The story opens with Bridgebelle, Soozie, and Glee being chased by a fox. The fox delivers an ultimatum and punctuates his demand by killing Soozie. In a voice-over narrative, the reader finds out that Bridgebelle is the lone survivor of a fire that killed her family years before. She carries psychological scars and an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. Pascoe reveals a rigidly structured society of expectations and traditions steeped in mythology. Although patriarchal, the focus is on the female characters, particularly Bridgebelle, who is the protagonist of this volume. There is a vulnerability about her; the conflict she feels between doing what is expected and her desire to follow her dreams is a situation that will resonate with readers. Taking on the role of villain are a trio of foxes, and while they all want the same thing, there is discord amongst the three. Yet, the threat is very real.
Richard Adams’ Watership Down (1972) had a similar premise of an external threat and goes on to explore a rabbits’ societal structure and mythology. While Pascoe keeps Cottons: The Secret of the Wind grounded in the vale and includes similar themes, he also explores friendships, desires for freedom of expression, and obligation wrapped up in an intriguing mythological mystery. Pascoe creates a complex story that, like Watership Down, will keep readers wondering if there is a happy ending by the last page of the third volume.
Arnhold brings the cottons’ tale to life with each page turn. Her illustrations, especially the facial expressions of Bridgebell and Glee, are particularly well done. The mise-en-scene of the various locations in the vale are beautiful and expansive, and, alternatively, the burrows and forests are dark and oppressive. Arnhold’s color palette choices accentuate emotions and tones. For example, the red of Marrow Winterborne exudes danger every time he appears on the page; he stands out from everyone and everything else. Another memorable example is the instances of Thokcha, created from cha, which bursts with brilliant, bright patterns of colors and embraces the concept of magical wonderment. The visuals are truly gorgeous.
While the final verdict is still pending the release of the second and third volumes, it is a real possibility that Cottons: The Secret of the Wind will become the Watership Down of our generation. The graphic novel will be available next Tuesday, July 3.
Creative Team: Jim Pascoe (writer); Heidi Arnhold (illustrator)
Publisher: First Second Books
Click here to pre-order.