularly in the designs of Saoirse’s witchy adversaries. Black Annis, the witch Saoirse and Brahm mistake for the Cailleach, wears an intimidating smile of needlelike teeth, along with a forked tongue and slitted eyes, a figure that feels as if she had stepped right out of a cautionary fairy tale. There is also the Badb, who wields air magic through her constantly shifting faces, some more frightful than the others. Though eerie at times, the style of the comic adapts easily to whatever mood the text conveys, whether it be light-hearted, mysterious, or simply magical, resulting in a satisfying narrative harmony.
For this first volume, the fast pace of the story manages to include a great deal of plot progression and worldbuilding without doubling down on staggering exposition or giving away too many answers at once. Though the reader learns a great deal by the volume’s conclusion, there are still more unknown elements at play, enticing readers to continue with Saoirse’s journey. Saoirse is a character that is easy to fall in love with: headstrong and determined with a touch of recklessness, but also holds an admirable responsibility to her loved ones. Her external conflict with confronting malevolent witches is paired nicely with the internal battle of controlling her ever-growing magic, ultimately coming to a point where she fears what she is truly capable of. With this comic being only the beginning of the story, it sets up an intrigue in how these feelings will develop and affect Saoirse down the road.
Truthfully, it is the darker, more complex aspects of the comic that give it a sense of identity. Imagine a cross of Avatar the Last Airbender, a Cartoon Saloon production (the studio behind The Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers), with a healthy dash of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. As a result, you will get an enchanting yet perilous tale sure to appeal to those who flock to stories of grand, culturally-inspired adventures with an edge.
While the story does not contain explicit moments of gore, there are several gruesome moments that may unnerve younger readers, such as one instance of child-eating and a good amount of off panel deaths. Taking this into account, The Last Witch: Fear & Fire is most suitable for readers 13 and up and will fit in nicely in young adult or teen graphic novel collections that have a good circulation of epic fantasy stories or strive to diversify their collections with materials featuring strong, predominantly female casts.
The Last Witch: Fear & Fire
By Conor McCreery
Art by V.V. Glass
BOOM! Box, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 14-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: British, Canadian, Nonbinary
Character Representation: Irish