Review by Jamie McNeil
When Linda Medley and Fantagraphics published Castle Waiting Vol. II a third book was already being considered. Then, after a further seven issues of the long running self published comic Medley decided to take an indefinite hiatus. One problem was that seven short issues are not enough to fill a book matching the already published Vol.I and Vol.II, and who knew when Medley would pick up pencil and ink again? The other problem was that Vol. II featured a very abrupt ending, one perfectly suited to a middle of series volume, but a very dissatisfying end to a fabulous series. The happy compromise was reprinting Vol. II with the remaining seven chapters, marketed as Castle Waiting Vol. II: Definitive Edition.
Our leading lady Jain and her rather unusual looking son Pinder have settled well into life at the sanctuary of Castle Waiting. Asked to be the keeper of the castle’s rather extensive library, Jain and Pin are moving into new quarters alongside it. Thanks to the efforts of the Hammerlings Tolly and Dayne, new tunnels connect all the sections of the keep. For the first time in years the young Jain feels safe and appreciated, Pinder accepted and doted on by all the castle’s residents, but the Road of Life is not without bumps and potholes, and the approaching winter can make life uncomfortable in a draughty fortress. Added to that, the new renovations have revealed a ghostly inhabitant whose intentions are not yet clear. Meanwhile, some of the building’s older residents, the polter-sprites (bothersome kleptomaniac pixie folk), are divided on the benefits of humanoid squatters, arguing on whether to chase them out or live alongside them. And then there’s the resident quack Dr Hieronymous Fell. Once a great physician his mind is ailing and he spends much of his time near dangerous placing causing consternation among his friends.
Linda Medley is exceptionally good at taking a cast based on myths, fairy tales and legends and suffusing them with normality. Castle Waiting is all about its inhabitants. Every single cast member is permeated with humanity while still skewering stereotypes about women and their role in society. This is not a brisk read but a slow meander, sharing life with characters quickly becoming your friends. With the additional 70+ pages included, there’s a far more satisfying resolution to the book. Simultaneously it leaves a nice little teaser of what to expect in a third outing. Its not your usual fantasy fare, with little in the way of action and completely lacking gloss of any kind. As an artist Medley has flourished, constantly improving with each page, good art getting even better. During the earlier material Medley generally limited the amount of times more than three cast members appear together, but here its more common to see them all together in fantastic panels.
Admittedly, this isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but there are few character-centric stories available as enchanting or well written as this. Within its hard-cover and deliberately yellowing pages, Castle Waiting contains the family and friends we never knew we needed. It’s honest and amusing, lovely yet sincere, optimistic but without any naivety. Let’s hope rumours that Medley is working on the third book are not smoke and mirrors. The world needs more honest and thought provoking fairy tales like this.