A mysterious band of adventurers and a possibly haunted garden. What could go wrong?
Scully Catterson has heard all the stories from his friends of the treasure to be found in the mountains—and the danger. In fact, his father has been badly injured questing. Scully is determined to play it safe and has found a job as a gardener. Unfortunately, the garden just might be haunted, his new coworkers are mysterious and unwelcoming, and he falls afoul of a whipping tortoise and a mercenary garden goblin. The other gardeners aren’t doing too well either, as Lady Araena Lamant, the owner, complains about their incompetence and threatens to hire a whole new crew.
Although Scully’s first day isn’t what he’d hoped for, he’s encouraged by thinking about his hero, Cathero, talking to his injured father, and playing with the kittens at home. But when he arrives for his second day of work, he discovers the crew has disappeared and Lady Lamant appears to be drinking… blood? Scully will have to go on an adventure after all if he wants to keep his job, save his colleagues, and discover the mystery of Le Dark Chateau and its gardens.
Shurtliff’s art is an interesting blend of classic comic and his own unique style. Scully and the other cats look distinctly like old black-and-white cartoons and much of the action recalls that style, with determined Scully, an anthropomorphic cat with spiky fur, running here and there and making exaggerated expressions with his giant cartoon eyes. However, there’s also a lot of crossover with traditional questing stories, showing the characters hanging out in a tavern, a band of quirky characters, including their leader who has a green nose and one mysteriously sloshing green boot. Odd garden creatures include the whipping tortoise who has a giant tongue and a flytrap that can swallow a person whole. In addition to the anthropomorphic cats and variety of humanoid creatures, there’s also a selection of sharp-featured people, including Lady Lamant, with pointed ears, nose, and skin colors varying from green to white.
The story’s mixture of goofy and gruesome, as well as the quest theme, are likely to appeal to young Dungeons and Dragons fans. There’s a vault of comic books protected by giant stone guardians, rumors of ghosts and vampires, cute kittens, and quirky reptiles. Shurtliff’s surprise ending keeps this from being just another fantasy-quest comic, and there is some thoughtful side commentary on judging by appearances and listening to gossip, as well as consent and making decisions for oneself.
Not a necessary purchase, but if you have young D&D fans and those who like quirky fantasy, this will be very popular with middle grade readers.
Skull Cat, vol. 1: Skull Cat and the Curious Castle
By Norman Shurtliff
Top Shelf, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)