Adulthood is often ripe for disappointment. It’s not just about learning that taxes are a thing for everyone, but about having to accept certain realities of the world. That doesn’t mean the magic of childhood has to be ruined; no, adulthood is about learning how to merge the reality of the world with the magic we all once believed in.
His Dream of the Skyland is the first book of the Walled City Trilogy by Anne Opotowsky and illustrated by Aya Morton and is set in Hong Kong, 1925, a place that is adjusting, painfully, to the new coming age. What was once a seemingly quiet corner of the world has become an international crossing of the painful merging of Chinese and British cultures. Here, we meet Song Lu, an energetic and hopeful youth, as he is starting his new job as a dead letter sorter and carrier, a “good job” as he repeatedly claims. He is soon drawn to the mysterious and enigmatic Walled City, where a mystery – of more than one kind – awaits him. Meanwhile, his friends, Yubo and Xi, find their own paths along the way, as all three grow into the harsh reality of adulthood that is haunted by harsh and irreversible consequences.
Right off the bat, the story is gorgeous to look at. Morton illustrates in a way that makes it seem as though we’re looking at a stylized advertisement for this same book. The way the colors seem to bounce off of each other and how the pages feel compact and tight, as though you were right there, is a testament to Morton’s ability.
As for the story and the writing: I’m a sucker for tales that deal with growing up and the culture shock between childhood and adulthood. This story is no different, and although most of the book is invested in Song Lu, the story surrounding his friends, Yubo and Xi, has just as much emotional depth. Now, as good as this story is, and as pleasant the artwork is to look at, the grid-style format that is used doesn’t seem to be utilized to its fullest extent. Yes, the grid style allows for a more controlled feeling throughout a graphic novel’s pages, but it can also cause a bit of redundancy. This is especially highlighted during the “darker” moments of the story, when Morton’s use of color, although obviously outstanding, falls a little short. The bright pastels coupled with the grid sometimes make the story feel as though we’re suddenly thrust into a PSA on child abduction or how opium is very bad. Likewise, the obviously shady characters, although attempting to appear menacing, can seem a bit silly, which is a shame. Opotowsky hits all of the right notes with the buildup of the story and dialogue, but the atmosphere just doesn’t lend itself as fully as it should.
That being said: the ambition of the story and the illustrations themselves more than make up for whatever small issues there may be. We’re given a lush and mysterious story that is imbued with the wonder and harshness of the real world, one that is mired by the realities of growing up in a harsh world—and this is just the first part of a trilogy.
His Dream of the Skyland is a tale about growing up and learning the realizations of the world that is not just meant be read. It’s meant to be experienced.
Creative Team: Anne Opotowsky (writer), Aya Morton (illustrator), Matt Hollingsworth (Colourist), Rus Wooton (Letterer), Wolfgang Bylsma (Editor)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
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