Review by Frank Plowright
A definite change of mood opens this volume. Until now Ally and Lisa’s relationship has grown and flourished, but the events in a club that closed volume four have consequences, and Lisa’s not in a forgiving mood. A very clever opening chapter exploits irrationality prompted by paranoia and an ability to misread what are innocent circumstances, and that theme continues as Stjepan Šejić revisits some old territory. Alan has been the most prominent male character since volume one, Ally’s former boyfriend and BDSM partner, and now provider of bespoke costumes and equipment. He’s hovered around, sometimes an ear to bend, and his past has received an airing, but now there’s a fundamental reason to reveal more of it. It’s a graphic novel for admissions and fractures, and this aspect leads into the first volume of Sunstone: Mercy.
While there are the equivalent of action scenes, Sunstone has always been a series where conversation about BDSM and relationships takes priority, and that’s the case over the entire first quarter of a longer than usual volume. It requires Šejić to draw a multiple heads engaged in conversation. He’s good enough at switching viewpoints and expressions, and providing compelling dialogue, that he can carry this off, but realising there’s a limit, he amuses himself by depicting one fractious conversation as a battle between armoured knights. It’s one of several notable symbolic sequences, some last several pages, others a single panel, but Šejić’s variety is impressive with several frameable pin-ups.
The symbolism has always been present, with Lisa writing erotic fiction that’s come to incorporate her own experiences, and Šejić exploits that in a fashion he surely never conceived when introducing the idea early in the series. He’s dropped hints of the future, and does so again, but also resolves one of his earlier hints, that of Anne becoming very important to the relationship between Ally and Lisa. Like so much of the writing, this is very neatly achieved, and if Šejić ever tires of drawing comics he could pitch himself as a plotter of daytime soap operas, as he has an inventive mind for prodding characters from one dramatic crisis to the next.
Of course, let’s not forget that anyone reading a BDSM graphic novel really only has one reason for doing so, Šejić pointing that out via distancing technique referring to Lisa’s fiction, and all the nuanced characterisation is just a tease. Does Šejić fulfil the entire contract? Yes. No disappointments here. Plenty of tease, though, particularly as this arc works its way to a conclusion. Even though they’re a minor subplot, you’re not going to want the inevitable delayed by hearing about Mike and Elaine starting to address their marriage problems. Quite apart from anything else it’s the one sequence in the entire book that tips into florid melodrama, and while there’s a reason, it’s not what you’ll want to read. Ultimately though, what Šejić has been spinning all along is very neatly resolved.
As noted, this is a longer than usual Sunstone collection, so there’s no loss of value if you’d prefer to buy the hardcover Sunstone Book 2, which combines this with volume four. A line is drawn here, but Šejić explains where he sees Sunstone going in future, and it turns out he’s been setting some of it up.