Cristina Franco is a curandera, a Latina natural healer, in training. She and her brother Enrique live in the colonial Mexico province of Santander in a steampunk reality where dirigibles and robots coexist with mythical creatures. When Cristina is attacked and killed by a parliament of witch owls, Enrique cannot accept her death. He repairs her body with robot limbs and restores her to life. Enrique’s actions use a combination of Islamic alchemy and other magic and prove controversial to the very Catholic community. Cristina must hide her robotic limbs as she continues to fight the witch owls. Meanwhile, she attracts the attention of Matteo, a shapeshifter who wants to both help her and court her. Enrique’s backstory shows him in love with a fellow male student prior to immigrating to the new world. This first volume of Clockwork Curandera sets up the brother and sister to face off against many forces in their world as the series continues.

End-matter includes an all-text prequel which describes Cristina’s training as a curandera. This helps explain the background of that profession, especially for those unfamiliar with it. An author’s note follows which relates the author’s experience with these healers during his childhood on the Texas-Mexico border. He shares how this experience birthed the idea for a story a la Frankenstein, where a curandera has become a cyborg and must deal with the implications of her connection to nature being disrupted. Also included in the end-matter are in-process sketches of Raul the Third’s art for the book. 

The art is pen and ink style with occasional red accents. This has the striking effect of highlighting certain elements such as the scar on Cristina’s cheek or her robotic arm. The illustrations are meant for a more sophisticated reader, as a great deal takes place in the images. They can be a bit difficult to interpret. The witch owls do not closely resemble actual birds, nor do some of the other elements look extremely obvious. The largely black tone makes the whole universe of the book seem rather dark. The pages are given a parchment look to fit the time period, as well. 

Clockwork Curandera: The Witch Owl Parliament is a story which raises many interesting questions. What does it mean to be human? What types of intervention in the natural world are acceptable? What role should religion play in our lives? These are questions a mature reader will contemplate while reading this book. However, the book isn’t accessible to everyone. It is definitely meant for a sophisticated reader with an appreciation for the graphic novel as an art form. For those who take the time and effort to engage with Cristina in her quest, the rewards are many, and the reader will look forward to future installments in the series.

Clockwork Curandera: The Witch Owl Parliament Vol. 1
By David Bowles
Art by  Raul The Third
Abrams, 2021
ISBN: 9781620145920

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Mexican-American,  Character Representation: Mexican,

  • Kelly

    | She/Her Library Information Specialist, South Park Elementary School

    Reviewer

    Kelly Jahng has studied English, history, and French, and taught middle school for sixteen years.She earned a masters in education along the way before changing hats and earning her MLIS at San Jose State University.She now works as the Library Information Specialist at South Park Elementary School in Deerfield, IL.She loves to collaborate with teachers in the school learning commons and to help students create in the makerspace.In her spare time, she loves to travel, enjoy theatre, read and review youth and YA literature, and write the occasional post for various blogs.

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