Review by Frank Plowright
Any creator quoting their mother on the back cover saying she didn’t understand the story, but is very impressed anyway is to be cherished, so expectations are set high for Francesca Dare’s Penny Blackfeather. And by and large they’re met.
A persistent truth learned from the novels of Jane Austen, is options being limited for the English woman in the early 19th century, when the expectation was of demure consent to the advances of whatever wealthy specimen was placed in front of them. That’s not for Penelope Blake, who is her own woman, and the only person able to converse with her dead grandfather, former buccaneer Nathaniel Blackfeather, sorcery a sideline. Until she bumps into the mysterious handsome stranger and his parrot, that is.
The values of her time aren’t Penny’s values, so if there’s any chance to escape the tedium she takes it, and from a refreshing opening scenario Francesca Dare surprises so often in what’s a weaving tale of adventure and fulfilment with smart comedy dialogue. Magic is real and convention is thrown to the wind, accompanied by personality-rich art featuring engagingly designed characters. There’s a clever touch to that, as the colour increases along with the manifestation of magic. Dare toys with the clichés of roleplaying games, but subverts them via the efficiently applied coating of humour, while the repeated contrast of expectation and frustrations elevates the comedy.
However, although Penny Blackfeather is a striking début, there are places where the novice creator is apparent. The pacing could be stepped up, as there’s a little too much wandering around. Greater variety to the viewpoints supplied by the art would make the story look as interesting as it actually is, and the occasional break from four tiers to the page would also have that effect. It’s eccentric that the mysterious stranger isn’t named, but then he wouldn’t be as mysterious.
Good outweighs bad in all cases, though. Cheer is perpetuated throughout, Penny is very likeable and fun is prioritised. Penny and her world return In High Spirits.