Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley

As I’ve said before, I like stories about people working. I find reading about somebody else’s labor to be deeply satisfying. I’m also a big fan of fairytales, particularly the ones that reward their characters for doing obscure tasks. (I love that one about the girl whose evil stepmother makes her hunt for fruit in the middle of winter, wearing a paper dress.) That’s why the new hardcover version of Linda Medley’s collected Castle Waiting stories had me nearly giddy with excitement—a book about people getting stuff done, with a side order of fairytale goodness? Awesome.

Castle Waiting is a comic book series that’s run, off and on, since 1996. (Medley twice tried self-publishing, but low sales forced her to put the series on hiatus in 2001. Fantagraphics recently picked up the title, and new issues will begin appearing this month.) The series began with a standalone story called The Curse of Brambly Hedge. Brambly Hedge retells Sleeping Beauty, focusing on the background characters—first, the witches that grant Beauty her gifts, and later, the inhabitants of the castle who share Beauty’s enchanted sleep, only to wake up and watch as the ungrateful princess promptly skips town with the first guy she sees. Many years pass, and Beauty's abandoned castle eventually becomes a home for a motley crew of fairytale characters, people from nursery rhymes, and random oddballs.

The heroine of Castle Waiting is a heavily pregnant woman named Jain. Jain’s past is mysterious, but we know that she’s escaping an abusive husband. She’s never been to Castle Waiting, but she’s heard stories and hopes that it will be a refuge for her and her child. When she arrives at the castle, she finds a place that’s full of highly unusual people. But while the Castle inhabitants seem strange, they cheerfully spend their days dealing with the most mundane of tasks: cooking meals, tending gardens, working the smithy, haggling with shopkeepers in town. Eventually, Jain finds a niche and settles in (every castle needs a librarian!), thrilled to be contributing something.

Actually... Castle Waiting is very much a Communist Utopia story, come to think of it. Only funnier. It's kind of like the antithesis of Animal Farm.

Medley’s fairytale is sweet and strange and clever, with an appealing focus on home, friends, and family. One my favorite scenes in the book takes place after Jain has her baby. She’s feeling a little post-partum depression, so the Cook whips out an age-old remedy after they wash the dishes: a packet of henna hair-dye. Hey—as magic potions go, hanging out with a friend and dyeing your hair is pretty effective.

The only problems I had with this book were due to its packaging, which I thought was A) poorly bound, B) expensive (considering the quality), and C) unappealingly derivative of the Series of Unfortunate Events books. A story this excellent deserves equally impressive trappings, and I would rather have spent more money and gotten a better-quality book.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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